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Candide, or Optimism (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Francois Voltaire , Michael Wood , Theo Cuffe
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 May 2006 Penguin Classics

Voltaire's brilliant satirical assault on what he saw as the naïvely optimistic philosophy of the Enlightenment, Candide, or Optimism is a dazzling picaresque novel, translated and edited by Theo Cuffe with an introduction by Michael Wood in Penguin Classics.

Brought up in the household of a German Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief, inspired by Leibniz, that 'all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own fortune. As he and his various companions roam over the world, an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism. In Candide, Voltaire threw down an audacious challenge to the philosophical views of his time, to create one of the most glorious satires of the eighteenth century.

Theo Cuffe's translation brilliantly conveys Voltaire's acerbic humour. In his introduction, Michael Wood discusses Voltaire's satirical attack on contemporary philosophy. This edition also contains a map, extensive notes, table of dates, further reading and appendices including extracts from Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary.

François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known by his pseudonym Voltaire, was a French writer and satirist, the embodiment of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Among his best-known works is the satirical novel Candide (1759).

If you enjoyed Candide, you might like Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, also available in Penguin Classics.

'The prince of philosophical novels'

John Updike, author of Rabbit, Run

'[An] excellent new translation'

Robert McCrum, Observer

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (25 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455106
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 13.5 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer, satirist, the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Among his best-known works is the satirical short story CANDIDE (1759).

Michael Wood (introducer) is currently Straut Professor of English at Princeton. His books include Stendhal, America in the Movies, The Magician's Doubts, Franz Kafka, and The Road to Delphi. Theo Cuffe (translator) has also translated a selection of Voltaire's short stories for Penguin, Micromégas and Other Short Fictions.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious Irony Amidst Swift-Like Satire 14 Sep 2007
Ever since philosophers began thinking about the meaning of life, a favorite question has been "Why do bad things happen to good people?". In Voltaire's day, this issue was primarily pursued either from the perspective of faith (everything that happens is God's will and must be for Divine purpose) or of reason (What do these events mean to you, as you interpret them subjectively?). Infuriated by the reaction by some members of the church to a horrible loss of life from an earthquake in Lisbon, Voltaire wrote this hard-biting satire of the human condition to explore these questions.

Before reading further, let me share a word of caution. This book is filled with human atrocities of the most gruesome sort. Anything that you can imagine could occur in war, an Inquisition, or during piracy happens in this book. If you find such matters distressing (as many will, and more should), this book will be unpleasant reading. You should find another book to read.

The book begins as Candide is raised in the household of a minor noble family in Westphalia, where he is educated by Dr. Pangloss, a student of metaphysical questions. Pangloss believes that this is the best of all possible worlds and deeply ingrains that view into his pupil. Candide is buoyed by that thought as he encounters many setbacks in the course of the book as he travels through many parts of Europe, Turkey, and South America.

All is well for Candide until he falls in love with the Baron's daughter and is caught kissing her hand by the Baron. The Baron immediately kicks Candide out of the castle (literally on the backside), and Candide's wanderings begin. Think of this as being like expulsion from the Garden of Eden for Adam.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Sebastian Palmer TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My headline quote comes from page 77 of this very edition (Penguin Classics) of Voltaire's much lauded satire. I was keen to read some of his writing because he seems such an interesting figure in history. Certainly when K Clark discusses him in Civilisation I made a note to check him out. It was also recommended to me with great effusiveness by a buddy, very taken with the Pangloss figure and his sad fate.

But, for me, Voltaire's decidedly more interesting as a historical figure than as an author, if this book is anything to go by. There are a few ideas in the porridge of classical and contemporary allusions, but they are not particularly remarkable. Writing that demands constant reference to a multitude of explanatory footnotes has to be either pretty damn good as writing, or contain some really interesting ideas, to justify the effort. For me this book fails on both those counts.

So, taking Voltaire's own line of reasoning: what do I think of Candide? Not a great deal! A slim volume, it is nonetheless crammed with events and allusions, all of which are very hastily and sketchily rendered. In terms of ideas and characters it is a lot thinner. Perhaps the original French has some literary charm, but if so, it's lost in translation.

This is no criticism of this particular translation, which I don't doubt is very well done (not having much skill with French I can't really judge). Indeed Theo Cuffe is at pains to point out both the impossibility of doing Voltaire justice in another tongue, and at the same time the fact that he has gone to some trouble to preserve the feel, largely to do with the fast sketchy nature of the prose alluded to earlier.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a farcical romp 27 Sep 2007
I sometimes approach old literary classics with a degree of trepidation fearing the language may be impenetrable. Not so here, this thin book is a fast and easy read. Candide travels Europe and South America with his philosopher companions whose simplified views of the world are put to the test as they farcically lurch from one misfortune to another. The story is littered with devastating wit and satirical observations of his fellow Europeans. Candide's determination to be reunited with his long lost love continues to move him on even during a rare peaceful sojourn in "Eldorado", but when he finally reaches his goal it is not as expected although there is a hilarious compensation. No doubt there are many clever political references and riskee comments relevant to the times (Voltaire spent time in jail for his outspoken views) but the overall moral of this fable reminds me most of Coelho's "The Alchemist".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ROFLcopter from the 18th Century 28 April 2009
This is one of the funniest, most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

For those not familiar with the plot, it charts the travels of young Candide across Europe and South America together with his companions. Candide's innocent cheeriness is contrasted with the hard-bitten pessimism of Martin, and as they travel they are subjected to increasingly surreal, bizarre and cruel twists of fate.

Voltaire's rapier wit leaves nothing and no-one spared in the frequent satirical moments found in this wonderful work, and the translation in this edition lends itself to this erudite sense of humour perfectly. He gets digs in at the French, the English, organised religion, the Portuguese Inquisition, and manages to distil some of the most awful events in human history into a potent concotion of black comedy.

Here's hoping that one day Terry Gilliam will make a film based on this work!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Candide
Most unusual tale; again bought for coursework, but notes and introduction very helpful in explaining background. Clear and easy to read.
Published 4 months ago by essieb
4.0 out of 5 stars Rollicking
Quite a rollicking, though dark read. In common with many of the classics from previous centuries, it suffers a bit through the passage of time and can seem a bit clumsy and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by LaM
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely Garden
If you are going to read Candide, I strongly recommend the Penguin Edition. The work itself is little more than a novella yet over half the content is taken up by very welcome... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Officer Dibble
3.0 out of 5 stars Study
Purchased as a set book for my Open University studies and was an interesting read as well as quite informative
Published 6 months ago by barclaycard
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story
This is a very good read, especially if you're about to see the stage show.
Very good on references and explanations. What a great man was Voltaire.
Published 7 months ago by Dodie McQue
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for the literature student?
Candide is a third person narrative that can be seen as a piece of travel writing, a fable or a parable. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Christopher Sullivan
4.0 out of 5 stars Voltaire - Candide, or Optimism
Candide, one of Voltaire's most applauded works, was written near the end of his life. It follows the journeys of young Candide as he is kicked out of the German palace where he... Read more
Published 7 months ago by molko
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic
Having been disappointed with the recent RSC adaptation I wanted to go back to source. This is a much more gogent and better structured story but like much of it's era errs on the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ted Heath
4.0 out of 5 stars Candide
As it says on on the tin. This is a very convenient way to get set books for OU course.
Published 17 months ago by Shirley Franklin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
One of the funniest, most non-sensical books I have ever read. A truly classic piece of satire by a truly classic writer.
Published 18 months ago by Grant Walker
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