For Further Study
François-Marie Arouet, best known under his pen name, Voltaire, is such a historical giant that some scholars, like Ariel and Will Durant, call the eighteenth century the "Age of Voltaire." Voltaire was unrivaled in stature as an author. He criticized everyone and signed his works with "Ecrasez l'in-fame" or "down with infamy." Though he wrote more than eighty volumes of material, his most popular work remains Candide; ou L'optimisme, traduit de l'Allemand, de Mr. le Docteur Ralph, translated in 1759 as Candide; Or All for the Best. The reception of the work was controversial; in fact, the Great Council of Geneva immediately denounced it and ordered all copies to be burned.
Candide parodies the philosophy of optimism put forth by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz. This philosophy states that since God created the world and God is perfect, everything in the world is ultimately perfect. Voltaire had already attacked this philosophy of optimism in his poem on the 1756 Lisbon earthquake. Rousseau answered the poem with a letter, which was leaked to the press, saying it was Voltaire who was mistaken. Voltaire answered back three years later with the tale of Candide. The tale is a fantastic picaresque journey that takes Candide around the world. After he and his friends are killed, they are brought back to life; first rich, then poor; and finally, they wind up on a farm in Turkey.
Voltaire's mother, Marie Marguerite Daumard, was the daughter of a member of Parliament and sister of the comptroller general of the royal guard. She had access to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Daumard married François Aruoet, an affluent attorney, investor, and friend of the poet Nicolas Boileau, dramatist Pierre Corneille, and the courtesan Ninon de Lenclos. The Arouets had five children; the youngest one, born in Paris on November 21, 1694, was Voltaire.
At the age of 10, Voltaire entered the Jesuit College of Louis-le-Grand on the Left Bank of Paris. Voltaire graduated in 1711 with every intention of being a writer. His father, however, wanted him to study law.
In 1713, Voltaire was sent to The Hague as page to the French ambassador. Scandalously, he fell in love with Olympe de Noyer (nicknamed "Pimpete") and was summoned home, disinherited, and threatened with exile to the New World. Voltaire surrendered and studied law. His reputation and covert writing, however, caused him to be blamed for two poems critical of the regent, Phillipe d'Orleans, written by Le Brun. As a result, he was imprisoned in the Bastille from 1717 to 1718. There he wrote Oedipe, a tragedy, between the lines of books because he was denied paper. After his release, he began calling himself de Voltaire after a nondescript farm he inherited of that name.
In 1722, his father died and Voltaire was free from his control. In the same year, he met his rival, Rousseau, in Brussels. His growing squadron of enemies, spearheaded by the chevalier de Rohan, managed to have him exiled to England in 1726 where he was delighted to meet Englishmen like Jonathan Swift. In 1729, back in France, he regained favor, published Lettres philosophiques in 1734, and became royal historiographer.
Voltaire frequented the court of Frederick the Great from 1750 to 1753. Disillusioned with the powerful Prussian, Voltaire settled permanently in Ferney, near the Swiss border, so that he could easily flee from trouble. There, word of the Lisbon earthquake shook his optimism and he wrote the Lisbon poem of 1756 and Candide in 1759. Over the next decade, he and his comrades—the philosophes—joined together to try and topple a few columns holding up "l'infame."
Voltaire had many hobbies. He single-handedly made his town, Ferney, a prosperous watch-manufacturing center. He was also concerned with injustice—most famously in the case of Jean Calas, whose innocence he helped to restore. With an authorial claim on some 80 total volumes of writings, he died in May 1778 in Paris, months after a successful showing of Irene. His ashes were moved to the Pantheon in 1791.
Voltaire's Candide opens by introducing the honest youth, Candide, a servant in Westphalia to Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, who may be Candide's uncle. Candide loves the Baron's daughter, Cunégonde, and is the avid student of Pangloss, a philosopher who continuously "proves" Leibniz's belief that this is "the best of all possible worlds." Candide is expelled from Westphalia when the Baron catches him in a romantic embrace with Cunégonde.
Two seemingly friendly men rescue the cold, hungry Candide, then force him to become a soldier for the Bulgars. After being caught leaving the army camp, Candide receives two thousand whiplashes. Before his punishers can grant his re-quest to be killed, however, the Bulgar King passes by and pardons him.
The Bulgar army engages in a terrible battle with the Abar army. Candide wanders through burned towns with butchered people to reach Holland, where he is treated rudely until he meets Jacques, an Anabaptist. Jacques kindly cares for Candide, who soon discovers a beggar with a rotted nose. It is Pangloss, who caught syphilis from the Baron's servant, Paquette. Pangloss tells Can-dide that Cunégonde was ravished by Bulgar soldiers, then killed. Jacques has Pangloss cured and the three men travel by ship to Lisbon.
When the ship is struck by a storm, Jacques helps a sailor back into the tossed ship but is thrown overboard himself. Candide wants to try to save him, but Pangloss dissuades him. Jacques drowns. After surviving the ship's sinking, Candide and Pangloss are in Lisbon when a devastating earthquake strikes.
In order to prevent further earthquakes, Lisbon authorities hold an auto-da-fé, where sacrificial victims are tortured and burned alive. Candide and Pangloss are chosen for sacrifice. Because of rain, Pangloss is hanged. Candide is flogged, but before he is burned, another earthquake strikes and an old woman leads him away.
The old woman tends his wounds and takes him to a wealthy home where he encounters Cunégonde, still alive. After the Bulgar attack, she was sold to a Jew, Don Issachar, in whose house she now lives. She also caught the attention of the Grand Inquisitor, who shares her with Issachar.
Issachar arrives, and, seeing Candide, attacks him. Candide kills him. The Inquisitor then arrives, and Candide kills him as well. The old woman plans their escape to Cadiz, where Candide displays his military skills and is hired to fight the Jesuits of Paraguay.
Aboard ship, the old woman tells them her riches-to-rags life story, which includes slavery, losing one buttock, constant labor, and travel. Despite repeatedly desiring to kill herself, she asserts that she suffers from humankind's "ridiculous weakness": she is "still in love with life."
They arrive in Buenos Ayres and go see the Governor, who lusts after Cunégonde and proposes to her. The old woman suggests Cunégonde accept his offer, especially after they discover that they are being pursued for the Inquisitor's murder. They warn Candide to escape.
Candide's servant, Cacambo, agrees with the warning and suggests they join forces with the Jesuits. They go see the Colonel Father Provincial, who, to Candide's dismay, is Cunégonde's brother.
When Candide tells the Colonel that he plans to marry Cunégonde, however, the formerly friendly Colonel becomes indignant and strikes him. Candide stabs him then laments his action. Cacambo, thinking rationally, disguises Candide as the Colonel and they escape.
While eating, they see two naked girls being chased by two monkeys nibbling at their buttocks. To save the women, Candide shoots the monkeys. The two girls cry over the fallen monkeys, who, Cacambo realizes, were the girls' lovers. Candide and Cacambo run off but are captured by Oreillons, who are planning to cook them and "have Jesuit" for dinner. Cacambo, who knows their language, talks them out of it by telling them about Candide slaying the Jesuit Colonel.
Candide and Cacambo endure many hardships until they find themselves in Eldorado, an isolated country of gold mud, jeweled stones, and peaceful contentment. Candide decides this must be the place "where everything is for the best," the place that Pangloss described and Candide has never encountered. Though they are in paradise, Candide cannot live without Cunégonde and Cacambo has a "restless spirit," so they leave with gifts of vast riches carried by a hundred red sheep.
After one hundred days, only two sheep remain, but they are still quite rich. They encounter a tortured black slave. Overcome by the man's plight, Candide exclaims that he must renounce Pangloss's optimism. Cacambo asks, "What's optimism?" Candide replies, "It is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell." Candide sends Cacambo to rescue Cunégonde while he sails for Venice. But Candide is double-crossed by Vanderdendur, a merchant ship captain, who steals Candide's treasure. Embittered, Candide decides to hire the most unfortunate man in the province to accompany him to France. He chooses a poor scholar named Martin.
Candide is better off than Martin because he still possesses some jewels and he still longs for Cunégonde, while Martin, a confirmed pessimist, hopes for nothing. They soon witness a sea battle in which one ship sinks. When Candide happily saves a red sheep from the water, they realize that Vanderdendur has been killed and the treasure lost. Candide and Martin debate philosophy all the way to France.
They experience the many corruptions of Paris, then sail to England where they witness an admiral executed for not killing enough enemies. He serves as an example to other admirals.
They reach Venice but cannot find Cacambo, which does not surprise Martin. Candide attempts to refute Martin's cynicism by pointing to a monk and girl walking happily together. They discover, however, that both of them also are miserable. The woman is Paquette, who is now a prostitute. The man, Brother Giroflé, detests his life as a monk.
Candide and Martin visit Count Pococurante, a wealthy Venetian. Because Pococurante thinks for himself and can find little to please his tastes, Candide thinks him a genius.
Candide and Martin dine with six strangers, all of whom are deposed kings. Cacambo is the slave of one king, and he helps Candide and Martin sail to Constantinople, where they will find Cunégonde, who is now a slave. Candide buys Cacambo's freedom. While aboard ship, they discover that two of the galley slaves are Pangloss and Cunégonde's brother. Candide buys their freedom and they join him. Pangloss asserts that he still holds to his optimistic views, but mainly because it would be improper for a philosopher to recant and because Leibniz cannot be wrong.
They find Cunégonde, who has become horribly ugly, though she does not know it. Candide ransoms her and the old woman. He also agrees to keep his word and marry Cunégonde. The Baron stubbornly refuses to allow it, however, because of Candide's genealogy.
Though he no longer wants to marry Cunégonde, Candide is angered by the Baron's arrogance and, without Cunégonde's knowledge, the group ships the Baron to Rome. Candide then buys a small farm where they all live, dissatisfied. They wonder which is worse, their previous tortures or the boredom of the farm. Paquette and Brother Giroflé, both destitute, arrive. After visiting a rude dervish philosopher, who tells them God is indifferent to their troubles, the group encounters a Turkish farmer who treats them kindly. He tells them that his family's work "keeps us from those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty." They all agree that this is a sensible approach to life, and each assumes a task on the farm. When Pangloss philosophizes about their adventures and fate, "proving" that all has turned out as it should in this "best of all possible worlds," Candide replies that they "must cultivate our garden."
Cacambo is "a quarter Spanish, born of a half-Indian father in the Tucuman province of Argentina. He had been a choir boy, a sexton, a sailor, a monk, a commercial agent, a soldier and a servant." He is now Candide's beloved valet and traveling companion. They experience Eldorado together. Towards the end, it is Cacambo who arranges for Candide to find Cunégonde again. Cacambo is also the one who does all the work when they first start farming.
The fantastically naïve young man who is "driven from his earthly paradise" with hard kicks in his backside is Candide. Like Everyman, from the medieval morality play by that name, Candide experiences as much as a man could experience in order to arrive at a well-deserved conclusion regarding the plight of man. He exemplifies the idea of optimism when he reluctantly enters the world and leaves the household of the Baron's castle in Westphalia behind. Westphalia, so Candide was told, is the best of all possible kingdoms. In retrospect, he sees that it had a few problems.
It is suspected that Candide is the bastard offspring of the Baron's sister and a gentleman of the neighborhood. This ignoble birth is not held over him except when it matters most—marriage to Cunégonde. In the course of his travels he is conscripted, beaten, and robbed. Circumstances make Candide a criminal, "I'm the kindest man in the world, yet I've already killed three men, and two of them were priests!" People take advantage of him especially when they learn about his love for Cunégonde. Consequently, pretenders mislead him and, therefore, he experiences the loss of love many times. During any pause in the excitement, he ponders his predicament and the human condition in terms worthy of the deepest philosopher.
Cunégonde is Candide's love interest. As a young woman, she sees her family butchered and is passed from man to man. She ends up with Don Issachar, whose advances she is able to adequately handle. He houses her in Lisbon and the Old Woman becomes her maid.
