Candide by Voltaire

“In the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia, there once lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters.”

Published when Voltaire was 66 years old, Candide was expressly written to satirize the philosophy of Optimism.  This optimism was not simply the positive hope of better circumstances, but the belief that everything that happened was for the best, no matter if good or bad, happy or tragic.  This philosophy disgusted Voltaire because he felt that it left no facility for bettering oneself or one’s surroundings and that it supported fatalism and complacency.  The tragic earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 seemed to precipitated the writing of this novel, causing the author to question justice in such a calamity, and reflected in his poem, “Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon,” written weeks afterward.  Candide was further emphasis of Voltaire’s rejection of the attitude that life was the “best of all possible worlds” and that everything that happened in it was for the best.

detailed portrait by Maurice Quenton de la Tour
source Wikipedia

Voltaire was an established writer and thinker by the time he wrote Candide, yet a controversial figure who by many was both admired and hated.  He  was continuously clashing with the government and the church, suffering two periods of incarceration, and most of his adult life was spent exiled from Paris, the city of his birth.  Much of his works were published under a pseudonym to avoid prosecution.  During a stint in exile, he spent three years in Great Britain and, impressed with the freedoms of England, particularly that of speech, his stay intensified his desire for reforms in his home country.  In 1758 he settled in Ferney in eastern France, spending his time farming, writing and supporting local business.  Candide was written there, not long after his move.

Satire:  the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

Candide is a young man who has grown up living in a state of perfect happiness, guided by his tutor, Pangloss, who is entrenched in the doctrines of Leibnizian Optimism.  Leibnizian Optimism, a philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, believed that this world is the best of all possible worlds because it was created by an omniscient God who would not create flaws if a better world could have been created, therefore, whatever we experience in this world, be it good or bad, must work towards good.  When Candide is thrown out of his paradise, he travels the world, at times escaping persecution, and at others, searching for his love, Cunégonde, experiencing many horrific trials and suffering that challenge the philosophy entrenched by his tutor, causing him to question over and over, if this really is “the best of all possible worlds.”

I really whiffle-waffled over how I felt about this book.  On one hand, Voltaire can write a fast-moving, engaging tale.  His storyline was amusing and it did contain deeper themes that, if the reader had a strong attention span, challenged him to think about his view of the world, his place in society and his response to injustice.  Yet Voltaire’s method was rushed and honestly, just too absurd to ellict introspection for long.  Candide flew from one adventure to the other, characters threw philosophical comments around, but there was no time or room for philosophy itself.  Voltaire never took a thought or comment from a character into deeper conversation; he simply told the reader what the characters did or thought, but we weren’t privy to the conversation.  As a reader, you were often left swimming in a murky haze of Voltaire-imposed ignorance ……. Yet perhaps this was Voltaire’s intention.  Perhaps at the end of the book, as Candide states, “we must cultivate our garden,” Voltaire meant that we should all mind our own business, not examine things too closely, and just work with what is at hand.  Okay, but it is self-introspection that causes a human being to better himself, it is dialogue and discussion that can often help a society, as well as having the possibility to harm it.  People need to have hope, and to cultivate hope it often means having dreams that reach outside our immediate circle of life.  Within the light-hearted narrative that almost masked the tragedy, I felt a fatalism with which I could not accept or sympathize.

That said, these were only my impressions of a book that touches on topics of which I have a limited understanding.  To give an informed opinion on Voltaire’s stance, you would really need to have more than a cursory knowledge of Leibnizian Optimism, as well as having at least summary knowledge of his contemporaries, with a dollop of the study of the Enlightenment on top.  So I will count this as the beginning of my inquiry into the Enlightenment and Voltaire, and hope that my journey fairs better than the journey of Candide.  And until my next foray into Voltaire, I will be cultivating my garden.

Translated by Lowell Blair

Candide Read-Along Chapters 25 – 30

Chapter 25 – 26

Pococurante received them politely but he is strangely unenthusiastic. Candide attempts to engage him on a number of subjects but he is always very blasé about each and finds something negative in every topic presented.   Claiming that in Italy, they only write what they don’t believe, he abuses Milton and then pronounces that he always says what he thinks whether people agree with him or not.  Flabbergasted at his continual judgements, when they leave Candide claims that Pococurante must be a happy man because he is above everything around him.  Martin, however, sets him straight, claiming, au contraire, that the senator is digested with everything.  When Candide inquires if there is not pleasure in being critical, Martin restates his question asking if there is pleasure in no pleasure. Claiming that he’ll be a happy man if he can see Cunégonde again, Candide, with Martin, continues on his way.  While Candide and Martin prepare to have a meal with six other foreigners, Cacambo appears and reveals that Cunégonde is in Constantinople, while he is a slave.  He then whispers in his master’s ear that he must leave the table and four other slaves do the same to their masters, while the sixth says to his master that they have no more credit and will be put in jail.  Amazed, Candide asks them if they are kings and they introduce themselves as six dethroned kings, Ahmed III, a great Sultan; Ivan, emperor of Russia; Charles Edward, King of England; a King of Poland; another King of Poland; and Theodore, elected king of Corsica, who is penniless; the others assist him with money, and Candide gives him a diamond.  Four Serene Highnesses who have also been dethroned arrive but Candide is too busy trying to figure out how he is going to reach Cunégonde.

