Candide

by Voltaire

Other authorsJohn Butt (Translator)
Paperback, 1960

Collection

Description

In this witty political satire, a gentleman plagued by misfortune clings to the belief that all is for the best. Voltaire mocks the eternal optimist philosophy of his day that proclaimed human and natural disasters part of a larger cosmic plan.

Rating

(3662 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member AshRyan
Voltaire is still recognized as one of history's greatest satirists, and after reading Candide it's not hard to see why. Two and a half centuries later, it still has the power both to amuse and to shock.

On the surface, as has often been noted, Candide is obviously a critique of the philosophy of Liebniz, and especially of the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds and everything is as it had to be in order for this to be so (in accordance, presumably, with the plans of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Creator). Voltaire goes quite over the top in showing the misadventures and misfortunes that befall his befuddled hero, who at first whole-heartedly buys into this "optimism."

Eventually, Candide's tale concludes with his advice that we should all just tend to our gardens--the precise meaning of which has been widely (and wildly) speculated about. Many take it to be a rejection of philosophy as such as being entirely useless, and we should just take a more pragmatic approach to life, though I find this interpretation untenable. More likely, given what we know about Voltaire as an Enlightenment thinker and from the content of Candide itself, it is simply a rejection of one philosophical school, namely that of rationalism. This is wider than just Liebniz, and Voltaire does target the ideas of other major rationalists (e.g., Descartes) as well. The message seems to be that philosophy is useless *when it has nothing to do with, and is in fact contradicted by, our actual experience.* The ending then suggests a much more practical sort of philosophy, like the one represented in America by Voltaire's contemporary Benjamin Franklin, but it is a philosophy nonetheless.

In the end, this is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking story that is still very relevant in today's world, and should still be required reading for everybody.
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LibraryThing member gbill
In 1755 a massive earthquake rocked Lisbon, and the subsequent fires and tsunami destroyed an estimated 85% of the city. It’s hard to imagine the mindset at the time, but it’s not surprising that many saw it as a sign of divine judgment. Voltaire, on the other hand, saw it as evidence refuting the philosophy espoused by Leibniz that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. He wrote the satire “Candide, or Optimism” in 1759 as a result, publishing it under another name because it was so incendiary, ridiculing religion and governments in addition to Leibniz.

In the novel the young hero Candide is being mentored by Pangloss who believes in the Liebniz’s optimistic philosophy. The book follows his travels all over the world, where he repeatedly sees evil, great violence, and the worst of mankind. The only exception is his sojourn in the mythical village of El Dorado, run by a society of rational people, but this is brief. In the end he is thoroughly disillusioned, but Voltaire doesn’t conclude without a ray of hope. His last line has remained with me for a couple of decades: “we must cultivate our garden” … another way I think of saying, think globally, but act locally. Don’t be wide-eyed and unrealistic about the goodness of God or man, but do what you can in your own little corner of the world to make it a better place.

Maurois’ introduction to this edition says Voltaire in general “…wanted to show (a) that it is absurd to suppose that an omnipotent God, creator of Heaven and Earth, had chosen the Jews, a small tribe of Bedouin nomads, as His chosen people; (b) that the chronicle of that race (the Bible) was packed with incredible facts, obscenities, and contradictions…(c) that the Gospels, although more moral than the Old Testament, were nevertheless full of the gossipings of illiterate nobodies; and finally (d) that the disputes which set the sects at each other’s throats throughout eighteen centuries were foolish and unavailing.”

Voltaire’s fiction here isn’t likely to blow you away but the message from 250 years ago and his clarity of thought as a leader of the Enlightenment may; for this I would recommend Candide.

Quotes:
On God:
“But I confess that when I consider this globe, or rather this globule, I think that God has abandoned it to some malevolent being – with the exception of Eldorado. I’ve almost never seen a town that didn’t desire the ruin of some neighboring town, or a family that didn’t want to exterminate some other family. Everywhere in the world, the weak detest the strong and grovel before them, and the strong treat them like flocks of sheep to be sold for their meat and wool…”

On humiliation:
“They were immediately stripped as naked as monkeys, and so were my mother, our ladies-in-waiting and I. It’s amazing how quickly those gentlemen can undress people. But what surprised me even more was that they put their fingers in a place where we women usually allow nothing but the nozzle of an enema. This ceremony seemed very strange to me; that’s how we judge everything when we’ve never been outside our own country before. I soon learned that it was to find out whether we’d hidden any diamonds there. It’s a custom that’s been observed since time immemorial by all civilized seafaring nations. I later learned that the Knights of Malta never fail to practice it when they capture Turkish men and women. It’s a point of international law which always has been complied with.”

On man’s nature:
“’Do you believe,’ said Candide, ‘that men have always slaughtered each other as they do today, that they’ve always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates and thieves, weak, fickle, cowardly, envious, greedy, drunken, miserly, ambitious, bloodthirsty, slanderous, lecherous, fanatical, hypocritical and foolish?’
‘Do you believe,’ said Martin, ‘that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they find them?’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Candide.
‘Well, then,’ said Martin. ‘if hawks have always had the same character, what makes you think men may have changed theirs?’
‘Oh!’ said Candide. ‘There’s a big difference, because free will…’
The discussion was still going on when they reached Bordeaux.”

