The French satire Candide a book that may sound intellectual and boring but is filled with the kind of slapstick satire. Candide was written by the philosopher Voltaire who was considered the father of the French Revolution. Voltaire used plays, essays, histories, and the satiric novel to poke fun and express outrage at the corruption and inhumanity of church and government in the 1700s.
What is the Age of Enlightenment
First, we have to look at the Age of Enlightenment, the period when this book was written. The Age of Enlightenment followed the Renaissance and the Reformation of the Catholic Church. After the Reformation, a time when the power of the church was questioned and somewhat reduced, there was a new age of deductive reasoning and scientific discovery called the age of enlightenment. It took place during the 1700s, when leading philosophers embraced the idea that knowledge is attainable through reason, leading to the phrase “I think therefore I am”.
These philosophers viewed the newborn human soul as a blank slate able to learn and improve. The idea that each person should be allowed to think for themselves was revolutionary, literally, and led to many revolutions including one in the United States. Many philosophers of the time, some were called optimists believed that humankind could use their reasoning to understand God’s natural laws. Any suffering was an opportunity to better understand natural law. So, every difficulty was an opportunity to learn and eventually be happy. Taken to a logical extreme, this implies that suffering is good because it’s the outcome of God’s natural law. It’s this sarcastic distortion of optimism that Voltaire makes fun of in Candide.
François-Marie Arouet de:
Will use Candide story to better explain optimism in the Age of Enlightenment but first let’s look at Voltaire’s life. Voltaire was born in 1694 in Paris. The fifth child of middle-class parents. His given name was François-Marie Arouet de. He received a classical education from the Jesuits. So, knew firsthand the shortcomings of that powerful and intellectual group of Roman Catholic educators. Voltaire achieved notoriety by the age of 24. Writing satire that delighted many but also offended the powerful.
In 1717, Voltaire was sent to the Bastille Paris’s infamous jail for the first time. He was suspected of authoring some libelous materials. He spent almost a year in the Bastille in a room that was later named for him. While there he revised his tragic play “Oedipus”. He also began an epic poem about “Henry IV of France”. These two early works are about freedom and justice. Two principles that Voltaire championed, the theme of Oedipus, for example, is the tyranny of the priesthood.
At 23, following his first imprisonment, he adopted the pen name, Voltaire. He returned briefly to the Bastille in 1726 after a quarrel with the noblemen again because of his satirical writing. Both there never hesitated from publishing the unprintable and throughout life he had to flee from one enemy after another. When he left the Bastille the second time, it was under the condition that he go to England. He stayed there for three years. His stay in England was very important. Prior to that time, Voltaire was considered well educated and witty but not a profound philosopher. When he returned, it was as one of Europe’s foremost thinkers.
Voltaire learned to read and write English quite well in England where he found greater freedom than in his native France. He wrote a book there called “Philosophical Letters” which praised British government and literature. He came to know such authors as Jonathan Swift who had just published Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver’s Travels bears a strong resemblance to Candide. Both are social statements that Masquerade as adventure stories. This kind of book, where a hero travels far and wide and as many adventures are also similar to Don Quixote. Which is discussed in another session of the instant expert series.
Voltaire’s admiration for the English was reciprocated but much as he enjoyed England he yearned to go home. n 1729, he was allowed permission to return. However, when his book “Philosophical Letters” was published in 1734 after his return to Paris it was burned. Because of the negative picture, it painted of the French compared with the English. A warrant was issued for Voltaire’s arrest and he fled to a small independent province. He lived there with his mistress Emily, a noblewoman and her understanding husband. Emily was 12 years younger than Voltaire. She was a mathematician, scientist, and philosopher and dedicated to optimistic philosophy. She also shared Voltaire’s enthusiasm for physicist Sir Isaac Newton and translated Newton’s landmark work “The Principia” into French.
