Claire Trévien discussed in an earlier post the Candide iPad app which the Voltaire Foundation has produced in association with the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Orange. There have been over 7000 downloads since January, so if you haven’t seen it yet, take a look – it’s beautiful and free!

At the core of the app is René Pomeau’s critical edition of Candide published by the Voltaire Foundation (OCV, volume 48), but lots more has been added. A guiding idea behind the project was to make the text accessible to teenage readers (for example, by supplying a parallel set of annotations aimed specifically at that group), and to judge by the tweeted and blogged responses, it is succeeding. In what is certainly the best (and shortest) review ever given to a VF publication, one French fan has written that the app is “bien foutue”.

But the app is interesting to readers at all stages. You can listen to Candide as well as read it, and the actor Denis Podalydès gives a beautifully clear and cool reading. It’s great to discover the music of Voltaire’s prose: I find that hearing the text read aloud brings out nuances of humour and irony that I’ve missed in silent reading.

Another special feature of the app are the images of the La Vallière manuscript, which dates from 1758, the year before Candide was published. This manuscript has been well known since the 1950s, when it was discovered by Ira Wade, and for this app, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal has made new high-resolution images. It is possible to study in a split screen images of the manuscript alongside the subsequent published version of the text, or to look at the manuscript on a full screen and even to enlarge any part of it.

The quality of the images is amazing: as you enlarge them, you can almost feel the secretary Wagnière writing as Voltaire dictated, and you can experience in close-up the moments when Voltaire in his own hand intervenes or corrects his secretary’s draft. In Chapter 1, we remember how Pangloss is introduced, as a teacher of “la métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie”. In the manuscript, we can see how Voltaire first tried “métaphisico-theolo-cosmolo-méologie”, then changed the last word to “mattologie” – here you can actually catch Voltaire in the process of inventing a new word. In Chapter 4, Candide recalls his love for Cunégonde: “il ne m’a jamais valu qu’un baiser et vingt coups de pied au cul”… When you look at the manuscript, you can see how the words “dans le cu” are added, in Voltaire’s own hand, as an afterthought, squeezed into the right-hand margin. Of course all this information is in the apparatus of the VF edition, but no description, however accurate, quite replaces the experience of looking at the original manuscript. Digital images of this quality give us a vivid sense of spying on Voltaire while he is writing.

Nicholas Cronk, Director


Experiencing Revolution

SVEC-2013-05-smallIt’s fair to say that we live in a news-overload age. I for one am guilty of tuning out of events that seem very far removed from my own day-to-day life. This is how I sometimes find myself reacting to news from Syria. But I soon realized that this reaction stemmed in part from not being able to comprehend what it is like to live in a country undergoing such a raw and immediate upheaval. How can I understand their experiences when I am not living them?

Time is a powerful thing, and we can better judge past events through the lens of history, but, as David Andress notes, ‘how we mediate experience recorded in fragmentary and assumption-laden evidence into present-day conclusions will always be a delicate question’ [1], which is why he argues for a plurality of approaches in his new edited book Experiencing the French Revolution.

Indeed it is this kaleidoscopic view of one of the most significant revolutions to hit Europe that is so engrossing. To pick out one contribution above all others would be an injustice to all authors, as the book moves from analyses of broad cultural trends to very personal insights. However, from a completely biased perspective, tinged with a certain hiraeth, I’ll admit to being totally engrossed by Ffion Jones’ contribution on how the Revolution affected not just the French but also my own compatriots in Wales [2]. She highlights the religious persecution of the growing community of Dissenters, who were cast in the same light as ‘dangerous’ French revolutionaries following a quickly quashed invasion of French soldiers on the Pembrokeshire coast. Revolution abroad was clearly convenient for the Establishment to rein in its own subjects.

So where does this leave me? The knowledge that everyone’s experience is different and that everyone’s synthesis of another person’s experience will differ.

Lyn R.

