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Candide by Voltaire

Candide (original 1759; edition 1995)

by Voltaire, Sylviane Léoni (Sous la direction de)

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14,568220138 (3.83)474
Other authors:Sylviane Léoni (Sous la direction de)
Info:Le Livre de Poche (1995), Poche, 223 pages
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Candide by Voltaire (1759)

  1. 50
    Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (Weasel524)
    Weasel524: What separates the two: Travels is a satirical indictment of the society Swift saw around him, whereas Candide is a satirical indictment of popular philosophical theories of the time. Not a huge difference, but surely large enough for some. Candide also happens to be shorter and funnier, with Travels being more explorative… (more)
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Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback [2001].

12mo. 104 pp. Translated by Norman Cameron.

First published in French as Candide, ou l'Optimisme, 1759.
This translation first published, 1947.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1997.
Reprinted in the present form, 2001.


I. The Castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh
II. Running the Gauntlet
III. Escape into Holland
IV. Pangloss on the Pox
V. The Death of the Anabaptist
VI. An Auto-da-fé
VII. Cunégonde Re-found
VIII. Cunégonde’s Story
IX. Deaths of the Jew and the Inquisitor
X. Embarkation for the New World
XI. The Old Woman’s Story – 1
XII. The Old Woman’s Story – 2
XIII. The Governor of Buenos Aires
XIV. Flight to Paraguay
XV. The Jesuit Baron
XVI. The Girls and the Monkeys
XVII. El Dorado – 1
XVIII. El Dorado – 2
XIX. The Dutch Shipmaster
XX. Martin the Manichaean
XXI. The Nature of Mankind
XXII. A Rich Stranger in Paris
XXIII. ‘To Encourage the Others’
XXIV. Paquette and Friar Giroflée
XXV. Senator Pococurante
XXVI. Supper with Six Kings
XXVII. Voyage to Constantinople
XXVIII. The Galley-slaves’ Stories
XXIX. Cunégonde Found Again
XXX. Philosophy on the Propontis


My general reason to read this charming little book, besides the attractive slimness, was Somerset Maugham. He wrote a good deal about many of his colleagues, but he was seldom if ever as effusive and uncritical as he was in the case of Voltaire and his most famous work:

If you could write lucidly, simply, euphoniously and yet with liveliness you would write perfectly: you would write like Voltaire.[1]

Now let us speak of another short novel, Voltaire’s Candide, within whose few pages are contained more wit, more mockery, more mischievous invention, more sense and more fun, than ever man compressed in so small a space. [...] Never has a man had a more versatile and lively mind than Voltaire, and in this novel he exercised his cynical gaiety at the expense of most subjects which men have agreed to take seriously – religion and government, love, ambition and loyalty – and its moral, such as it is (and not a bad one either) is: Be tolerant and cultivate your garden: that is, do whatever you have to do with diligence and fortitude.[2]

My more immediate reason was Gulliver’s Travels. I’ve just finished this biting satire and was curious to see compare it with a French attempt published a generation later. Could it be a coincidence that Maugham admired Swift almost as much as he did Voltaire? If the Frenchman is “the best writer of prose the modern world has seen”, the Irishman wrote the most perfect English Maugham could imagine. If he re-read Candide every time before he started a novel in order to “have in the back of my mind the touchstone of that lucidity, grace and wit”, in his youth he copied passages from Swift and marvelled at their perfection.

Of Voltaire’s style I can say nothing. Obviously I don’t have anything against translations, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this review, but that doesn’t change the indisputable fact that reading in translation is like watching dubbed movies. You will be lucky to get most of the sense, but inevitably you will lose much of the style. The rhythm and the sound of the prose are completely lost. So, dare I say it, are the more subtle traits of the author’s personality. Of this translation I can only say it is elegant, lucid, very readable and doesn’t seem to have been bowdlerised (very much).

Voltaire and Swift have a lot in common, as do of course their most famous works. Voltaire is the wittier and subtler satirist, but in his own way, more concise and more flippant, just as wide-ranging and devastating. Candide, much like Gulliver, is “fairly intelligent, yet his general outlook was one of utter simplicity”. Candide’s adventures are less fantastic and more rooted in history, but they can be read as an excellent adventure novel by peculiarly obtuse readers. Both authors are dedicated to the Huxleyan concept of the Wholly-Truthful art and don’t shy away from graphic details, be they bawdy or gory, and “irrelevant” episodes. Both Gulliver and Candide start as starry-eyed optimists and end as gloomy pessimists, though in both cases their condition is tempered with tentative hope (greater in Candide’s case, but not much greater).

