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Voltaire's Correspondence

An Epistolary Novel

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Deidre Dawson

Voltaire's massive correspondence has been a goldmine for historians, biographers and literary scholars since the eighteenth century, but it has often been valued merely as a key to understanding his other works, rather than as a literary text in its own right. This study shows clearly and persuasively that Voltaire's personal letters merit inclusion among his major literary works. It begins by discussing the evolution of fictional writing and letter writing throughout the early history of western literature in the light of recent theories of epistolarity. The author then examines Voltaire's correspondence with his mistress Madame Denis, with the Tronchin family of Geneva, and with the encyclopédiste Jean le Rond d'Alembert, to conclude that Voltaire's correspondence is perhaps his greatest work of fiction: an epistolary novel of which Voltaire himself is the central character.