Candide: All for the best in the best of all worlds?

A Guest Post by Critical Corey

With Danforth currently occupied quelling rebellion in some far off place, I have taken over to write a guest post on one of my personal favourite novels, Candide. The product of the French writer, philosopher and humanist known by his pen name Voltaire, Candide became his most popular work, outselling other novels such as Gulliver’s Travels over the same period of time, and thus becoming the “best seller” of 18th Century Europe.

The story itself is a satirical comedy designed in setting to parody other adventure romances of the time with constant peril and misfortune befalling the main character, Candide. It is primarily focused on brutally criticising philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s theory of optimism, the idea that all things are the best of all possible outcomes, however nothing is left untouched by his satire, from slavery to political and religious institutions.

Something of a synopsis

The story starts with an Eden like paradise in a castle where the young Candide lives with his Professor Pangloss, a baron, the baroness, their son and their daughter, Cunegonde. Professor Pangloss represents Leibniz himself with his repeated comment that, “All is for the best,” and teaches his optimism to Candide. However the peace does not last as Candide is exiled after confessing his love for Cunegonde.

Whilst travelling Candide finds himself conscripted by the Bulgars to fight the Abares, nations designed to represent the Prussians and French but soon deserts and makes his way to Holland where he encounters Professor Pangloss who brings word that the castle was attacked and destroyed, with all its inhabitants killed.

Heartbroken, Candide travels to Portugal but on arriving his ship is wrecked in a tidal wave caused by the cataclysmic earthquake of Lisbon, the actual earthquake of 1755 served as the prime example of the unnecessary suffering in the world according to Voltaire. Both characters survive only to be seized by the Inquisition (no-one expected that), where Pangloss is hung and Candide flogged.

It turns out however that Miss Cunegonde survived and is now a slave to the Grand Inquisitor. Stealing what they can, they flee across to America but part ways to avoid arrest after they are pursued to Buenos Aires. Agreeing to meet up again once he is not being pursued, Candide flees with a faithful servant to Paraguay, where the local Jesuit priests had raised a rebellion. They are met by a German Jesuit who turns out to be none other than the brother of Cunegonde.

The two embrace each other and marvel at the fact they have both survived to meet each other but when the brother bluntly refuses the idea that Candide might marry Cunegonde a fight breaks out resulting in Candide accidentally stabbing him! He flees with Cacambo into the Amazon using a raft to traverse the river but they crash into rocks and are consequently thrown into the water.

Image

They wake up in the fabled kingdom of El Dorado, an isolated paradise that Voltaire uses to convey his ideals of a society, where the monarch is a kind hearted philosopher. Other significant areas of the kingdom include the Palace of Science, the single temple which turns out to be the entire world and the numerous public homes created by the government to care for the invalids and those who have retired. Though begged to remain content rather than pursue unlikely pure happiness, Candide leaves, instead travelling to Constantinople where he notices the two familiar faces of some galley slaves, who are in fact Professor Pangloss and Cunegonde’s brother.

Buying their freedom he learns of Cunegonde’s location and finds her a servant in Transylvania. But rather than the blissful reunion of other love stories, Candide finds her disfigured from her hardships and has every intention of leaving her but then he decides to marry her to spite her brother. The group then settle on a small farm baking cakes, the story ending with Pangloss’ optimistic reasoning:

“All events form a chain in the best of all possible worlds. For in the end, if you had not been given a good kick up the backside for loving Miss Cunegonde, and if you hadn’t been subjected to the Inquisition, and if you hadn’t dealt the Baron a good blow with your sword, you wouldn’t be here now eating candied citron and pistachio nuts.”

Summary

You may ask where the comedy comes from when dealing with the great evils of the world? The answer is quite simply the tone and manner in which Voltaire writes. The work is so thick with irony that you could cut it with a knife, for example, when finding out that there are no priests in El Dorado, Candide exclaims:

“What! You mean you don’t have any monks to teach and dispute and govern and intrigue and burn people who don’t agree with them?”

Humour also comes through the contrast between the great tragedies of the story and the cool, calm delivery as if it were a weather report. The rapid, fast pace of the story keeps the focus on the current source of pain, giving the reader little time to take in the huge levels of suffering experienced. For me, Candide is the best example of Voltaire’s brilliant wit used to satirise and parody and I would thoroughly recommend it to any one who wishes to enjoy a good read.

-Critical Corey signing out! Critical Dan4th will return next week!-

Image taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:VoltaireCandidFrontis%2BChap01-1762.jpg, originally from the Private Collection of S. Whitehead. Date: 1762
In the public domain, US tag{{PD-US}}

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One response to “Candide: All for the best in the best of all worlds?”

  1. stupendous man says :

    Glad I came across this on Reddit! Voltaire has been my only source of dealing with stupidity and sorrows perpetually expressed by the rest of the world!

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