On prostitution:
“…and forced to continue that abominable trade which seems so pleasant to you men, but which is nothing but an abyss of misery for us. I came to Venice to practice my profession. Oh sir, if you could only imagine what it’s like to be forced to caress without discrimination an old merchant, a lawyer, a monk, a gondolier or a priest, to be exposed to every kind of insult and abuse, to be often reduced to borrowing a skirt for some disgusting man to lift up, to be robbed by one man of what you’ve earned with another, to be blackmailed by magistrates, and to have nothing to look forward to except an atrocious old age, the workhouse and the garbage dump, you’d conclude that I’m one of the most wretched creatures in the world!’”

On religion:
“After the earthquake had destroyed three-quarters of Lisbon, the wise men of the country could think of no more effective way of avoiding total ruin than giving the populace a fine auto-da-fe. It was decided by the University of Coimbra that the sight of several people being slowly burned with great ceremony was an infallible means of preventing the earth from quaking.”

On sex:
“One day as Cunegonde was walking near the castle in the little wood known as ‘the park,’ she saw Dr. Pangloss in the bushes, giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother’s chambermaid, a very pretty and docile little brunette. Since Lady Cunegonde was deeply interested in the sciences, she breathlessly observed the repeated experiments that were performed before her eyes. She clearly saw the doctor’s sufficient reason, and the operation of cause and effect. She then returned home, agitated and thoughtful, reflecting that she might be young Candide’s sufficient reason, and he hers.”

On slavery:
“’Yes sir,’ said the Negro, ‘it’s the custom. We’re given a pair of short trousers twice a year as our only clothing. If we get a finger caught under the millstone while we’re working in the sugar mills, they cut off the whole hand; and if we try to run away, they cut off one of our legs. I’ve been in both those situations. That’s the price of the sugar you eat in Europe.’”

On suicide:
“I’ve wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but I still love life. That ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most pernicious inclinations. What could be more stupid than to persist in carrying a burden that we constantly want to cast off, to hold our existence in horror, yet cling to it nonetheless, to fondle the serpent that devours us, until it has eaten our heart?”

On war:
“Old men with wounds all over their bodies were watching the death throes of butchered women who clutched their children to their bloody breasts; girls who had been disemboweled after satisfying the natural needs of several heroes were breathing their last sighs; others, mortally burned, were shrieking for someone to hasten their death. The ground was strewn with brains and severed arms and legs.”

And this one I chuckled over:
“’You know England: are people as mad there as in France?’
‘It’s another kind of madness,’ said Martin. ‘As you know, those two nations are fighting a war over a few acres of snow on the edge of Canada, and they’re spending more on that glorious war than the whole of Canada is worth.’”
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LibraryThing member AMQS
I thoroughly enjoyed [Candide] and the superb narration of the late actor Donal Donnelly. This is a dark satire told with a light touch, or even whimsy. The scathing wit had me cracking up, even as the violence and brutality described made me wince. The surface story is this: Candide, a young, naïve man, is expelled (by being kicked repeatedly in his backside) from the castle where he is a ward after he attempts to embrace the young baroness Cunegonde. He is subsequently forced into, then escaped from the Bulgarian army, and makes his way through most of Europe and South America and Turkey, all the while consumed with love for Cunegonde, and the hopes of their eventual but unlikely reunion. Central characters are killed off gruesomely -- they are hanged, burned, dissected, disemboweled, rotted by syphilis, quartered, etc. and yet reappear later with fantastic stories of survival and hardship endured under drastically reduced circumstances. All but simple Candide, his trusted valet Cacambo, the unlucky Cunegonde, and Martin, the hilariously gloomy and pessimistic companion have ulterior motives of greed or hypocrisy or both. All are miserable, no matter their station or wealth.

Under the surface, however, is a lively and biting satire, the targets of which are enlightenment philosophers (particularly optimists), aristocracy and nobility, religious fanaticism, and political abuses. The fact that this sharp satire, typically contemporary, has aged so well is a testament to the genius of Voltaire and his shrewd observations about human nature, and the fact that though we as a civilization have become more enlightened and advanced, fundamentally we have not changed so very much.
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LibraryThing member Jenson_AKA_DL
Young Candide's story begins when a slight interlude with his lordship's daughter is witnessed from behind a screen leading to his butt quite literally being kicked from the household. From such an ignoble beginning we follow Candide through his journey of highs and lows, pains and pleasures, dark ironies and surreal coincidences. Through all of his journeys Candide endeavors to hold true to the highly held belief of his favorite and beloved philosopher, Pangloss: "Everything is good and everything is for the best."

