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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire

Published by Penguin Classics

Book Review Rating  ♥♥♥

Candide is a third person narrative that can be seen as a piece of travel writing, a fable or a parable. What it most certainly is, is a satirical piece of writing that though written over 250 years ago it still has relevance today. To be more precise it is indirect satire which allows the readers to draw their own conclusions. It also allows Voltaire to disavow the words written. This is made clear by Voltaire not putting his name to the novel until some eight years later even though most readers were fully aware who had written it.
The themes of the Candide are large, the hypocrisy of religion, the corrupting power of money and the folly of optimism.  Candide explores them all in detail within what should really be considered a novella.
The edition I read is part of the Penguin Classics series, translated and edited by Theo Cuffe and has an introduction by Michael Wood, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. As with all the Penguin Classics series that I have read this is a superb edition. This edition includes a chronology, a map, notes on the text and names plus various appendices. Unless you have a good working knowledge of the 18th century then the notes are a must. With Candide being a satire than one needs to know the history of the period the book is set to understand what is being satirized.
In the midst of the novella is a love story; the love of Candide for Cun√©gonde, the Baron’s daughter. When the Baron discovers Candide’s love for his daughter he is driven out of the castle. While trying to make his own way in the world he meets his tutor from his days at the castle, Pangloss. Pangloss informs him that Cun√©gonde is dead as are everyone else at the castle after it was attacked. From there Candide and the various companions he meets on his travels encounter an egregious series of events; an earthquake, the Inquisition, murder, rape, a shipwreck and many others.
 Candide fights to maintain his optimism and Pangloss tries to maintain his belief that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” Throughout the novella Voltaire is ridiculing the cosmic complacency and optimism that is expressed by philosophers of the day.
The book is an intellectual, philosophical and religious journey through the period of the Enlightenment in what became known as the ‘long’ eighteenth century.

The novella moves a hectic pace which can leave one feeling breathless. The chapters are short and strangely each chapter has a heading which conveys the events that will occur in the chapter so ruining much of the novella’s suspense. The novel’s hectic pace was remarked on by the playwright Lillian Hellman who wrote the libretto for the operetta of the book for the stage; “the greatest piece of slap-dash ever written at the greatest speed.”

First Line - "Once upon a time in Westphalia, in the castle of Monsieur the Baron von Thunder-ten-tronckh, there lived a young boy on whom nature had bestowed the gentlest of dispositions."

Memorable Line - '"Do you think, said Candide, 'that men have always massacred one another, as they do today? That they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates and brigands, as well as weaklings, shirkers, cowards, backbiters, gluttons, drunkards, misers and social climbers, in addition to being bloodthirsty, slanderous, fanatical, debauched, hypocritical and downright stupid?"'

No' of pages - 155
Sex scenes - there is some semi-graphic details involving rape
Profanity - none
Genre - satirical novella


  1. One of the many classics I've never read - sounds like I should. The habit of spoilers in chapter headings seems to have been quite widespread in ye olden days. I try not to read them but sometimes it's quite hard. Useful though if you're trying to locate a particular passage.

    1. It is was very hard to miss the chapter headings, try as I might. I don't know if I would have read it if it had not been part of the University syllabus but i'm glad I did.


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