Last year I was subjected to 'les belles images' by Simone de Beauvoir. I didn't like that book, I found it pretentious and self-centred. L'étranger by Camus was a wonderful read, yet not one I think I would read again (scared off by numerous tutorials looking at profound underlying meanings etc). I didn't really get l'amant by Duras but the film adaptation made me cry with nostalgia. Needless to say I am a language student at University, and I have various things to read, some satisfying, some not...
Enough digressing. I just wanted to emphasise that Madame Bovary and Candide are two of the most enjoyable books I have ever read, especially at University. Madame Bovary wasn't so much a joy to read, but its criticism of romanticism with a harsh stroke of realism (Flaubert is not a realist) is particularly striking. I loved the book for its insight into the lives of ordinary people, and the harsh representation of the bourgeoisie.
Candide hit me in the exact opposite way. On the surface it appears an incredible adventure story, about a well-natured guy called Candide, which in itself is close to meaning naive. Candide has been taught by his close friend and philosopher Pangloss that everything is good in the world, and everything will end with good. Candide soon realises during his travels that he has been disillusioned, that the world is not good. He is torn between Martin who thinks everything is for the worst and Pangloss who thinks everything is for the best. L'Optimisme contre le pessimisme. Voltaire has used satire to critise the banal responses to Leibniz's philosophy in the 18th century, producing a work that is still funny even today.
This edition by Larousse is very accessible to those who don't speak French as a native tongue, as it points out difficult words and provides a definition of the word in French. This saves endless trips to the dictionary, and heightens the reading experience. There is also a good introduction to the historical period, Voltaire as a writer and the philosophy and satire of the novel.
Having discovered "Candide" through a recent lecture on Voltaire's role in the Enlightenment, I would say that it is definitely worth reading, ideally in French. On one level this satirical account of the surreal experiences of a naive and optimistic young man seem very dated and rather silly. On the other hand, put in the context of C18 Europe, it is Voltaire's scathing exposure of the corruption and intolerance of his age, and a justification of reason and open-mindedness. He was genuinely moved by the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake in 1755, clear grounds for refuting the philosopher Liebnitz's simplistic belief in "théodicée", a perfect God, who had created everything for the best in "le meilleur des mondes possibles" as parrotted by the buffoonish Professeur Pangloss. It is fascinating to realise that Voltaire's work was seized by the authorities for its dangerous principles as regards religion and tendency to deprave public morals - yet it still managed to be a bestseller. In these troubled times, Voltaire's concerns remain surprisingly relevant.
I particularly enjoyed the bored Venetian killjoy Pococuranté, sated with privilege and pleasure, disgusted by all his possessions and finding pleasure only in criticising everything - again, a character for any age.
This well-presented book is value for money, with useful footnotes to explain more archaic terms, clear explanation of the context, and in the final section "Pour approfondir" a detailed dissection of the text to assist those unfortunate enough to need to study it for the Bac, which I am glad not to have to do as it could just turn one off this work for ever.
This is a small, handy, inexpensive and thorough version of Voltaire's Candide with a really good timeline of his life and events as introduction. There is an easy, unobtrusive guide on each page to out-dated language plus an excellent in-depth analysis at the end of the book, all in a very easy to read format. And all in French of course!