Pococurante is similar to Martin, but different.  He is arrogant and condescending and even Martin does not admire his lifestyle.  The kings are all real kings, and I assume their narrative is to demonstrate the capriciousness of good fortune ……… you can be a king one day; exiled and a pauper the next.

Charles Edward “Bonnie Prince Charlie”
John Petite (1898)
source Wikipedia

Chapter 27 – 28

Candide convinces Cacambo’s master to take them to Constantinople, overjoyed at the thought of seeing Cunégonde and professing Pangloss’ philosophy with glee.  Candide remarks over their curious adventure with the dethroned kings, but Martin is not surprised by their fate.  Cacambo confesses to Candide that Cunégonde has lost her beauty but Candide is not dismayed and states that it is his duty to love her.  After arriving at the Bosphorus, Candide buys Cacambo’s freedom and they set off in a galley. Candide notices two galley slaves who resemble Pangloss and the Jesuit baron, Cunégonde’s brother, and they are revealed as such.  They are all introduced and Candide buys the freedom of his friends.  In response to Candide’s apology for his attack on him, the baron describes how he survived and how he arrived at his present circumstance.  Pangloss then gives his explanation of how they did not hang him properly, and how he revived in the middle of being dissected.  When he tried to put a bouquet back into a woman’s decolletage in a mosque, he was arrested and sold into slavery. When Candide asks him if he still believes his philosophy, he replies that he must, along with other obscure references.

“Candide …. reeled back three steps in horror,
and then, for politeness sake, advanced”
(Ilustration 1787 edition)

Chapter 29 – 30

As they land on the shore of the Sea of Marmora, they are still discussing “adventures, reasoning about the contingent or non-contingent events of this universe, and arguing about cause and effect, moral and physical evil, freedom and necessity and the consolations that one can find as a slave ….” The first person they see is Cunégonde, and they are all startled at her altered appearance.  The Baron recoils but recovers and embraces her.  Candide buys the old woman’s freedom (she is there too), and then they find an old farm nearby which Candide purchases.  When he tells the Baron that he is going to marry his sister, the Baron refuses and the old quarrel springs up with threats of murder.  Really, Cunégonde’s ugliness made him wish that he did not have to marry her, but because she was pressing and because of her brother’s arrogance, he is determined.  Instead of killing the Baron, he sells him back as a galley slave.  Now Candide has spent so much money and was cheated and robbed so many times, he now only has his farm left.  Cunégonde grows uglier every day, Cacambo is exhausted by work, and Pangloss is depressed that he is exiled from intellectual society. They have many discussions and arguments about metaphysics, morals, etc.  Martin concludes that man is either bored or afflicted; Candide does not agree; and Pangloss sticks to his philosophy, although he does not believe it. The arrival of the Venetian monk, Brother Gironde with tales of his tragedies shake Candide’s faith, but then they encounter the dervish of the neighbourhood who tells him not to question, to mind one’s own business and to keep quiet, before slamming the door in their faces.  Next, they meet an old-man who tells them that he  cultivates his land and that his work keeps him free from the three great evils: boredom, vice and poverty.  Pangloss says, “man was not born to be idle”; Martin replies, “let’s work without theorizing,” whereupon each “began to exercise his own talents” and “made himself useful”.  One day Pangloss mentions that if all the tragedies and adventures hadn’t happened, they wouldn’t be here now, but Candide only replies: “Well said, but we must cultivate our garden.”

The last chapter is somewhat telling.  Instead of being hit by calamity after calamity, our characters are now simply bored, and the old woman believes this may be worse.  Both the encounter with the dervish and the old man appear significant.  The dervish, while giving them no wisdom on the course they should take, is very insistent on what they should stop doing:  questioning.  The old man, on the other hand, gives them wisdom that appears to turn their lives in a different direction:  work.  Candide now appears to have control of his thoughts and, in the end, it is he that forestalls Pangloss’ speech and tells them what they must do.

Illustration by Fernand Siméon from ‘Candide ou L’optimisme’ by Voltaire.
Paris: Jules Meynial, 1922. NYPL, General Research Division.