Starting off I was very worried that I would find this book impossible to understand and would be made to give up after only a couple chapters. To my great surprise I found this story to be really very engaging. Voltaire's writing is very caustic, sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek. In fact, in some parts it is downright risqué. Dark humor abounds and while I might not have laughed out loud, I certainly did my share of smirking, especially at parts that under normal circumstances I would not usually have found remotely funny. I would never have imagined such a colorful and irreverent piece of work to be considered a classic. Unfortunately being a more literal minded person myself, I am sure much of the subtle inferences and veiled jabs probably went right over my head, but even with that knowledge I still enjoyed it.

This book has a plethora of wonderful quotes. One of my favorites was uttered by a man totally discontent with his life, despite all his riches: Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part, I read only to please myself, and like only what suits my taste.
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LibraryThing member browner56
There is a great scene in the movie “Vacation” where Chevy Chase, who is on a manic quest to drive his family across country to an amusement park, stops at the Grand Canyon. After taking in the splendor for all of four or five seconds, he hustles the family back into the van to continue the trip, content that they have checked another “must see” landmark off their list.

I felt a little like that reading this book. Having long been on my “must read” list, I found "Candide" to be a remarkably forgettable experience that provided little nourishment or pleasure. Its reputation as a classic of the Age of Enlightenment notwithstanding, this satirical novella is at once a slight and heavy-handed trifle. Voltaire’s well-established premise for writing the book was to tear down the philosophy of Optimism (“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”) that prevailed at the time and which he found to be distinctly at odds with the world he saw around him. However, this is a debate that is more than two centuries in the past and for all his scathing wit, the author offers little in the way of an alternative philosophy save the admonition that man should stay busy and have a purpose, no matter how menial.

All that said, I did not dislike the novel but neither did I find it to be either memorable or thought-provoking. I’m happy to have finally read it—at little more than 100 pages, it certainly won’t take up too much of your time—if only to have checked it off my list once and for all.
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LibraryThing member Mromano
This short work is the finest example of a sustained literary assault on a philosophical idea; in this case, the idea of Optimism put forth by Leibniz. It was inspired in part by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that claimed up to 100,000 lives, a disaster that did not fit well in the Leibnizian Optimistic View that this was the best of all possible worlds. Candide is a short, precise and very focused attack on this attitude. As such, it is a masterpiece of world satire along with other notable works like Gulliver's Travels and Huckleberry Finn.… (more)
LibraryThing member kambrogi
What a romp! Who would have thought that a 1759 French novel that predates the US and French revolutions could be so timely and so readable? It is perhaps best compared to Forrest Gump: a country bumpkin of limited intelligence and worldview travels widely, bumping into the social, historical and philosophical trends of his time, forever on a quest to win the hand of the ladylove who remains a bit beyond his grasp. The result is a fast-paced adventure tale, in which our optimistic hero Candide must figure a way out of a variety of sticky situations. Luckily, he is accompanied most of the time by one or more handy sidekicks whose cleverness and clarity exceed his own.

Although a scholar may enjoy parsing the network of historical references that originally inspired this philosophical and social satire, the ordinary reader will probably find greater pleasure in Voltaire’s attack on the corruption of the clergy, the excesses of government, the greed of mankind, and the abuses of businessman. These issues certainly resonate with today’s world.

In addition, the author challenges us to consider our own philosophy of life: do we live in the best of all possible worlds, or is reality bound to disappoint? Who are the happy among us: the wealthy or the poor, the adventurers or the steady workers, those with wisdom and experience or those who haven’t a clue? Many avenues of thought beckon while reading this book, and it is anybody’s guess where it may take you. It’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
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LibraryThing member MorHavok
Candide holds up admirably for being a couple centuries old. It is also one of the easier reads I have had in a while. The novel follows the life of Candide, a young man whose candid nature and inexperience leads him to a more adventurous life than any of us could hope for. From his homeland of Germany, to the Andean Mountains of Peru Candide follows a path that gives him some of the greatest highs and greatest lows. He loses and gains companions throughout his journey, yet ultimately comes to his own understanding of the world.

The novel is full of outdated references, which the book was pretty good at explaining. But the humor is sometimes lost. The character development is there, but since the book doesn’t really go into detail its not exactly good. The characters are all amusing in their different perspectives and philosophical insights.

Candide is definitely worth a read since its under 100 pages. It shouldn’t take more than a week to read, which is all easy. You don’t have to study over notes to understand what is happening at all. Probably a good books to get people interested in classics.

Favorite Quote:
“Why should you think it so strange that in some countries there are monkeys which insinuate themselves into the good graces of the ladies; they are a fourth part human, as I am a fourth part Spaniard.” (38)
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LibraryThing member enosis
I was pleasantly surprised with how a book that was first published in 1759 can still be relevant and enjoyable.

Candide is Voltaire's answer to the philosophy of Optimism, which was founded by Leibniz. Optimism says that all is for the best because God is a benevolent deity, or "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds".

In this very short, concise, and fast paced story, we follow the adventures of Candide who spent his life living in a sheltered and luxurious environment. During that period, his mentor Pangloss indoctrinated him with Leibnizian Optimism. When Candide leaves his home, he is slowly and painfully disillusioned as he witnesses and experiences great hardships around the world.