[1] Experiencing the French Revolution, edited by David Andress (SVEC 2013:05), p.4.

[2] Ffion Jones, ‘The silly expressions of French revolution…’: the experience of the Dissenting community in south-west Wales, 1797’, in Experiencing the French Revolution, p.245-62.

Superstition springs eternal

We always say that Voltaire’s battles are far from over in the twenty-first century, but I usually think more of religious intolerance than of deeply ingrained superstition. A few weeks ago Sanal Edamaruku spoke in Oxford, hosted by Skeptics in the Pub, and made it clear that superstition is still a dangerous problem in parts of the world today, using a specific example from modern-day Mumbai. Alongside modern architecture and technological innovation in this emerging market, there remains a disturbingly large segment of the population in the thrall of potentially lethal religious practices, for example dipping infants in hot oil, or throwing them down from a temple roof to the dubious safety of a raised sheet below, in a gesture of thanksgiving for divine favours received. Edamaruku explained to us that he is currently unable to return to India because of an arrest warrant brought against him under an outdated nineteenth-century blasphemy law on the instigation of Roman Catholic bishops in Mumbai. All of this for having revealed that a ‘weeping’ crucifix was caused by a blockage in a sewage pipe, a finding which should instead be hailed as a contribution to public health, since church-goers had been collecting the ‘tears’ in bottles and vials as holy relics.

In late 1771, Voltaire wrote the article ‘Superstition’ for his work Questions sur l’Encyclopédie. In this article he heaps ridicule on just such ‘miracles’ as the blood of St Januarius, contained in a phial in Naples Cathedral and said to liquefy each year when brought into close proximity of the relic of the saint’s head. In the article ‘Vision’, written a few months later in 1772, he lashes out against charlatans who seek ‘a reputation as holy men or women, which is very flattering, or to make money, which is even more flattering’… Edamaruku has also exposed a number of religious frauds in this category.

While the battle cry of ‘Ecrasez l’infâme’ may have evolved into something less martial today, the crusade to debunk false prophets carries on. I’ll be following the progress of Edamaruku’s world tour with interest, and I hope that he will succeed in having the blasphemy charges dropped and/or the law reformed.

– G.P.

“Cette femme est un phénomène” (Pierre Enckell)


Je viens d’être frappée par le fait que le projet Graffigny dure depuis presque trente ans maintenant! Le premier volume est apparu en 1985, et le quatorzième cette semaine (en tout, la Correspondance comprendra quinze volumes imprimés et un volume électronique). Avec plus de 2500 lettres à son actif, c’est un travail phénoménal mais nécessaire de l’éditer, car il s’agit d’une femme exceptionnelle qui nous fournit un témoignage hors-pair du dix-huitième siècle.

Malgré les nombreux obstacles que devaient surmonter les femmes au dix-huitième siècle, Françoise de Graffigny (1695-1758) était une romancière et dramaturge respectée, connue à travers l’Europe. Elle vivait indépendamment grâce à des succès tel que Cénie et Lettres d’une Péruvienne. En tant que salonnière, elle était à la tête d’un réseau comprenant les figures principales du siècle des Lumières. Sa correspondance offre donc un aperçu unique de l’histoire intellectuelle de la France et de la condition féminine au dix-huitième siècle.


Le projet d’édition est international, sa base est dans le département de français à l’université de Toronto, coordonné par J. A. Dainard. Le tome 14 édité par Dorothy P. Arthur et D. W. Smith est dédié à Pierre Enckell, un membre indispensable de l’équipe, qui malheureusement est décédé en 2011. Le prochain volume sera préparé par D. W. Smith et dirigé par English Showalter. Nous espérons pouvoir célébrer ce dernier volume imprimé de l’édition à la conférence ISECS à Rotterdam en 2015!

-Pippa Faucheux, publishing manager

P.S. Pour en savoir plus sur cette femme extraordinaire: consultez la biographie Françoise de Graffigny: her life and works par English Showalter.