Date of this Version
Published in Studies In Eighteenth-Century Culture, volume 25 (1996), edited by Sindy Conger, pp. 131-146.
The letter of condolence has generally been neglected by students of epistolary discourse in spite of being located at the intersection of a number of recent critical concerns. Interest among historians of death is shifting from the ars moriendi that prepared the dying for a holy death to the grief of those who mourn the deceased. Second, letters of condolence raise the problem of the representation of grief and the adequacy of language to convey it. Finally, a rhetoric of consolation is implicit in the topoi of condolence selected by the letter writer, and while the consolatory discourse of antiquity has been the subject of much study, only recently has consolation in the early modern period attracted attention. Voltaire's extensive correspondence not only offers varied examples of letters of condolence, but consolation is a theme to which he repeatedly returned both in his letters and in the contes.