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Mar 10, 2011

Candide: Voltaire

Voltaire’s Candide or Candide, ou’ optimisme (1759) is a short philosophical novel which is a strong criticism of the theory espoused by the German philosopher, Leibniz, that “ours is the best possible of all the words”. The message of the novel is that if one wants to reform the society around him, one should reform oneself; though this world is full of evil yet we should, as Eliot says, “Give sympathies and control”.

As the novel Candide opens, we find Candide, the protagonist, is an ingenuous Youngman whose tutor, Dr. Pangloss, convinces him of the truth of Leibniz’s theory but Candide’s experiences of the horrors and follies of the world prove that Leibniz thesis is false; so he reject the claim of Dr. Pangloss teachings. When Candide, his beloved Cunegonde, and his servant Cacambo retire to a simple life on a small farm, they discover that the secret of happiness is to “cultivate one’s garden”.

They learn that the secret of happiness lies in limiting oneself to good action, to follow this path, one should curve out one’s path in the quagmire the path of life. Thus, Candide favour a practical philosophy which excludes exclusive idealism and nebulous metaphysics. To sum up, Candide is a satirical novel which is still widely read book dealing with the problem of evil in the world. When the novel was published in 1759, Hume wrote to Adam Smith that it is “full of sprightliness and impiety, and is indeed a satire upon providence”.

Review of the Book:
In 1759, a vitriolic Frenchman known as Voltaire (1694-1778) wrote "Candide." It was written in retaliation against the tenets of the then-eminent German philosopher Leibniz, who claimed that mankind lives in the best of possible worlds. Voltaire tried to dismantle this notion, and thus created his most widely read book. The Bantam Classic edition offers a highly informative forward by Andre Maurois, with caustic wit and hyperbole.

The Tale of Candide
The story begins in Westphalia, from which young, naive and gullible Candid is forced to flee. A disciple of his tutor, Pangloss, Candide explains his misfortunes and those of others, determined to find links between cause-and-effect. Throughout most of the book, the reader is shown the adverse reactions of pre-established harmony (as Leibniz proposed): that even distress is a necessary good for man, and for the order of the world.

Of course, this belief is repeatedly mocked and undercut by trials and tribulations, numerous incidents that bespeak the brutality of man, and the indifference of the world in general. Eventually, Candide is welcomed in a mythical land across the sea, in a place sought after by generations of explorers. However, love prompts Candid to venture on...

Voltaire had his own concept of God; and the author is often called an agnostic. He loathed the Church's abuses of power and the hypocrisy. "Candide" is Voltaire's way of lashing out against the clergy, but it also led to the defamation of Voltaire by the Church.

Of course, coincidence plays a major role in the book; satire allows for that. A dualism is always present. Optimism is challenged by pessimism, especially with Martin. As Candide asks, "But for what purpose was the earth formed?" And Martin replies, "To drive us mad."

"Candide" is a timeless burlesque; the yesterdays of conduct and history are reflected in the mirrors of today. The reader must discover how Voltaire answers the question of whether or not humanity truly lives in the best of all possible worlds.

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