Voltaire’s brevity is unique, though. It is nothing short of amazing how much he packs into mere hundred pages. Of course I don’t mean the entertaining but completely farcical plot or the vivid but vastly simplified characters. It is the satire of everything and everybody that counts. The notion that this is the best of all possible worlds, together with the totally illogical conclusion that all is for the best, is broad enough to be all-inclusive. Our charmingly naive title character, who never loses his appetite and is perpetually in love with the ravishing (and ravished) Cunégonde, has all sorts of adventures and discussions about religion, war, love, free will, utopia, happiness, misery, literature, politics and what not. He sometimes surprises his companions as well as himself:

‘Beautiful Mistress,’ said Candide, ‘when a man is in love, is jealous, and has been flogged by the Inquisition, he does the most surprising things.’

Religion and the clergy, as you might expect, are slaughtered in spades. Except for one kindly Anabaptist and one Theatine who proved to be a decent fellow (after he turned Turk), priests, friars, monks, abbes, Jesuits, Inquisitors and the like invariably come off as scheming, vile, lecherous, corrupt and hypocritical. At one place Candide, who is quite a killer when he has to, laments the fact that he, “the mildest man in the world”, has already killed three men – “and two of them were priests.” Well, their fate was well deserved. Even Islam is not spared in the autobiography of the Old Woman. She relates gruesome tales of unspeakable atrocities, “yet there was never any failure to observe the five daily prayers enjoined by Mahomet.”

I don’t know (nor do I care) how much Voltaire shared the sentiments expressed here, but he is especially merciless towards his compatriots. He puts in the mouth of Martin the Manichaean, that epitome of cynical and humorous resignation, words that must be hard to read by any even remotely patriotic Frenchman. “Were you ever in France, Mr. Martin”, asks Candide, and receives this uncompromisingly candid answer:

Yes, I have passed through several of her provinces. In some, the half of the inhabitants are mad; in others, they are too artful; in others, they are mostly rather simple and stupid; in still others, they affect to be witty. In all of them, however, the chief occupation is making love, the second is slander, and the third is talking nonsense.

What about Paris?

Yes, I have been there. It contains all the kinds I have mentioned. It is a chaos, a throng, where everyone seeks pleasure, and, so far as I could make out, scarcely anyone finds it.

Senator Pococurante, a most superior being according to Candide because nothing is good enough for him, is a fine opportunity for Voltaire to show off his erudition in literary matters. Predictably enough, the satirical sword spares nobody. Virgil and Horace are granted some slight merit, but Milton is demolished with gusto as “that slovenly imitator of the Greeks, who has made a grotesque nonsense of the story of the Creation”. Even the venerable Homer gets it in his neck with a vengeance, and I am not going to pretend I didn’t relish the coup de grâce. The senator offers a review of The Iliad with which I cannot possibly agree more:

At one time I was made to believe that I took pleasure in reading it. But the continuous repetition of battles, which are all alike – those gods who are always busy achieving nothing – that Helen, who is the cause of the war, yet scarcely plays a part in the whole performance – that interminable and ineffectual siege – I have found them all insufferably tedious. I have several times asked well-read men if they were as much wearied by the work as I was. All the honest ones confessed that they fell asleep while reading it, but had to have it in their libraries, like some rusty old medal that has no commercial value.

Far from limiting himself only to specific targets, Voltaire launches a full-scale attack on the perversities of human nature. Chief among them, it seems to me, are the penchant for futile philosophising and the masochistic desire to wallow in self-pity.

Pangloss is the proverbial philosopher, clothing his prejudices in absurd arguments and refusing to change his opinions whatever evidence to the contrary is adduced to him. Why, he would not be a philosopher if he contradicted himself. Philosophical discussions are mentioned many times, sometimes at length, but they are always treated, like love for which Candide received one kiss and a thousand kicks, with complete irreverence. Yet philosophising can, occasionally, be a source of badly needed consolation:

The French and Spanish ships continued their cruise, and Candide and Martin continued their discussions. They argued for a fortnight, at the end of which they were as far advanced as in the beginning. However, the main thing was that they conversed, and in the exchange of ideas found consolation for their griefs.

