Princely vs. economic power in Voltaire?s Zadig, ou la destin?e


  • Ingvild Hagen Kj?rholt


When Voltaire published his first philosophical tale in Paris in 1748, Zadig, ou la destin?e, he expected it to be censured. But on the contrary, the oriental story was celebrated as exquisite entertainment. Why wasn't the narrative read as unacceptable political critique? And why had the author envisioned such a reaction? In this paper, I suggest that the tale's inscription of the reader and of an allegorical model of reading, deliberately mislead the recipients. The contemporary readers amused themselves comparing the Babylonian court with the Versailles of Louis XV, a comparison which did not seem to threaten the royal power. The reception has ever since been marked by an impulse to consider the story in a historical-biographical light - as an allegorical mirror image of Voltaire's personal experiences as a courtesan. In a critical edition from 1965, Zadig is symptomatically called "l'anti-Versailles". The focus on the allegorical link between the representation of the Babylonian court and the court of Louis XV, seems to have blinded scholars to the fact that most of the story actually takes place outside the court. Taking the representation of the outside world as my point of departure, I will argue that the narrative's critical agenda is not exposed through allegory. The tale's explosive political message is rather to be found in a comparative exposure of the contemporary political order, characterized by the breakdown of princely power and the emergence of a global power of money.






H. Hybridity and politics / Hybriditet og politik