Having caught the eye of the Grand Inquisitor, she is then shared by the two men until rescued by Candide. Cunégonde travels with him to Buenos Aires. There she marries Don Fernando de Ibarra until Cacambo pays her ransom. But instead of reunion with Candide, she is taken by pirates and sold into slavery. When Candide pays for her freedom, she is old, ugly, and washing dishes. However, she ends up a very good pastry cook.
Despite appearing to be a happy Theatine monk, Brother Girofé hates monastic life. His family forced him to enter the monastery so that his elder brother could inherit the family's wealth. He hates his family as a result. He fantasizes about setting fire to the monastery and running away to Turkey. Candide gives him some money and loses his bet with Martin. Brother Giroflé soon spends the money and he and Paquette, who has spent her money, run away to Turkey. There they live on Candide's farm.
Jesuit Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh
Cunégonde's brother also survives the destruction of Westphalia and the brutal slaying of their parents. The very handsome young Baron is taken in by a Reverend Father and is soon sent to the Father General in Rome. He is made a Jesuit because he is not Spanish and sent to Paraguay. There he works his way up to become a Colonel who is fighting the Spanish troops. He refuses to allow Candide to marry Cunégonde, so Candide runs him through with his sword.
After recovering from Candide's assault, the Baron is captured by the Spanish. He asks to be sent back to Rome, and leaves Rome as a chaplain to the French Ambassador at Constantinople. After being found naked with a Mussulman, he is beaten and sent to the galleys. Candide rescues him. He lives with them in Turkey but when he refuses to allow the marriage again, Candide arranges to have him put back in the galleys.
King of Eldorado
The King of Eldorado is the ideal sovereign with an ideal system of government.
Candide chooses Martin to be his traveling companion. Martin is a scholar who "had been robbed by his wife, beaten by his son and abandoned by his daughter, who had eloped with a Portuguese [and] had just lost the minor post that had been his only means of support." Martin, accordingly, is cynical and not the least bit optimistic. However, he is a pleasant man and willing conversationalist. Candide enjoys him so much that he never parts with him.
Although Candide had several encounters with slavery, none is more memorable than the encounter with the Negro. The Negro is wearing only a pair of short blue trousers and is missing his left leg and his right hand. He symbolizes the brutality of the institution of slavery in the Americas. But also, he conjures up the first Spanish expeditions to the New World. The Spanish were so desperate for gold that they slowly butchered the Indians when they did not find it.
Dr. Pangloss tutors the baron's son and Candide in metaphysico-theologo-cosmonigology. Pangloss contracts syphilis from Paquette and loses an ear and a nose. Then he is hanged as part of an "Auto da Fé" ("act of faith"), but not properly. The person who takes his body resuscitates him. He winds up in the galley of a slave ship and is freed by Candide. Up to the end, he still professes a belief in optimism.
Paquette is the chambermaid of Cunégonde's mother. She gives Pangloss the syphilis she contracted from a Franciscan friar. Her relations with her priestly confessor are the cause of her expulsion from Westphalia. Since then, she has lived the life of a prostitute. She winds up on Candide's farm, having spent the money he gave her.
Candide and Martin visit a Venetian senator named Pococurante. They have heard that he is a man who has "never known sorrow or trouble." They reckon that Pococurante is a wise man who will be able to help them understand such a troubling world. They expect to find a happy man. Indeed, Candide thinks that he is the happiest man he's ever seen because he is content with nothing and seems to be forever in search of contentment and novelty. Martin disagrees and says that for just those reasons, Pococurante is the most miserable wretch alive. Quoting Plato, Martin says that the best stomach is not the one that rejects all food. There is no "pleasure in having no pleasure." Candide sees his friend's logic and counts himself fortunate, yet again, that he has Cunégonde to look forward to.
The Princess of Palestrina has the body, when young, of the Venus de Medici. She is betrothed to the prince of Massa-Carra, but he is poisoned and dies. Saddened, she goes to her mother's estate near Gaeta. On the way, Barbury pirates attack them and the Princess is raped. Then she and her mother become slaves. When the pirate ship arrives in Morocco, the fifty sons of Emperor Muley Ismael are at war. The Princess witnesses her mother drawn and quartered by four men. The Captain kills anyone who approaches and she survives. She then meets a castrato who once sang in her mother's chapel. He promises to take her back to Italy but instead sells her into slavery in Algiers where she catches the plague. She is sold several more times. Finally, she is a servant in the house of Don Issachar where she serves Cunégonde. Taking a fancy to the lady, she stays with her.
- Candide was adapted to the stage with a great deal of difficulty. The writing of the stage production took several decades. The basis for the play was created in 1953 by Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein as their reaction to the "Washington Witch Trials" being waged by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Poet Richard Wilbur was the lyricist, though Dorothy Parker contributed to "The Venice Gavotte." Tyrone Guthrie directed the first performance of the play, with sets by Oliver Smith and costumes by Irene Sharaff It opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on December 1, 1956, to mixed reviews. The play has been continually rewritten ever since.
The grand theme of the novel is the human condition. Candide wonders, what is the best way to approach life? In the story, Candide has been ed-ucated in the system of optimism. It is all he knows, but if Candide had been a flat enough character to accept optimism, the book would be without hope. Instead, Candide doubts the philosophy of optimism and eventually rejects it.
The quest of Candide centers on whether the doctrine of optimism taught by Dr. Pangloss is true. If it is, optimism must be reconciled with what Candide experiences. The reconciliation is not possible without some absurd postulations. For example, Pangloss says that syphilis "is an indispensable element in the best of worlds, a necessary ingredient, because if Columbus, on an American island, hadn't caught that disease which poisons the source of generations … which often prevents generation … the great goal of nature, we would now have neither chocolate nor cochineal." (Cochineal is a dye made from squishing millions of bodies of a certain insect native to Central and South America. The dye was used, most notoriously, to make the British Army uniforms scarlet red.) The example also shows how the attempt of a philosophical system to explain every single phenomenon leads to ridiculous connections.
Candide doesn't find such incidental and simple explanations for everyday occurrences as interesting or as valid as his big question, "Do you believe that men have always slaughtered each other as they do today, that they've always been liars … hypocritical and foolish?" To which Martin replies that that is the nature of the human animal. But the point is made that humans have free will, and the discussion moves beyond the realm of optimism. Candide eventually defines optimism as, "a mania for insisting that everything is all right when everything is going wrong."
The only possible defense of optimism is Candide's luck, which is regularly recited as evidence of that philosophy. For example, "if I hadn't been lucky enough to thrust my sword through the body of Lady Cunégonde's brother, I'd surely have been eaten … instead … these people showered me with polite kindness as soon as they found out I wasn't a Jesuit." Still, Candide realizes there is no perfection in the world. He realizes this at the end when he finally has everyone he has been looking for together on a farm. By then, his search appears to be in vain.
Topics for Further Study
- Based on the evidence in Candide, what does Voltaire know about the world's climate and geography? Are these physical facts related to human customs? Do the best locations and climates contain the best societies? How do humans interact with the natural world in Candide?
- Although he is exaggerating human customs, what does the satire reveal about Voltaire's awareness of other cultures? Or, what does Voltaire think about the New World—both its indigenous populations and its colonizers?
- Voltaire's grasp of scientific knowledge is far above the average person's of the time. Based on the book, surmise the extent of the knowledge of the day of anatomy, physics, and chemistry.
- Voltaire subtly attacks the theory of progress. What is that theory, and do we still believe in it? Is it a good belief?
- Why is satire such an effective method of critique? As critiques, why are satires so often categorized as children's books? In the late twentieth century, why is animation the most appropriate medium for satire?
- Doing a little research into Voltaire's hopes for humans, what do you think would most excite or surprise him if he were alive today? What would depress him?
The old man in Eldorado expresses the most positive view of religion. The people of Eldorado, who always agree with each other, are all priests who don't pray for anything. Instead, "we constantly thank him." The old man's presentation stands opposite to Candide's experience of religion: "You have no monks who teach, argue, rule, plot, and burn people who don't agree with them?" The old man replies, "we'd be mad if we did." Both in the story, and for Voltaire, religion is something between a man and God—not something that lends itself to power dynamics, priests, churches, and inquisitions.
Martin and Candide play a game as part of their debate over optimism. They place bets on whether passersby are happy. Candide always bets that they are, and he always loses. Whenever it appears, happiness is unmasked (usually by Martin) as a cover for anger, grief, and discontent. Happiness, it seems, is the method one uses to get through another day of miserable living.
The art of war is not a noble art in the novel. Instead, it is a barbaric system governed by its own rules and using its own reason. Candide's experience of war is as a conscripted soldier. That is, he is arrested and forced to fight. War is revealed as a complete waste of resources. One element of war that is constantly evoked is the idea of acting in "accordance with international law." This is an idea we hear a good deal about today. For Voltaire, through Candide, this meant that soldiers had the right to rape every woman, plunder and pilfer every village. "International law" is the excuse for conducting war. The end of war is always the same, as "the ground was strewn with brains and severed arms and legs."
Taking seriously the old adage that the entire world is a stage, Voltaire employed that idea in his novel. Much the same way science fiction does today, Voltaire placed ideal societies and backward societies in obscure parts of the world. The rest simply needed to be exaggerated. For example, with a few facts about the unexplored mountains of Peru and the legends of golden cities, Voltaire can create a credible Eldorado. Likewise, the lack of knowledge about tribes in the Amazon jungle allows the tale of the cannibalistic Oreillons.
Another element of Voltaire's use of setting is his invocation of the Eden trope. Many writers since the writer of the biblical book Genesis have used the idea of gardens as paradises (or hells) that one finds oneself in and, for some reason, banished from. Candide journeys through a series of such gardens. Each garden has a geographic location and a lesson to be learned. However, the best garden, like the best bed, turns out to be the one Candide makes himself.
Voltaire chose satire as a way to challenge the cult of optimism that reigned during that time. While this form of storytelling and literary composition is ancient, its historical form came into being with the Greek author, Aristophanes, and became its own genre with two Roman poets, Horace and Juvenal. Voltaire is a comic satirist. He simply loved humans too much to be tragic. But because he loved them, he tried to help them as much as possible. Through the exposure of man's follies in the insane but fantastic adventure of Candide, his satire is fresh for all time.
The picaresque story originates in Spanish efforts to satirize the chivalric romance. Whereas the romance tells about the ideal knight and his brave adventures, the hero of the picaresque rambles along the highway living by his wits rather than his honest work. Both the knight and the picaresque hero share the motto, "a rolling stone gathers no moss." During the eighteenth century, changing demographics led to a demand for tightly woven, realistic novels. The picaresque became a low form of artistry.
Candide is a picaresque novel. Candide is forced by fate to ramble about the world collecting people and losing them, gaining riches and losing it all. His travels bring him into contact with the workings of the world, but this only makes him more skeptical. Finally, he just stops rambling. So long as he is still and at work—like neither the picaresque hero nor the brave knight—he can find peace of mind.
Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake on the morning of All Saints' Day, November 1, 1755. The six-minute earthquake kills 15,000 people, injures at least that many more, and destroys thirty churches as well as thousands of houses. Despite the sophistication of natural science, the coincidence that Lisbon, a city fervently Catholic, is destroyed on a Catholic feast day—when the pious were at church—gives rise to superstitious speculation.
On November 19, 1500 Pilgrim homes are destroyed by earthquake. Many explanations again explain the disasters in religious terms. Voltaire, out-raged at such stupidity, writes an infamous reaction to the Lisbon earthquake. In response comes a letter from Rousseau, stating that Voltaire is the one who is wrong. Humans are at fault. Had we not left the natural world, or committed the original sins, and lived in cities, the disasters would not have happened. Further, Rousseau argues that Leibnitz is right—in the long run, everything must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. To believe otherwise is to give into suicidal pessimism.
The Enlightenment period in Europe is about to give way to political revolution. Reason, during this period, is held to be the supreme power with which to challenge the old institutions and superstitions. In Britain, where the church had long been relegated to the role of ceremonial trappings, science and industry were the dynamos of progress. France, on the other hand, is still dominated by the Catholic Church. In addition, France is still under the control of a nearly all-powerful King. The bourgeoisie in France is weak and its numbers few. The majority of people belong to the lower classes and are barely literate, burdened by taxes, and underemployed. France is slowly industrializing and cannot compete with British factories. France needs reform desperately.