The human animal’s perpetual dissatisfaction with life is a more serious offence. El Dorado, an inaccessible country in Amazonia where benign Deism is widespread and gold abundant enough to be of no value, is presumably the best utopia Voltaire could conceive. But Candide and his valet, Cacambo, having somehow arrived in this mythical place and spent a month there as guests of the King, grow restless. Their vanity lures them back to the outer world where they, laden with worthless treasures, can be richer and more powerful than any king, emperor, tsar or pasha. “You are acting foolishly”, the King tells them, “I know that my country is nothing very great. But when one is tolerably at ease in any place, he should remain there.”

Even more telling is the hilarious episode with Candide’s advertising for a travelling companion before his crossing the Atlantic on a French ship. The only condition was that the person should be extremely unfortunate and dissatisfied with his life: “The crowd of candidates who presented themselves was larger than a whole fleet could carry.” Candide finally chose Martin the Manichaean for the rather selfish reason that he was well-read and would relieve the journey’s tedium. The other candidates thought this unjust, but were appeased by a thousand piastres apiece. Money, like food, is a miraculous remedy for many griefs.

It is left to the Old Woman to put this disease, and a few others, in the most powerful words. The second quote is much less facetious than it looks.

‘In short, mistress, I know much of the world. Divert yourself by inducing each passenger to tell you his story; and if there is a single one of them who has not many times cursed his life, and sworn that he was the most wretched of men, I give you leave to throw me head foremost into the sea’

When they were not arguing, time hung so heavily on their hands that one day the old woman remarked: ‘I wonder which is worse: to be ravished a hundred times by negro pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be dissected and to be a galley-slave: or to stay here doing nothing?’
‘That’, said Candide, ‘is a very profound question.’ It started them off on further discussions. Martin had come to the conclusion that it is man’s fate to live either in agonies of fear and turmoil or in the prostration of boredom. Candide did not entirely agree, but could not make up his mind. Pangloss, whilst admitting that he had undergone dreadful sufferings, still maintained that everything was marvellously good – although he did not believe it.

In the end, Candide and friends found some satisfaction, if not much happiness, in working together on a little farm. So Maugham was not far wide of the mark with his proposed moral. We should indeed cultivate our gardens with diligence and fortitude. I would add common sense and foresight. In other words, we should get busy living instead of dying, doing things instead of talking nonsense, and being satisfied with the little we have instead of yearning for more and more and more ad infinitum. As our protagonist finally replies to Pangloss and his fatuous rambling about “this best of all possible worlds”:

‘That is excellently observed’, said Candide, ‘But let us dig in our garden.’

It is immensely rich, this little book. Plenty of characters, incidents and phrases leap to mind, augmenting or contradicting each other, or sometimes suggesting entirely new avenues of reflection. Consider, for instance, the old man our company meets toward the end. He is completely apolitical and couldn’t care less what happens in Constantinople save for the market to which he sends the produce of his garden. He works no more than twenty acres together with his children and his motto is “Labour holds off three great evils: tedium, vice, and poverty.” He treats his guests with “home-made sherbets of various kinds, of caymac flavoured with the peels of candied citrons, oranges, lemons, pineapples, dates, pistachio nuts and Mocha coffee”. (These must be delicious!) Candide observes afterwards, with the wisdom of ingenuous folk, that this old man “seems to have created for himself a destiny highly preferable” to the six wretched kings, deposed and destitute, they met at supper during the Venice Carnival.

You haven’t read Candide yet? Do so right now! It will take you no more than a few hours. But it will make you think for days and weeks. Perhaps it will stay with you permanently. Pretty good for a hundred pages two hundred and fifty years old. One wishes to believe much of it is badly dated today. But I, for one, cannot bring myself to believe that. Human folly, sometimes amusing but more often appalling, still flourishes.

[1] The Summing Up (1938), Chapter 13.
[2] Books and You (1940), Chapter 2 ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Jul 6, 2017 |
Great book. However, the Bantam Classic edition is only an ok translation. I got my copy for cheap. It tells the story but I'm sure there are other more scholarly translations I would choose if I were to read it again. ( )
  omgully | Jul 6, 2017 |
Candide is a naive and trusting boy who goes on an adventure to find his love after her home is ransacked by soldiers. His adventures are unbelievable and numerous. This was a piece of satire by Voltaire, and within the story many of his opponents in the scholarly field are attacked via irony. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
In a constant barrage of hilarious, yet fairly accurate to history horror show: another war between the french and the english, the Lisbon earthquake and the inquisition's response to it, colonialism; Candide barely survives "this best of all possible worlds" according to his philosophy professor and a popular doctrine of the time period proposed by Leibniz (the argument not being that this world is free of evil, but given our species, it's the best we can achieve - for if we were capable of optimizing our world in any facet, God would have created that one instead). His experiences teach him that humanity is shit overall:

"Do you believe that men have always slaughtered each other as they do today, that they've always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates and thieves, weak, fickle, cowardly, envious, greedy, drunken, miserly, ambitious, bloodthirsty, slanderous, lecherous, fanatical, hypocritical and foolish?