Voltaire returned to Paris in 1744 and became a member of the royal court. This pattern of being very much in favor or very much out of favor is a theme of both Voltaire’s life and that of his hero Candide. In 1750, Voltaire accepted another court appointment to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Voltaire took up residence at Frederick’s Court in the city of Potsdam. But his friendship with the monarch was not long-lived. Voltaire found Frederick arrogant and intellectually pretentious. He left but not before publishing a harsh criticism of one of Frederick’s cherished royal institutions the Academy of Science.
Voltaire was arrested while leaving the country but soon released. knowing he wouldn’t be welcomed in France where his treatment of Frederick the Great was seen as insulting. Voltaire moved to Switzerland. He was a wealthy man through inheritance and through his many many literary works. He then wrote Candide in four days according to some sources. On the fourth day, he came out of his room where he’d worked non-stop. And gave the manuscript to his niece saying here curious Madame is something you may read.
Voltaire lived with his niece Madame Denise for many years. She was also his mistress. Candide was written in the fullness of Voltaire’s maturity when he was in his 60s. It was published under a pseudonym. Perhaps because Voltaire knew that it would cause a tremendous outcry. He often published anonymously but gladly took credit for Candide after religious leaders in Switzerland banned the book and had it burned.
Voltaire died in Paris at the age of 84. He had returned to that city that exiled him so many times for the premiere of his last play. Although for health kept him from opening night. He attended the sixth performance and was enthusiastically received by a loving audience. The French people cherished their witty and unbowed philosopher, whose most famous quote is: “I do not agree with the word that you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
On his deathbed, Voltaire refused the Catholic Church’s last rites provoking one last conflict with his old enemy the church. Thirteen years later controversy regarding his right to a consecrated burial ended and Voltaire was entombed in the pantheon. The French equivalent of England’s Westminster Abbey.
Summary of Candide:
Candide is set in the mid-1700s and tells the disastrous mishaps of Candide. The illegitimate son of a Baron. Candide falls in love with someone outside his class and pursues her from the old world to the new world and back again.
The characters in the book have names that often tell what the character is like a common literary device in satire. There are many many characters in the book but the principal ones are:
- Candide: a young man whose name means candid and innocent.
- Pangloss: his tutor and companion. One meaning of Pangloss was a windbag.
- Cunegonde: Candide’s beloved and the daughter of a Baron. Although, there were several medieval Queens by the name of Cunegonde. The name was probably chosen because it has an unflattering sexual meaning in the slang of Voltaire’s time.
- Cacambo: Candide’s servant from the new world. Once again, there’s a scatological meaning to the name but Cacambo also sounds like the word Koko which suggested America to Europeans. This helps define the character as a native of the new world while inferring his native sexual prowess.
- Martin: an elderly pessimist.
The story of Candide:
Now let’s go through the story of Candide. Voltaire writes this book in the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia. There once lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters. He combined sound judgment with great simplicity of mind. It was for this reason he was given the name of Candide.
In the opening sentence, we hear the first of the books many superlatives when Candide is called the gentlest’ characters. This sets up a tone of optimism. Everything is best in the world that Voltaire draws. We also see a reference to assumptions of the Age of Enlightenment when Candide is described as having sound judgment. That is to say, Candide has reasoning skills and the reference to Candide great simplicity of mind could point to another major premise of enlightenment.
The hero is like an innocent newborn, ready to learn the meaning of the world through deductive reasoning. Soon, we meet the tutor Pangloss called the greatest philosopher of the province and Candide’s uncle, a pompous Baron who bears a striking similarity to Voltaire’s enemy Frederick the Great. The Baron’s son who appears throughout the book is another self-absorbed royal. Other characters in this first part include the Baroness and her daughter the beautiful Cunegonde.
