A portrait of Voltaire, from late youth to his middle years-and not as a "toothless old man in a rage", is based on some new, revealing correspondence, and shaped- as one might expect- by Miss Mitford's taste for an era of intellectual distinction and worldly elegance. However, Voltaire, in his own words- or Miss Mitford's, is never really a lover. The long (16) years of his relationship with Emilie, Madame du Chatelet, begin with a mutuality of intellectual interests as they pursue their "amours philosophiques", thin out into the dependence of habit. Emilie, certainly a more passionate creature than Voltaire, always retains her proprietary interest and sometimes selfish control over him-while indulging in other affairs. Voltaire spends a great deal of his emotional energies in endless, ill-natured literary wrangles-and is seduced away from Emilie by the patronage of Frederick of Prussia. Toward the close of the long attachment, he finds himself an "old, ill man", too old for love- with Emilie- but susceptible to his young, widowed niece. And Emilie, the victim of her rather ridiculously headlong attraction to a new lover- becomes pregnant and dies at 44..... If Miss Mitford keeps her distance- and the reader's- from those engaged in all this fond, foolish philandering- she is always a civilized commentator and adds polish and irony to this age of reason.