Do you believe that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they find them?"

But in too small doses it does redeem itself individually. He ends with hope.

"Man cannot obliterate the cruelty of the universe, but by prudence he can shield certain small confines from that cruelty." Cultivate your garden!

Pretty keen on Voltaire now. ( )
  dandelionroots | May 21, 2017 |
Candide is not just a great philosophical dialect nor a dark comedy play but a journey of the coming of age. It is amusing going through all those adventures that remind me of Sinbad's adventures and then turning them into a theme of despair though ending with "we must go and work in the garden "! (maybe its Voltaire's final JOKE).
( )
1 vote Dumbedore_return | Apr 29, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 200 (next | show all)
Classique, nous avons tous lu Candide, soit pour le bac soit par curiosité (je l'espere ). Bon personnellement Candide est loin d'etre mon préféré de Voltaire, agassant par sa naiveté etc. J'ai préféré largement l'Ingénu, meme s'il reprend les memes thèmes, je l'ai trouvé mieux écrit avec plus de finesse.

» Add other authors (106 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Voltaireprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adams, Robert MartinEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aldington, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bianconi, PieroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blake, QuentinIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Butt, John EverettTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Calvino, ItaloIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clavé, AntoniIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellissen, AdolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fultz, W. J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gargantini, StellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gauffin, HansCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hermlin, StephanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Joseph, SydneyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klee, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehmann, IlseÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, GitaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayer, HansAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morand, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morley, HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nordberg, OlofTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odle, AlanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prechtl, Michael MathiasIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Premsela, Martin J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rider, W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sauvage, SylvainIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smollett, TobiasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sprengel, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weller, ShaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Voltaire was the wittiest writeer in an age of great wits, and "Candide" is his wittiest novel. The subject he chose to exercise his wit upon in this novel is one which conceerns all of us; surprisingly enough, that subject is the problem of suffering. However much we may try to avoid the problem, we are all confronted at some time with this difficulty, that the Creator has made a universe where suffering abounds. If the Creator is good and all-powerful, as we are told he is, could he not have made a better world? If he could, what prevented him? If he could not, can we still believe that he is good and all-powerful? Can we indeed believe in him at all? Or if we do, can we believe that he is at all concerned with men and their sufferings? In times of widespread disasters such questioning becomes more general and more urgent. We are living in such times; and so was Voltaire. [Butt's introduction]
There lived in Westphalia, at the country seat of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, a young lad blessed by Nature with the most agreeable manners. You could read his character in his face. He combined sound judgment with unaffected simplicity; and that, I suppose, was why he was called Candide. The old family servants suspected that he was the son of the Baron's sisteer by a worthy gentleman of that neighbourhood, whom the young lady would never agree to marry because he could only claim seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his family tree having suffered from the ravages of time. [Butt's translation]
In the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia there lived a youth, endowed by Nature with the most gentle character.
"Fools admire everything in a celebrated author. I only read to please myself, and I only like what suits me."
"'Tis well said," replied Candide, "but we must cultivate our gardens."
“Why should you think it so strange that in some countries there are monkeys which insinuate themselves into the good graces of the ladies; they are a fourth part human, as I am a fourth part Spaniard.”
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Witty and caustic, Candide has ranked as one of the world's great satires since its first publication in 1759. In the story of the trials and travails of the youthful Candide, his mentor Dr. Pangloss, and a host of other characters, Voltaire mercilessly satirizes and exposes romance, science, philosophy, religion, and government.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486266893, Paperback)

Witty and caustic, Candide has ranked as one of the world's great satires since its first publication in 1759. In the story of the trials and travails of the youthful Candide, his mentor Dr. Pangloss, and a host of other characters, Voltaire mercilessly satirizes and exposes romance, science, philosophy, religion, and government. A selection of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:16 -0400)

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One of the world's great satires since its first publication in 1759. Witty, caustic skewering of romance, science, philosophy, religion, government - nearly all human ideals and institutions.

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