Candide Read Along Chapters 17 – 24

Chapter 17 – 18

Candide and Cacambo decide to head for Cayenne.  After their horses die and after months of near-starvation, they decide to trust to Providence, climbing in a boat and sailing downstream. After travelling a great distance, their boat is smashed against a reef and they have to climb over rocks for three miles until they see beautifully elaborate carriages and come to a village.  They are flabbergasted to come across children playing quoits with gold, rubies and emeralds and, assuming they are all the children of kings, they return the abandoned jewels to the schoolmaster when the bell rings, but he only laughs and drops them to the ground.  Rescuing the jewels they continue on until the reach an inn, entering to find waiters and waitresses exquisitely dressed and dishes that would feed royalty.  When they try to pay with the gold they took from the road, they are laughed at and told that the meals in the inn are paid for by the government, but perhaps they did not know because this village is one of the poorer villages.  Candide and Cacambo are amazed.  They are then taken to a learned man of the court, and find they are in the former land of the Incas, that has flourished because no one of its citizens is allowed to leave it, which has preserved innocence and happiness.  Their kingdom is called El Dorado.  There, the people worship God but don’t ask him for anything because they have everything they need.   Candide and Cacambo are put in a carriage pulled by sheep and taken to the king’s palace where they are pampered and clothed and told to kiss the king on each cheek when they meet him.  They spend a month there, but Candide is pining for Cunégonde so they decide to return to civilization.  The king cannot understand their desire to leave but builds a machine that transports them out of El Dorado.  They set out from there with Bueno Aires as their destination, planning of all the wonders they can buy with their riches.

Have Candide and Cacambo found “the best of all worlds” in this chapter?  Voltaire appears to suspend his satire when directly dealing with the people from El Dorado.  What does this mean?  Is he saying that the “best of all worlds” can only be found in a fantasy?  He also makes the comment that El Dorado is as advanced as it is because the people have never left and therefore maintained their innocence and happiness.  Does he think when ideas and customs travel across boundaries, those “foreign” ideas and customs can corrupt society?  And further, does he comment on societies’ view of wealth: if we ceased to value material objects (such as the disinterest the people of El Dorado show towards their gold and jewels), will the renunciation of materialism make a well-functioning, more contented society?

Chapter 19 – 20

Their troubles begin again.  Approaching a town, they see a Negro lying on the ground with one leg and one hand missing.  He relates that his master is to blame for his plight, as he (the Negro) got a finger caught in the millstone, hence the loss of his hand, and then was caught stealing, hence the loss of his leg.  Candide is horrified, renounces the philosophy of Optimism and they move on.  The first ship they encounter won’t transport them to Bueno Aires and Candide finds out Cunégonde is the mistress of the governor of the city. Candide plans that Cacambo will go there to rescue Cunégonde and he will meet them both in Venice.  He makes a deal with a captain, a Dutch merchant, to sail to Italy but the captain deceives him and sails with his money and the only two sheep he has left from the gifts of the people of El Dorado.  He takes his case against the captain to a judge, but the judge only fines him for being noisy, charges him court costs, and says there is nothing he can do until the captain returns.  This is the last straw for Candide and he appears to give up on the goodness of man altogether.  He finds another ship going to France and offers free passage, food and 2000 piasters to a companion; from the myriad of applicants he choses a poor scholar, Martin, who has had at least as many misfortunes as Candide.  The two companions have a philosophical discussion about moral and physical evil during the voyage.  While Candide still has hope for Pangloss’ philosophy, Martin announces that he is a Manichean.  He tells of all the troubles he has experienced, and meanwhile their ship sinks a Spanish ship, which turns out to be the ship of the captain who robbed Candide.  All the men drown but one of Candide’s sheep is pulled on board.  Candide and Martin argue for weeks.

Manicheaism  – a religious doctrine, widely prevailing in the 3rd – 5th century, that the universe is controlled by two antagonistic powers, light or goodness, identified with God, and darkness, chaos, or evil. Trivia:  St. Augustine was a Manichean before his conversion.

An important point in the story occurs here:  Candide categorically denounces Pangloss’ Optimism for the first time.  Candid has been basing his opinions often on what has happened to other people, but more and more he is experiencing sufferings himself.  Martin’s worldview is obviously one where evil is seen as the overriding force in society.  While Martin’s observations don’t appear unrealistic, they do appear excessive for one person to experience.  One must question Candide’s choice of a companion.  Rather than balancing his viewpoint, one would think it would make him an extremist of one order, in the same way Pangloss’ one-sided views would make him extreme in another.  