We learned Pangloss as philosophy. As the family tutor, he instructs Cunegonde and Candide who is the illegitimate son of Cunegonde. And Pangloss explains cause and effect in these words. All things were made for a purpose. Noses were made to carry glasses and so we have Glasses. Legs were intended for pants and so we wear pants. Here we see a typical use of irony by Voltaire, who takes a logical thought to a ridiculous extreme. Pangloss instructs Cunegonde and Candide to look for cause and effect in their homes, which he calls the best of all possible worlds.
One day as Cunegonde walks near the castle. She sees Pangloss in the bushes giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother’s chambermaid. Here’s how Cunegonde interprets her tutors encounter with the chambermaid. 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 doctors sufficient reason and the operation of cause and effect. After seeing them together Cunegonde decides to perform her own experiments with Candide. But her father the Baron discovers them together and he throws Candide out of this best of all possible worlds. This is Cunegonde and Candide’s reward for pursuing scientific methods of discovery.
Adventures of Candide:
Now Candide’s adventures begin, goldenly bereft he wanders to a neighboring town were too uniformed men offered to buy him food and give him money simply because Candide is 5’5. Candide thinks this is a confirmation of dr. Pangloss’ optimistic teaching that all things happen for the best. Because even though, he lost his home, new friends have appeared to take care of him. One of the soldiers tells Candide you are now in the service of the most charming of kings. Your fortune is made and your glory is assured. With that Candide is shackled and taken off to the army.
There he goes through endless drills and is constantly beaten when he runs away. He is captured and beaten again. Through the kind of coincidence that fills this book and gives it an unreal sense of comedy, the king of the Bulgarians appears during Candide beating and pardons him. So, the Candide can live to join the Bulgarians in a bloody war against the of Aryans. In this fictional war, the Bulgarians represent the Prussians and the of Aryans represent the French. These names are made up but the conflict represents the Seven Years War in France.
Candide appalled by the bloodshed of brutality runs away again. He sees village after village in ashes burned in accordance with international law. He reaches Holland, where he expects to be treated in a Christian manner. But finds only hostility until he makes friends with an Anabaptist. An Anabaptist is a person who has not been baptized. And baptism was almost mandatory during this time of tremendous church power. However, the enlightenment philosophers disagreed with baptism because they said that there is no such thing as original sin. Voltaire uses an Anabaptist to show the kindness that no Christian is capable of.
Candide next meets a beggar, who was covered with sores and wracked by a violent cough. With every cough, the beggar spits out a tooth. This kind of Graphic Burlesque You Myrrh occurs throughout the book which is why it seems like TV parody. The pathetic beggar is Pangloss who tells Candide that the Baron’s home was destroyed by Bulgarian soldiers. The soldiers raped and murdered Cunegonde and killed the Baroness the Baron and their son. Candide is devastated then he asks why Pangloss is so diseased. Pangloss says that his lover the chambermaid packet gave him a sexually transmitted disease that she contracted from a Franciscan Monk. Pangloss probably says that the infection is traceable back to Christopher Columbus’s companion who brought it from the new world.
Candide and one of his many innocent remarks asks, wasn’t the devil the root of this strange genealogy? Pangloss assures Candide that all is for the best because although the disease is painful. Contact with the new world has brought many rewards to Europe. For example, chocolate.
The Anabaptist also employs Pangloss and the three take a ship to Lisbon. Pangloss tells the Anabaptist, the private misfortunes make up the general good and the more misfortunes there are the more all as well. At this point, their ship is caught in a storm and all onboard are lost except for Candide, Pangloss, and a heartless sailor, whose life was saved by the Anabaptist who died saving the Sailor. These three proceeded to Lisbon but as soon as they reached the city, there’s a terrific earthquake. This was an actual event; the Lisbon earthquake and fire took place on November 1st, 1755 and thirty thousand people were killed.