In government, various reforms are attempted. The finance minister attempts to overhaul the economic framework of government. It is too painful, however, and Etienne de Silhouette succeeded only in giving us a new word: A silhouette is the reduction of a figure to its simplest form.
Compare & Contrast
- The Eighteenth Century: France and Britain are continually fighting to see who will be the number one colonial power. Half of this war effort involves stirring up Indian "allies" to kill each other before the colonists spread into the wilderness.
Today: With the demise of the Soviet Union America stands as the sole superpower.
- The Eighteenth Century: The first intentional use of biological agents by a military occurs during King Phillip's War. The British intention ally infect blankets en route to the Indians with smallpox.
Today: The United States enforces economic sanctions against Iraq because of their suspected development and use of biological weapons.
- The Eighteenth Century: General George Washington advocates fighting from behind trees and rocks, ambush style, instead of the traditional parade-style formation.
Today: Though guerilla warfare is now the style when necessary, fighting strategies today rely heavily on airpower and missile bombardment to soften up the enemy before ground troops move in. The style today seeks to minimize casualties.
- The Eighteenth Century: Medical technology is crude, often doing more damage than the original problem. The STD syphilis is the most dangerous disease of the time.
Today: AIDS remains a devastating and deadly virus despite "space age" medical technology.
- The Eighteenth Century: Modes of transportation are limited. All entertainment, such as concerts and plays, is live and industrial necessity attracts more and more people into the large cities.
Today: With cellular phones, computers, and automobiles, people are moving out of the cities and into smaller communities.
France renewed hostilities with England over the issue of control over North America. Two moves by the British in 1759 effectively conclude the question of America. First, well-equipped British forces and their American and Native-American allies drive the French out of the Lake Champlain region. They even take Duquesne and, consequently, Crown Point Military road is built through Vermont. The second push is more decisive. The British take Niagara. Then, an epic battle occurs upon the Plains of Abraham, just outside the city of Quebec. British General Wolfe beats French General Louis-Joseph Montcalm in a battle that effectively ends the Seven Years War. Both men die as a result of wounds received during the battle.
The rulers of Geneva expressed their view of Candide by burning it. The idea that the authorities in one part of Europe were incensed enough to set the work ablaze was very good publicity. Smugglers, meanwhile, made sure that anyone anywhere in Europe could get a copy of the small work on the black market. In general, that is the history of Voltaire's reception—people either fervently loved him, or they wanted to burn him. Today Voltaire's works are studied as artifacts and for amusement.
Immediate reviews of Candide were often defensive. For example, an anonymous review of the work in the The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, in May of 1759, defended Leibnitz. The reviewer stated that no less a figure than Alexander Pope, in his An Essay on Man, expressed a belief in optimism. Furthermore, wrote the reviewer, it is not possible to disprove this philosophy, for in order to do so, one must intrinsically know every other system. Only then can judgment be passed on our system of civilization. Candide, asserted the reviewer, "is an attempt to ridicule the notion that 'all things are for the best,' by representing the calamity of life, artfully aggravated, in a strange light."
In 1791, James Boswell compared Candide to Samuel Johnson's Rasselas. In his The Life of Samuel Johnson, he wrote, "Voltaire I am afraid, meant only by wanton profaneness to obtain victory over religion, and to discredit the belief of a superintending providence … " Whereas, Samuel Johnson used satire to direct man's hope toward the "eternal" rather than to satisfaction on earth.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, "the born minister of literature," as John Morley dubbed Voltaire, was posthumously winning the race against Rousseau. Gustave Lanson, in his Voltaire of 1902, covers the publication history of Voltaire during the 1800s. During a seven-year period (1817–1824), for example, of the 2,159,500 volumes of anti-clerical and anti-royalist writings in Revolutionary France, 75% were written by Voltaire. "But," Lanson wrote, "where Voltaire's influence was immense, obvious, and still persisted is in the fields of journalism, pamphleteering, and all forms of polemical writing. He was the master of militant irony and murderous ridicule." In terms of total book printings and sales, Voltaire remained the most popular writer.
After 1850, however, as the French Republic established itself and bourgeoisie fervor for the revolution waned, so did Voltaire's influence. Lanson summed up Voltaire's influence: "In general, in countries outside of France, to the extent that historical circumstances moved further away from conditions that obtained in France when Voltaire's work first appeared, his influence is not easily discernible except among certain clear-thinking minds at odds with their social groups or in revolt against its demands and prejudices."
Critic Georg Brandes, wrote about Voltaire against the backdrop of WWI. He suggested that the mood of Candide was still relevant. This idea of relevancy remains a strong current in Voltaire criticism. In 1960, in The Art of Writing, André Maurois wrote that Candide said all that can be said on today's topic—the world is absurd. Therefore, "Candide was the high-point of Voltaire's art." Partisanship has disappeared and the focus of criticism now trains on the ideas Voltaire had. A. Owen Aldridge, in Voltaire and the Century of Light, wrote that "structural analysis does very little to explain the universal appeal of Candide. It ranks as one of the masterpieces of European literature, not primarily because of style but because of its realistic portrayal of the human condition."
That does not mean that structural analysis of Voltaire's work is not being done. In fact, it is being done more and more. William F. Bottiglia undertook an analysis entitled, "Candide's Garden." His close textual analysis of "a literary masterpiece risen out of time to timelessness" discusses the possibility of approaching the novel as internally structured or externally structured. He feels the latter is not possible as "Candide encompasses all—there is no outside. Thus, those who claim that Candide reflects or comments on the times miss the fact that the times are in the book." He also examines Can-dide's journey as a series of 12 gardens.
Critics like Roland Barthes and Ira O. Wade have focused on Voltaire's work in context. They often suggest, in the case of Candide, that Voltaire was very hypocritical. By critical consensus and in terms of sales, Voltaire will always be cherished and Candide will always be read.
Darren Felty is a Visiting Instructor at the College of Charleston. In the following essay, he explores how Voltaire satirizes both extreme optimism and extreme pessimism through his characters' reactions to the world's evils.
Candide is a dazzling display of ridiculously brutal situations that dramatize the many evils of human experience. Voltaire speeds the reader through multiple episodes of extreme cruelty that prove both horrible and vibrantly comic. Nothing seems to escape his satiric treatment, and one is tempted to say that Voltaire's only purpose in the work is to condemn. A closer reading, however, reveals the limitations of this perception. Voltaire's criticisms are tempered by both comic exaggeration and a strong moral sense that wishes to expose wrongs in order to alleviate them. The key targets of Voltaire's satire are totalizing perceptions of the world, whether extreme optimism or extreme pessimism, both of which offer excuses for indifference to human suffering. Voltaire explores this subject through Candide's many misadventures; indeed, understanding Candide's haphazard growth is necessary for understanding the development of the story, which often seems patternless. But one cannot understand Candide without also understanding those around him and the roles that they play in the story. Through his characters' experiences, relationships, and final solution to their many troubles, Voltaire shatters the tenets of "rationally" optimistic and deadeningly pessimistic philosophies, replacing them with a vision, albeit tentative, of practical, communal work.
From the first chapter, Voltaire portrays systematized optimistic philosophies as totally divorced from lived reality. Voltaire's main proponent of this belief system, Doctor Pangloss, is a follower of Gottfried Leibnitz, who attempted to use logic to explain the existence of evil. Leibnitz asserted that laws of "sufficient reason," such as unalterable mathematical relationships, restrain even God's ability to create a perfect universe. Thus, while the world contains evil, it is still the "best of all possible worlds," one of the book's most memorable satiric refrains. Pangloss upholds such beliefs to the point of absurdity, justifying all events through cause-and-effect relationships. For instance, he contends that "things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end. Observe: our noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles." His "lessons" are rife with such tortured logic, making him the epitome of a learned fool. Voltaire proceeds to bludgeon Pangloss's reductive, self-serving ideals by opposing them with constant examples of human cruelty and natural disasters that apparently defy all explanation, particularly Pangloss's.
Yet Voltaire does not characterize Pangloss's beliefs as simply foolish. They are dangerous. They allow people to justify any inhumanity and prevent them from actively helping to alleviate the suffering of others. If, for instance, one can relate another's miseries to preceding causes, no matter how slight, then one need not act on that person's behalf or even feel sympathy. Voltaire demonstrates the pernicious effects of Pangloss's beliefs in multiple episodes, but none more so than in his response to Jacques the Anabaptist's death. When Jacques is thrown overboard during a storm, Pangloss prevents Candide from trying to save him by "proving that the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for this Anabaptist to drown in." Instead of reacting with compassion, like Candide, or even explaining that Candide will only die in the futile attempt to retrieve his friend, Pangloss resorts to a bold-faced absurdity that excuses his passivity and callousness. Because he can construct the flimsiest of "rational" explanations for this tragedy, he can save his own skin and absolve himself of any culpability in Jacques' death. By presenting many such moments, Voltaire makes the philosophical vindication of rampant injustice and destruction into a caustic joke of seemingly cosmic proportions.
As he does with Pangloss, throughout the book Voltaire employs vivid secondary characters who serve particular functions and represent types of responses to the human condition. By pairing Candide with such emblematic yet compelling figures, Voltaire highlights Candide's reactions to the guidance others provide him. And, because most of these characters remain unchanged in their basic attitudes, the reader can trace Candide's sometimes erratic development. First, of course, Voltaire depicts Candide under Pangloss's influence. The young man naively believes in the world's "rightness" and cannot assimilate the slaughters and injustices he encounters. Voltaire balances Pangloss's influence in the book, however, by contrasting him with men like Martin and the wealthy Pococurante, both of whom reflect the inadequacy of total pessimism, showing it to be as self-defeating as irrational optimism. More pragmatic characters like the old woman, Jacques, and Cacambo expose the limitations of pure practicality, but this approach to life ultimately proves most sympathetic to the characters' final attempt to secure their comfort and security.
What Do I Read Next?
- In reaction to the controversy surrounding the Lisbon earthquake and who was at fault, Voltaire penned "On the Lisbon Disaster" in 1756. The poem attempted to reconcile disaster with Leibnitzian optimism.
- Historical background for Candide and Voltaire's work generally can be found in Peter Gay's Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist.
- One of Voltaire's models for Candide was a work first published in 1726, while he was exiled in Britain, by his new friend, Jonathan Swift. At first titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, the work is known today as Gulliver's Travels. It is a satire of Europe in the 1720s told through the story of Gulliver's travels to many strange and wonderful lands.
- An English satire of clergymen by Laurence Sterne, entitled A Political Romance (and later titled The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat) was published in 1759. Sterne, a clergyman himself, is also the author of the stories about Tristram Shandy.
- A marked contrast to Voltaire can be found in the works and the person of Samuel Johnson. Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia was published in 1759. It tells how the Prince gathered scientists and philosophers from near and far to discover for him the secrets of a happy life, only to realize he had wasted time he could have spent living.
- The brilliant anti-utopian satire by George Orwell is Animal Farm. In this 1945 tale, revolutionary efforts are lampooned when the barn animals revolt against their human masters and establish a commune. The pigs, however, usurp power and impose a dictatorship.
Because of his unremitting pessimism and dark wit, many readers have viewed Martin as a voice for Voltaire's own views. Yet, as a passive man who can see the goodness in no one, he differs fundamentally from Voltaire. Martin's assertions are often penetrating and bitingly clever, but they also are essentially empty. Martin feels no outrage at injustice since, as a Manichean, he believes that God and the devil hold equal power in the universe and the devil effectively rules human existence. For him, misery is universal and inevitable; any efforts to curtail it are futile. This philosophy enables him to avoid emotional attachments or commitments to others. For example, even though he stays with Candide and the group on their farm, he does so only because "things are just as bad wherever you are" and working without argument is "the only way of rendering life bearable." Like Martin, the rich senator Pococurante is unable to experience joy in anything, and he, too, is often taken as a counterpart to Voltaire, with whom he shares iconoclastic literary tastes. With Pococurante, even wealth proves a burden. Because he can possess anything he desires, little satisfies him. He longs for nothing and is besieged by the malady that haunts Candide and the others in Constantinople: boredom. Though Candide thinks Pococurante a "genius" and "the happiest of all men, for he is superior to everything he possesses," Martin recognizes, as always, the man's true misery. The reader, too, can see that Voltaire satirizes the person who can only reject and not embrace, who refuses to see any beauty in human achievements.