source Wikipaintings

Chapter 21 – 22

They approach France, and while Martin relates that he has been there, he has nothing good to say about it.  Candide fires questions at Martin which are all given pessimistic answers, culminating with, “… if hawks have always had the same character, what makes you think men may have changed theirs?”  Candide asks about free will and the discussion continues.  Because all the travelers Candide meets say they are going to Paris, he decides to do likewise.  He becomes ill and receives the attention of two doctors, whom he does not know nor want.  He is accosted by a number of people wanting money, of which Candide has not a clue and gambles, wondering why he never has any aces.  An abbé from Périgord befriends him.  He takes them to the theatre, claims that in France they respect their queens when they are beautiful and toss them in garbage dumps when they’re dead, and laugh even when they are committing crimes.  Candide wishes to meet Madame Clairon, the actress, but the abbé takes him to meet a lady of a gambling establishment, where Candide manages to lose an enormous chunk of money.  The talk around the dinner table is of novels and great men.  Candide tries Pangloss’ philosophy on a dinner partner but the man disparages his words.  The lady of the house seduces Candide, not only out of his loyalty to Cunégonde, but two of his diamonds.  The abbé uses devious tactics to extract information about Cunégonde and Candide’s plans, then the next morning Candide receives a letter from Cunégonde, begging him to come to her in the city where she is staying.  Candide arrives with a bag of gold and diamonds, but is told the bed curtains must not be drawn.  Suddenly the abbé arrives with officers who arrest him and Martin, yet Candide bribes them for his release, and one agrees to take him by ship to Portsmouth, England.

Again, I don’t care much for Martin.  I’m not sure what purpose he serves other than to rain skepticism and negative opinions over much of their enterprise.  Whereas Cacambo was not surprised by human nature because he took everything in stride, Martin is not surprised by human nature because he always expects the worst from it.  Of course, we meet another avaricious and duplicitous church man, the abbé.  The society of Paris is shown as a sophisticated yet a shallow microcosm of human interactions and entertainment.  Nearly everyone whom Candide meets attempts to exploit him for his riches.  Candide finally flees the city.

Faubourg Saint-Honoré 1615

Chapter 23 – 24
Martin, at a question from Candide, tells him people in England are also mad but it is a different kind of madness than the French.  He claims the English are moody and morose, and the first sight they witness is an admiral being executed because he didn’t kill enough Frenchmen.  After witnessing this atrocious act, Candide refuses to set foot on shore, and two days later they sail for Venice.  Candide is elated, thinking he will find Cunégonde and that “everything is going well.”  When they reach Venice, Candide searches everywhere for Cacambo but he is nowhere to be found and Martin claims that he probably ran off with Candide’s money.  Candide agrees with Martin that, “life is nothing but illusions and calamities”.  Upon seeing a monk and a young woman, Candide remarks upon their happiness but Martin thinks otherwise.  They invite the two to dinner and find out the girl is Paquette, Pangloss’ mistress, who has had to sell herself to survive, along with other miseries, and that the monk was forced into his vocation by his parents and that the prior steals half his  pay and he spends the rest on women.  Martin has won the bet; Candide gives Paquette and the monk money, but Martin doubts they will be happy with it.  Candide then announces he has heard of a senator Pococurante, who makes everyone welcome at his palace and they decide to go and see him.
The execution of the British admiral is based on a true incident and one which Voltaire actively campaigned to stop.  War, again, is a theme and Voltaire brings to the forefront the lack of logic of it, in proportion to the benefits.  Voltaire shows another corrupted churchman, yet this time the monk was simply a victim of circumstances,  one who did not choose his profession but was forced into it.  Martin’s observation that money will not make the couple happy is shrewd; so far all Candide’s riches have not made him happier and his optimism, while he still clings to vestiges of it, is being whittled away.  Will his encounter or lack of one with Cunégonde push him over the edge?  We shall see ………….
The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola
about 1738
source Wikipedia

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about Martin?

I do not like Martin at all.  He is a foil to Pangloss.  Pangloss looked for good without actually seeing and, in a way, Martin looks for bad or evil without actually seeing.  If you expect people to be untrustworthy or swindlers or cruel or avaricious, that is what you will start to see and, if you have practiced it to the degree that Martin has, I doubt you would see anything else.  I actually think Voltaire did his argument a disservice by using him, but I guess that remains to be seen.

Does a utopia like El Dorado sound appealing to you?

There were certainly things I liked about El Dorado.  I think that a certain amount of autonomy can be beneficial to a country/society.  The people of El Dorado are knowledgeable and curious, yet they have a special type of wisdom that has created an harmonious balance.  Now do I think that it is realistic?  No.  Balance in human nature is hard to achieve and there will always be corruption, struggles for power, etc.  

Candide Read Along Chapter 9 – 16

Chapter 9 – 10

Don Issachar bursts into the room and tries to stab Candide but instead Candide kills him by skewering him with his sword.  He is horrified but suddenly the Grand Inquisitor turns up and Candide kills him as well.  The old woman suggests that they flee on three horses (adding the information that she is only able to sit on one buttock) and, after gathering jewels and money, they set off for Cadiz.  When gone, the Holy Brotherhood enters the house, buries the Inquisitor in a beautiful church but throws the Jew on a garbage heap.