Voltaire wrote a controversial prone on the disaster, reprimanding those who profit from human misery. A section of the poem reads the heirs of the dead would now come into their fortunes. Mason’s would Grow Rich in rebuilding the city such as the natural effect of natural causes. Officials in Switzerland shocked at Voltaire’s questioning of fate and his cynicism about humanity. Wrote to the famed philosopher Rousseau and asked Rousseau to refute Voltaire. Rousseau agreed and published an article in which he said that the earthquake was humanity’s fault and not God.
Rousseau reasoning was had people not been living in cities which were unnatural. They would have been spared the horrors of Lisbon. This footnote gives an idea of how active the philosophers of that time were. Their works were popular journalism and influenced the growing middle class who had the most to benefit from revolutionary ideas such as personal freedom.
To return to our story, the sailor Lutz Lisbon while Pangloss and Candide tried to help earthquake survivors. At this point, members of the Inquisition decide to hold trials for individuals who are accused of questioning the church. And Glosson Candide are erroneously seized and tried and Pangloss is hanged. Candide is flogged, absolved, and blessed when an old woman appears and leaves Candide to his beloved Cunégonde. He’s amazed that Cunegonde lived through the destruction of her home by the Bulgarians. Cunégonde tells Candide that although she was wounded the Bulgarian captain found her attractive and kept her as his mistress then soldered to an amorous Jewish merchant.
Here we should note that although Voltaire opposed the persecution of any kind. He often vilified the Jews especially the ancient Hebrews whom he felt to be superstitious fanatics. Some consider Voltaire anti-Semitic but considering how many religious and political groups that vote them satirize. It’s difficult to say whether his characterization of Jews is any more personal than his characterization of the Jesuits. This Jewish merchant brought Cunegonde to his country house. One day at mass, the Grand Inquisitor sawed and took an interest in Cunegonde. When he discovered her noble rank, he reproached her for being in the possession of an Israelite. And told the Jewish merchants to yield Cunegonde to him as he the Grand Inquisitor was a high-ranking official. The Israelite refused.
Finally, the two men agreed to share Cunegonde. The merchant was to have her on Monday and Wednesday and the Grand Inquisitor on Sunday. Cunegonde was the grand inquisitors guest at the Inquisition where she saw Candide and arranged for him to be brought to her. Voltaire says that Cunegonde had a very good seat at the Inquisition and enjoyed refreshments between mass and the executions. At this moment the merchant bursts in on the lovers. He draws out a dagger and attacks Candide who kills the merchant in self-defense. Then the Inquisitor arrives and once again Candide is forced to kill.
Cunegonde’s companion, the old woman plans their escape and the three joined a fleet of troops on their way to Paraguay in South America. The troops are going to suppress a group of militant Jesuits who are inciting a South American tribe to rebel against Spain and Portugal. Candide hopes that the new world will be that best of all possible worlds. Since the old world has not been kind to him. Once again, Voltaire invokes history. The Jesuit revolt referred to occurred in 1756 and Candide was published in 1759.
As Candide Cunegonde and the old woman travel. The old woman reveals that she is the daughter of Pope Urban X. Another footnote here on history and Voltaire is unrelenting attacks on the church. Although Voltaire happily at first that Pope said illegitimate offspring.
Here is a note to an 1829 edition of Candide which Voltaire himself probably wrote. It says, notes the author’s extreme discretion so far there has been no pope named Urban X. He, Voltaire is afraid to ascribe a bastard daughter to a known Pope. What delicacy of conscience? The old woman’s life history is devastating while she and her mother were sailing they were attacked by pirates and subjected to appalling indignities that Voltaire describes in lurid detail. They were taken as slaves to Morocco, where she was raped by a black pirate captain.
Once again Voltaire ascribes unpleasant attributes to a racial group. In this case Africans but later in the story, he presents a sympathetic picture of a black slave. The old woman says of her horrific experiences. These things are so common, they are not worth speaking about. The ship lands at Buenos Aires were a proud and overbearing governor Don Fernando d’Ibarra y Figueroa y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza falls in love with Cunegonde and asks her to marry him. His pretentious and humorous name is another comic device.
