Synopses & Reviews
Somewhere between tales and polemics, these funny, ribald, and inventive pieces show Voltaire doing what he does best: brilliantly challenging received wisdom, religious intolerance, and naïve optimism. Traveling through strange environments, Voltaire's protagonists are educated, often by surprise, into the complexities and contradictions of their world. Arriving on Earth from the star Sirius, the gigantic explorer Micromégas discovers a diminutive people with an inflated idea of their own importance in the universe. Babouc in "The World as It Is" learns that humanity is equally capable of barbarism and remarkable altruism. Other characters include a little-known god of infidelity, a pretentious graduate who invites a savage to dinner, and an Indian fakir who puts up with a bed of nails to gain the adoration of his female disciples. These "fables of reason" challenge the assumptions of reader and protagonist alike.
A comprehensive selection of Voltaire's very brief contes and melanges: tiny feats of narrative compression, each often no more than a few pages long. Their genre is something between a tale and a polemic - more gestures than stories.
About the Author
François-Marie Arouet, writing under the pseudonym Voltaire, was born in 1694 into a Parisian bourgeois family. Educated by Jesuits, he was an excellent pupil but one quickly enraged by dogma. An early rift with his father—who wished him to study law—led to his choice of letters as a career. Insinuating himself into court circles, he became notorious for lampoons on leading notables and was twice imprisoned in the Bastille.
By his mid-thirties his literary activities precipitated a four-year exile in England where he won the praise of Swift and Pope for his political tracts. His publication, three years later in France, of Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733)—an attack on French Church and State—forced him to flee again. For twenty years Voltaire lived chiefly away from Paris. In this, his most prolific period, he wrote such satirical tales as “Zadig” (1747) and “Candide” (1759). His old age at Ferney, outside Geneva, was made bright by his adopted daughter, “Belle et Bonne,” and marked by his intercessions in behalf of victims of political injustice. Sharp-witted and lean in his white wig, impatient with all appropriate rituals, he died in Paris in 1778—the foremost French author of his day.
Theo Cuffe translated Voltaire’s Micromégas and Other Short Fictions for Penguin Classics
Table of Contents
Chronology of Voltaire's Life and Times
Note on the Texts
The One-eyed Porter
The World As It Is
Letter from a Turk
The History of the Travels of Scarmentado
The Consoler and the Consoled
The Story of a Good Brahmin
An Indian Incident
Lord Chesterfield's Ears
Account of the Illness, Confession, Death and Apparition of the Jesuit Berthier
Dialogue between a Savage and a Graduate
Dialogue between Ariste and Acrotal
The Education of Daughters
Wives, Submit Yourselves to Your Husbands
Dialogue between the Cock and the Hen
Conversation between Lucian, Erasmus and Rabelais, in the Elysian Fields