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«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of ...»

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The servant Polly (as a possible reflection of Voltaire) favors a more independent and wholly literary vision of “lettres”—a cultural production that is (seemingly) unattached to direct financial patronage. As Elena Russo points out in Styles of Enlightenment, Voltaire “cautioned the man of letters against dependence on the market,” and like Diderot, Voltaire agreed that it is better to publish poorly and in secret than with financial gain and nefarious attachment (6). Without a strict financial bond, this type of literature is born out of a more general idea of génie, rather than a specific economic context, such as the Duchesse de X wants a story about Y.124 By insisting on a literary production that stems from abstraction and independence, Voltaire hopes to touch the Voltaire’s criticism of Pangloss in Candide emerges as another philosophe warning to intellectual mercenaries. One of the most virulent criticisms of the tutor is the fact that he is paid for his services and thus his philosophy is tainted by economic factors that lead to selfish interest.

greatest number of people (not just Duchesse de X and her entourage, to follow our example).

Voltaire and Diderot: “Theatrical” Considerations in L’Ecossaise In the previous chapter on Charles Palissot, we saw how “theatrical” considerations from Molière and Marivaux permeated Palissot’s dramaturgical construction of the Les Philosophes. Although his play criticized genres as disparate as philosophical treaties and libertine novels, Palissot nevertheless harked back to the dramatic arts in order to make more interdisciplinary criticisms against his philosophe rivals. In this section, I hope to parallel my discussion of Palissot’s theatrical “toolbox” with a description of Voltaire’s use of the dramatic genre. With L’Ecossaise, the philosophe uses theatrical predecessors and dramaturgical strategies to convince the spectator that he or she should support Voltaire’s side in the sharp literary polemic against the Counter-Enlightenment.

In his July 1760 review of Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise, the Orléanist playwright and critic Charles Collé writes that Voltaire’s comedy has subdued and “sentimental” overtones, and that the play’s style resembles “davantage à celui de Diderot” (Journal 370). An important, strategic bond emerges between Voltaire and Diderot when we combine Collé’s reflection on style with Voltaire’s praise of Diderot in the preface to L’Ecossaise, the opinions of both philosophes against mercenary writers, and finally, Voltaire’s desire to respond to Palissot’s harsh condemnation of Diderot in the Les Philosophes. Both Diderot and Voltaire recognized the power of theater, and it may prove fruitful to measure the intensity of their philosophical affinity through an analysis of Voltaire’s adherence to and departure from Diderot’s emerging notions of drama during the late 1750s.

The previous example of Voltaire’s character Polly provides a possible way to attach a very fine epistemological cord between Voltaire and Diderot at this precise time in literary history. When Voltaire stages an “everyday” character that bolsters the value of virtue and stands up to a vicious socialite, he, at least in part, shows Diderotian principles. As Jean-Jacques Roubine reminds us, Le drame n’a pas pour seul objectif, rappelons-le, de montrer le monde réel. Mais, à travers une telle représentation, d’attendrir le spectateur et de le convertir à la vertu. Dès lors, les théoriciens de ce genre nouveau butaient exactement sur la même difficulté que les disciples d’Aristote.

L’invraisemblable était ruineux pour l’adhésion affective du spectateur, condition sine qua non de la catharsis. Il ne saurait davantage entraîner, par l’effusion, au culte et à la pratique de la Vertu. (53) Polly is not a “tricky” maid from Molière’s dramatic corpus,125 nor is she a shy servant to a powerful female character like Corinne is to Léonide in Marivaux’s Le Triomphe de l’amour. With his character Polly, Voltaire seems to follow Diderot’s notion that “everyday” characters boost the sentimental experience of audience members in the theater, and this new link between powerful emotional scenes and less noble characters may have struck a chord with previously ignored members of the audience.

