on December 15, 2002
Still today, over two hundred years after it was written, Candide still shines as one of literature's best satires.
The book is full of pessimism does not prevent him from using humor throughout the book. Some of the humor used in the book is blatant; the governor of Buenos Ayres declares his love for Cunégonde, says he will marry her, then never does. In case readers did not understand the hypocrisy, Voltaire gave the governor a name to remember: Don Fernando d'Ibaraa y Figuerora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza. Another interesting name is that of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh. The illeteration and mental imagery is what stood out for me; the name brings pictures of a corpulent man thundering down a hall. It does not sound aristocratic (if indeed, names can be aristocratic) and seems more of a misnomer than a label for a noble from Wittenburg. By examining the Baron's behavior (working everyone towards his goals and then profiting from their labor while he does nothing) the name is no longer a misnomer.
Candide reminded me of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote in that a man following the regulations of chivalry is driven to do the correct thing even though disastrous consequences may come of it. Candine discovers this when he rescues Cunégonde from a Turkish noble and finds she is ugly and disagreeable. In addition, Don Quixote and Candide both find themselves in improbable situations over and over again. Both books are satire and they poke fun at the same government, social, and ecclesiastical principles. Despite the similarity, I did enjoy reading Candide more so than I did Don Quixote.
on December 7, 2002
No the story doesn't change from edition to edition, but the supplementary material provided does change. Candide isn't just some hectic adventure story. It really fails as literature in this regard, and certainly Voltaire's purpose was not to make you chuckle while you whiled away a few empty hours. He would weep to think that you missed out on what he was really trying to tell you. Rest easy. I am not going to launch into a stuffy monologue on Leibnitz and 18th century French Catholicism, but in essence you should know that this is the essence of the story. The philosopher Leibnitz (who with Isaac Newton independently invented Calculus) explained the existence of evil in the world thusly: God, in his infinite wisdom, thought of all possible worlds that he could create, and he chose this one; therefore this must be the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire was also continually chastising the Catholic Church for it's lack of tolerance of other beliefs, and for its aristocratic pomp.
Enter now the Norton Critical Edition of Candide. This book presents the 75 page story along with 130 additional pages of various articles and essays on the times in which it was written; commentary by Voltaire and by his contemporaries; and critiques of the story by modern writers. Sure there are always a few dull, academic essays making their mandatory appearance in a book like this, but my suggestion is just to skip them. After all there are a lot of them to choose from.
Learn the story behind the story so to speak. After all it is the background of Candide that makes Candide the forceful satire that it is.
on September 2, 2002
In the 1920's, long after Voltaire wrote "Candide", Emil Coue (France's version of Norman Vincent Peale) coined the phrase, "Every day, and in every way, I am getting better and better."
Well, maybe his disciples were, but Hitler had exchanged his paint brush for a pen, the Colonialists were carving up "The Dark Continent", and the bubble was about to burst on Wall Street.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, ushered in by a variety of "religious" madmen holding The One, True Answer; church "leaders" perpetuating a cover-up of clerical abuse and corporate executives who let their underlings "eat cake"; and you know that nothing - absolutely nothing - will change. Did Nostradamus really believe the war at the start of this Millennium would set the stage for an unprecedented era of world peace?
"Candide" is a thoroughly delicious satire with a very dark underside. Voltaire punctures, he skewers, he scoffs, and in the end, asks us to make the best of a bad lot by steering clear of the charlatans, keeping our heads down, and sticking to the garden path.
But remember: Even in the Garden, there are weeds to be pulled -literally and figuratively - in our own, small way.
on August 31, 2002
I thought that "Candide" was a very enjoyable read. It's much more than a satire, it's a reflective novel in which Voltaire opens up various timeless issues for discussion. The central theme is whether or not the optimism (or naivity) of Dr Pangloss's views hold up when faced with the bleak realities of everyday existence. It doesn't really matter that much of the satirical bite of the novel must have been lost due to the passage of time, when it can still deal with issues such as theodisy in an entertaining way.
Voltaire sends the innocent and impressionable Candide on what amounts to a world tour (or as near to it as makes no difference). The reader has to put up with outrageous coincidences and improbabilities: I felt that Voltaire was using such devices deliberately to amuse the reader. Candide experiences various adventures and meets (often more than once) a collection of exotic characters. His travails eventually cause him to question his teacher Pangloss's value system. But really, Voltaire throws various philosophical problems at the reader and invites a reaction - often this is done with a fine wit.