Unfortunately, Candide must flee because he sought for the murder of the Grand Inquisitor. Candide goes with his resourceful Valet Cacambo, a man of mixed blood to the Jesuits. There a reverend father commander a proud young man welcomes them in questions Candide in German. He learns that Candide is from Westphalia and tells Candide that he is the brother of Cunegonde. And he also escaped the Bulgarians attack on his home.
Candide so pleased that this says innocently and to our ironic amusement. How happy Pangloss would have been heading up and hanged. The Baron tells Candide that a Jesuit discovered and rescued him. And as the Baron had been a very pretty boy, the Jesuit became fond of him and helped him to advance in the Jesuit Order. After training in Rome, the Baron was now in the new world where he was a colonel and a priest. The Baron frequently embraces Candide but when Candide says that he plans to marry the Baron’s sister, the Baron becomes enraged as Candide is not nobly born. He strikes Candide who draws his own weapon thrusts it to the hilt into the Baron.
Candide is overwhelmed with grief that he a kind and gentle person has killed three men. Two of them were priests. Cacambo and Candide flee again. They encounter a group of natives called Oreillons who are about to kill and cook and eat them until the Oreillons discover that Candide and Cacambo are not Jesuits. Then the native Street Cacambo and Candide hospitably and take them to the border of their country. Although Candide had thought that the new world would be the best of all possible worlds it isn’t so far.
After more hardships, Candide and Cacambo come to a country bordered by high mountains. On the road or beautiful carriages occupied by attractive men and women drawn by big red sheep. The children are dressed in gold brocade and play with pieces of gold, emeralds, and rubies. Candide and Cacambo are treated kindly in this land which is called El Dorado.
Candide knows that they found the one country where all is best. He also realizes that despite what Pangloss said, things were pretty bad in Westphalia. Candide explores El Dorado and finds that it was an ancient Inca kingdom. But many Incas left it to conquer another part of the world and were themselves destroyed by Spaniards. A wise Inca prince stayed in El Dorado and through popular consent ruled that no one else should leave. This is how the people’s innocence and Happiness were preserved.
Cacambo and Candide discovered that Sir Walter Raleigh tried unsuccessfully to reach El Dorado 100 years before. Only its natural barriers protected El Dorado from European invasion. The El Dorados worshipped God but they don’t pray to him to ask for anything because they have all they need. They do however sing hymns of praise. All our priests, there is no religious power structure. The king of El Dorado is warm and intelligent and he tells them that courts and prisons aren’t needed in this peaceful land.
Candide also admires the elder Robbins advances in mathematics and physics. But after a month, Candide longs for Cunegonde and suggests that he and Cacambo using some of the jewels that fly around El Dorado-like so many pebbles returned to the outside world. He is sure that wealth will empower them. The King helps them but warns that they already have all they need. Why are they Restless for something else? The elder Robbins, he has learned to cultivate their gardens and live in comfort and safety.
Candide and Cacambo with gifts and sheep. Encounter many difficulties on the trip back. They are cheated by every person whose help they need. At one point, they encounter a black slave who has been maimed by his master. The slave says that every Sunday the Dutch Christians tell him that white and black are all the children of Adam. The slave says no one could treat his relatives more horribly.
Candide sends Cacambo to Buenos Aires to ransom Cunegonde while he goes on to Venice. Where they are all to meet Candide is cheated of his remaining sheep. But finally makes his way toward France in the company of an elderly scholar Martin. Candide still insists there must be some good in the world but Martin says he’s never seen it. Candide suffers more deceptions than loss as he and Martin traveled toward Venice.
On their way, they’re detoured through England where they witnessed an admiral being executed before an enthusiastic crowd. This was an actual event in 1747 when an English Admiral was court-martialed and found guilty of losing a battle to the French. Both there had tried unsuccessfully to save the officer’s life. In Venice, Candide finds Paquette, the Baroness’s chambermaid who infected Pangloss with a sexual disease. She is now a prostitute keeping company with an unhappy monk. He is also reunited with Cacambo who is now a slave. Candide buys Cacambo’s freedom.