In a village on their way, Cunégonde is robbed,  ——– the suspect, a Franciscan friar.  They sell one of their horses to a Benedictine.  When they reach Cadiz, Candide’s superior knowledge of drills lands him in the army which is to fight against the Jesuits in Paraguay as they rebel against the King of Spain.  As they cross the Atlantic, Candide hopes the New World will be an improvement over the Old, yet Cunégonde expresses little hope of this.  The old woman claims that her misfortunes surpass everyone’s and begins to speak.

Voltaire makes a distinction between the classes and a commentary on the brutality of man and their harsh treatment of each other bases on these distinctions.  The purpose of his portrayal of the Franciscan friar as a thief and the Benedictine monk as cheap I’m assuming is another stab at the church, other than the obvious observation that he doesn’t care for either, as the one is concerned with materialism and the other, economy.  The gradual change in Candide’s philosophy continues:  “I must admit that it’s possible to complain about some of the things that go on in our world, from both a physical and a moral point of view.”  He is no longer Pangloss’ parrot but he hasn’t yet abandoned hope of “the best of all possible worlds”, instead expecting to find it in another location.

Candide finds Cunégonde

Chapter 11 – 12

The old woman introduces herself as the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina.  She was raised in splendour and opulence, and betrothed to marry a prince but, when he is murdered by his mistress, she sets off with her mother on a ship to their estate near Gaeta.  On their way, they are captured by pirates, strip-searched, she is raped by the captain, then taken to Morocco as slaves.  Upon arriving there, they find the country in the midst of a civil war; everyone in their party is slaughtered except for the princess, who collapses and when she wakes, finds a man on top of her complaining of the loss of his testicles.  He carries her to a house, puts her to bed and then tells of how he was castrated and lived the life of a eunuch in her own palace.  She is amazed and shares the sad fate of her mother, upon which he recognizes her as the princess he had brought up.  Lately he had been helping a Christian power to wipe out other Christian powers and was in Morocco to purchase ammunition.  He promises to take her back to Italy but instead takes her to Algiers and sells her to the dey of the province, whereupon she catches the plague is sold numerous times until she finds herself with an aga who was sent to defend Azov against the Russians.  When facing starvation, their Janizary guards are persuaded by a beautiful sermon of a Muslim cleric, not to completely kill the women but instead, to cut off a buttock each to eat.  The Russians arrive and kill the soldiers, yet they cure the women and the woman is sold to a Russian Boyar; later she escapes, crosses Russia, works as a barmaid and wants to kill herself numerous times.  She finally becomes a servant in Don Issachar’s house where she meets Cunégonde and claims that all men has often cursed their own lives and each thinks that he is the most miserable man in the world.

I’m assuming the Muslim cleric spouting beautiful sermons while the Moroccans butcher each other is another religious dig by Voltaire, but since the cleric was in Azov, and actually trying to help the women in the harem from being killed, I’m not sure that there’s a connection.  As for the old woman, she has obviously suffered horrific trials at the hands of many.  Her destiny until the end of the tale, is never controlled by herself; she is always the pawn of another.  Yet, in spite of her tragic story and circumstances, she has survived and appears to have developed a strong character.  She claims to love life but seems confused at why she would want to hold on to something that has been mostly repellent to her:  “What could be more stupid than to persist in carrying a burden that we constantly want to cast off, to hold our existence in horror, yet cling to it nonetheless, to fondle the serpent that devours us, until it has eaten our heart?”

An Ottoman scholar
source Wikipedia

Chapters 13 – 14

After the woman finishes her story, Cunégonde’s respect for her increases and together, she and Candide poll the passengers and find out, indeed, all their lives have been miserable.  Candide wishes Pangloss was still with them so he could offer objections to his theories.  They land in Buenos Aires and the governor, Don Fernando, takes a fancy to Cunégonde and proposes marriage.  The old woman urges Cunégonde to accept, therefore making Captain Candide’s fortune.  A ship comes into the harbour with a magistrate who is in pursuit of them.  The old woman tells Cunégonde to stay as she has nothing to fear since the murder was not at her hands, yet she urges Candide to flee.  Candide escapes with his valet Cacambo, a pragmatic young man who suggests that they find the Jesuits and fight for them instead of against.  When they reach the first border post into Paraguay they are taken to the Jesuit commandant and, lo and behold, it is Cunégonde’s brother.  They speak as if brothers, telling each other the news since their last parting.

