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Candide by Voltaire — Some Thoughts

December 4, 2010
This was a frontispiece of Voltaire's Candide,...

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For a novel written in 1759 the silly humor and remarks on humanity were not completely lost on this contemporary audience member.  I only wished I had a literary course I could be taking right now to explain all of the subtleties of the novella I am sure I overlooked.  This is one thing I regret when reading classics by myself.  I feel the need for a learned source to explain all of the historical context to me.  I do plan on looking up some more of this myself.  The introduction to the 1918 e-book version I was reading did shed some light to it for me.

The story was one where I was so pleasantly amused with it that I found myself reading it all in one sitting.  There were moments where things were so silly and completely surprising to me that I was laughing out loud.  One such part is as follows:

One day Cunegonde, while walking near the castle, in a little wood which they called a park, saw between the bushes, Dr. Pangloss giving a lesson in experimental natural philosophy to her mother’s chamber-maid, a little brown wench, very pretty and very docile. As Miss Cunegonde had a great disposition for the sciences, she breathlessly observed the repeated experiments of which she was a witness; she clearly perceived the force of the Doctor’s reasons, the effects, and the causes; she turned back greatly flurried, quite pensive, and filled with the desire to be learned; dreaming that she might well be a sufficient reason for young Candide, and he for her.

This struck me as something so straight forward and hilarious for a story written in the 17oos.  The optimism of the protagonist in light of all of the tragedies he encounters is what makes this story so amusing.  The philosopher, Dr. Pangloss, in this book has a theory that all is right with the world regardless of the hardship one encounters.  Another character, an old woman, states that there is always someone with a more tragic story.  There is a satirical nature to these, but also some hint of truth to these statements. The pessimistic side character Martin in this book reminds me of Marvin the robot in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and makes me wonder if Douglas Adams may have patterned his character after this one … just a thought.

No character was sacred in Candide.  Regardless of station in life all of the characters in the book are destined to some form of tragedy.  Many of today’s comedian’s employ a similar tactic.  Voltaire was indeed ahead of his time.

I loved the narrative for it’s pure simplicity and the constant ridiculous situations all of the characters kept getting into to.  This novella is worth taking some time out of your day to sit down and read.

You can find it on Project Gutenberg as a free e-book here: Candide by Voltaire

“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings —and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.” — Dr. Pangloss, Candide by Voltaire

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