Voltaire, humanisme et féminisme au temps des Lumières

Poetry, novels, tragedies and comedies, essays, dialogues… Literature for Voltaire is a formidable thinking machine. This course aims to explore his works – that of a poet and a philosopher in question, in search of truth and wisdom, like his character Zadig. We will thus see how, shaking up the order and the truths established by laughter, satire and irony but also by emotion, tears and sensitivity, he stages in his tales and in his tragedies characters in quest for their humanity and their freedom.

His feminism, above all, is striking from his first stories, where he tackles with great audacity for the time the taboo questions of sexual education, abuse and violence against women, denouncing the institutions of marriage and the convent, product of social and cultural patriarchy. But from old Macé to Mlle de Sainte Yves, including Astarté, Cunégonde and all their theater sisters, Sémiramis, Zaire or Alzire, the female figures in Voltaire’s tales and plays are heroines, powerful women who draw from their experience knowledge and power over the world.

We will then wonder how, broadening his horizon of reflection through his stays in England, then in Germany and Switzerland, Voltaire moves from narrative and theatrical fictions to a broader vision of society and history, building up, in the great philosophical poems, in his essays and in his dialogues, a new humanism anchored in a sympathetic vision of the Other: pleading for tolerance, freedom, law and justice, to the point of becoming the champion of the Enlightenment, he develops a new conception of the relationship between man and nature.

We will finally discover how, after his death, the figure of the fighter, the committed philosopher and the defender of the oppressed is transformed into a mythical figure, that of the father of the French Revolution and a universal symbol of freedom of thought and, more recently, into an ambivalent figure associated in particular with the slave trade.

This lecture, given in French, will be discussion-based and will include small group works, as well as a final personal essay.