At the risk of stating what may be thought too obvious to need spelling out, I think it might be helpful to begin by drawing attention to the built-in reciprocity of our theme. On the one hand it evokes the general attitudes towards the profession of literature of the particular society in which the writer lives: the standing of literary activity in that society, whether it is accorded any significance or not, and if so whether that significance is seen as socially beneficial or as harmful, in general or in particular aspects; and, in the light of such attitudes, what social status, what degree of freedom of action, is accorded to the literary practitioner. On the other hand, the theme involves consideration of the writer’s view of the society to which he or she belongs: whether, to what degree, in what respects, that view is supportive or critical of that society, its structures, practices and beliefs.


Title Page Ancien Regime Fashionable Society Writer Life Mutual Forbearance 
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  1. 2.
    What follows here is based primarily on: W.F. Hanley, ‘The Policing of Thought: censorship in eighteenth-century France’ in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 183 (1980) pp. 265–95.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Th. Besterman et al. (eds), Voltaire, Complete Works, (Geneva, Banbury, Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1968–) vol. 91, p. 484.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    I.O. Wade, The Clandestine Organization and Diffusion of Philosophic Ideas in France from 1700 to 1750 (Princeton, New Jersey, 1938).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    There have been innumerable biographical studies of Voltaire, both popular and scholarly, in many languages. A succinct and reliable recent account in English is: Haydn Mason, Voltaire: A Biography (London, Granada Publishing, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. The old full-scale (but anecdotal) biography by G. Desnoiresterres, Voltaire et la société au XVIIIe siècle (8 vols., Paris, 1869–1876)Google Scholar
  6. is in process of being replaced by the work of a team of French scholars headed by René Pomeau: Voltaire en son temps. vol. I, D’Arouet à Voltaire, 1694–1734 appeared in 1985 (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation), and will be followed by four further volumes.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See the critical edition by René Pomeau: Complete Works, vol. 48 (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 1980) pp. 86–110.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Peter Gay, Voltaire’s Politics: the Poet as Realist (Princeton, New Jersey, 1959).Google Scholar

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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. H. Barber

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