Cacambo says that Cunegonde is a maid in a household far away. He Candide and Martin traveled by ship to free Cunegonde. In another absurd coincidence, two of the galley slaves on board turns out to be Pangloss and Cunegonde brother of the Baron. Candide asks Pangloss how he survived hanging in the Inquisition and Pangloss says that although the Holy Inquisition executors of high operations did burn people marvelously. He was a rank amateur at a hanging.
The five then ransom Cunegonde who has lost her beauty. The old woman who was still Cunegonde companion suggests that the group by a farm and lived together. Candide feels that it’s his duty to marry Cunegonde. But her brother still can’t bear for Cunegonde to marry a commoner and threatens
Candide. The group gladly sends the Baron back to Rome in the galleys and all enjoy punishing a Jesuit who was also a German baron.
After their marriage, Cunegonde becomes uglier and more difficult. The old woman is even harder to live with and Cacambo is overworked and unhappy. Pangloss longs for a university position and Marten grows more pessimistic. The group philosophizes and argues about their fate and one day the old woman summarizes their adventures and asks a question. Is it worse to be raped a thousand times by Negro pirates run the gauntlet of the Bulgarians be flogged and hanged in the Inquisition row in the galleys?
In short, to undergo all the miseries, they experienced or to stay where they are and do nothing. No one has the answer although Pangloss still insists that everything must be wonderful. Although that hasn’t been his experience. Finally, they go to a famous spiritual teacher a dervish for answers. In this famous passage, we hear Voltaire’s view of God.
As we near the end of the book, Martin says to Candide let us work without reason. It is the only way to make life bearable but Pangloss still the optimist. Here the book ends. Is Candide now a pessimist who wants to tend his garden and not try to improve his lot? That’s very different from the belief reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence written less than 20 years later, that one aim of life is the pursuit of happiness.
What did Voltaire believe and how of can deeds readers through the centuries reacted to his cynical masterpiece? Both tell you that Candide would shock many readers since it still can. But the book was a huge success. 43 editions of it appeared between 1759 and 1789. And at least part of its popularity must be viewed Voltaire’s writing style. The book rushes furiously forward event after event only slowing down to make a social statement. As you’ve heard, there’s nothing pretentious about the writing, sentences are short, straightforward, and funny. We laugh uneasily at both tears exaggeration and understatement. For example, when Pangloss keeps insisting that all is for the best as he recovers from syphilis is hanged by religious fanatics and becomes a galley slave. Consider that we’re reading a translation and you can imagine how well-written the original is.
In Candide, Voltaire holds authority figures, philosophies, and human cruelty after ridicule. We know what he disliked but what did he believe in.
- First, Voltaire believed in a God who was removed from everyday life. A God who set up natural law then left humanity to fend for itself. He felt that religion was only an accident of birth. The result of a person’s cultural heritage.
- Second, Voltaire believed in rule by reason and fairness but didn’t trust the common people. He supported the idea of a benevolent dictator.
- Another thing that Voltaire believed in was education because he felt that much of the unhappiness in the human condition was due to learned behavior that could be unlearned.
- Finally, we need to remember that Voltaire spent most of his life as a literary and social critic that was his work that lends itself to constant fault-finding and pessimism. Voltaire offers us no remedy for the misery of the world. No utopia other than a glimpse of paradise in the unreachable land of El Dorado.
We’re not personally inspired by Candide. Our hero never triumphs over injustice nor do we see hope for his future. But satire can inspire social change even if it doesn’t inspire us as individuals because strong humorous satire draws attention to problems and provokes a response. Though we may be amused by Voltaire’s masterpiece. We don’t feel better after reading it. He makes it clear that this is not the best of all possible worlds at least not yet.
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