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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. Soon the penniless Candide finds himself in the Bulgarian army, and receiving lots of beatings while he learns to drill.

The story grows more far-fetched with each subsequent incident. To the casual reader, this exaggeration can seem unnecessary and annoying. It will remind you of the most extreme parts of Swift in Gulliver's Travels and Rabelais in Gargantua and Pantagruel. But subtly, Voltaire is using the exaggeration to lure the reader into making complacent judgments about complacency itself that Voltaire wants to challenge. The result is a deliciously ironical work that undermines complacency at a more fundamental level than I have seen done elsewhere. Basically, Candide challenges any view you have about complacency that is defined in terms of the world-view of those who are complacent.

Significant changes of circumstances (good and ill) occur to all of the members of the Baron's household over the course of the story. Throughout, there is much comparing of who has had the worst luck, with much feeling sorry for oneself.

That is the surface story. Voltaire is, however, a master of misdirection. Beneath the surface, Voltaire has another purpose for the book. He also wants to expose the reader to questioning the many bad habits that people have that make matters worse for everyone. The major themes of these undercurrents are (1) competing rather than to cooperating, (2) employing inhumane means to accomplish worldly (and many spiritual) ends, (3) following expected rules of behavior to show one's superiority over others that harm and degrade others, (4) focusing on money and power rather than creating rich human relationships, (5) hypocritical behavior, and (6) pursuing ends that society approves of rather than ends that please oneself.

By the end of the story, the focus shifts again to a totally different question: How can humans achieve happiness? Then, you have to reassess what you thought about the book and what was going on in Voltaire's story. Many readers will choose to reread the book to better capture Voltaire's perspective on that final question, having been surprised by it.

Candide is one of my favorite books because it treats important philosophical questions in such an unusual way. Such unaccustomed matching of treatment and subject matters leaves an indelible impression that normal philosophical arguments can never match. Voltaire also has an amazing imagination. Few could concoct such a story (even by using illegal substances to stimulate the subconscious mind). I constantly find myself wondering what he will come up with next. The story is so absurd that it penetrates the consciousness at a very fundamental level, almost like doing improvisation. In so doing, Voltaire taps into that feeling of "what else can happen?" that overcomes us when we are at our most pessimistic. So, gradually you will find yourself identifying with the story -- even though nothing like this could ever happen to you. Like a good horror story, you are also relieved that you can read about others' troubles and can put your own into perspective. This last point is the fundamental humanity of the story. You see what a wonderful thing a kind word, a meal, or a helping hand can be. That will probably inspire you to offer those empathic actions more often.