Again, Voltaire gives another nobleman a ridiculously inflated name (Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueroa y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza) to mirror Spanish noblemens’ ridiculously inflated egos and pretensions.  The old woman continues to instruct the couple, but it appears her favour sways to Cunégonde; she sees it is in Cunégonde’s best interests to marry Don Fernando, so she pushes for the marriage and pressures Candide to flee.  Candide exhibits more signs of rejecting Pangloss’ philosophy when he mentions wishing to argue with him over it.  Cacambo shows himself both clear-sighted and resourceful.  And, as usual, Voltaire makes a point to vilify religion, showing the Jesuits not only fighting in the midst of a war, but also possessing slaves.

Jesuit missionary
source Wikipedia

Chapters 15 – 16

The baron relates his story and they embrace, the baron calling Candide his brother and saviour.  When he asks after his sister, Candide reveals his plans to marry her and the baron erupts into a rage.  Candide’s pedigree is not good enough.  The baron strikes him with the flat of his sword, upon which Candide runs him through, killing him outright.  Cacambo runs in, dresses Candide in the baron’s robe and hat, and they escape.  Candide is overwhelmed with sorrow at his act and that he may never see the fair Cunégonde again.  They come across two naked women being chased by monkeys who are biting their buttocks.  Candide, thinking he is saving the young women, shoots the monkeys but finds he has misjudged and that the monkeys are one-quarter Spanish and lovers of the ladies who are weeping and wailing over the dead corpses.  Cacambo convinces Candide this is not an unusual relationship and they camp in the forest to sleep, but upon awaking, find themselves trussed and bound.  The two girls have told the Oreillons about them and there are about fifty of them, labelling them as Jesuits.  Cacambo craftily tells the natives that they are about to eat friends, not enemies, and, in fact, they have just killed a Jesuit.  The Oreillons leave to discover the truth and return to release them.  Candide is relieved to have killed the Baron, without which they would have presently been eaten.

The contradiction between religion and war continue.  The Jesuits are supposed to be missionaries but they are portrayed as fighting a political war. Hierarchy is also made to appear foolish when, initially, the Baron treats Candide like a brother, then turns into a enemy as soon as he finds that they could actually be related by marriage.  Cacambo’s practicality and ingenuity comes to the rescue as he formulates a successful escape plan and his quick-thinking gets them out of their precarious situation with the Oreillons.  I’m not even sure I want to analyze the situation with the monkeys.  Does the fact that they are one-quarter Spanish, make them nearly human?  What (if any) commentary is Voltaire making on the Spanish?  The natives?

Discussion Question:

What do you think?

Hmmm ……. I’m not sure ………..  Voltaire obviously has a dinosaur-bone to pick with the Church.  Even with the Muslim cleric, while he does portray him giving a sermon for the benefit the women of the harem, they lose half their buttocks and, meanwhile, his Moroccan brotherhood are butchering each other on the streets.  

I do agree that all the characters are such extremes (I’ve labelled them as caricatures), that it is difficult to take them seriously.  Every single friar, priest, or cleric is avaricious, ignorant, violent, etc.  That is like saying, for instance, if there is a serial killer who is a truck-driver from Kentucky, that all Kentucky truck-drivers are serial killers.  It breaks the laws of basic logic.  Even Candide, though sweet and innocent, has now killed three people and, honestly, is rather stupid.  Do I think Voltaire is shooting his argument in the foot?  Yes.  Perhaps the readers of his time could connect more to his writing but this reader, needs to be able to connect with characters in a novel to be able to be open enough to accept their arguments.  So far, I find the narrative silly and slightly irritating.  I’m wondering if this was simply a rant by Voltaire and his first (or second or third) intention wasn’t necessarily to connect with his audience.

However, I’m still hoping that it will redeem itself somewhat at the end.  Yes, hope springs eternal!

source Wikimedia Commons

Candide Read-Along Intro & Chapters 1 – 8

And so begins our Candide Read-Along, hosted by Fariba at Exploring Classics.  I was slightly intimidated by this novel but, after doing some research, I feel much more confident that I’ll be able to understand the main points of the novel.  That said, this novel, because of it’s satirical nature and specific satirical targets, deserves an introduction.


Published when Voltaire was 66 years old, Candide was expressly written to satirize the philosophy of Optimism.  This optimism was not simply the positive hope of better circumstances, but the belief that everything that happened was for the best, no matter if good or bad, happy or tragic.  This philosophy disgusted Voltaire because he felt that it left no facility for bettering oneself or one’s surroundings and that it supported fatalism and complacency.  The tragic earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 seemed to precipitated the writing of this novel, causing the author to question justice in such a calamity, and reflected in his poem, “Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon,” written weeks afterward.  Candide was further emphasis of Voltaire’s rejection of the attitude that life was the “best of all possible worlds” and that everything that happened in it was for the best.

detailed portrait by Maurice Quenton de la Tour
source Wikipedia

Voltaire was an established writer and thinker by the time he wrote Candide, yet a controversial figure who by many was both admired and hated.  He  was continuously clashing with the government and the church, suffering two periods of incarceration, and most of his adult life was spent exiled from Paris, the city of his birth.  Much of his works were published under a pseudonym to avoid prosecution.  During a stint in exile, he spent three years in Great Britain and, impressed with the freedoms of England, particularly that of speech, his stay intensified his desire for reforms in his home country.  In 1758 he settled in Ferney in eastern France, spending his time farming, writing and supporting local business.  Candide was written here, not long after his move.