The three characters who appear to garner the lightest of Voltaire's satiric barbs are the characters who rely on practical action instead of paralyzing philosophical indifference. The old woman, Jacques, and Cacambo all suffer considerably throughout the course of the work, but their decisive actions still provide sharp counterpoints to the inertia and ineptitude of the other characters. The old woman, though most often self-serving and even callous, makes a fit tutor for Cunégonde. Both women are victims of rape, violence, and enslavement, but the old woman has learned to survive and not exaggerate her often outlandish injuries. Like Martin, she harbors no romantic delusions; unlike Martin, however, she is not utterly hopeless. She often moves quickly to save herself, Cunégonde, and Candide, such as when she calmly arranges their escape after Candide kills Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor. Indeed, despite her frequent desire to commit suicide, she continues on because she is "still in love with life." With this assertion, she articulates (and exemplifies) one of Voltaire's central themes in the book: humankind's absurd yet unconquerable will to live.
Jacques and Cacambo often act out of more benevolent impulses than the old woman, but they share her commitment to tangible endeavors. Jacques, especially, represents an ideal. He aids both Candide and Pangloss because they are fellow men in need, not because he hopes to exploit them. He is not an idealist, but a virtuous man who values work, believes in humankind's basic goodness, and knowingly acknowledges people's capacity for self-corruption. His presence in the book is brief, however, perhaps because someone of his humane character would tend to blunt the edge of a satire. Voltaire gives Jacques a fitting death for this radically unjust world: he perishes while rescuing a man who has done him ill and who takes no notice of his demise. Like the country of Eldorado, then, Jacques stands as a testament to what people can achieve if they respond to what is best rather than worst in themselves, which most rarely do. Cacambo, too, reflects the value of maintaining sympathy and loyalty, though he is more of a survivor than Jacques, acting with quick-witted self-interest when the need arises. His most exemplary characteristic is his devotion to Candide, whom he supports simply because Candide is "a very good fellow." He even works to fulfill Candide's plan to rescue Cunégonde from Buenos Ayres, though he could, as Martin believes he has, run off with the jewels from Eldorado and avoids his eventual enslavement by a deposed monarch. Thus, both Jacques and Cacambo counter the predominant exemplars of human malevolence in the book, preventing Voltaire's satire from descending into a misanthropic condemnation of all humanity.
Voltaire's protagonist must negotiate these differing approaches to life, judging them according to his own experiences. Candide, while generally likable because of his genuineness and compassion, is a parodic version of the bildungsroman hero, who matures while being subjected to many trials. Candide's gullibility is so extreme, his trials so outrageous, and his reactions so farcically naive that he often appears ridiculous. Through most of the book, he also is driven by lust and a hopelessly idealized perception of Cunégonde. These desires, though, keep Candide moving forward, pursuing a goal, and believing in the possibility of happiness. And, despite his frequent bungling, he does grow throughout the course of the book, finally qualifying his initial optimism, while avoiding outright pessimism. His dreams about Cunégonde may get crushed, which is not unexpected given their blatant romanticism, but he still keeps his word and marries her, thereby remaining true to his own basically honest disposition. He also does not attempt to rationalize his thwarted passions with Pangloss's empty formulations or sink into Martin's passive despair. Desire, though radically tempered, still pushes him forward, looking for ways to live a satisfactory life without exploiting others. In the world of Candide, that makes him a fit, if comic, hero.
But what of his closing statement in the book, that he and the others "must cultivate our garden"? This vision has spawned much critical discussion, and readers still disagree over its message. Is it, as many argue, an assertion of the sustaining power of mutual labor, and if so, is it an adequate response to life's injustices and the need to improve the human condition? Some critics, like William F. Bottiglia, contend that Voltaire offers his closing scene as a viable means of finding contentment and limiting social evil. Others, however, particularly Roy S. Wolper, see the close as ironic. Wolper holds that Voltaire satirizes Candide, depicting him as a man who has learned nothing and who, in effect, helps to perpetuate inequality and suffering. The tone of Voltaire's presentation and the fact that Candide remains essentially decent would seem to qualify both of these interpretations, however.
The view that the small garden represents a microcosmic solution to worldwide rapacity and aggression appears overstated. The characters merely wish to find some safety and combat the pernicious effects of boredom. If Voltaire were to take a more hopeful stance than this vision of limited happiness, he would violate the bitingly satiric tone he so carefully maintains. On the other hand, the group's decision works on the practical level. For instance, they effectively banish, through choice, the destructive hierarchies imposed by political, economic, and religious institutions. Their solution may not work on a grand scale or qualify as a philosophy of life, but it does allow them a degree of beneficial autonomy and peace. Also, to say that their decision reflects a cowardly retreat into Candide's petty fiefdom ignores the fragile mutual understanding the characters develop, as well as the process of reaching this understanding. Voltaire, in essence, leaves his characters (and readers) in a precarious situation, tentatively hopeful, yet always aware of the dangers of growing too comfortable in one's righteousness and safety.
Source: Darren Felty, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.
Patrick H. Hutton
In the following excerpt, Hutton argues that the fulfillment of Candide's need for companionship is essential to resolving the problem of "how a good man can live in an evil world."
Few literary works of the Enlightenment have enjoyed the enduring acclaim of Voltaire's Candide. Scholars consider it to be an expression of what is best and deepest in the thought of the Enlightenment. But efforts to unravel the novel's meaning from the wit and satire in which it is cast have revealed a number of philosophical puzzles which are not easily solved. Despite much sophisticated analysis, critics today seem to be no nearer agreement about the novel's meaning than they were two hundred years ago. There is an apparent consensus that the theodicy question is Voltaire's primary concern in the novel, but critics by no means agree as to how he answered it, or whether he thought it could be answered at all.
Without pressing the analogy too far, it would not be inaccurate to say that recent Candide criticism has produced its own schools of optimists and pessimists. The critics who stress the sunnier side of the Voltairian temperament (scholars such as William F. Bottiglia and William H. Barber) interpret Candide as a philosophy of hope—an affirmation of the author's faith in the possibility of limited but real social progress. In the novel, Voltaire rejects the coherence of speculative philosophy in favor of the efficacy of empirical reasoning, which provides man with a practical basis for living in and acting upon a world of his own creation. But Candide, for these scholars, is not only a profession of faith. It is Voltaire's way of laboring in the garden. In composing Candide, Voltaire came to terms with the deeper issue of what the relationship between thought and action ought to be. Hitherto, he had considered moral questions only in formal philosophical essays. The inadequacy of his efforts to deal with the theodicy question in such abstract and disinterested terms drove him to despair. Through his novel, however, Voltaire tied his ethical imperatives to concrete problems of human existence. In the process, his writings acquired a new kind of energy. Thus the novel itself became a weapon in the service of a common-sense morality.
The critics who emphasize the darker recesses of the Voltairian temperament (Ira O. Wade and J. G. Weightman, for example) read Candide as a philosophy of despair—an expression of the author's mordant insights into the demonic mysteries of the human predicament. The meaning of Candide, these scholars contend, is to be derived from Voltaire's conclusion that man is unable to bridge the gap between his powers of rational thought and his largely instinctual activity. Unable to perceive a viable relationship between thought and action by which to remedy social evil, he chose instead to transpose the problem of theodicy into an imaginary world in which he could creatively defy the chaos of the phenomenal world. What he gained in the process was not the resolution of a philosophical problem, but a deeper aesthetic perception of the process of life itself. Interpreted in this light, Candide represents a personal catharsis for the author rather than a message to "enlighten" his age.
Perhaps the inability of the critics to arrive at a consensus about the meaning of Candide stems from the limitations of the conceptual framework in which they have so long approached the novel. If Voltaire was preoccupied with the theodicy question, he considered it in an intellectual ilieu more thoroughly secularized than that in which it had been posed by Leibniz a half-century before. The question which Candide raises is not the speculative one of the religious apologists of the seventeenth century, i.e., how can man account for evil in a world created by a beneficent deity; but rather the more practical one which the philosophes asked in the eighteenth century, i.e., how can good men live in an evil world? Voltaire's moralism has a social rather than a religious orientation. His concern in the novel is not to explain the presence of evil in the world, but to explore its effects upon human relationships. He traces the ways in which evil operates in the world as a framework for considering the preconditions under which trust in human relationships may be conceived. Voltaire's interest is less in theodicy than it is in community. The greatness of Candide is related to the intensity of Voltaire's concern about the relationship of man to his fellow man—his sensitive understanding that all men, optimists and pessimists alike, must journey through life by experiencing suffering that is incomprehensible, and that there is far more solace in making that journey in good company than in isolation. From this perspective, Candide is a quest for fraternity in the midst of enduring social crisis. Its meaning is less metaphysical than it is existential; less polemical than discerning, less satirical than compassionate.
Hence it is the evil which man fashions for himself that invites Voltaire's special attention in the novel. Natural catastrophes appear in the narrative, but the examples of these are only three (the tempest off the coast of Portugal, the Lisbon earthquake, and the Algerian plague), and they are dwarfed by the welter of man-made horrors which are amassed in comparison. The persistence of evil is poignant precisely because it is largely man's own creation. The dilemma is posed early in the narrative by Jacques the Anabaptist:
It must be … that men have somewhat corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and yet that is what they have become: God gave them neither twenty-four-pound cannon, nor bayonets; yet they have made bayonets and cannons in order to destroy one another.
Nor may social evil be escaped. The world of Candide is one of imminent catastrophe. Beauty, wealth, and power are but ephemeral possessions. With or without such assets, no one may consider himself secure. Evil propagates its wrath indiscriminately. Indeed, a confrontation with some form of misery seems to be man's only certainty. All of the leading characters are pariahs, driven from the garden of tranquility into a wider world of perpetual conflict. Whether in the military outposts of Paraguay, or the sophisticated salons of Paris, they are thoroughly trapped in the snares of society's corruption, despite their efforts to cling to the vestiges of their youthful innocence. Even the gentle Candide is caught in situations so violent that two men (and nearly a third) die by his hand.
The manifestations of social evil in the novel may appear baffling in their variety. But just as Voltaire affirmed that there is a moral core to human nature beneath the "manners of men," so in Candide he sought to locate the cause of social evil in a single source. The source is man's longing for security, which leads him into illusions about himself and his social relationships. In this sense, man is a myth maker. He fashions conceptions of the world which provide comfort in their coherence, but which are largely fictitious constructs if measured against the realities of the phenomenal world with which they are supposed to correspond. This imaginary world seals off the real world which man is afraid to confront. Hence he is unable to perceive, let alone to sympathize with, the concrete life situations of his fellow man, whom he views only in terms of abstractions. Herein lies the origin of social evil. It is these abstract conceptions of the world which enable man to exploit his fellow man without admitting the evil nature of his actions.
It is for this reason that man is so readily prepared to subscribe to some form of dogma. At the simplest level, this may be the illusion of social pretensions. In a social order built upon legal inequality, it is not surprising that abstract arguments defending the privileges of caste should be prominent. The pompous Governor of Buenos Ayres, the pedantic Parisian critic, and the Jesuit colonel in Paraguay all base their actions upon such illusory convictions. Even the worldly-wise Old Woman sentimentalizes about her illustrious background. More pernicious still are the religious doctrines with which cruelty is justified. The "sermon" at the Portuguese auto-da-fé, the "missionary work" in Paraguay, and the "conversion" of the native laborers in the sugar factories of Surinam are examples of this kind of casuistry. Speculative philosophy merely translates dogma into a metaphysical idiom. Optimism and Manichaeanism are at one in dictating passive resignation to accident and misfortune, as if these were required to preserve the harmony of a moral order over which man has no control.