The scene is one of the most intense moments in the play and marks the “beginning of the end” for Frélon. By standing up to Frélon, Polly contrasts an ethic of virtue and unrelenting service to her caring mistress with Frélon’s ephemeral and pecuniary idea of friendship. This relatively “cathartic experience,” although traditionally discussed only in the realm of noble tragedy, takes on new generic and socio-economic For example, she is not a calculating trickster-valet like Scapin, nor a borderline con artist like the servant Carle in Molière’s Les fourberies de Scapin.

forms in Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise. Polly creates a “purgative” situation, where spectators are able to cleanse themselves morally and emotionally after a strong lesson in what is right and wrong when good conquers evil through calls to virtue and the tender anger of Lindane’s servant.

Polly also plays a significant role in the dénouement of the play. The story ends in a successful manner because she reveals Lindane’s true identity to Murrai, the English love interest. At first, Lindane scolds her servant for going behind her master’s back and releasing very pertinent information. But with the knowledge of Lindane’s background, Murrai quickly finds his moral course by re-establishing Monrose’s name in Albion.





Without this financial and ethical decision by Murrai, Lindane would never have taken his hand in marriage—thus ruining the romantic and happy conclusion at the end of the comedy. This action of restitution, involving both changes of heart and financial transactions, parallels the ending of Diderot’s Le Fils naturel, and specifically, when Lysimond (the father) suddenly arrives with a financial sum for his children (Dorval and Rosalie) so that they can both live happily ever after.

Although differences between the two plays are just as clear as their similarities, the endings of both theatrical works depict happily (re)constructed families in a joyous tableau.126 Voltaire’s evocation of Diderot in his preface, in addition to the existence of a few structural and ideological affinities between L’Ecossaise and Diderot’s Le Fils naturel, seem to push Voltaire’s play into the emerging drame category. However, L’Ecossaise’s English origins attenuate the overt link to Diderot, and one could easily look back as far as 1731, to George Lillo’s The London Merchant or the Story of George Even Fréron surprisingly admitted that the ending of L’Ecossaise “a fait tableau” (AL, V 283).

Barnwell, to find a proto-example of Voltaire’s comedy. But, and complicating this story even more, did Diderot’s readings of and possible borrowings from English writers such as Lillo and George Coleman bring the drame to France? Did Voltaire then, “go through” Diderot’s reading of British playwrights to construct L’Ecossaise? And what do we make of the Venetian Carlo Goldoni’s La Botega del caffé from 1750—a play that also could have served as a source of inspiration for Voltaire’s comedy?

If we try to fix historicity on theatrical production during summer of 1760, we are left with too many possibilities and not enough evidence to assert one generic theory over another. Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise seems to emerge laughably from the bibliographic haze as an Anglo-Italo-Diderotian-drame-comedy à la Voltaire—an impossible mix of styles, genres, countries, and authors. Although a strict generic study proves rather fruitless and inaccurate, it is nonetheless important to note structural and ideological affinities between the two philosophes, the fact that both Diderot and Voltaire were under attack by religious and literary conservatives, and that both philosophes recognized that strong Counter-Enlightenment powers required them to combine their forces and bury their slight differences.

In his comédie des Philosophes, Palissot groups Enlightenment personalities under one, singular title: the philosophe. It seems that in this specific case, Diderot and Voltaire recognized that Palissot’s tactic could eventually become his demise, and in his theatrical response, Voltaire includes “just enough” elements from the drame to portray a subtle but strong alliance between the two great philosophes.

Moving a few hundred years into the future, even critics at present seem relatively divided on whether or not to dub Voltaire’s comedy a pure effort in drame. In his study on Voltaire’s theatrical works, Russell Goulbourne argues that L’Ecossaise is, and is not, a drame. In Voltaire comic dramatist, he admits that, “Voltaire responds to the theory and practice of the drame by writing comedies which flout Diderot’s conception of unity of tone and his opposition to contrasting characters” (187). But at the same time, Goulbourne points out how Voltaire’s comedy is far less “pathétique” than most drames.

According to Goulbourne, L’Ecossaise is, like Voltaire’s Socrates127 and Saül,128

an ambivalent play that both supports and criticizes Diderot’s dramatic theories:

“Ironically, though, there is a tension at the heart of this response to Diderot, a tension which is most evident in Socrate, L’Ecossaise and Saül. For while these comedies implicitly attack Diderot the dramatist, they also implicitly defend him as a philosophe by satirizing contemporary anti-philosophes: they are double-edged swords” (187).