After you have finished Candide, I suggest that you ask yourself where complacency about your life and circumstances is costing you and those you care about the potential for more health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. Then take Voltaire's solution, and look around you for those who enjoy the most of those four wonderful attributes. What do those people think and do differently from you?
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on 20 April 2003
Some satires since this could be said to be better but taking this book in perspective of when it was written and the political, scientific and religious developments, it has to be seen as one of, if not the, most original. The book applies to modern times as much as its own and is my favourite read - just as it was Frederick the Great's, King of Prussia, who said that it was the only book he knew that one could read and re-read and never become bored of it. Buy this book and enjoy the sharp wit of Voltaire, a man whose writings make modern day satrical philosophers look as sharp as a wooden spoon.
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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. Soon the penniless Candide finds himself in the Bulgarian army, and receiving lots of beatings while he learns to drill.
The story grows more far-fetched with each subsequent incident. To the casual reader, this exaggeration can seem unnecessary and annoying. It will remind you of the most extreme parts of Swift in Gulliver's Travels and Rabelais in Gargantua and Pantagruel. But subtly, Voltaire is using the exaggeration to lure the reader into making complacent judgments about complacency itself that Voltaire wants to challenge. The result is a deliciously ironical work that undermines complacency at a more fundamental level than I have seen done elsewhere. Basically, Candide challenges any view you have about complacency that is defined in terms of the world-view of those who are complacent.
Significant changes of circumstances (good and ill) occur to all of the members of the Baron's household over the course of the story. Throughout, there is much comparing of who has had the worst luck, with much feeling sorry for oneself.
That is the surface story. Voltaire is, however, a master of misdirection. Beneath the surface, Voltaire has another purpose for the book. He also wants to expose the reader to questioning the many bad habits that people have that make matters worse for everyone. The major themes of these undercurrents are (1) competing rather than to cooperating, (2) employing inhumane means to accomplish worldly (and many spiritual) ends, (3) following expected rules of behavior to show one's superiority over others that harm and degrade others, (4) focusing on money and power rather than creating rich human relationships, (5) hypocritical behavior, and (6) pursuing ends that society approves of rather than ends that please oneself.
By the end of the story, the focus shifts again to a totally different question: How can humans achieve happiness? Then, you have to reassess what you thought about the book and what was going on in Voltaire's story. Many readers will choose to reread the book to better capture Voltaire's perspective on that final question, having been surprised by it.
Candide is one of my favorite books because it treats important philosophical questions in such an unusual way. Such unaccustomed matching of treatment and subject matters leaves an indelible impression that normal philosophical arguments can never match. Voltaire also has an amazing imagination. Few could concoct such a story (even by using illegal substances to stimulate the subconscious mind). I constantly find myself wondering what he will come up with next. The story is so absurd that it penetrates the consciousness at a very fundamental level, almost like doing improvisation. In so doing, Voltaire taps into that feeling of "what else can happen?" that overcomes us when we are at our most pessimistic. So, gradually you will find yourself identifying with the story -- even though nothing like this could ever happen to you. Like a good horror story, you are also relieved that you can read about others' troubles and can put your own into perspective. This last point is the fundamental humanity of the story. You see what a wonderful thing a kind word, a meal, or a helping hand can be. That will probably inspire you to offer those empathic actions more often.
After you have finished Candide, I suggest that you ask yourself where complacency about your life and circumstances is costing you and those you care about the potential for more health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. Then take Voltaire's solution, and look around you for those who enjoy the most of those four wonderful attributes. What do those people think and do differently from you?
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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. Soon the penniless Candide finds himself in the Bulgarian army, and receiving lots of beatings while he learns to drill.
The story grows more far-fetched with each subsequent incident. To the casual reader, this exaggeration can seem unnecessary and annoying. It will remind you of the most extreme parts of Swift in Gulliver's Travels and Rabelais in Gargantua and Pantagruel. But subtly, Voltaire is using the exaggeration to lure the reader into making complacent judgments about complacency itself that Voltaire wants to challenge. The result is a deliciously ironical work that undermines complacency at a more fundamental level than I have seen done elsewhere. Basically, Candide challenges any view you have about complacency that is defined in terms of the world-view of those who are complacent.
Significant changes of circumstances (good and ill) occur to all of the members of the Baron's household over the course of the story. Throughout, there is much comparing of who has had the worst luck, with much feeling sorry for oneself.
That is the surface story. Voltaire is, however, a master of misdirection. Beneath the surface, Voltaire has another purpose for the book. He also wants to expose the reader to questioning the many bad habits that people have that make matters worse for everyone. The major themes of these undercurrents are (1) competing rather than to cooperating, (2) employing inhumane means to accomplish worldly (and many spiritual) ends, (3) following expected rules of behavior to show one's superiority over others that harm and degrade others, (4) focusing on money and power rather than creating rich human relationships, (5) hypocritical behavior, and (6) pursuing ends that society approves of rather than ends that please oneself.
By the end of the story, the focus shifts again to a totally different question: How can humans achieve happiness? Then, you have to reassess what you thought about the book and what was going on in Voltaire's story. Many readers will choose to reread the book to better capture Voltaire's perspective on that final question, having been surprised by it.
