Project nº34, adopted in 1978
Voltaire is one of the towering figures of French literature, as well as being an icon in European culture more broadly. He is the most potent spokesman of those Enlightenment values – rationalism, freedom of speech, tolerance – that remain at the heart of modern Western liberal democracies. The challenges of multiculturalism and religious tolerance in the modern world show that Voltairean values have never been more relevant. Writers and historians need to be able to read Voltaire in a definitive version, and, astonishingly, none existed until the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford started publishing the Complete Works of Voltaire / Œuvres complètes de Voltaire in 1968. For the first time ever, we are bringing together the entirety of Voltaire’s writings: not just his poems, novels, plays, essays, historical works and philosophy, but also all of his letters, even the marginalia in the books of his library. Voltaire’s works are all presented in a full scholarly edition, drawing on the expertise of the world’s most prominent eighteenth-century specialists. The edition follows chronological lines. Because of this, the evolution of Voltaire’s thought can be more readily discerned. For the first time, thanks to the research contained in these volumes, readers are able to explore the sources of the author’s ideas and unravel the way in which his writings took shape. The Complete Works offers new perspectives into some of Voltaire’s most ambitious projects, notably in its nine-volume edition of the Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations, a monumental work which at the time changed the face of western historiography, covering all ages and every continent within the overall concept of a ‘universal history’. The work of an international team of scholars, this first full critical edition of the Essai sur les mœurs was completed in January 2019. Two other major subseries of the Complete Works were completed in 2018, namely the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie and the Corpus des notes marginales. The Questions sur l’Encyclopédie stands as Voltaire’s longest work, and yet it is one of his least known. In our critical edition, scholars explore fully for the first time the relationship between the Questions and its named object of enquiry – Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. The work is a compendium of Voltaire’s views in every field, such as religion, history, art, science and literature. The Voltaire Foundation’s new edition of the Questions in eight volumes is the first authentic edition of this work to appear in over two centuries. Finally, the thirteen volumes of the Corpus des notes marginales series offer a record of all the marginal notes and marks that Voltaire left in the books that made up his vast personal library, now housed in St Petersburg. Comprehensive editorial notes show how Voltaire’s reading influenced his thinking and his writing. This project was carried out in collaboration with our colleagues at the National Library of Russia. Work on the Complete Works of Voltaire started in 1968; for the past ten years our average rate of publication has been six volumes a year, and we are on course to meet our ambitious target of completing the edition in 2020. Currently 185 out of a projected 196 volumes have appeared in print. The new Oxford edition is radically transforming our knowledge of Voltaire, and once complete, it will stand as a landmark in our understanding of the Enlightenment. It has already received widespread praise and was awarded major grants from institutions such as the AHRC and the Leverhulme Trust, as well as regular support from the British Academy, for whom the Complete Works are one of a handful of Academy Research Projects. We also received the Prix Hervé Deluen from the Académie française in 2010. As the print publication nears its end, we are actively planning how best to move the Complete Work into the digital domain. The ambition is that the Voltaire Foundation should become a leader in digital editing, digital humanities and Enlightenment research, building on its long-established reputation and expertise in critical editions. We have recently been awarded a substantial grant from the Mellon Foundation to begin the first phase of ‘Digital Voltaire’.