Voltaire takes us from place to place in a rapid succession, putting Candide in all sorts of extraordinary situations, using caustic humour, satire and sarcasm to ridicule religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies and philosophers. His obvious target is Optimism, where in order to argue his point he uses many devices such as describing a devastating earthquake "as one of the most horrible disasters 'in the best of all possible worlds'".

Although Optimism might seem outdated or not that much relevant today, its core message is what most religions are about. They (religions) maintain that our world is indeed perfect, since it was created by an infallible supreme being. Therefore, everything happens according to god's plan and intentions, or "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds". I know, it sounds ridiculous, because it is, but here we are 250 years after the book was written and the things that Voltaire ridiculed haven't changed a bit!

Tip: pay attention to the names of the characters early on in the book, as the fast pace of the story makes it easy to lose track of who is who.

TL;DR "Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté." [Wikipedia]. What's not to like? :)
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Voltaire is a famous philosopher of the Enlightenment, and Candide his most famous work. It's very short, a satiric send-up of Leibniz's theory of optimism through Candide's mentor Dr. Pangloss, who believes we live in "the best of all possible worlds" even in the face of increasingly insane disasters. I thought particularly funny the "genealogy of syphilis" where Pangloss traces the lineage of his infection back in a "direct line from one of Christopher Columbus's shipmates." I also rather loved the iconoclastic and grumpy twitting of classics by Pococurante. I might not agree with his lambasting of Homer and Virgil (though I thought he was dead on about Milton) but I agreed with his principle that "Ignorant readers are apt to judge a writer by his reputation. For my part, I read only to please myself. I like nothing but what makes for my purpose." The story wasn't what I expected from the introduction calling this one of Voltaire's "fables of reason" meant to elucidate philosophy. This wasn't at all dry or inaccessible and was quite fun with lots of lines I'd be tempted to quote if there weren't so many that were wise, witty and striking. This short satire reminded me quite a bit of Swift's Gulliver's Travel only with less bathroom humor and more good-natured.… (more)
LibraryThing member benjamin.duffy
I think that Candide is probably the type of book that enriches the reader the deeper he or she delves into it. It would probably reward repeated readings. It would probably reveal deeper layers of satire and absurdity if it were read in the original French. It would probably take on deeper shades of meaning if it were read in conjunction with any of the commentaries that have been written about it over the past 250-odd years.

Having said that, I'm not going to do any of those things. I have way too many books on my plate to reread this book any time in the next year; the limits of my French (one year of college French, an ex-wife who was fluent) would make reading it in that language a brutal, dictionary-in-hand chore; and I generally dislike reading books about books, so commentaries are right out.

So, I didn't dig too deeply into Candide, instead just reading it as the absurd tale it was, not looking for too much meaning beyond the surface. And you know what? I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was like Forrest Gump, only with a little less faith in humanity and a lot more murder, rape, cannibalism, zoophilia, and child prostitution. It was full of pitch-black humor, and the breezy, matter-of-fact way in which some of the horrific situations were described only served to make it funnier.

Unsurprisingly, this was a super dark book, and an angry one, full of scathing satire. It served up a double middle finger salute to pretty much everyone: nobility, clergy, self-styled intellectuals, real intellectuals, commoners, the French, the Germans, the English - nobody escapes Voltaire's poison pen. Virtually everyone is portrayed as stupid, dishonest, self-serving, small-minded, and hypocritical. Religion and government receive the brunt of Voltaire's onslaught; it isn't hard to see why this book was banned in so many places for so many years - even well into the 20th century in parts of the United States.

This was a fast, hilarious, exhilaratingly bitter read, and just the thing to top off your misanthropy tank if it's ever running low. Fine family fun!
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LibraryThing member steadfastreader
It's a sweet little satire. Easy and fun, it reads like a fable. I'm not sure that I get the more complicated satirical meanings - seeing as how it was written in the eighteen century... but it's definitely full of quips that you could use.
LibraryThing member hereandthere
For most of my life I have been quoting and cracking wise: "All is for the best in this most perfect of all perfect worlds", a statement whose essential truth is its irony. But until now I'd never read Voltaire's Candide, the source for Dr. Pangloss' sincerely delivered (by the character) but ironically presented (by the author) wisdom. And I'd never known just how vast a survey of 18th century cruelty Voltaire conducted while expressing his ironic untruth and rebutting it.

There are many lovely surprises in this 1759 philosophical romance. The first is the delightful entry it give us into the world of the 18th century itself - its fantasies, politics, stereotypes and lusts. We experience empire in the old and new worlds, common prejudices, and the tapestry of mid-18th century European and American political and social realities. We get a little tour of Voltaire's known world, and an imaginary depiction of the New World too.

Second, Voltaire writes of an age of astonishing brutality - rape, torture, stabbings, auto de fe - the bodies and the suffering are piled as high in this book as any tale of a Soviet Gulag or the Holocaust. An age so experienced understandably raised the most profound questions of good and evil.