The propensity to deal with man in terms of abstraction is not a matter of theorizing alone. It permeates a broader fabric of law and custom through which acts of brutality and exploitation find more impersonal expression. The political order in Paraguay and the labor system in Surinam present obvious forms of slavery. But the leading characters must continually contend with institutions which demand behavior hardly less servile and degrading. Cunégonde, the Old Woman, and Paquette are forced into prostitution. Brother Giroflé and the Baron-priest are given to the clergy when still too young to choose that vocation for themselves. The Baron-priest, again, and Doctor Pangloss must serve in the Turkish galleys at the whim of arbitrary judges. Candide, too, is inveigled into the Bulgar army in his first encounter outside the walls of the Baron's castle. Eunuchs, concubines, soldiers, and priests haplessly serve one abstract master or another, and so become enmeshed in the evil mores of the world. It is for the civilized barbarism of war, however, that Voltaire reserves his most biting satire. Its internationally recognized laws may provide the necessary justification for its toll in horror, but, as the Old Woman who has suffered its consequences attests, these can provide no consolation.
While these external manifestations of social evil find prominent expression in the novel, it is the internalization of such evil which is the most insidious. As man's social relationships become more impersonal, his innate sympathies for his fellow man are stifled. Denied the solace of genuine relationships, man in his isolation turns his hostilities inward upon himself. The result is the anguish of alienation. Boredom is a psychological expression of man's capacity for cruelty to himself. Paris is the pleasure garden where this capacity is most fully revealed—with its sycophantic parasites, callous frauds, and viciously pedantic critics. In the apparent intimacy of the Parisian salon, the wit and mirth at the gaming tables are but masks for the most ruthless efforts of men to exploit one another. As the rakes desperately vie to destroy one another, they are nonetheless enslaved to one another in the boredom of this jaded setting. Perhaps nowhere else are men so unhappy.
Boredom, however, is a form of self-retribution, and its sins are venial compared with the evil of indifference. Indifference is the most detestable form of evil because it is a denial of mutual obligations among men. The theme of the disinterested spectator in the arena of human misery is ceaselessly repeated, and no less frightening for the variations upon its setting: the sailor who loots amidst the carnage at Lisbon after the earthquake, the populace who enjoy the auto-da-fé, the crowd which disperses satisfied after the execution of the English admiral, and the passengers aboard Candide's ship who watch the naval duel in comfort. Indeed, the novel strikes its most bitter note in the passage describing the callous indifference of the Dutch judge to Candide's plight, despite the judge's obligation to help him:
This legal proceeding drove Candide to despair; to tell the truth he had endured misfortunes a thousand times more painful; but the indifference of the judge, and that of the captain who had robbed him, aroused his bile, and threw him into a deep melancholy. The malice of men stood out in his mind in all of its ugliness; he dwelt only upon gloomy thoughts.
The logic of social evil thus works toward its vicious end, and man is left with the icy axiom of the Old Woman, uttered en route from the Old World to the New:
Just for fun, ask each passenger to tell you his life's tale; and if you find a single one who has not often cursed his lot, who has not often told himself that he is the most miserable of men, toss me into the sea headfirst.
The wanderings of Candide only confirm the observations of the Old Woman. Whether it be the languid setting of the Surinam coast, the gay salons of the Parisian aristocracy, or the peaceful cloisters of Giroflé's monastery, all are but facades for the most excruciating personal anguish. Even the noble Pococurante finds his place in this familiar pattern. For all his learning, wealth, and power, he is desperately unhappy, and surely he will not find that happiness in a larger garden: Herein, Voltairian irony is at its most masterful. For the last instance of insecurity which follows from this process of alienation was in the first instance born of a quest for security.
Does Voltaire in Candide offer man any means by which to escape from this process which leads him into isolated misery? Those critics who emphasize the author's pessimism would answer, no. The world of Candide, they would argue, is an absurd world from which there is no escape, and in which there is at best the negative solace of ironical laughter. Even suicide is no alternative, as the Old Woman remarks in her reflections at sea, and as Candide demonstrates when he considers that possibility after escaping from Paraguay. The critics who read Candide as a philosophy of hope would reply, yes. The world of Candide is rational at its foundations. Man must therefore withdraw into isolated communities where, through honest labor, he may rationally refashion the world in microcosm. Through work in this limited sphere, gradual progress toward the improvement of the human condition in the world at large is possible.
There is a partial truth in each of these observations. Man cannot escape from the world and therefore must make some accommodation with it. Until the finale, this is precisely what Candide is unable to do. With the ingenuousness of Rousseau, he "always speaks as his heart dictates," and suffers accordingly. But man must temporize with the world. It is for this reason that the resourcefulness of Cacambo and the Old Woman are to be admired. Invariably, they are able to show the avenues of escape when Candide is confronted with a seeming impasse. Moreover, it is the Old Woman who suggests that the small band of friends use the last of their fast-dwindling resources to purchase a small farm where they may await a more fortunate turn of circumstances.
It is revealing that the mistress of expediency should advise this course of action. The presentation of labor in the garden goes to the heart of Voltaire's conception of the nature of the human predicament. Candide and his companions work in the garden out of necessity, but not with a spirit of condemnation. Work has none of the dirge-like connotations which the pessimistic critics assert. Work banishes the three great evils of boredom, vice, and poverty. Throughout his wanderings, Candide remained passive before experience. His nature was shaped by the ideas and institutions which others imposed upon him. Through labor in the garden, however, he has the opportunity to affirm the potential capacities for goodness which are within him, and hence to define himself against the world. The possibility that the earth may be cultivated is Candide's faith. But it is the quest for that goal, rather than its achievement, in which he finds his consolation. El Dorado may be the utopian ideal toward which man must ultimately strive, but the garden of Candide is a microcosm of the only world in which he may at present labor. Voltaire is not the bourgeois prophet of social progress that some of the optimistic critics would like to make of him. The labor of Candide and his companions in the garden reaps abundant fruits. But, as the narrative reveals throughout, progress of this sort may be stamped out at any moment.
It is more important, therefore, that work anchors Candide in one locale so that he may fulfill his most important existential need—companionship. It is only by satisfying this need that the problem of how a good man can live in an evil world may be resolved. Through work, illusions are dispelled; through common labor, a basis for communication with his fellow man is established.
Candide needs companionship. In the course of the narrative, he is never left in isolation for very long. When he is forced to part with his trusted ally, Cacambo, he immediately seeks a new traveling companion. Martin's talents may be theoretical rather than practical, but Candide soon finds that he can no more dispense with his philosopher than he can with his pragmatic guide, whose return with Cunégonde he anxiously awaits. Candide is sustained throughout his journey by the hope of finding his lover again. This hope is not for a better world, symbolized by the pursuit of Cunégonde, as some critics argue. If it were, he might just as well have remained in El Dorado. Candide is in fact in quest of Cunégonde herself, and he will allow neither the barriers of caste nor the delights of El Dorado to stand in his way.
Is Candide's faith in the possibility of trust in human relationships but another illusion? Both the Old Woman and Martin answer in the affirmative, the former for practical, the latter for philosophical reasons. The Old Woman chides Cunégonde for her fidelity to Candide when such devotion threatens her own security. Likewise, Martin advises Candide to put away his thought of Cacambo and Cuné-gonde when they fail to keep their appointed rendez-vous at Venice. Martin's words, however, offer Candide no consolation. Martin, it must be remembered, has nothing for which to hope. But Candide has been sustained through the course of his travels by the solace which he has found in genuine communication with his companions. It is important to note how much satisfaction Candide and his companions find in relating the tales of their harsh trials. Compassionate understanding is gained through such commiseration. The hours which Candide and Martin while away at sea in discussions of philosophy serve the same end:
Meanwhile the French and Spanish vessels continued on their way, and Candide continued his discussions with Martin. They argued for two entire weeks, and at the end of that time they were no further along than they had been the first day. But at least they were conversing, they were exchanging ideas, they were consoling one another.
Philosophy, it seems, is useful chiefly for its aesthetic value. Nothing may be resolved in these discussions, but there is much pleasure derived from a happy exchange of ideas. It is perhaps for this reason that the unfortunate Doctor Pangloss, even as he emerges from the galleys a broken man, may still affirm that he remains a philosopher because "the 'pre-established harmony' is the most beautiful thing in the world."
Candide finds consolation in charity as well. Martin scoffs at such a notion, and believes himself vindicated when Paquette and Brother Giroflé only sink deeper into misery as a consequence of Candide's generosity. Candide's experiences among the Oreillons, and Jacques's death at sea would seem to confirm Martin's view. But Martin misses the point. Charity and evil are incommensurable. Charity's function is not to reform the receiver, but to humanize the donor. Jacques the Anabaptist is not a saint. As "a creature without wings but with two legs and a soul," he practices the religion of humanity.
Most important, Candide finds not only solace, but his only source of joy in the course of his wanderings in companionship itself. The only instances in which Candide expresses happiness are in his reunions with his former companions. There are six such encounters in the course of the narrative: with Dr. Pangloss (ch. IV); Cunégonde (ch. VII); the Baron-priest (ch. XIV); Cacambo (ch. XXVI); the Baron-priest and Dr. Pangloss (ch. XXVII); and Cunégonde and the Old Woman (ch. XXIX). Each one brings Candide as much satisfaction as the last.
Can these ephemeral moments of companionship be transformed into the permanence of community? Herein lies the meaning of the garden episode. Voltaire conceives of the garden not as a solution, but as an experiment in the quest for that ideal. The garden roots this small band in honest labor. It is not clear from the novel's finale that evil has been permanently banished or that progress is bound to follow. But Candide and his fellows can fulfill themselves through work and communicate in trust. Cunégonde is no longer all that Candide had hoped for, nor is the garden a completely ideal setting for any of his band. But the possibility of community can only be tested in a setting without illusions. Such a goal requires neither the eradication of evil, nor the continuation of economic progress, but only a faith that man may end his alienation and find his innate goodness through his trust in, and compassionate understanding of, his fellow man. Voltaire's religion is not of progress, but of humanity.
Voltaire's irony takes strange turns, and in the last analysis, Candide is not as cynical as one might expect. In his first encounter outside the castle where he had passed his childhood in innocence, Candide was deceived by recruiters from the Bulgar army. The recruiters thought that they were being ironical when they lured him into the army by posing as his friends:
Ah, dear sir! Come to the table; not only will we pay your expenses, but we shall never allow a man like you to be without money; men are made only to help one another.
Voltaire's final parody is upon them.
Source: Patrick H. Hutton, "Companionship in Voltaire's Candide," in Enlightenment Essays, Vol. IV, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 39-45.
A. Owen Aldridge, in Voltaire and the Century of Light, Princeton University Press, 1975.
James Boswell, in The Life of Samuel Johnson, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1978, pp. 210-11.
William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in his Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by W. F. Bottiglia, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978, pp. 87-111.
Georg Brandes, in Voltaire, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1964.
The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. XXIX, May, 1759, pp. 233-37.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, "A Letter on October 2, 1789," in his An Account of a Young Russian Gentleman's Tour through Germany, Switzerland, France, and England, translated by Florence Jonas, Columbia University Press, 1957, pp. 144-50.
Gustave Lanson, in Voltaire, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966.
André Maurois, "Voltaire: Novels and Tales" in his The Art of Writing, The Bodley Head, 1960, pp. 35-50.
John Morley, in Voltaire, Macmillan and Co., 1872.
C. J. Betts, "On the Beginning and Ending of Candide," Modern Language Review, Vol. 80, 1985, pp. 283-92.
Betts examines the parallels and oppositions between Candide's opening and closing chapter, contending that the end of the story reverses the beginning.
Moishe Black, "The Place of the Human Body in Candide," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 278, 1990, pp. 173-85.
Black argues that Voltaire employs bodily references throughout Candide in order to concretize his treatment of violence, philosophy, and sexuality.
William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by William F. Bottiglia, Prentice-Hall, 1968, pp. 87-111.
In his assertive and thorough study, Bottiglia holds that the ending of Candide affirms that social productivity within one's own limits can lead to both "private contentment and public progress."
Donna Isaacs Dalnekoff, "The Meaning of Eldorado: Utopia and Satire in Candide," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 127, 1974, pp. 41-59.