Goulbourne’s erudite study of Voltaire’s complete comedic corpus weighs L’Ecossaise against the philosophe’s other comedies such as La Femme qui a raison and L’Enfant prodigue. This intra-Voltairian criticism centers the discussion of L’Ecossaise on theater, rather than on mere polemics—a warranted change from traditional critical discourse— and an argument that underlines sources of Voltaire’s 1760 comedy from the philosophe’s own writings. Goulbourne’s study thus renders L’Ecossaise’s generic origins even more difficult for critics to unilaterally attribute to one tradition.

However, Goulbourne is not ignorant of the contemporary literary climate, and highlights the delicate relationship between Voltaire’s implicit aesthetic attacks against his own party and overt support of philosophes during the late 1750s. Voltaire could not Socrate, which according to Goulebourne was dubbed a “dialogue philosophique” at the time, was published in 1759 and not performed until 1793 (188).

Voltaire published the comedy Saül in 1763. A burlesque play set in ancient Israel, Saül was never performed and banned by the Church in 1765 (Goulbourne 228).

afford to openly criticize Diderot’s ideas on theater because of Counter-Enlightenment attempts to fissure and fracture the philosophe circle. Nevertheless, Voltaire is able to “kill two birds with one stone” by publicly supporting Diderot and his drame with his preface and published letters; while at the same time, lightly criticizing his colleague through slight rebukes inside the dramatic narrative.

It is also important to stress how Voltaire’s contemporaries viewed the play, and Collé’s confusion between Voltaire’s and Diderot’s styles should not be taken lightly.

What is more, around seven years after the polemic surrounding Les Philosophes and L’Ecossaise, Beaumarchais included Voltaire’s work alongside Diderot’s Le Fils naturel as previous examples of the genre sérieux (Beaumarchais’ version of the drame) in his “Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux,” written as an introduction and treatise to Beaumarchais Eugénie in 1767.129 In his play, Voltaire shows a variety of strategies that seek to attach the spectator to the philosophe cause. These include the comic denunciation of Fréron, the play’s good vs. evil plot, and the use of different socioeconomical strata in complex character composition. The heightened attention paid by Voltaire to the spectator certainly dialogues with Diderot’s theories on theater. Voltaire strategically chooses more “common” characters to serve as active agents in both his attack on the CounterEnlightenment and in the dénouement of Lindane’s touching adventure. But not all of Voltaire’s dramatic considerations fall into line with Diderot’s nascent idea of philosophe theater.

See Beaumarchais, Oeuvres (Paris 1809), i, II.

Towards the end of the play (4.5), Polly serves as Voltaire’s voice once again when she comments on the story’s dénouement, speaking directly to the audience: “Voilà d’étranges aventures! Je vois que ce monde—ce n’est q?.rpétuel des méchants contre les bons, et qu’on en veut toujours aux pauvres filles.” By giving her opinion on the “aventures” taking place on stage, Polly eclipses herself from the plot, speaks meta-scenically about the play, and aligns herself with the audience (or reader).

This didactic moment creates a bond between Polly and the spectator, or, between Voltaire and his audience—a process which facilitates the transfer of the philosophe’s message.

However, Polly’s direct discourse with the spectator breaks down the “wall” that separates the actors on stage and the audience in the theater house. In Diderot’s conception of the drame, this distinction between the “fictive space” on stage and the “real space” of the audience is paramount.130 In his study of the changing notion of representation during the eighteenth century, Paul Friedland discusses Diderot’s

important 1758 concept, which was named by later critics as the “fourth wall”:

–  –  –

The actor playing Polly is overtly ignoring the “fourth wall” by turning and speaking directly at the audience. Voltaire uncovers Diderot’s “paradoxical” conception of the This separation is very clear in Diderot’s advice to actors in De la poésie dramatique (1758). The philosophe’s instructions: “Imaginez sur le bord du théâtre un grand mur qui vous sépare du parterre; jouez comme si la toile ne se levait pas” (Oeuvres, 1310).



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