Satire:  the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

Chapter 1

Candide, a young man with “sound judgement and great simplicity of mind,” lives in the household of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh.  It is suspected that he is a child of the baron’s sister and a neighbourhood nobleman.  With a innocent susceptibility, he accepts his tutor, Pangloss’ teaching of “everything is necessarily for the best purposes.”  Cunegonde, the baron’s daughter espies Pangloss dallying with a maid, decides she wants to repeat the experiment with Candide, but they are caught in the act of caressing by the baron and Candide is literally booted from the house.

Voltaire’s sarcasm is apparent in his treatment of the baron.  He gives his castle a pretentious name, makes the baron important merely because he has a castle with doors and windows and praises the baroness for her prodigious weight, equating it with esteem.

Chapter 2

Arriving in the nearest town, Candide meets two Bulgar soldiers who force him to come with him but due to Candide’s naiveté he innocently does their bidding.  After being conscripted into the army, he is trained, yet one day when out for a walk he is seized, taken back to the barracks and put on trial.  The sentence passed is that he can be beaten by the regiment 36 times (running the gauntlet) or have 12 bullets put into his brain.  He chooses the former but, after 3 times is near death.  Fortunately the king of the Bulgars happens along and pardons him, realizing that he is “a young metaphysician, utterly ignorant of worldly matters.”  The armies of the Bulgars and the Avars then clash in battle.

Voltaire explores army conscription; people were often tricked into serving and severely punished if they did not obey the rules.  He also brings in the question of free will:  “It did him no good to maintain that man’s will is free and that he wanted neither; he had to make a choice.”  I’m not quite certain his point in this; did he deny free will and feel that fate controlled circumstances or did he accept free will but feel that it was limited by our circumstances?

Chapter 3

The two armies meet and there are 30,000 deaths from cannons, rifle-fire and bayonets.  Candide decides to go away to reason about cause and effect.  He encounters a burned Avar village, with scenes of carnage and molestation, and littered with body parts.  In a Bulgar village he finds similar atrocities and decides to go to Holland where he would find Christians who would treat him as he was accustomed to be treated in the baron’s castle.  Yet when he begs for alms he is mocked and derided.  An orator who is speaking of love labels him a wretch and rejects him outright because he will not speak against the pope.  Fortunately he meets Jacques, an unbaptized Anabaptist who gives him shelter, a bath, food, money and offers to teach him to manufacture Persian  fabrics.  Candide assume this treatment confirms the “all is best in the world” theory.  On his walk the next day, he happens upon a diseased beggar.

Voltaire feelings of revulsion of the effects of war is apparent in this chapter.  He uses oxymorons to get across the absurdity of war: “….. a harmony whose equal was never heard in hell,” and ” ….. during the heroic carnage,” as well as horrific scenes of slaughter.  The hypocrisy of Christianity is also brought to the forefront, which is countered by Jacques, the Anabaptist.

Chapter 4

Candide discovers that the beggar is his old tutor, Pangloss, who gives him the horrific news of Cungonde’s death.  Candide faints and when he recovers, Pangloss tells him that the baron and his wife and son were killed, Cungonde was raped and disembowelled and the castle razed to the ground.  He blames his affliction on the baroness’ maid who infected him with syphilis, tracing the disease back to Columbus’ shipmate.  Jacques pays to have Pangloss cured, the tutor only losing an ear and an eye.  Two months later they must travel to Lisbon, and on the ship, Pangloss states it is all for the best but Jacques contradicts him, saying that men are not born bad but make choices that have direct bearing on their situations.  Pangloss counters that individual misfortunes are for the greater good.  They encounter a raging storm.

Pangloss’ reasoning with regard to him contracting the pox had some sort of weird psychological reasoning which I could not follow.  Pangloss rejects that his situation could be punishment for sin or caused by evil.  I did like how Jacques mentioned that, 

“Men must have a corrupted nature a little, because they weren’t born wolves, yet they’ve become wolves:  God didn’t give them twenty-four-pounders or bayonets, but they’ve made themselves bayonets and cannons with which to destroy each other.”

Another comment on the senselessness of war.

