Home > 18th Century, Classics, French Literature, Short Stories, TBR20, Voltaire > What ladies like by Voltaire

What ladies like by Voltaire

October 16, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

What ladies like by Voltaire (1694 – 1778) Texts from 1715 to 1775. French title: Ce qui plait aux dames.

Il n’est jamais de mal en bonne compagnie. Nothing is evil when in good company

And with Voltaire, we’re always in good company.

voltaire_damesI’m not sure that this collection of tales by Voltaire has its English equivalent. It’s probable that all the texts gathered in Ce qui plait aux dames have been translated into English and published somewhere. This collection is split in three parts. The first one includes early texts from 1715 to 1724. The second one corresponds to the Guillaume Vadé’s fictional stories and dates back to 1764. The third one assembles texts from 1772 to 1775.

All the stories are related to love and relationships between men and women. But Voltaire wouldn’t be Voltaire if he didn’t sprinkle philosophical thoughts here and there or throw literary punches to princes, priests and iconic writers. These pieces are sometimes in prose but often in verses. (decasyllable, octosyllable and alexandrines). They are set in Rome, in the Middle Ages or Ancient Greece. Greek and Roman gods are frequent participants to the stories. Voltaire drew his inspiration from Chaucer, Ovid or Lafontaine.

I enjoyed the earliest texts the most. They are the most irreverent. They attack all forms of power, the ruling class, the church and the elites. He doesn’t shoot at them with heavy artillery. No. He makes dents with accidental bumps, scrapes in passing near a vehicle of power. His tone is laced with irony and he even makes fun of himself. He promotes freedom and is a definite libertarian. To me his tone is like vitamin D. I want to bask in his sun to soak it in. He makes me laugh and I love his witty piques. He points out inconsistencies of church representatives and confronts them. A lot of allusions were obvious to his contemporaries and he mocks people who pretend to impose their views to others.

Several tales show to the reader that people would be happier if they appreciated what they had instead of always wishing for more. And it’s not just about material goods. It’s also about affection. A man says to his demanding lover:

Et si vous voulez posséder

Ma tendresse avec ma personne

Gardez de jamais demander

Au-delà de ce que je donne.

And if you want to own

My tenderness with myself,

Hold off asking for

More than I’m ready to give.

All the stories celebrate love and lust. They aren’t as graphic as the book cover suggests. They glorify the right to love whomever one’s want, the right to fall in love and out of love. Voltaire tells us we should be free to choose our partner and that princes and priests shouldn’t have their say in our decision.

I preferred the earlier texts because they were lighter on the metaphors. I find the endless references to Greek or Romans mythology tedious. I get the allusions but they weigh on Voltaire’s prose. It feels stuffy.

The Guillaume Vadé section includes Ce qui plait aux dames, the story eponymous to the book. It’s based upon The Wife of Bath, her Tale by Chaucer. According to Voltaire, what ladies want is to be the sole mistress of their household. Despite Madame du Châtelet, Voltaire cannot imagine that what women want is equality. Pure and simple but oh so complicated to get.


  1. October 17, 2016 at 12:27 am

    collections seem to be picked by publishers so there’s probably not, as you can, an exact equivalent. What made you return to Voltaire?


    • October 17, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Unless the collection is made by the writer himself/herself, there’s a good chance that they are different from one publisher to the other.

      I needed to read something French, something by someone who knows what tolerance means and someone with a wicked sense of humour. He fits this bill. And the #TBR20 project.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. October 17, 2016 at 2:32 am

    Voltaire is on my list of French authors to get to one day…


    • October 17, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      I can’t believe you’ve never read Voltaire. Not even Candide?


      • October 18, 2016 at 12:12 am

        Oh, yes, of course, yes, I have read Candide! Years ago, I remember liking it.


  3. October 17, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Looking at a universtiy library catalog, I think an English-language reader could find many of theses stories – in a university library! What a pain. I don’t think I have read any of the pieces you mention, which is irritating, since they sound quite good, especially that early set.


    • October 17, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Somehow I knew you’d want to read this.
      To help your research, here are the pieces of the first period:
      – Le Crocheteur borgne
      – Cosi-Sancta
      – Le Cocuage
      – Le Cadenas.

      Second part, the Guillaume Vadé tales:
      – Préface de Catherine Vadé
      – Ce qui plaît aux dames
      – L’Education d’un prince
      – L’Education d’une fille
      – Les Trois Manières
      – Thélème et Macare
      – Azolan
      – L’Origine des métiers (this one is fun)

      Derniers contes
      – La Bégueule
      – Le Dimanche ou les Filles de Minée
      – Lettre de M. de La Visclède à M. le secrétaire perpétuel de l’académie de Pau.

      I hope it helps you track them down. Let me know if you found them.


  4. May 11, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Candide is as good as literature gets. I’d potentially be interested in reading more Voltaire, but I am concerned that the topical references would pass me by and as with you I’d find the classical references they were so fond of then to rather crush the sparkle of his prose.


    • May 12, 2017 at 8:42 pm

      I’ve seen a fantastic stage version of Candide.
      I’m sure you can find great editions of Voltaire’s texts with appropriate footnotes for the references.
      We need to read Voltaire these days…


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