Third, this book is delightfully sexual, not in a modern pornographic sense, but in an inimitably 18th century way. It reminds us that lust as much as love is a universal human experience, across the ages. Yet, in the 18th century as portrayed by Voltaire sex is a cruel mistress and master. It has its delights... but the images of punishment for sexual transgressions and of whoredom, disease, rape and the cruelty of lost female beauty are presented unflinchingly. This is the sexual world as it was, and it too is a world of violence and loss.

This is also a romance, that both mocks affection and yet depends upon it, sees its absurdity and yet valorizes it. Candide's love for Cunegonde is basically ridiculous, as is Candide himself and as is the philosopher Pangloss for whom he professes admiration. Yet it is the ground of his being as a character, and drives the whole story forward. He is a romantic fool. In the end, Martin and a humble Turk farmer, provide the answer to Candide and Pangloss's insipid optimism, as illustrated in the quotes below. But I'm not sure that Voltaire completely repudiates Candide's love for Cunegonde.

This is a comedy on many levels. Candide's endless ability to find new money, to land on his feet, to acquire new traveling companions, are all so silly that they hardly need to be remarked upon. The silliness is just good fun, creating situations in which Voltaire explores ideas against the background of evil and cruelty.

It is also of course, specifically, a sex comedy, using the readers prurient interest in matters connubial and concupiscencial to discuss deep philosophical questions. It is reassuring that sex sells, and has been selling since at least the mid-18th century. But is there some deeper connection between sex and the meaning of life, sex and optimism, sex and pessimism, that is plumbed here?

I was moved to think of Kohelet's (Ecclesiastes') questions after I put this down. To what extent are Candide's and King Solomon's wisdom aligned? "The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the entire man." This is essentially a Jewish version of "labor in your garden", the garden at issue being the garden of mitzvot, n'est-ce pas? At the very least we can say that both share an attitude of age ripened wisdom, and a certain rejoicing in a clarifying pessimism.

There is however a curious meta-Panglossian sense that in the author's hands, nothing can go wrong, no dungeon will be unescaped, no death will be permanent, and all will ultimately be for the best. And in the end, Candide and his companions are safely delivered, together with the reader, to the wisdom of working the garden.



Notable Quotable

"'Tis demonstrated," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise; for, since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visible instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches. Stones were formed to be quarried and to build castles; and My Lord has a very noble castle; the greatest Baron in the province should have the best house; and as pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all the year round; consequently, those who have asserted that all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that it is for the best."

~

"One day when Cunegonde was walking near the castle, in a little wood which was called the Park, she observed Doctor Pangloss in the bushes, giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother's waiting-maid, a very pretty and docile brunette. Mademoiselle Cunegonde had a great inclination for science and watched breathlessly the reiterated experiments she witnessed; she observed clearly the Doctor's sufficient reason, the effects and the causes, and returned home very much excited, pensive, filled with the desire of learning, reflecting that she might be the sufficient reason of young Candide and he might be hers."

~

"You are very hard," said Candide. "That's because I have lived, " said Martin.

~

"Music nowadays is merely the art of executing difficulties and in the end that which is only difficult ceases to please." (Pococurante)

~

"Oh! what a superior man!" said Candide under his breath "What a great genius this Pococurante is! Nothing can please him."

~

"I should like to know which is worse... to endure all the miseries through which we have passed, or to remain here doing nothing?" (The Old Woman)

~

"... Martin especially concluded that man was born to live in the convulsions of distress or in the lethargy of boredom. Candide did not agree, but he asserted nothing. Pangloss confessed that he and always suffered horribly; but , having once maintained that everything was for the best, he had continued to maintain it without believing it."

~

"I have only twenty acres, " replied the Turk. "I cultivate them with my children; and work keeps at bay three great villains: boredom, vice and need."

~

"Let us work without arguing, said Martin; "'tis the only way to make life endurable."

~

Said the widow:

"I have been a hundred times upon the point of killing myself, but still I was fond of life. This ridiculous weakness is, perhaps, one of the dangerous principles implanted in our nature. For what can be more absurd than to persist in carrying a burden of which we wish to be eased? to detest, and yet to strive to preserve our existence? In a word, to caress the serpent that devours us, and hug him close to our bosoms till he has gnawed into our hearts?"
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LibraryThing member AnnieHidalgo
Wish I knew what everyone sees in this one. I've known a few people who have claimed this as one of their favorite works, and to me, anyway, this book appears so slight when compared with other classical works. But then, allegory was never my favorite form of literature. I can completely understand Balzac, or Zola, or Flaubert. They were amazing writers, and you can get something new out of them with each reading, I think, depending upon what stage you are at in your own life. But it seems like there is a trend in French literature - the spare and esoteric work, the one that says, "this may not look like much, but it has Layers." I'm thinking especially of The Little Prince, this work, and possibly all of Camus. It may be very worthy. I'm sure the fault is mine here. But I just don't get it.… (more)
LibraryThing member NielsenGW
If you’re looking for one of the most satirical, rollicking, odd, philosophical, and whimsical novels in history, then you needn’t go any further than Voltaire’s Candide. Voltaire’s canonical 1759 work examines the conflict between optimism and realism, between Old World and New World experiences, and between upper class and lower class conditions. But even these dichotomies are too simple for this work. The title character’s adventures begin when he kisses Cunegonde, a relative of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh and is expelled from the estate with his mentor Pangloss. And then the real fun starts.