All in all, a pleasure - the more so because it's a surprising one.
on June 21, 2002
Candide is basically Voltaire's criticism of the idea of optimism. Optimism in the 18th century did not have the same meaning as it does today. Back then, it was the belief that ours is the best of all possible worlds, since it is G-d's world and G-d is perfect. Voltaire takes a naive adherent to this belief and exposes him to the horrors of the world: war, enslavement, theft, rape, heartbreak, etc. Not only does Candide experience these things himself but he hears everyone else bemoaning their situations. Perhaps the crushing blow is when Candide accidentally discovers the paradise of El Dorado, only to willingly leave and face the problems of the real world yet again.
I will not reveal how the story ends, but I liked how it turned out. In my opinion, Voltaire does a good job of criticizing optimism, and he isn't afraid to take some more personal cuts at some of his philisophical opponents. The beauty of this story is that Voltaire accomplishes most of it through humor. Undoubtably it would have been funnier to an 18th century reader (I did not understand many of the religious references--and I still don't know what the Jesuits believe in) but I think I got most of the jokes.
So, all in all, I give this a 4/5 for a story that still has value today.
on June 20, 2002
I first read "Candide" when I was still in HS, around 4 or 5 years ago. Maybe it was because I was forced to read it for a class, but I really didn't "get it" back then. Having some free time while I waited for my next amazon.com book order to arrive, I decided to pick up "Candide" once again. This time around, my experience was much more enlightening.
"Candide" revolves around the title character, who has had it instilled upon him by Dr. Pangloss, his personal philosopher, that we live in the "best of all possible worlds." After seeing Pangloss fooling around with the chambermaid, Candide decided to replicate the acts with the Lady Cunegonde. After being discovered by the Baron, Candide is swiftly kicked (on his rump) out of Westphalia. This sets into motion a long and unbelievable set of events. Candide travels across half the known world in hopes of once again being reunited with Lady Cunegonde. Calamity upon calmity is witnessed by Candide yet he remains steadfast in his belief that everything works out for the best. To fully understand the insanity that marks this book you have to read it for yourself. I would do it an injustice it by saying anything further. I will say that the ending is quite a change of pace from the rest of the book.
Although it isn't hard to discern that this story is wholy unrealistic, it is written in such a way that you feel it is somewhat plausible. This might stem from the fact that our society has done a 180 and is composed mainly of cynics and pessimists. Although it was written around 250 years ago, many of the basic issues that Voltaire attacks are still around today. While we don't have the Inquisition murdering people today, religious intolerance is still deep rooted in many humans.
There are many reasons I so highly recommend this book. It is a quick read, something you can finish in only a couple hours. It also has several fantastical scenes that will leave you chuckling in disbelief. Finally, it is a good book to see exactly how much our world (at least the Western half) has changed.
on April 1, 2002
Diamonds, they say, are made from graphite. Voltaire has here written a gem of a story from the unpromising material of cynicism and farce. Don't try this at home -- apart from genius, it will fall flat -- but Candide ripples with wit.
Leibnetz, it is true, is hardly a household name today. But I expect Candide was also meant to be a sword-thrust into the soft underbelly of theism, the "Problem of Pain." While orthodox Christians do not claim this to be the "best of all possible worlds" (rather, a fallen one), the chaotic and apparently senseless troubles in it seem to a lot of us, too, to be the best argument against our faith. Voltaire twists the knife well. I was glad to see that though he excels, and delights, in mockery, the story functions ultimately as what may be an honest question, like that of Job or of Solomon. (In fact, ironically, the book Candide most reminds me of is Ecclesiastes.)
In one regard, at least, Candide is less true to life than the Biblical point of view, however. Thousands die here, but no one is begotten. The insanity of life is celebrated to the full, but its beauty and wonder are not squarely faced. The one-sidedness of Voltaire's approach lessens it as a work of philosophy, in my opinion. I couldn't help but reflect that many in the 20th Century went into the hell-holes of communist prisons, where every horror Candide and his friends experienced occurred, and more (the atheists of the 20th Century were also, in their own ways, ingenious), yet emerged with a strong belief in God. (Even some, like Solzhenitsyn, who went in as atheists.) Why is that? Philosophy, it seems to me, needs to face all sides of a question. This Voltaire hardly pretends to do: the book is a question, not an answer. But as satire on premature answers, it sizzles.