Candide is one of my favorite books because it treats important philosophical questions in such an unusual way. Such unaccustomed matching of treatment and subject matters leaves an indelible impression that normal philosophical arguments can never match. Voltaire also has an amazing imagination. Few could concoct such a story (even by using illegal substances to stimulate the subconscious mind). I constantly find myself wondering what he will come up with next. The story is so absurd that it penetrates the consciousness at a very fundamental level, almost like doing improvisation. In so doing, Voltaire taps into that feeling of "what else can happen?" that overcomes us when we are at our most pessimistic. So, gradually you will find yourself identifying with the story -- even though nothing like this could ever happen to you. Like a good horror story, you are also relieved that you can read about others' troubles and can put your own into perspective. This last point is the fundamental humanity of the story. You see what a wonderful thing a kind word, a meal, or a helping hand can be. That will probably inspire you to offer those empathic actions more often.
After you have finished Candide, I suggest that you ask yourself where complacency about your life and circumstances is costing you and those you care about the potential for more health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. Then take Voltaire's solution, and look around you for those who enjoy the most of those four wonderful attributes. What do those people think and do differently from you?
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HALL OF FAMEon 15 July 2004
According to many scholars, Voltaire (pen name for Francois Marie Arouet) was the embodiment of the Enlightenment. Born in Paris is 1694, he was well educated by the Jesuits, studying law prior to turning to writing as a profession. His lampoons and satires won him fame and infamy; he was imprisoned and exiled at various times for his writing. He was forced into exile from France to England; later, he was invited to work for Frederick the Great in Berlin (politics and his reputation blew rapidly in the ever-changing winds of Europe). Voltaire wrote 'Candide' shortly after this period, when he had moved to Geneva. In 1778, the year of his death, he returned to Paris, a triumphant celebrity -- many of his ideas served to strengthen the movements that would eventually culminate in the French Revolution.
The story of 'Candide', the primary character in the Voltaire's novel, is the story of the search for answers. It is hard to classify 'Candide' solely as a political satire, or indeed in any other genre where it might find similarities. Voltaire explores religious and theological ideas, social and political situations, personal and intellectual issues, and the general strand of history. How could an omnipotent and benevolent God permit the world to be as it is? How can human beings, supposedly rational beings, treat each other as they do? How can rational beings act, feel and believe so irrationally?
The Enlightenment brought the ideas of Deism forward as important, and began to explore in earnest intellectual and political freedoms for people. The acquisition of knowledge, both pure theory and experiential/applied, was of high value. Candide was a student more than anything else, although in the course of the story, he holds many roles. Others who appear include Pangloss, the know-it-all philosophy teacher; Cunegonde, Candide's on-again, off-again love interest (who has her own set of adventures reported); Martin, another scholar (this one rather hopeless, in more ways than one); various other characters including Jewish merchants, Grand Inquisitors (the Enlightenment equivalent of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition), and other bit players.
Candide travels all across Europe, from Westphalia through the Latin countries, ending up finally in Constantinople. No stone is unturned to expose the foibles of the locals, the problems of the travelers, and questionable underside of all society as they move from place to place, culture to culture, and crisis to crisis. Ultimately, the plot is not as important as the characters and characterisations -- for a book written in the 1700s, it is remarkably modern, hinting at sexual innuendo (including homosexuality) among royals and clergy, making fun of the military mindset and leadership (the king of the Bulgars is modeled upon Frederick the Great, and the Bulgar army is the Prussian army) and the church (the pope here has an illegitmate daughter, etc.).
The key satire, however, is against Leibniz, philosopher and mathematician, very intelligent but obviously not in directions Voltaire cared for. Leibniz had a directional metaphysics and historical sense -- this was the best of all possible worlds (the most famous phrase from the novel, put in Pangloss' mouth); the amiable but not-swift-on-the-uptake Pangloss is the stand-in for Leibniz.
Norton's Critical Edition includes several essays, in addition to the text of Voltaire's 'Candide' -- the novel itself is a mere 77 pages, translated by Robert Adams of UCLA. There are several background pieces, including a general survey of the intellectual background, philosophical explanations, and a brief biography of Voltaire.
Essays on criticism include discussion of Voltaire's narrative art, the ideas of pessimism and providence (it is worth remember here that Voltaire's purpose in writing 'Candide' was as a critique against optimism, of a sort), and various controversies. This is truly a fascinating collection, with pieces by such heavyweights in literary history as William Blake and Heinrich Heine giving their impressions on Voltaire and the issues addressed in 'Candide'. Gustave Flaubert and Anatole France give reflections on Voltaire's humanity; Victor Hugo discusses his greatness.
As Adams says, it is a surprise to find that 'Candide', a classic, is nonetheless funny. However, that is because it is so readily identifiable -- many heroes in modern stories are re-worked Candides of one sort or another; it is an Enlightenment Everyman, and we live in a period still heavily invested in and self-identified with Enlightenment ideas.
This is obviously the best of all possible Norton Critical Editions of Voltaire's 'Candide' from Adams.
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on 27 September 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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on 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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on 13 September 2011
Did not realise that the print would be so small and difficult to read. Would have bought a more expensive copy had I known. This print size is only for young eyes and an attempt to save paper but it causes problems for some readers.
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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.

Perhaps worth reading if you're interested in Voltaire himself, or C17th history, satire, or philosophy, but for me it's neither particularly enlightening nor particularly entertaining. I may well still read a biography on him for the story of his life, I suspect that's where the real interest with Voltaire lies.
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on 5 December 2013
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 Cunégonde, 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 Cunégonde 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."
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