Candide’s adventures through the great earthquake of Lisbon, the New World, and Asia Minor to be reunited with Cunegonde reflects just how sheltered he was raised. Pangloss, ever the optimist, explains that even though there is pain and suffering and loss in the world, we are living in the “best of all possible worlds.” Candide never stops being about things: it’s about first impressions, love, loss, culture, philosophy, foreign relations, religions, etc. Voltaire clearly has a lot to say, but luckily, this novella is just long enough to pack them all in without being too overbearing. Candide finally gives up on optimism, but the funny thing is, he never says what his new philosophy will be. That’s left for the reader to figure out. Much like Animal Farm and 1984, society as a whole is Voltaire’s fodder—he laughs at us all. And we all could use a good laugh. A delightful and witty book.
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LibraryThing member varwenea
Without context, this book reads like a series of unfortunate events. (Hey – that’s another book! Haw haw.) With context, this brilliant little book is a biting satire where Voltaire spared no opportunity to poke fun at every thought and event that he found wrong with society in the 1700’s. Voltaire challenged the idea endemic in his days, that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’. Back of book: “It was the indifferent shrug and callous inertia that this ‘optimism’ concealed which so angered Voltaire, who found the ‘all for the best’ approach a patently inadequate response to suffering, to natural disasters – such as a the recent earthquakes in Lima and Lisbon – not to mention the questions of illness and man-made war.” Voltaire was 64 years old when he wrote Candide in 1758. He was internationally recognized as a satiric genius, which also meant the government is none too pleased with him, resulting in two stays in the Bastille, flogging, and exile. Fun stuff for being a genius – yikes!

In the book, Voltaire takes us through a journey of pain and suffering, coping and recovering, or simply death in many cases. Murder, rape, butchering, imprisonment, forcibly drafted into army, beatings, hanging, earthquake, drowning, slavery, prostitution, cannibalism, swindles, dethroned kings, living with false smiles, forced into priesthood, and much more. At times, Candide pauses and wonders if ‘All is for the best’ is a logical view.

I can’t decide if I would characterize Candide as being naïve in addition to being kind. The latter he definitely is, never hesitating to share his fortunes, however few it may be at times. For the sake of completeness, I will slap him once, for his callousness when he no longer wished to marry Cunegonde because she has become ugly. :P

The ending, its simplicity, is satisfying. It mirrors quite a bit to life – less talking, more doing – something I find myself saying too.

Having seen Candide, the operetta, and by chance, was at the New York Public Library (Main) when they had a special exhibit of Voltaire’s original manuscripts, I wonder what took me so long to pick up the book. As an aside, the earthquake of Lisbon is readily the event that altered the course of the country’s history, ending its naval powers, sending its monarchy to the mountains (literally), and left the country behind its neighbors throughout history. Its downtown, wharf area is still sparse to this day. It’s pretty amazing that Voltaire saw through the B.S. then.

Quotes – illustrating the powers of Voltaire’s words – witty, sharp, dripping with sarcasm, dipped with duality:

Re: Sex – The ‘innocent’ Cunegonde seeing the action. The roundabout verbiage is immensely hilarious.
“One day Cunegonde was walking near the house in a little coppice, called ‘the park’, when she saw Dr. Pangloss behind some bushes giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother’s waiting-woman, a pretty little brunette who seems eminently teachable. Since Lady Cunegonde took a great interest in science, she watched the experiments being repeated with breathless fascination. She saw clearly the Doctor’s ‘sufficient reason’, and took note of cause and effect. Then, in a disturbed and thoughtful state of mind, she returned home filled with a desire for learning, and fancied that she could reason equally well with young Candide and he with her.”

Re: Man-Made War – Eloquently compared to hell, and note the last two words– ‘heroic butchery’, Chapter 3.
“Those who have never seen two well-trained armies drawn up for battle, can have no idea of the beauty and brilliance of the display. Bugles, fifes, oboes, drums, and salvoes of artillery produced such a harmony as Hell itself could not rival. The opening barrage destroyed about six thousand men on each side. Rifle-fire which followed rid this best of worlds of about nine or ten thousand villains who infested its surface. Finally, the bayonet provided ‘sufficient reason’ for the death of several thousand more. The total casualties amounted to about thirty thousand. Candide trembled like a philosopher, and hid himself as best he could during this heroic butchery .“

Re: The Atrocities and Brutality of War – Voltaire painted this searing image of a ravished village, Chapter 3.
“It was now no more than a smoking ruin, for the Bulgars had burned it to the ground in accordance with the terms of international law. Old men, crippled with wounds, watched helplessly the deaththroes of their butchered women-folk, who still clasped their children to their bloodstained breasts. Girls who had satisfied the appetites of several heroes lay disemboweled in their last agonies. Others, whose bodies were badly scorched, begged to be put out of their misery. Whichever way he looked, the ground was strewn with the legs, arms, and brains of dead villagers.”

