Voltaire is possibly the most famous of French writers, so I thought it important to read Candide, a short novel and his most famous work. The novel was written in 1759 and is a satire of Liebnizian optimism, a philosophy which holds that the flaws of the world were created by God to provide balance and the world is a perfect creation.
Candide was taught optimism by his tutor growing up, and it heavily influenced his outlook on life. However, when his life goes to hell, he struggles to maintain his philosophical belief. The novel sets out to torture poor Candide in every possible way. Everywhere he goes, he is surrounded by death, disease, earthquakes, war, rape and murder. Everyone he loves is treated brutally. By the end of the novel, Candide breaks with his optimistic philosophy.
Okay, I get it…but why is this one of the great classics in Literature? I think this novel suffers from a case of “guess you had to be there.” Since the Liebnizian philosophy is not one generally accepted in today’s world, it is hard to understand the cultural context for this story. I think people today are much more cynical and generally believe the world to be fucked up. We don’t need Voltaire to destroy a man to get it. It kind of reminds me of the Biblical story of Job, where he is tortured in every possibly way to get him to break from his philosophy. In Job’s case, he never does break from God and therefore is rewarded in the end. Candide broken. He adopts a new philosophy where one should devote themselves to their work and keep free from boredom, vice and poverty. He also concludes that God doesn’t care about the lives of humans any more than a ship captain would care about mice.
It is easy to see why this book would have caused a controversy in its time. I’m sure the religious powers that be were not too thrilled with it. In fact, I believe in some places it had been deemed blasphemous and banned.
Overall, I give Candide…
Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks (It moves really fast and there is plenty of action.)
Character Development – 3 bookmarks
Satire – 2 bookmarks (Might have felt differently had I been living in that time period.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Hunter Parrish (Candide)