Dalnekoff examines Voltaire's use of Eldorado to further his satire by offering a utopian counterpoint to the corrupt world. Dalnekoff also believes, however, that Voltaire satirizes Eldorado through mockery and ironic detachment.
Will & Ariel Durant, in The History of Civilization: The Age of Voltaire, Simon and Schuster, 1965.
This series by the historians Will and Ariel Durant synthesizes the width and breadth of Western European history from the dawn of history to the Napoleanic era. Though their rendition of history emphasizes great ideas and great men, it is surprisingly inclusive. The ninth volume is named for Voltaire and, therefore, the eighteenth century is filled in around him.
Josephine Grieder, "Orthodox and Paradox: The Structure of Candide," in The French Review, Vol. 57, No. 4, March, 1984, pp. 485-92.
Grieder places Candide in the genre of "paradox" literature and asserts that its paradoxes attack rhetorical, logical, sentimental, and psychological orthodoxies.
Employing a mythical point of view derived from Mircea Eliade, Henry examines three gardens in Candide, connecting them to Voltaire's theme of time and to the tension between myth and history in the book.
Patrick Henry, "Time in Candide," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 14, 1977, pp. 86-8.
In this short article, Henry contends that only when Candide stops looking to the future for fulfillment does he reconcile himself to his situation and live in the present.
Patrick Henry, "Travel in Candide: Moving On but Going Nowhere," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 13, 1977, pp. 193-97.
Henry reads the characters' travels in Candide as an effort "to attain ultimate permanence in the flux of reality."
Patrick Henry, "War as Play in Candide," in Essays in Arts and Sciences, Vol. 5, 1976, pp. 65-72.
Henry analyzes Voltaire's war themes "in light of Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture.
Frederick M. Keener, "Candide: Structure and Motivation," in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 9, 1979, pp. 405-27.
Keener closely examines the novel's psychological progression, tracing his self-conscious development and scrutiny of his own character.
Manfred Kusch, "The River and the Garden: Basic Spatial Modes in Candide and La Nouvelle Heloise," in The Past as Prologue: Essays to Celebrate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of ASECS, edited by Carla H. Hay and Sydny M. Conger, AMS, 1995, pp. 79-89.
Kusch analyzes how Voltaire creates a stagnating "closed garden" image of Eldorado by including a river that leads nowhere. He then contrasts this garden with the group's more feasible "open garden" in Constantinople.
James J. Lynch, "Romance Conventions in Voltaire's Candide," in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, January, 1985, pp. 35-46.
Lynch defines Voltaire's "burlesque of the romance tradition by comparing Candide to one tradition of seventeenth-century romance, the Heliodoran novel."
Haydn Mason, in Candide: Optimism Demolished, Twayne, 1992.
In this thorough study of Candide, Mason traces the literary and historical context of the work and offers a reading of Voltaire's treatment of philosophy, character relationships, and form.
Alan R. Pratt, "'People Are Equally Wretched Everywhere': Candide, Black Humor and the Existential Absurd," in Black Humor: Critical Essays, edited by Alan R. Pratt, Garland, 1993, pp. 181-93.
Pratt connects Voltaire's use of satiric black humor with the works of contemporary black-humor writers who, like Voltaire, use dark comedy to reflect the world's absurdities.
Gloria M. Russo, "Voltaire and Women," in French Women and the Age of Enlightenment, edited by Samia I. Spencer, Indiana University Press, 1984, pp. 285-95.
Russo investigates gender issues in the Enlightenment in her book. In the chapter on "Voltaire and Women," she tells about the many important women in Voltaire's life and their curious, though platonic, interaction with him.
Arthur Scherr, "Voltaire's 'Candide': A Tale of Women's Equality," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 261-83.
Scherr contends that Candide reveals the equality and mutual dependence between men and women, as shown through Candide's own reliance on women for happiness.
Mary L. Shanley and Peter G. Stillman, "The Eldorado Episode in Voltaire's Candide," in Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 6, No. 2-3, January-May, 1981, pp. 79-92.
Shanley and Stillman contrast the unattainable ideal of the static Eldorado with the garden image, which represents an appropriate goal for Europeans living in a non-static world.
Renee Waldinger, ed., in Approaches to Teaching Voltaire's Candide, Modern Language Association, 1987.
Waldinger's collection contains essays detailing a variety of approaches to Candide, including studies of its intellectual ideas, philosophical background, satire, and comedy, among many others.
by François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
THE LITERARY WORK
A satiric novel, set in various Old and New World countries during the mid-eighteenth century; published in French (as Candide, ou I’Optimisme) in 1759, in English in 1759.
An innocent young man travels the world in search of love and fortune, losing his illusions as he encounters vice in all its forms.
François Marie Arouet was born in Paris, France, in 1694, the youngest child of a cultured middle-class family. Educated by the Jesuits at the College Louis-Le-Grand, Arouet abandoned the study of law for a literary career. His first work (Imitation de I’ode du R.P. Lejay sur Sainte Germaine) was published in 1710. Arouet soon discovered his gift for satire, which would land him in trouble over and over again. In 1717 Arouet was imprisoned in the Bastille for 11 months on the suspicion of having written “J’ai vu” (I have seen), a poem defaming the regent. The true author was eventually revealed, prompting Arouet’s release; he left prison with a manuscript for what would be a successful play, Oedipus (1718), and a new name, Voltaire, by which he was thereafter known. Over the years, Voltaire experienced literary successes and failures, financial prosperity, another stint of imprisonment in the Bastille, and a period of voluntary exile in England, where he met such literary figures as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Returning to France in 1728, Voltaire again became the center of controversy when his Lettres Philosophiques (1734) were condemned and burned by the parliament of Paris. Fleeing Paris, Voltaire set up residence with his mistress, Madam de Chatelet, first in her home at Cirey, France, later in Belgium. A correspondence with King Frederick the Great of Prussia led to a place at the Prussian court; the friendship ultimately soured, however, and Voltaire left in 1753. After a period of wandering, Voltaire settled with his niece and mistress, Madame Denis, in Switzerland in 1755 (Madame de Chatelet had died in 1749) While living in Switzerland, he was shaken by the news of the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in which thousands were killed. The disaster profoundly affected Voltaire’s philosophical and religious views and became an important plot point in his masterpiece, Candide (1759). Set during the eighteenth-century, Candide nonetheless possesses a timeless appeal. Not only does the novel explore the breakdown of established systems; using scathing satire and wit, it also exposes the flaws of optimism—the belief that all happens for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
Although Voltaire satirizes religion, politics, the military, and human vice and folly, his primary target in Candide is the philosophy of optimism, especially as formulated by the German intellectual, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) and later circulated—in somewhat distorted form—by Leibniz’s disciple, Christian Wolff (1679–1754). An accomplished scientist and mathematician, Leibniz was a physicist, a co-discoverer—along with Sir Isaac Newton—of differential calculus, and a student of the great philosophers of the past.
There was a popular philosophy in Leibniz’s day called “mechanism,” which held that all natural phenomena could be explained by concrete causes and mechanical principles in the material world. Attempting to reconcile a mechanistic interpretation of the universe with belief in a just and benevolent God, Leibniz developed a system of metaphysics—the branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature of reality. In his Essais de Theodicee (1710), Leibniz responded to the age-old question “What is the nature of divine Providence and how can one reconcile it with the presence of evil in the world?” By way of response, Leibniz proposed the Principle of Sufficient Reason (there must be some logical reason why anything is as it is), along with two main assumptions: 1) God is good; 2) of all the possible worlds God could have created, he must have chosen the best when he created this one. Since God is perfection, anything he created apart from himself must be imperfect, including the world; yet in his goodness, God would still have created the best of all possible worlds. This positive view explains the name attached to Leibniz’s system of thought—optimism. Optimism acknowledges the existence here of evil in the world, recognizing the inevitability of evil occurrences but maintaining that these occurrences have moral value in the greater scheme of things. As a corollary to his system, Leibniz posited that matter was made up of monads, spiritual units rising in gradations from the lowest to highest, with God being the highest monad of all. His belief was that these monads functioned according to a divine, preestablished harmony with the material universe.
Although Voltaire apparently respected Leibniz’s breadth of intellect, he rejected out of hand the German thinker’s metaphysical system, as he had many others. In a 1737 letter to Frederick the Great of Prussia, Voltaire declared, “All metaphysics contains two things: first, all that which men of good sense know; second, that which they will never know” (Voltaire in Foster, p. 75). News of natural disasters, such as the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, further increased Voltaire’s doubts about whether optimism was a valid philosophy of life. Candide exposes the ineffectiveness of such thinking, as its hero faces a string of random disastrous events, which no amount of philosophizing ameliorates. During a shipwreck, Candide wishes to save his drowning benefactor Jacques the Anabaptist but “Pangloss the philosopher prevented him, arguing that the Lisbon harbour had been created expressly so that the Anabaptist would be drowned in it. While he was proving this a priori, the ship foundered and everyone perished” (Voltaire, Candide, p. 11).
The Lisbon earthquake
Among the historical occurrences that inspired Voltaire’s writing of Candide, the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 1, 1755, was arguably the most important. The earthquake, which modern seismologists estimate as being 8.6 in magnitude, struck between nine and ten in the morning on All Saints’ Day, while most of Lisbon’s population was in church. Three shocks were apparently felt; the second was especially severe, toppling buildings and contributing to many of the 40,000 or so deaths, half of which occurred in Lisbon alone.
In the wake of the initial disaster, severe aftershocks further rattled the population, then fires and tidal waves ravaged the city. Fire raged through Lisbon for three days after the earthquake, while the huge waves crashed over the quays, causing widespread damage and drowning thousands of people. Three-quarters of Lisbon was leveled, with lasting repercussions for the survivors. A bitter conflict sprang up between the Marques de Pombal, the chief minister of Portugal, and religious orders, specifically the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits), over the cause of the earthquake. Pombal chose to regard the earthquake as a natural disaster and advocated a practical solution to the devastation—namely, burying the dead and feeding the living. The Jesuits, however, preached that the earthquake was God’s punishment on the Lisboners for their sins. Displeased, Pombal worked to undermine the Jesuits’ preachings about the earthquake and encouraged the rapid rebuilding of the city. Later, he successfully attempted to remove the Jesuits’ influence over the government, spearheading their eventual expulsion from Portugal in 1759, the same year Candide was published.
The Lisbon earthquake horrified people across Europe. Many thinkers and philosophers reevaluated their positions in the wake of the catastrophe. Voltaire, living in Geneva, Switzerland, at the time, was especially effected; his faith in God was shaken and he found himself questioning the optimistic belief that everything happens for the best. A few weeks after the earthquake, Voltaire wrote to M. Tronchin of Lyons:
This is indeed a cruel piece of natural philosophy! We shall find it difficult to discover how the laws of movement operate in such fearful disasters in the best of all possible worlds—where a hundred thousand ants, our neighbours [the Portuguese], are crushed in a second on our ant-heaps, half dying undoubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath débris from which it was impossible to extricate them. . . . What a game of chance human life is! What will the preachers say—especially if the Palace of the Inquisition is left standing! [The reference here is to the tribunal to suppress deviation from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; in effect in Portugal from 1536–1820, the Inquistion exiled and even burned offenders at the stake.] I flatter myself that those reverend fathers, the Inquisitors, will have been crushed just like other people. That ought to teach men not to persecute men: for, while a few sanctimonious humbugs are burning a few fanatics, the earth opens and swallows up all alike.
(Voltaire, Letters, p. 155)
PARTIAL EVIL, UNIVERSAL GOOD
The philosophy of optimism was not preached only by Leibniz. He had a disciple, Christian wolff, who preached it as well albeit in a form that deviated from Leibniz’s own. Voltaire’s mistress, Madame du Chatelet, Warmed to the philosophy too. Above all, though, the was touted by Leibniz and by the English poet Alexander pope, who expressed remarkably similar views in his Essay on Man (1733-34):
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite.
One truth is clear, Whatever is, Is right.
(pope, pp. 2270–71)
Voltaire, who met Pope when visiting England, admired the Englishman’s work Yet Candidate refuses to subscribe to the notion that “Whatever is, is right” and to this extent can be viewed as a refutation of Pope’s views.
