So I’ve just finished reading some short works by Voltaire:
- Candide, or Optimism
- What Pleases the Ladies
- Plato’s Dream
I’m not going to sit here and type out my thoughts on each story, because they were all very good, but I will list a few of Voltaire’s most envious achievements:
- His name is Voltaire. I mean, how awesome would it be if you were named Voltaire? It’s a very suave and villainy name, and practically guarantees that you’d always end up with the girl. Most importantly, ‘Voltaire’ is as far from his birth name, François-Marie Arouet, as he could get. Congrats for having the guts to change your rather feminine name to something so spectacular, my dear!
- Instead of writing long essays in waffly academic-speak on all the ways in which certain persons were full of shit, Voltaire published short stories that parodied philosophers and rulers alike. Consequently, these philosophical tales were actually funny (something that hasn’t yet occurred to Paulo Coelho in his quest to moralise the world).
- Voltaire was a rebel – he got exiled, and had multiple stints in Bastille for daring to speak out against political and religious oppression. After he finished school, but before the church started whining about him, Voltaire lied to his parents and pretended that he was working respectably as a notary’s assistant. Whilst spending all his time writing poetry in Paris.
- He lived in a ménage à trois. Enough said.
- Thanks to Voltaire, children all around the world think gravity is awesome, albeit for the duration of time it takes to recount the whole apple-falling-on-Isaac-Newton’s-head anecdote, after which they begin (go back to?) cursing gravity for their inability to fly.
- Both Micromegas and Plato’s Dream were precursors to the modern sci-fi genre, with aliens! And since we’re on the subject, what are your thoughts on Voltaire being able to time travel? Or being reincarnated as Douglas Adams? Because Adams’ depressed robot, Marvin, is strikingly similar to Martin in Voltaire’s Candide. Just saying.
… and two fails by Voltaire:
- The main character in Candide. The story itself was about a naïve guy who learned that optimism (or, in particular, Leibniz’ theory of optimism: all is the best in the best of all possible worlds) wasn’t a very useful state of mind. At all. The guy got screwed over a bunch of times, and continued to get screwed over in the same ways another bunch of times. I mean, I know that his physical and mental journey was one of the main points of the story, but seriously?! I wanted to lock him up in a tower like a damsel in distress – for his own good, but also to spare the world any similarly unintelligent offspring.
- Voltaire was attracted to his niece. And told her.
Despite these two drawbacks, Voltaire was, clearly, made of win.