Chapter 5

The storm becomes perilous and Jacques is tossed into the sea (after saving a sailor who now does not attempt to save him) where he drowns.  Candide wants to jump in to save him but Pangloss prevents this heroic act, explaining the harbour was designed especially for the Anabaptist to drown in.  When they reach land, there is an earthquake and later, after getting dinner from some inhabitants that they assisted, an officer of the Inquisition argues with Pangloss that if all is for the best, there then can be no original sin or punishment.  Pangloss argues back and they discuss free will.  The officer ominously nods to his attendant.

Another instance of free will being mentioned and more of Pangloss’ philosophy.  The problem of evil is touched on.  Is man evil?  Are things like Pangloss’ recent condition and the earthquake punishment for evil?  What is purposeful and what is destiny?  What can be altered and what is fate?  The earthquake mentioned here is based on the real earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon.  

Chapter 6

After the earthquake, the “wise men of the country” decided to have an auto-de-fe (or a ritual of public penance, during the first part of which accused heretics were sentenced by the Inquisition), and they burn people to prevent another quake.  Pangloss and Candide are arrested, the former for having spoken and the latter for listening.  Candide and Pangloss are forced to wear miters, Candide’s with flames pointing down and devils with no claws or tails and Pangloss’ with the flames pointing upward and devils with claws and tails.  Candide was beaten to beautiful music, Pangloss was hanged and the earth trembled again.  Candide begins to question the “best of worlds,” thinking of the fate of Pangloss, Jacques and Cunegonde.  An old woman tells him to follow her.

Superstition seems to be a main theme of this chapter, exemplified by the auto-de-fe in hopes of avoiding another earthquake.  Along with Pangloss, two men who would not eat the pork were hanged, obviously two Jews.  Candide begins to question the “all is best” philosophy and he no longer has Pangloss to continually reinforce these views.  What will happen to his perceptions without his friend?

Chapter 7

The woman takes him to a hovel, feeds him and he sleeps.  The next evening she takes him to an isolated house where he finds Cunegonde.  He is ecstatic, falling at her feet.  Cunegonde tells him Pangloss’ report was true but she survived and will tell him more after he relates what has happened to him since he left the castle.  He does.

There is not much to say, except to note the air of mystery in the chapter.  It says Candide regards “his whole life as a nightmare, and the present moment a delightful vision.”  A flair for the dramatic.  Why would he regard is whole life a nightmare when he was completely happy up until the point he was evicted from the castle?  I suppose it’s a devise to emphasize his overwhelming happiness at discovering Cunegonde alive.

Chapter 8

Cunegonde recounts the horrors she experienced at the hands of the Bulgars.  The Bulgar captain sold her to a Jew and later, when she was noticed by the Grand Inquisitor they decided to share her, although she so far has resisted them both, as “a lady of honour may be raped once, but it strengthens her virtue.”  She saw both Pangloss and Candide at the auto-de-fe and suddenly realized that Pangloss’ theory of “all is for the best” is not true.  She gave her servant orders to find him and voilà!  But Don Issachar, the Jew has arrived home expecting his rights.

Discussion Questions

1)      Do you think Pangloss is a predatory figure or merely naive like Candide? In other words, is Pangloss deliberately trying to lead others astray or does he actually believe in the philosophy of optimism?

I think Pangloss truly believed in his philosophy.  Voltaire makes him almost blind to what is around him and his comments do not stem from what he actually sees (outward) but solely from what he believes (inward).

2)      How do you feel about Voltaire’s writing style? Do you find this book funny or disturbing?

So far I am keeping an open mind.  I have not consciously read a book as satire before, so I’m wondering if all satires are as overdone as this one is feeling.  I’m finding it mostly disturbing, yet it is so contrived and theatrical, I’m honestly having trouble taking it seriously to have a feeling either way.

3)      Who is your favorite character thus far?

Jacques is definitely my favourite character so far.  Actually, he is the only character who has seemed like a character; the rest have been more like caricatures.

Candide Read-Along

Fariba from Exploring Classics is doing a read-along of Candide by Voltaire in March and I have decided to join.  My schedule should have eased somewhat by then and I should be able to fit it in relatively easily.

Here is the outline:

The event will be from March 1 – 31, 2014.

Fariba will be reading the work in the original language, but all posts will be in English.  Here is the posting schedule:

Monday, March 10:  chapters 1 – 8

Monday, March 17:  chapters 9 – 16

Monday March 24:  chapters 17 – 24

Monday, March 31:  chapters 25 – 30 (last post)

After she posts about a series of chapters, you have a whole week to comment on those chapters.

Depending on if I have enough time, I may tried to read the novel in the original French, or at the very least read some of it in French.  I don’t quite know what to expect from this novel but I’m looking forward to it!