If all Voltaire's books contain cannabalism, libel, bestiality, and philosophical arguments based on slapstick humor, I can hardly blame the authorities for burning them. Being something of a Puritan myself, I docked Voltaire a star. Let that be a lesson.
The introduction by Andre Maurois is excellent.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man
on March 15, 2002
As a closet pessimist, I have often come across - and scoffed at - the notion that we live in the "best of all possible worlds." The must be so, of course, because the great God almighty is omniscent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent - in short, perfect, and cannot make a mistake. Therefore, all the seemingly needless suffering, trials, and tribulations that are inherent in our world - i.e., airplanes crashing into buildings - are actually for the better, for the greater good, because everything, EVERYTHING - no matter how seemingly cruel and inhumane - is part of the Big Guy's Great Cosmic Plan. Every action has a purpose, and that purpose is (perpetually) benign.
All of which is fine, except...
Have you looked at the world lately? I have, and, it seems to me that there are, to put it delicately, Several Flaws In This Plan. I watched two airplanes crash into two major American buildings, needlessly killing thousands, and I find it somewhat hard to believe, to put it lightly, that this is the "best of all possible worlds." I'm sure most you do as well... or else you probably wouldn't be reading this, now would you?
And yet, in the 18th Century time period when this book was written, just such a philosophy was popular (perhaps "rampant" is a more accurate term) among the heavy, high-brow philosophers of the day. Candide (subtitled "Optimism") is Voltaire's refutation of the notion. The writing is heavily sarcastic and burlesque - not to mention dark - as any good satire must be. It contains much delicate gallows humor. It reminds me of nothing (and I realize this is an obvious case of putting the carriage years before the horse) so much as our dearly beloved 20th century Doomsday Prophet Laurete, Kurt Vonnegut. Certainly, as this was in essence an ephermal political satire of the time in which it was written, Candide is not, perhaps as technically valid to our present "modern-day" society as the work of a, say, Vonnegut. As the book is primarily a reaction to the notion in question (that of all-pervading and naive optimism), and not an explanation of it picking its faults specifically (which is to say, it does not explain the nature of what it is refuting, assuming the reader already knows), much of the sarcasm has been lost through the years. One would need a general knowledge of 18th century philosophy to appreciate all the points that the book tries to make. However, Voltaire's main messages are certainly clear enough, and just as valid today as they ever were - and always will be. Read Candide - it's a dark, funny, irrevently hilarous and enlightening satire on man and his naive, optimistic folly and fallacious outlook. Even if you don't like the book - unlikely, if you have already waded through my review this far - I guarantee that you will respect it, and that it will make you think - and, perhaps, get you to question certain notions that you may have held unquestioningly throughout your life. Essential 18th century literature.
on February 16, 2002
Review of Candide published in the Dialogike Society Journal by Daniel De-L'amlow, philosophe extraordinaire, February 1760
Upon reading Monsieur Voltaire's short novel Candide, I thought, "My lack of God, has he shed his wings of logical investigation?" He has strayed from the pleasures of that path, due to the fact that he has failed to take into account the unpredictability and fallibility of man in a not-yet fully rationalized world. Emotion has surpassed logic as the driving force in his novel.
As for Candide, Aristotle would have placed him as one driven by moral virtue. He is a blank slate upon which is later written the words of his professor, Pangloss. He also shares the quality of Dante in the Divine Comedy in that he is afflicted with fainting whenever experiencing something that his fragile psyche cannot take. In Chapter 4, he faints twice in a row, once when hearing of the death of the object of his affection, Cunégonde, and of the barbarities committed on the civilian populations by both Bulgars and Abars. There is no mistaking Candide for a book; books have spines.
My favorite character is the scholar Martin, who accompanies the hero from South America back to Europe. Here, we can recognize Voltaire the realist, or, for those who feed deeply in the trough of idealists, a cynic. He is the symbiotic link between two extremes, the idealistic Candide and the hyper-rational Pangloss. We are further told that Martin is a Manichean, with a dualistic view implying a balance worked out by God and the Devil. Like Pangloss, he is a rational, curious and calm, a realist.
In Chapter 21, there is a discussion between Candide and Martin on the innate predatory nature of man, akin to hawks whenever they see pigeons. Candide tries to differentiate this by humans having free will, but frustratingly, Voltaire cuts off to "As they were theorizing, they arrived in Bordeaux." This quick cut annoyed me to no end, as I was anticipating an interesting discussion between the "young" and "old" Voltaire.