Soon after the earthquake, Voltaire wrote his “Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne” (Poem on the disaster of Lisbon), which was published in 1756 and expressed the changes in his philosophy about the nature of good and evil in the world. Translator Roger Pearson notes that “the poem begins by asking, first, how such carnage can be in accordance with the eternal laws of a good and free God, and, second, how it can be a punishment from God” (Pearson in Voltaire, Candide, p. xix). Unable to find ready answers to his questions, Voltaire concludes his poem in skepticism, slightly leavened with hope.
In Candide, the Lisbon earthquake is revisited. The novel’s hero and his companion, Dr. Pangloss, find themselves in the city as disaster strikes: “Whirlwinds of flame and ash covered the streets and public squares: houses disintegrated, roofs were upended upon foundations, and foundations crumbled. Thirty thousand inhabitants of both sexes and all ages were crushed beneath the ruins” (Candide, p. 12). Candide is injured by falling debris while the ineffectual Pangloss speculates endlessly about the cause of the earthquake. Afterwards, both men are caught up in the Inquisitors’ need to punish somebody for the quake, reflecting the real-life dispute between Pombal and the Jesuits.
The Jesuit influence
Organized religion in general takes a beating in Candide, but the Jesuits, whose influence extended across continents, bear the brunt of Voltaire’s attacks. Founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540, the Society of Jesus—a Roman Catholic male religious order—was formed to promote the salvation of all men and women and to foster the spiritual growth of the Jesuits themselves. The order grew rapidly, spreading throughout Catholic Europe in the form of schools and colleges during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jesuit missionaries also introduced Catholicism to other parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America. During their years of dominance, Jesuits made substantial scholarly contributions to philosophy, language studies, and theology; they also served as royal confessors and papal legates.
The Jesuits’ involvement in various governments antagonized Protestants as well as political leaders who wished to increase the state’s power over the church. Moreover, during the seventeenth century, Jesuit moral theology was frequently attacked by its enemies as lax, unethical, self-serving, and manipulative. The Jesuits became associated with the qualities of craftiness and duplicity; they were accused of allowing the end to justify the means, even though their moral theology strictly forbade this teaching.
By the time of Voltaire, the Jesuits had established colleges attended by the nobility and middle class of Catholic Europe. Voltaire himself was a pupil of the Jesuits; he studied classical languages and literature, philosophy, and theology at the College Louis-LeGrand, although later in life he would become an implacable foe of the Jesuits. Jesuit missionaries achieved considerable success among native peoples in the Philippines and Latin America, too. However, by the mid-eighteenth century, the Jesuit influence had begun to wane in Europe. Intellectuals and philosophers found Jesuit teachings contrary to their own. As members of the Englightenment era, the intellectuals stressed the power of reason and knowledge gained by empirical experience of the world, while the Jesuits stressed the power of faith and held that God was the source of all knowledge. Kings and ministers likewise found the Jesuits’ presence in government a hindrance to the state’s increasing control over the church. During the 1750s and 1760s, the rulers of Portugal, Spain, France, and Naples worked successively to suppress the Jesuits on both a national and colonial scale, finally pressuring Pope Clement XIV into stamping out the order worldwide in 1773. Only in Prussia and Russia did the Jesuits continue to work, since neither Frederick the Great nor Catherine the Great had agreed to promulgate the suppression.
In Candide, Voltaire casts a jaundiced eye over the Jesuits’ accomplishments at home and abroad, depicting them as ultimately self-serving, greedy, and exploitative. In Latin America, Candide’s servant, Cacambo, a former servant at the Jesuit College of the Assumption, remarks to his new master: “It’s a wonderful way of governing [the Jesuits] have. Their kingdom is already more than three hundred leagues wide, and it’s been divided into thirty provinces. Los Padres own everything in it, and the people nothing—a masterpiece of reason and justice”(Candide, p. 32).
The Seven Years’ War
Voltaire’s writing of Candide coincided with a bloody international struggle for dominance in the world. Known as the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), this conflict was fought in Europe, North America, and India. On one side were France, Austria, Russia, the Germanic state of Saxony, Sweden, and (after 1762) Spain; on the other side, Great Britain and the Germanic states of Prussia and Hanover.
The Seven Years’ War stemmed mainly from two conflicts: 1) the colonial rivalry between France and England and 2) the struggle for supremacy in Germany between the house of Austria and the rising kingdom of Prussia. In 1755, after hostilities broke out in North America (the French and Indian War), King George II of England, elector of Hanover, negotiated the Treaty of Westminster with King Frederick II of Prussia, guaranteeing the neutrality of Hanover. In response, France and Austria formed an alliance in 1756 in which they were later joined by Sweden and Russia. The main European phase of the war began in 1757, after Frederick II invaded Saxony and Bohemia.
Early in the war, Prussia’s Frederick II enjoyed several victories, although the Austrians defeated him at Kolin and he was forced to withdraw from Bohemia. Meanwhile, Britain and France faced off in several locations, the latter losing many of its overseas possessions, including Louisburg in America and Quebec in Canada. In 1757 the French enjoyed a rare victory at sea over the British by taking Port Mahón in Minorca, Spain, an event that had shocking repercussions in Britain. Admiral John Byng, who had commanded a fleet sent to support the British forces in Minorca, retired to Gibraltar after an indecisive engagement with the French. On his return to England, Byng was arrested and tried by court-martial for cowardice; hostile public opinion and bitterly divisive politics contributed to a verdict of “guilty” and a sentence of execution. Byng was executed by firing squad on the quarter-deck of his own ship, HMS Monarch.
After protracted negotiations between the warweary participants, peace was reestablished by two treaties in 1763. The Treaty of Hubertusberg settled hostilities between Prussia, Austria, and Saxony by restoring the prewar status quo, except in the case of Prussia. It gained status, emerging as a dominant European power. Similarly, the Treaty of Paris—between Britain, France, and Spain—elevated Britain to the status of world’s chief colonial empire.
The Seven Years’ War provided Voltaire, a Frenchman and a former guest at the Prussian court, with plenty of fodder for a satire. In Candide, Voltaire depicts the senselessness of war in general, through the bloody and essentially pointless struggle between the king of the Bulgars and the king of the Abars, whose armies are responsible for equal amounts of carnage. Voltaire also satirized the Byng incident, in which he had been more personally involved, having met the admiral while in England. Distressed to hear of Byng’s court-martial, Voltaire interceded with a letter written by his friend the Due de Richelieu; the letter praised Byng’s conduct and character and Voltaire had it sent to the admiral himself in hopes of gaining clemency for him. But the effort failed and Byng was executed. All Voltaire could do was immortalize the incident, as he did in Candide with the scathing remark, “[I]n this country it is considered a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others”(Candide, p. 68).
A RAW DEAL
In self-defense, Byng explained at his trial reasons for his behavior at Minorca. “Every person there concluded the place lost, and all relief impracticable. . . . But why (it may be asked) was not Minorca at this time relieved? I answer, because I was not sent in time enough to prevent the enemy’s landing, and that when I was sent, I was not strong enough to beat the enemy’s fleet. . . . Had I been defeated, What refuge whould have been left for the shattered fleet, what security for Gibraltar [at the time a British colony in southern Spain”] (Byng in Tunstall, pp, 233–34). Further confirmation of his good character could be found in the letter about him that Voltaire received from the Duc de Richelieau: “Whatever I have seen or heard of him does him honour. He ought not to be attacked in this manner when he has teen defeated after doing all that could be expected of him.… All Admiral Byng’s manoeuvres were excellent, the two fleets being equal . . . . but [ours, the French] better equipped. . . . Had the English persisted in the engagement they would have lost their entire fleet” (Richelieu in Tunstall, p. 251). Before being executed, Byng handed over a note to the marshal declaring his innocence, identifying himself as a scapegoat for the military loss. At 12:00 ;p.m., Byng was shot to death on the quarterdeck of the Monarque. In front of his remains, which were buried in the family vault is an inscription:
To the Perpetual Disgrace
Of Publick Justice,
The Honourable John Byng, Esq.,
Admiral of the Blue,
Fell a Martyr to Political Persecution,
May 14 in the Year MDCCLVII 
When Bravery and Loyalty
Were Insufficient Securities
For the Life and Honour
Of a Naval Officer
[Byng family in Tunstall, p. 286)
The novel, which purports to be translated from the writings—in German—of the late Dr. Ralph, begins by relating the youth of Candide, an innocent young man rumored to be the illegitimate nephew of Baron Thundertentronckh of Westphalia, a province in Germany. Reared in the Baron’s household, Candide grows up with the Baron’s own children and studies with the family tutor, Dr. Pangloss, a disciple of Leibniz, who teaches him the satirically named discipline of metaphysico-theological-cosmocodology. Pangloss asserts, and Candide believes, that all things happen for the best in this best of all pos sible worlds.
This dictum is put to the test when Candide falls in love with the baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. Observing the young people kissing behind a screen, the baron expels Candide from his estate. Penniless and hungry, Candide is conscripted into the king of the Bulgars’ army and forced to become a soldier, after which he suffers severe birchings (floggings) for failed maneuvers and perceived disobedience. After a horrendous battle between the king of Bulgaria and the king of Abares, Candide deserts and spends some time as a beggar. He is eventually taken in by Jacques, a kindly Anabaptist (Protestant radical advocating baptism and church membership for adult believers only). The next day, Candide again meets Dr. Pangloss, now a beggar himself and suffering from the pox. Pan gloss informs Candide of the sack of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh’s castle during the war and the brutal deaths of the entire family, including Cunegonde, at the hands of Bulgar soldiers. Jacques takes Pangloss into his household as well and sees to his being cured of his disease.
Traveling to Lisbon on business, Jacques, Candide, and Pangloss are shipwrecked just off the coast of Portugal. Jacques drowns, but Candide and Pangloss are among the wreck’s few survivors. The two reach Lisbon just as a great earthquake devastates the city, killing 30,000 people. The Inquisition in Portugal decides to punish sinners whose wickedness may have brought about the earthquake by holding an auto-da-fé (public execution for their penalties). Candide and Pangloss are among those accused; the former is flogged, the latter hanged, while other victims are burned to death at the stake.
An old woman tends to Candide’s injuries, and conveys him to a country house, where he is reunited with Cunégonde who, contrary to Pangloss’s report, survived the Bulgar attack. Presently she is the kept woman of two men (an Inquisitor and a Jew), although she has denied both her sexual favors. Cunégonde is overjoyed to see Candide. Her two men arrive, interrupting the reunion, and Candide kills them both. Candide, Cunégonde, and the old woman flee to Cadiz, Spain, but find themselves robbed of the gold and jewels Cunégonde had brought with her. The trio sail for Paraguay in Latin America, where Candide hopes to join the Spanish army, now engaged in fighting the Jesuits. During the voyage, the old woman tells her story, revealing that she was Pope Urban X’s daughter and the Princess of Palestrina (in Italy), but had suffered many misfortunes—being captured by pirates, sold into slavery, and raped and mutilated by various captors before becoming Cunégonde’s servant.
The trio arrive in Buenos Aires, where the governor falls in love with Cunégonde. Scheming to win her for himself, he arranges to have Candide accused of several crimes, including robbery and murder. Candide, accompanied by his faithful servant Cacambo, is obliged to flee, leaving Cunégonde and the old woman behind. Candide and Cacambo reach Paraguay and decide to fight for the Jesuits, recognizing this as the more practical and profitable alternative. At a border post, they meet the Jesuit commander, who turns out to be Cunégonde’s brother. The new baron had also miraculously survived the attack on the palace, thanks to the ministrations of the Jesuits, who educated him for their order. At first pleased to see each other, Candide and the baron quarrel after the latter learns Candide wishes to marry Cunégonde; they come to blows and Candide, fearing he has killed the baron, again flees with Cacambo.
