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Title: A study of Voltaire's Le siecle de Louis XIV
Author: Riviere, Marc Serge
ISNI:       0000 0001 3520 3084
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1980
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The prime object of this study ie to define and ascertain Voltairets historical method and conception of history in Le Siecle de Louis XIV. In , chapter I,the composition of th~ work is traced by means of the Correspondence, the Notebooks,the text itself and other docUDlents,from its conception in 'the 1120's to the publication of the first edition in l151.It is demonstr ated that the original manuscript was dz'afted during two periods of intense intellectual actlvity,from 1135 to 1131 ana. from 1150 to l151.Vlhilst other litera.ry ' activities and othe~ occupations distracted Voltaire from his cherished ambition of erecting a monUDlent to the glory of Louis XIV,he never ceased to docUDlent himself,and due consideration is given to hie method of gathering relevant information through a network of correspondents, the use of public and private libraries and his own journalistic search for material. ContemporaL7 reactions to the early editions of Le Siecle are assessed ' in chapter II with a view to establi3hing the impact made by the work in its day.Both the individual responses of Voltaire's correspondents and the verdict of European periodicals ar~ su.rvey~d9It, emerges that whilst the work got a mixed reception,it clearly caught the imagination of the reading public of Europe and that its very controversial nature helped to publicise it further. Special attention is also paid to Voltaire's method of work,as he set out to gauge public opinion and modify,augment and improve the existing text in the light of comment a passed on to hinl and new evidence. ' In order to understand further Voltaire's historical method in Le SJ!£le, the role of oral documentatio~ and his handling of a large :sample of pubiished and manuscript sources of variouB kinds-(e.g. general histories, I I biographies and autobiographies of ge~erals'Plenipotentiaries' ~itings, courtiers' memoirs and other documents )- are analysed closely in chapter III. Voltaire's version is put alongside the original and hio notes in the Not ebo~ks to illustrate the transformations \>lhich the material has under gone. Vol taire' s vii assiduous,systematic and altogether impressive documentation reveals that he aimed to write 'scientific' history.The use of notes muettes and margtnabia in his copies of sources,which have been carefully established and examined, l confirms that he adopted a positive and methodical approach to the problems of historical documentation. Although his method ,falls short of modern standards of scholarship in Bome respects,his endl~ss quest for the truth and his accuracy in giv~g the main facts cannot be deniedcVoltaire's practice in Le Si~cle i s measured against his theoretical pronouncements on the use of SOurces and a [ligh degree of correlation is observed ,between the two.His originality is seen to reside in his highly individualistic selection, interpretation and, presentation of the material gleaned from sources.He gives as sound & basis to history as was possible in his day and his work , marks a considerable advance on humanist history. If history has a 'scientific ' basis in terms of its rigid documentation, the end product in Le Siecle bears the mark of the literary artist Who adds to the dramatic elements, exploits a good narrati ve and generally endows the material with the necessary imaginative quality to arouse the interest of the reader.To Voltaire t herefore history remains as much a branch of the arts as it was to humanist historians.Le SHwle is sho\m, in chapter IV to be a remarkable and f ascinating compendium of the various .atyles of Voltaire and one is faced with diverse facets of the historian:the objective chronicler of events,the journalist, the conteur,theraconteur ,or bel esprit, and the propagandist. These manners are f~ly dis cussed and illustrated,and Voltaire ' s historical manner which belongs exclusively to his histories, is defined.In the end it ia the perfect fusion between the form and the content and Volt aire's attempt to wr~te poth info~native and imaginative history which ' account largely for the lasting success of Le Si~cle. Finally,this study opens out on a consideration of Voltai re 'S aimD in 'Le Si'ecle,for all along these are seen to dictate the selection,manipuJ,ation /. vrii ~. and presentation of the material . Chapter V examines:. . Voltaire's historical aims:both strictly historical ones and the concept of social history; b. Voltaire's wish to write philosophic history,hia attempts to understand and ! account for historical phenomena in terms of certain theories of causation, of a fixed concept of human nature and his cornmi tment to the philosophic cause as well as his approach as a moralist intent on teaching by examples; c. his literary and aesthetic aime.Moreover,Voltaire's achievements in Le Stecle are measured against his professed aims and hidden intentions • . Thus it becomes apparent in this study that Voltaire viewed history as a BCience,an art and a philosophy.His originality lies in the way he fuses the best features .of these three branches of knowledge in Le Siecle which stands half-way between traditionalist and modern history and as such amounts to a unique historical and literary achievement by ita nature and for its time.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature