The great writers of the Enlightenment are this century’s emblematic figures:

Voltaire, the original engagé intellectual, inveterate scourge of the Church and hypocrisy …

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher of nature and “natural man,” whose hypocrisy and ideas Voltaire despised … 

Denis Diderot, father of the Enclyclopédie, humanist, novelist, and scientist, the true “universal man” of the three.

The Marquis de Sade spent years in Paris, mostly in prison … Jacques Casanova helped make his name here … and “the perverted peasant” Nicolas Edmé Restif de la Bretonne boosted the city’s reputation for libertine living … while the randy clergyman Pastor Yorick makes a revealing visit in Lawrence Sterne’s comic novel A Sentimental Journey.  

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, one of the most extraordinary personalities of his time, shipped arms to the American rebels while at the same time writing The Marriage of Figaro, a harbinger of the French Revolution.