Master and servant have several adventures together. Captured by the Oreillons, a savage tribe of cannibalistic natives, they are released once they prove they are not Jesuits. Candide and Cacambo then find their way to Eldorado, a legendary land where gold and jewels have no monetary value, faith in the deity does not require organized religion, and the inhabitants all live in peace and harmony. Love for Cunégonde and the desire for worldly success eventually impel Candide to leave Eldorado; at Candide’s request, the king of Eldorado gives him 100 sheep, which the young man loads with gold and jewels. On the arduous journey back to the world, Candide and Cacambo experience more misfortunes, eventually losing all but two of their sheep and the wealth they carried. Reaching Surinam, Candide is so distraught by the sight of a black slave, maimed by labor in a sugar mill and a failed escape attempt, that he vows to renounce Pangloss’s philosophy of optimism.
While trying to book passage to Buenos Aires, Candide is further devastated by the news that Cunégonde has become the governor’s mistress. He dispatches Cacambo to Buenos Aires with jewels to bribe the governor into giving up Cunégonde. Candide plans to wait for his servant’s return in Venice and arranges passage there for himself and his two sheep. An unscrupulous Dutch captain steals the sheep and sails away with them, leaving Candide stranded. Unable to gain redress from the law, an embittered Candide sails for Bordeaux, France; during the voyage he acquires a new companion, Martin the scholar, chosen on the basis of his own misfortunes and disgust with life.
Together, Candide and Martin embark upon a new sequence of adventures. Candide’s optimism is somewhat restored by the recovery of one of his Eldorado sheep, rescued when the Dutch captain’s ship is sunk during a fierce sea battle. On arriving in France, Candide samples Parisian high society, including the theater and gambling houses. France likewise proves full of rogues, and they trick Candide out of more of his wealth. Resuming his travels with Martin, Candide sails on a Dutch ship to Portsmouth, England, where he witnesses the execution of an English admiral by his own countrymen. Horrified by the sight, Candide refuses to go ashore and negotiates with the ship’s master to convey him to Venice at the earliest opportunity.
In Venice, Candide finds no sign of Cacambo or Cunégonde, although he sees still more examples of human vice and folly. He does meet Paquette, Cunégonde’s maid from Westphalia, who is now the mistress of a monk named Brother Giroflee; both are unhappy with their situation and Candide gives them some money in hopes of improving their lot. Finally, Candide again encounters Cacambo. On the way to Venice, he and Cunégonde were captured and enslaved by Turks. Cunégonde, who by now has lost her looks, is working as the Prince of Transylvania’s dishwasher in Constantinople. Candide buys Cacambo’s freedom and, with his companions, boards a Venetian galley to Constantinople. Among the galley slaves, the astonished Candide finds Pangloss and Baron Thundertentrockh; the former had escaped death in Lisbon because of an incompetent hangman, the latter had survived the wound Candide had inflicted. Candide buys the freedom of Pangloss and the baron as well, and, after the ship docks, the entire company hurries to ransom Cunégonde and the old woman from the Turks.
Reunited with his sweetheart, Candide loyally resolves to marry her, although she has lost her beauty and he no longer desires her. The baron continues to oppose the marriage on the grounds of social inequality, whereupon Candide has him taken back to the galleys. After his marriage, Candide and his companions, later joined by Paquette and Brother Giroflee, settle down, but not happily, on a small farm; boredom makes everybody quarrelsome and discontented. Seeking solutions to their problems, Candide, Pangloss, and Martin call upon a neighbor, a dervish reputed to be a great philosopher, but he refuses to discuss the nature of good and evil with them and slams the door in their faces. On their way back to the farm, the trio meets a contented Turkish orange-grower who recommends work as a panacea for “three great evils: boredom, vice, and need”(Candide, p. 92). Taking this lesson to heart, Candide and his companions decide to develop their particular talents for the good of their little household. The farm begins to thrive, as each member does his or her best to be useful, and Candide decides that the best thing one can do is to cultivate one’s own garden.
The limits of philosophy
Much has been written about the nature of Candide’s quest and the timeless examples of human vice and folly he encounters. The physical terrain Candide travels parallels his mental journey; the idealistic hero learns more with each country he visits, experiencing countless hardships before formulating a philosophy that allows him to make peace with an imperfect world.
Candide (from the Latin Candidus, meaning “white”) begins as a sheltered innocent, absorbing even the most absurd teachings of Dr. Pangloss without question:
Pangloss taught metaphysico-theological-cosmocodology. He could prove wonderfully that there is no effect without cause that, in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship the Baron’s castle was the most beautiful of castles and Madam the best of all possible baronesses.… Candide would listen attentively, and innocently he would believe.
(Candide, p. 2)
Candide’s innocence dissipates quickly enough, however. As shown, the young man’s expulsion from the castle after his love for Cunégonde is discovered, initiates a hazardous, global adventure during which Candide experiences or witnesses various atrocities and disasters, including murder, rape, religious persecution, storms, shipwrecks, earthquakes, disease, and slavery. There is no fair or logical reason underlying any of these occurrences, yet Pangloss, who accompanies Candide on the early phases of his journey, continues to parrot the same metaphysical declarations about “the best of all possible worlds.” Although Pangloss himself suffers numerous cruelties, including a brush with death at the hands of the Inquisition, he refuses to recant or reevaluate his optimistic stance even at the novel’s end:
I still feel now as I did at the outset. . . I am a philosopher after all. It wouldn’t do for me to go back on what I said before, what with Leibniz not being able to be wrong, and preestablished harmony being the finest thing in the world.
(Candide, p. 87)
But if Pangloss’s adherence to optimism, in the face of injustice and misery, becomes increasingly absurd, the pessimistic, even nihilistic, philosophy of Martin, another of Candide’s companions, proves just as limited in outlook. A self-professed Manichean—one who believes, like the Persian sage Mani, that the universe is governed by two equal forces of Good and Evil—Martin initially seems to have a surer grasp on the way the world works than Candide or Pangloss. When Candide wistfully asks if men have always been “feeble, fickle, envious, gluttonous, drunken, avaricious, ambitious, bloodthirsty, slanderous, debauched, fanatical, hypocritical, and stupid,” Martin inquires why Candide should suppose men to have changed their character, when animals, such as hawks, have not changed theirs (Candide, p. 47). As the pair travel through Europe, Martin’s cynicism about the human race continues to prove justified. However, Martin is proved wrong in one very significant instance, after he predicts that Candide’s servant Cacambo, entrusted with wealth and the task of bringing Cunégonde to Venice, will abscond with Candide’s jewels and mistress himself. Cacambo instead remains true to his master, his return to Candide’s side delayed not because of greed and self-interest but because of his capture and enslavement by pirates.
Ultimately, as Voltaire sees it, neither Leibnizian optimism nor Manichean pessimism adequately explains how humankind and the universe work. In fact, metaphysical philosophy in general fails to provide Candide and his companions with answers once they settle down in a state of peevish discontent after their wanderings. A learned philosopher in the neighborhood refuses to discourse with them about the nature of Good and Evil; instead, a kindly orange-grower directs the squabbling travelers towards the practical plan of developing their individual talents for the benefit of their community and impresses them with the necessity of cultivating their garden. Even gloomy Martin acquiesces in this plan, remarking, “Let’s get down to work and stop all this philosophizing. . . . It’s the only way to make life bearable”(Candide, p. 92).
While thwarted love and other misfortune initially spur Candide on his journey, he ultimately continues to travel as much to educate himself in the ways of the world. The emphasis on education in Candide reflects the philosophical, scientific, and political changes sweeping through Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These changes were all part of the larger intellectual movement often referred to as the Enlightenment. Rather than accepting established tenets of thought without question, scholars and thinkers began to reevaluate politics and, especially, religion in the light of individual freedoms as well as knowledge gained through experience. Such works as Isaac Newton’s Principle. (1687) posited the idea of the natural world as an orderly place governed by universal mathematical principles. By the time of Candidas composition, European intellectual society had become associated with such qualities as good sense, a belief in reason and moderation, and empirical knowledge. It is to common sense and empiricism that Voltaire seems to appeal in Candide, even as he rejects the more exotic metaphysical systems and abstruse reasonings that were another end product of the Enlightenment. Pearson writes, “It is education, then, the process of enlightenment, which gives shape to experience, and not only for Candide” but for his companions, and by extension, the novel’s readers as well (Candide, p. xxii).
Sources and literary context
Voltaire’s disillusionment with Leibnizian optimism was the primary impetus behind Candide. One character, Dr. Pangloss, exemplifies all the shortcomings of that philosophy as he attempts to explain away all injustice, misery, and wretchedness in the world as part of some grand metaphysical plan. Other characters meanwhile seem based on recognizable types in romantic or picaresque literature: an innocent, questing hero; a high-born beloved; arrogant enemies; and faithful companions. Voltaire was probably inspired by the writings of his British contemporaries Jonathan Swift (see Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal , also in Literature and Its Times) and by Alexander Pope, whom he met while living abroad in England. Parallels to Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, also published in 1759, may be detected too. Other possible influences are the writings of Rabelais, Boccaccio, and Cervantes (see Don Quixote and The Little Gypsy Girl also in Literature and Its Times).
Candide satirizes elements of various types of writing, including romances, travel narratives, and picaresque novels. As for the work itself, Candide probably fits best in the genre of conte philosophique, or philosophical tales, since it blends a brief fictional narrative with searing commentary on the nature of philosophy. The philosophical tale, says translator Roger Pearson, was a perfect vehicle for such a skeptical author, who relied on experience rather than theory. “Deeply suspicious of metaphysics and ‘systems’, [Voltaire] was constantly appealing to the facts: fiction, paradoxically, allowed him to show the ways in which the muddle and miseries of life could not be reduced to neat, abstract theories” (Pearson in Voltaire, Candide, pp. viii-ix).
Publication and reception
The publication of Candide is a fascinating story in itself. On the 15th and 16th of January 1759, unbound copies were quietly sent from Geneva to various cities: Paris received 1,000 copies, while Amsterdam, London, and Brussels also received sizable shipments. The manuscripts were bound at their respective destinations and published on a previously agreed-upon date. The intent was to circulate as many copies as possible throughout Europe, before either pirated, corrupted editions could appear or the authorities could suppress Voltaire’s subversive work. The plan succeeded. Although the Vatican placed Candide on its index of forbidden books on May 24, 1762, the tale had been in wide circulation for over three years by then. Owing to the inflammatory nature of the ideas in Candide, Voltaire himself maintained a discreet silence about the work during its composition. He did not even mention it in correspondence until after its publication and, for a time, denied authorship. His silence may have helped him evade unpleasant legal consequences—the authorities in Paris and Geneva attempted to suppress the distribution of Candide but took no action against Voltaire himself.
Contemporary opinions were sharply divided on Candide. Conservatives roundly condemned it; Genevan pastors termed it “full of dangerous principles concerning religion and tending to moral deprivation” (Mason, p. 14). Other detractors complained that, despite its wit and insight, Candide’s vision was ultimately too despairing. France’s Madame de Stael observed that Candide appears to be written “by a being of a different order from ourselves, insensible to our condition, well pleased with our sufferings, and laughing like a demon or an ape at the miseries of that human species with which he has nothing in common” (de Stael in Foster, p. 91). One of the harshest criticisms of both work and author may have come from the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who termed Candide “this dull product of a scoffer’s pen, / Impure conceits discharging from a heart / Hardened by impious pride!” (Wordsworth in Foster, p. 92).
The reading public disagreed. In France and other countries, people devoured the book, which went through over 17 editions in its first year of publication. The duc de la Vallière informed Voltaire, “Never perhaps has a book sold so briskly” (de la Vallière in Mason, p. 14). Voltaire’s friend, Nicholas Claude Thierot, was similarly enthusiastic, writing to the author, “Oh most cherished Candide, most excellent author and inventor of quips and jests! Your book is snatched from hand to hand. It so delights the heart that those who usually laugh with tight lips are forced to laugh with open mouths” (Thierot in Foster, p. 89). England’s critic James Boswell declared that Candidas attempt to “refute the system of Optimism” was “accomplished with brilliant success” (Boswell in Foster, p. 91). The success of Candide continued well into the nineteenth century; William Hazlitt, the British critic, wrote,” Candide is a masterpiece of wit.… It is in the most perfect keeping, and without any appearance of effort. Every sentence tells, and the whole reads like one sentence” (Hazlitt in Foster, pp. 92–93).
—Pamela S. Loy
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