A philosophical novella “The Sincere Huron” first published in 1767. There Voltaire addressed the problem of the rigidity of people’s moral standards that existed during the golden age of French absolutism. The author makes the “child of nature” Rousseau, as the central figure coming into the conflict with modernity. This was a young man of twenty-two, who had a French origin but Huron upbringing.
Having grown up among the wild Canadian Indians, the protagonist of the story has a self-explanatory name – the Child of Nature. The hero was called so in England for his sincerity and deeds based on “natural” instincts, not a legislative law, made up by society. In the first half of the story, the artistic image of the Child of Nature has a clear comic character. The young man, guided by the direct perception of the world, wants to be baptized in the river as the biblical characters of the New Testament he has read. He dreams of a wedding with his godmother, the lovely Miss St. Yves and does not want to comprehend why he cannot marry a girl who agrees to become his wife. In the second half of the story the Child of Nature becomes a tragic figure. Having become familiar with science and art in a prison, a young man, without losing his natural kindness, begins to penetrate into the essence of the surrounding French society.
Several chapters, which involve the description of the development of the protagonist’s intellectual abilities, make the story sound like an educational novel. Voltaire directly connects the quick and correct perception of the cultural and scientific information by the Child of Nature with his “savage upbringing”, shielding the character from “prejudices”: “He see things as they are, while we see them during all our lives as they can’t ever be”.
The representative of the French Enlightenment provides insight into the philosophy of life mainly through the irony. Gentle humor and rigid satire go hand in hand, making the philosophical story comic as well. While the image of the young Huron gives the reader a pleasantry, understanding smile, the description of the representatives of the Lower Brittany society sounds, at most, ridiculously. Voltaire describes the uncle of the Child of Nature, the Abbe de Kerkabon, as a person who enjoys reading Rabelais after having read St. Augustine. His sister, a 45-year-old maid, is portrayed as a woman who is touched by men’s inattention to her – at the beginning of the English sailors, then the young Huron. A highly enlightened French society is shown as a noisy gathering of people speaking and interrupting each other at the same time.
The only character who the author just slightly teases is the beloved of the Huron Miss St. Yves. In the story, she acts as a plot-forming person: the Huron’s love to her, his further adventures and her self-sacrificing, a tragic step become the very core of the novella. All the other events just complete the main picture. The fall of the girl allows the author to show the true face of the French goodwill: all court positions, all military ranks and awards are bought here, not at the price of personal commitment, but by the beauty and youth of wives.
A short episode where the Child of Nature visits a small, almost depopulated town of Saumur reveals the entire religious and political situation prevailing in France by the end of the 17th century. The leaving Protestants tell the hero about their misadventures and the shortsightedness of the policy of Louis XIV, who decided to support the Pope, who hates him, but not his people of a different faith though they are.
The philosophical novella “The Sincere Huron” is a great literary example of the Age of Enlightenment, which shatters the illusions of that time.