Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Zadig and L'Ingénu by Voltaire.

Zadig and L'Ingenu are two short stories by Voltaire written twenty years apart: Zadig, or The Book of Fate (Zadig ou la Destinée) was written in 1747 and L'Ingenu (The Ingenue in English) in 1767. Both are in Oxford University Press's Candide and Other Stories which I've actually been reading for over two years despite the fact it's under 300 pages!

Zadig was my favourite of the two. It tells the story of Zadig, a Babylonian philosopher who is in love with Sémire, however when her other suitor Orcan wounds him Sémire leaves him for Orcan. All is not lost: he falls for Azora who he marries, however she betrays him so eh throws himself in his work. His interest in science however sends him to prison, but when he is released he curries favour with the king and queen of Babylon and is appointed Prime Minister. When he falls in love with the queen, Astarté, he must leave for Egypt. There he is enslaved for a crime he committed, but his master Sétoc takes a liking to him and they become friends. Zadig is able to use his influence for good, most notably putting a stop to the ritual whereby women must burn themselves alive on the death of their husband. One woman saved by this is Almona, who then marries Sétoc, and as thanks Zadig is given his freedom. From there he returns to Babylonia to find Astarté however the journey back is fraught with dangers. He finds her, but in a cruel twist of fate he loses her once more. Eventually, however, after much delay and many diversions, he is finally reunited with her. 

It is as up and down as one would expect from Voltaire: plenty of action, enough to make the head spin, but it is very exciting and engaging. Not quite as good as Candide but not far off. L'Ingenu on the other hand, well yes it is good, but it's not as thrilling. That tells the story of a 'Huron' (referring to the Wyandot people of North America). He is depicted as a 'child of nature, an 'ingenue' who arrives in France having spent time in England and has no knowledge of the customs and norms of the French. So he is taught, and in describing the ingenue's reaction to some of the teachings, and indeed how it came necessary to teach him certain things, Voltaire describes the customs of his own country and, more often than not, provides a critique of the hypocrisies surrounding them. Nothing is safe: religion, politics, and high society all get the Voltaire treatment. For that it's an interesting work, but I think hot off the heels of Zadig I was a little disappointed. One to revisit, I think!

And with that I finally finished Candide and Other Stories. Apart from Zadig and The Ingenu, the other works were:
All of these were excellent, so I do recommend this collection.

2 comments:

  1. i'd thought i had read "Zadig" but apparently not, since i wasn't familiar with your precis... i must remedy that... tx for the reminder...

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