Re: Disease and its genealogy, with bonus humor on chocolate. Following the passage on the genealogy of Pangloss’ syphilis/pox (which is entertaining too), I found this even more amusing. How the times have changed that a disease can travel the world, as did the bird flu so much faster these days than in the 1700’s, Chapter 4:
“For if Columbus, when visiting the West Indies, had not caught this disease, which poisons the source of generation, which frequently even hinders generation, and is clearly opposed to the great end of Nature, we should have neither chocolate nor cochineal. We see, too, that to this very day the disease, like religious controversy, is peculiar to us Europeans. The Turks, the Indians, the Persians, the Chinese, the Siamese, the Japanese as yet have no knowledge of it; but there is a ‘sufficient reason’ for their experiencing it in turn in the course of a few centuries.”

If only Voltaire knows about the Catholic Priests’ sex scandals today(!), Chapter 11.
“I am the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina.*”
“*Notice how exceedingly discreet our author is. There has so far been no Pope called Urban X. He hesitates to ascribe a bastard to an actual Pope. What discretion! What a tender conscience he shows! [Voltaire’s note.]”

Suicide vs. Living – such a painful choice sometimes, Chapter 12:
“I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most melancholy propensities; for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one’s very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?”

Candide breaks in Chapter 19, upon hearing the negro’s story of this life with chopped off hand and chopped off leg:
“What is Optimism?”
“It’s the passion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong with us.”

No peace for men, from Martin, the pessimist, Chapter 20
“A million regimented assassins surge from one end of Europe to the other, earning their living by committing murder and brigandage in strictest discipline, because they have no more honest livelihood; and in those towns which seem to enjoy the blessings of peace and where the arts flourish, men suffer more from envy, cares, and anxiety than a besieged town suffers from the scourges of war, for secret vexations are much more cruel than public miseries. “

Re: Men’s Character – Candide vs. Martin, the pessimist, Chapter 21
“Do you think that men have always massacred each other, as they do today, that they have always been false, cozening, faithless, ungrateful, thieving, weak, inconstant, mean-spirited, envious, greedy, drunken, miserly, ambitious, bloody, slanderous, debauched, fanatic, hypocritical, and stupid?”
“Do you think that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they could find them?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, if hawks have always had the same character, why should you suppose that men have changed theirs?”

Re: Money doesn’t buy happiness, Chapter 25
“You must admit that there is the happiest man alive, because he is superior to all he possesses.”
“ Don’t you see that he is disgusted with everything he possesses? Plato long ago said that the best stomachs are not those that reject all food.”
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LibraryThing member hovercraftofeels
I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick up Candide and after finishing the book, I'm definitely upset with my younger self. This is Voltaire at his cattiest and it makes for great reading. He spares no one in his attacks against religion, philosophy, society, and romance. Candide is the protagonist, although readers will find he feels more like a whipping boy. He is painfully naïve and has been indoctrinated by his philosophy teacher Pangloss to believe everything happens to a man for the sole purpose of transporting him to a better situation. Naturally, Voltaire plays with the Leibnizian philosophy by putting Candide into extremely horrible situations and showing the character to have no belief other than things must keep happening so that an even better situation will befall him. Voltaire also shows his readers the hypocrisies of religion and the ironies of claiming to love someone whom you do not truly know. This is a quick read mainly because it is so fast paced and entertaining. Through word play and excessive gore, it's nearly impossible to set down the book. My only complaint with Candide is the simplicity of its content, but when one considers this as it was originally intended, as a barebones and intelligent satire, it's not exactly fair to expect better chapter transitions or less abrupt scene changes. Voltaire has succeeded in producing a rhetorical monster applicable to any age which also functions as an engaging novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member KendraRenee
I enjoyed delving into the theological wanderings of this 17th century philosopher; the backgrounds and criticisms also helped to give the book more depth and context. It was thrilling for me to "get to know" a writer so bold and unflinching in his views, who lived 400 years before I was even born. Candide was delightful--a tease for the brain as well as a story for the soul. I'd recommend.… (more)
LibraryThing member writestuff
Voltaire published Candide - a classic satire which skewers politics, religious fanaticism, war, and colonialism - in 1759 to almost immediate success, despite being quickly condemned by French and Swiss authorities and banned by the Catholic church. The book sold phenomenally well "underground" and is considered one of the greatest satires of all time.

Voltaire created the naive, young Candide as a way to poke fun at religion and politics, while at the same time questioning the philosophy of Leibniz who was the eternal optimist, believing that all happened for the best and we lived in the best of all worlds. Faced with cataclysmic events (such as the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon which killed thousands), Voltaire questions the idea of a benevolent God who could allow such tragedy.

