Candide

Title: Candide
Author: Voltaire
Published: 1759
Number of pages: 87
Rating: 4 out of 5
The last time I read Candide was in French. We were required to read it, and analyze it, in French for my French V class in High School. (It’s no wonder that when I arrived in France several years later I was able to easily converse with the French policeman from whom I asked directions. He was unable to discern my citizenship as American which was a great compliment to me at the time.)

I’d look for that paper, to help me in my discussion of Candide for this Wednesday’s book club meeting, but I doubt I’d be able to read it now. So much of my ability is lost;  this time, I’ve had to read it in English.

It’s probably a lot clearer now that I’m in my forties and reading it in my native tongue. What can a 17 year old girl know of the sarcasm with which Voltaire writes? Like Roald Dahl’s dismissal of politicians and educators, in his sometimes not so subtle children’s books, Voltaire mocks the establishment (to my great delight).

First on his list are the educators. Candide’s teacher is Pangloss.
Pangloss was professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of castles…”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.” (p.1,2)

He sounds just like a professor or two that I had in my undergraduate years.

Next, comes beauty. Candide falls in love with the Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde, he pines the entire novel.  “Cunegonde was seventeen years of age, fresh-coloured, comely, plump and desirable.” Until the end of the novel, when Candide finally claims her as his own, and she is ugly.
The tender, loving Candide, seeing his beautiful Cunegonde embrowned, with blood-shot eyes, withered neck, wrinkled cheeks, and rough, red arms recoiled three paces, seized with horror, and then advanced out of good manners. She embraced Candide and her brother; they embraced the old woman, and Candide ransomed them both.” (p. 82).

Candide is too noble of character to abandon what he has set out to do, but at the end of the novel he is greatly disillusioned. He has lost the optimistic attitude which he accepted from Pangloss’s instruction that all is for the best. It is on the course of his journey, expelled from the Baron’s castle to obtaining a small farm of his own, that Voltaire shows us how ridiculous the world (and most of its learned men) truly are.

Here, for example, is one of the episodes which mock religion:
“Can there be two religions?” said he (an old man in El Dorado). “We have, I believe, the religion of all the world: we worship God night and morning.”

“Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as interpreter in representing Candide’s doubts.

“Surely,” said the old man, “There are not two, nor three, nor four. I must confess the people from your side of the world ask very extraordinary questions.”

Candide was not yet tired of interrogating  the good old man; he wanted to know in what manner they prayed to God in El Dorado.

“We do not pray to Him,” said the worthy sage; “we have nothing to ask of Him; He has given us all we need, and we return Him thanks without ceasing.”

Candide having a curiosity to see the priests asked where they were. The good old man smiled.

“My friend,” said he, “we are all priests. The King and the heads of families sing solemn canticles of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.”

“What! have you no monks who teach, who dispute, who govern, who cabal, and who burn people that are not of their opinion?” (p. 44)

Such is the delightful sarcasm the reader finds on nearly every page. At the end of the book, Candide has a farm, and he determines that the best purpose of his life is to cultivate it. Much like the wise man who wrote this saying in the Old Testament:
“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24

An apt conclusion, I think, even from a worn traveller who has finally discovered wisdom on his path.