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Voltaire was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet. He was born in Paris on 21 November 1694. He was the son of a notary and was educated at a Jesuit school in Paris. His father wanted him to study law but he was determined on a literary career and quickly won a reputation as a writer of satire and odes.
His reputation soon got him into trouble and he was imprisoned in the Bastille for an essay about Louis XV’s regent, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. It was during his imprisonment that he adopted the name Voltaire.
In 1726 Voltaire was in trouble again (he offended a young nobleman, the Chevalier de Rohan) and was exiled to England. The form of government and the freedom of speech he found in England contrasted widely with that of France. On his return to France in 1729 his writing (culminating in his Philosophic Letters in 1733) compared the French system of government unfavourably with that of the English and he was forced to leave Paris.
The next fifteen years were spent at the country seat of his friend, Marquise du Châtelet. After the death of the Marquise in 1749, Voltaire moved to Berlin to work for Frederick the Great at a salary of 20,000 francs a year.
In 1753 Voltaire’s writing got him into trouble with Frederick and he had to leave Berlin. Voltaire was not welcome in France and after two years of wandering he settled near Geneva, Switzerland. In his last twenty years he wrote some of his most brilliant works and died aged eighty-four after a triumphant visit to the Paris he had been exiled from for so long.