In the same year that he coined his new name, Voltaire enjoyed his first major literary success when his tragedy Œdipe was staged by the Comédie Française. Meanwhile he was working on an epic poem which had as its protagonist Henri IV, the much-loved French monarch who brought France’s civil wars to a close, and who, in Voltaire’s treatment, becomes a forerunner of religious toleration: La Ligue (later enlarged to become La Henriade) was first published in 1723. His reputation as a poet and dramatist was now comfortably established, and he decided to travel to England to oversee the publishing of the definitive edition of La Henriade. His departure for London was precipitated when he unwisely became involved in a humiliating argument with an aristocrat, who had him briefly interned in the Bastille.
The furore created by the publication in France in 1734 of the Lettres philosophiques led Voltaire to leave Paris and take refuge in the château of his mistress, Mme du Châtelet, at Cirey-en-Champagne. From 1734 until Mme du Châtelet’s death in 1749, this was his haven from the world. During this period, he studied and wrote intensively in a wide variety of areas, including science (Eléments de la philosophie de Newton, 1738), poetry (Le Mondain, 1736), drama (Mahomet, 1741), and fiction (Zadig, 1747). In the 1740s, Voltaire was briefly on better terms with the court: he was made royal historiographer in 1745, and the following year, after several failed attempts, he was finally elected to the Académie Française. He had turned fifty and was now the leading poet and dramatist of his day; perhaps even Voltaire did not imagine that the works which would make him even more celebrated still lay in the future.
Pangloss and his student Candide maintain that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” This idea is a reductively simplified version of the philosophies of a number of Enlightenment thinkers, most notably Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. To these thinkers, the existence of any evil in the world would have to be a sign that God is either not entirely good or not all-powerful, and the idea of an imperfect God is nonsensical.
These philosophers took for granted that God exists, and concluded that since God must be perfect, the world he created must be perfect also. According to these philosophers, people perceive imperfections in the world only because they do not understand God’s grand plan. Because Voltaire does not accept that a perfect God (or any God) has to exist, he can afford to mock the idea that the world must be completely good, and he heaps merciless satire on this idea throughout the novel.