Martin has the best line after he and Candide visit Voltaire's dark side, Poconcurate, a bored nobleman who has accumulated knowledge for the sake of collecting and not learning. The scholar denounces Poconcurate's choleric attitude by quoting Plato: "the best stomachs are not those which refuse all food."
The other character for whom I have a liking to is the Anabaptist Jacques, who appears only in Chapter 4 and is killed off in the subsequent chapter. Where Pangloss says that the evils of the world in the end serve the common good, Jacques hinges his point on how God did not give them anything destructive, such as cannons or bayonets, yet man developed them to slaughter each other. Indeed, man should concentrate on expanding one's intellectual horizons instead of butchering each other.
In his misadventures throughout the globe, Candide finds the utopian, primitive, non-European society of El Dorado. Is Monsieur Voltaire trying to say that Europeans, at the height of sophistication and intelligence, are nothing compared to this underdeveloped society? It would appear so, as the king of El Dorado expresses his puzzlement of the white man's addiction to "our yellow mud."
To give credit to Candide, he strives for Pangloss' utilitarian viewpoint, but the turning point comes when he and Cacambo leave El Dorado and meets the maimed slave in Suriname. So horrified is he with the Negro's plight that he renounces Pangloss' optimism, which he describes as "a mania for insisting that all is well when one is suffering."
By tale's end, Candide has gone from being an idealist to an industrious and careful guardian. He has given up theorizing in exchange for tending his garden, by doing the best one can. I have no quarrel with this proposal if it were not for the religious implications, a clear reference to the fall of Adam and Eve from Eden. Candide has stooped to religion, an opiate of comfort for those who desire security. His master Pangloss provides his best words at the end, speaking of the chain of interconnected events that led from point A to B. Candide's feeble answer? "That is well said, but we must tend our garden." That is as deplorable as the easy road taken by Socrates, who, after discussing in length the root of virtue in the Euthyphro, declares that virtue must be God-given.
Do not mistake me, mes amis. Voltaire's work does have a few sanguine points, but he seems to forget that the world, the universe, itself embodies mechanistic perfection.
Monsieur Voltaire may think he is being funny, but with a few exceptions, he has the wit of a dull nail. I will credit him in describing the sex between Pangloss and Paquette as giving her "an experiment in physics" in the bushes, and the analogical reference Cacambo gives to Candide when he shoots the monkeys. Cacambo tells him that these monkeys are a quarter human in the same way that he is a quarter Spanish. I see this as a direct reference to the percentage of ignorant laypersons in our society in contrast to we fully human philosphes.
What is plainly clear is seeing the romantic-turned-philosophe-turned realist towards the end of his career. In short, I do not totally dismiss it, but Monsieur Voltaire does not know which side his croissant is buttered on. Candide can be summed up as Voltaire having a disillusioned existence and has decided to write a novel about it.
on February 4, 2002
One of the most popular philosophical ideas in Europe during the eighteenth century was that of "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds". It was the catch-phrase for Leibniz's argument that because god had created the world, everything was made to occur for the best because god's creations couldn't be evil. So even events that seem tragic and pointless are actually part of some larger, cosmically good plan that mere humans can't see. Therefore we should all accept our fate, and know that everything happens for the best, because we live in the best of all possible worlds.
Voltaire, a man who had twice been imprisoned in the Bastille and then exiled, thought this was a crock of you-know-what. Candide, subtitled Optimism, is his satirical response to this idea. Clearly humour was one of Voltaire's strong assets; Candide is quite funny. Many critics say that the characters aren't well developed, but I think that they're broadly drawn on purpose. I believe that one of the reasons Candide still works in our time is that we can identify the characters with people we know, and so we can follow their relationships and actions. For example, the old woman (who is never named) has seen what life has to offer, and cannot be surprised by anything anymore. I'm sure we all know at least one person like this. And Pangloss is basically a self-help guru, spouting out feel-good nonsense and getting paid a lot of money for his time. Candide is also somewhat short on dialog versus explication, but I didn't mind it.
However, the major drawback is that Candide was written in the eighteenth century, when the idea of the best possible world was so popular. Therefore the book is not an explanation and then rebuttal of it. Candide is only Voltaire's shout of disgust with it, and so the original idea is not addressed in any depth. In order to recover a large amount of the sarcasm, one would have to be fairly proficient in eighteenth-century philosophy.
Even with this weakness, I still found Candide a funny, enjoyable short read, and that Voltaire's basic ideas came through in the end.