In the novel, Candide faces ludicrous and horrible situations...including floggings, beatings, betrayal, imprisonment, and separation from his beloved Cunegonde. Throughout his travels, Candide meets officials, Jesuits, and philosophers...and discovers a Utopian community...which all gives Voltaire ample opportunity to to attack corruption and hypocrisy in religion, government, philosophy and science. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Candide questions the leader of the Country of El Dorado (Utopia). The scene that follows puts Voltaire's cutting humor on display:

Candide was interesting in seeing some of their priests and had Cacambo ask the old man where they were; at which he, smiling, said: "My friends, we are all priests. The king and all the heads of the families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians." What!" says Cacambo, "you have no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion as themselves?" -From Candide, page 71-

Voltaire's classic is as relevant today as it was nearly 250 years ago. Truly a book which will stimulate important discussion, this one is highly recommended; rated 4.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
Finally got around to reading this - it is one part satire, one part comedy, and one part ethical quandary. And... it is quite short and easy to read. Here we have poor Candide - who spends his whole life following the advice of Dr. Pangloss. Poor Candide - he loves the Lady Cunegonde, and she loves him, which gets him in trouble with his lord, and sets him on the path of black comedy.

This book isn't pleasant to read. At times, it is quite dark. Its written to demonstrate a point. Which is 'happiness isn't given to you - you make it'. There are also ethical quandaries about war and the the noble class. Poor Candide - he is an idiot- afloat in a sea spending.

I do think that this book has layers upon layers of meaning - It will be a book I intend to re-read and see its meaning changes.
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LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
It’s funny how many small coincidences there are in life. I picked up this book about a year ago with good intentions, only to let it sit on a shelf until I stuffed it into a box to move to Bracebridge. I was looking for something different to read a few nights ago and stumbled across it.

In other news, I’m currently preparing to preach a series of “Meaningless Messages” on Ecclesiastes. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Candide was essentially a retelling of Ecclesiastes!

Does life have a purpose? Do we live in the best of all possible worlds? What should we do in life?

"Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NIV)

"'Let’s work, then, without disputing,' says Martin. 'It is the only way to make life bearable.'” (130)

For an old classic, Candide is surprisingly readable. If you want to rethink your position on the meaning of life, this is an interesting place to start.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Before there was the opera by Leonard Bernstein there was the original, Candide: or, Optimism by Voltaire (nee Francois-Marie Arouet). The important thing to note about the title is the subtitle, optimism, for in all of literature there is hardly another work that argues more strongly for an optimistic approach to life. While Voltaire takes a cynical view of humanity that even denizens of the twenty-first century can appreciate, his cynicism does not lead him, or rather does not lead his character Doctor Pangloss, to reject an optimism that is best know by the phrase; this is "the best of all possible worlds". Yet, it is late in the book that we realize that Voltaire takes a view that man's life is made worth living by the exercise of hope, good nature, and industry. Indeed, the book ends with Candide saying to Doctor Pangloss, "we must cultivate our garden". And our garden, even for the skeptic Voltaire, is the one we inherited from Adam after his unceremonious exit from Eden. Voltaire's Candide is a delight for the reader almost two hundred fifty years after its first appearance from the fiery pen of one of the greatest thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment.… (more)
LibraryThing member emmakendon
Absurd, impossible, vile, vicious and bawdy, Candide is a quick lampooning of Optimism, with a fine if simple final message: "We must go to work in the garden". And we must. All human ugliness is in this short book, but presented so shockingly it glances over your senses and remains in the absurd - so you can dwell in it at the time or think about it afterwards as much as you choose. Candide himself is good company on this short buffeting through horrible time. The horrors are diluted by the impossibility of characters' survival but the sense of witnessing people not learning is realistically frustrating!… (more)
LibraryThing member funfunyay
A very thoughtful and socially relevant critique of certain philosophies. Bitingly funny at times, and quietly tragic at others, it is easy to see why it has become a classic. However, it doesn't seem to me to present any alternatives to what it criticizes - as much as the Leibniz-style optimism is unfounded and dangerous, it gave me a bit of an empty feeling when I was finished. If you deconstruct the fallacies of one or another worldview, you had better have your own worldview ready to bring forward. Candide is essentially a negative novel, it dismembers what is bad or false rather than affirming or promoting what is good or true. It is like an Anti-War rally rather than a Peace rally. While I think it was essential of Voltaire that he fight the forces of Absolute monarchy and rationalism, this is not a novel to build a society on.… (more)
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Spurred by the empty philosophy of those who argued that everything happend for the best, Voltaire presents the tale of Candide, a young man to whom clearly a great many things happened that were not for the best. Voltaire used his open-ended, episodic style to showcase vignettes of calamity and loss in which Candide dutifully, and blindly adheres the the philophy of his instructor, Dr. Pangloss who assures him that everything will work out for the best. Voltaire satirizes optimistic philosophy, as well as the materialistic foibles of mankind.… (more)

Genres

Publication

Harmondsworth (1960), Edition: Reprint

Original publication date

1759

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