David Lentz's Reviews > Candide

Candide by Voltaire
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Apr 20, 12

"Candide" is an accessible masterpiece which demonstrated to the world Volatire's genius as a satirist. The eponymous Candide is a young man tutored by an optimist who is convinced according to the cause and effect philosophy of Leibniz and perhaps is best summarized in Voltaire's leitmotif that human beings live in the "best of all possible worlds." Alexander Pope rather laughably made the same outrageous claim in his "Essay on Man" in which he writes, "Everything that is is right." How can this be so, you may well ask? Here is the nut of the problem: it seems that a perfect God has created a highly imperfect world. How can a good, omnipotent, loving God create a world in which so much catastrophic evil exists and which is so often allowed even to thrive? It is a question for the ages. Theologians argue that God created mankind with free will and without it they would simply be puppets without the freedom to make choices. Theologians also point out that the majority of the evil resident in our world is perpetuated on vast masses of humanity by other human beings, not God, and that evil is the cause and effect of conflicting self-interests imposed by people with more power upon the less powerful. But this point doesn't explain why a loving, all-powerful God would allow any of it to exist and endure. Why not cast down all the devils and give his human creatures a perfect garden, a paradise on earth, without snakes anywhere? Why did God create the serpent in the Garden of Eden in the first place? Voltaire, like Rousseau, was an avid gardener and Voltaire jests at Rousseau's good faith in the "Confessions" as if the latter were simply a country bumpkin. But gardens have a great deal of meaning in "Candide" as in, for example, Milton's "Paradise Lost" or "Genesis" and are thematically significant for Voltaire who concludes that gardens are, after all, a wise place to reside out of harm's way. Voltaire absolutely skewers the optimistic cause and effect of Pope and Leibniz with a catalog of tragicomic catastrophes which plague not only Candide and Pangloss but all of mankind infinitely. Consider the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which burst suddenly out of nowhere with all its raging fires and tidal waves to destroy nearly all of the city and the ships in its harbor. Is there no end even to the great catastrophes in which man has no hand but from which we are compelled to suffer except for God's grace? Voltaire's vivid and piercing wit is hilarious as he brazenly brings parody to places high and low, near and far, rich and poor to depict our world as the ultimate dystopia. In his novel Candide can only find a semblance of happiness in El Dorado, a rich, hidden world in South America: in other words, happiness in real life can only be found in a utopia without a basis for reality. So what are we to deduce about Candide? Is he a sometimes violent fool for all his naivete? And is Pangloss not a buffoon who earns his suffering so extensively at every turn of the road for his unjustified, unbridled optimism? Or are they heroic for their optimism despite the epic disasters that nearly devastate them time after time. Or is their fate really just the human condition and are they both just being all too human? You decide. In the course of your reading of this brief novel you may discover, as I did, that the optimists are constantly challenged by the gap between their optimism and reality, and that the pessimists are doomed to be the unhappiest people on the planet because they cannot imagine a world without misery and, thereby, create it for themselves wherever it doesn't really already exist. Take your pick of perspectives as a "free" human being and challenge your own assumptions about the human condition. Clearly, Balzac would seem to agree with his compatriot, Voltaire, that whatever you make of life on this earth, surely it is no less than an epic human comedy. At least in this life, thankfully, if you can stand back far enough, there is, God knows, no end to the laughter of the human condition.
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Reading Progress

03/22/2012 page 10
5.0% "Re-reading this classic masterpiece of satire that I first adored years ago."
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine Versini I studied it for my Baccalaureat, I think it's one of the most interesting books I'll ever read !

David Lentz Dear Lorraine,
Thank you for your kind note.
I agree with you that "Candide" is a fascinating novel and Voltaire is immortal because of it.
I'm re-reading "Candide" as I am working with Gary Anderson, who wrote "Animal Magnet," and he is publishing a new novel, which is essentially a revisitation of "Candide." Gary's writing is also brilliant. You may hear more about his BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS later in April.
Please stay in touch, Lorraine.

message 3: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine Versini Oh that sounds interesting :)

Leonard This is a great satire and I enjoyed it.

message 5: by Shaun (last edited Apr 01, 2012 06:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shaun Bravo David! Another excellent review of another excellent book. While I caught the references to Leibniz, I missed entirely the reference to Alexander Pope. I thought Pope came after Voltaire. Mayhaps I will have to review the history of philosophical thought a tad bit closer. Curious, but I believe Leibniz literally translated from German means "live naught" or "not living" as in, "the living dead." Humm, there may be something to that. Your reviews give me the opportunity to look at a literary work through a kalidescope; fantastic displays of light and imagery with but a subtle twist of the wrist. Maybe it's more like viewing the work through a fine diamond. Viewed one way, there exists no flaw; viewed another and the flaw, if there is one, is easy to see. Nonetheless, you bring it all that much more into focus. Well done, my man, WELL DONE!!!!

David Lentz Shaun wrote: "Bravo David! Another excellent review of another excellent book. While I caught the references to Leibniz, I missed entirely the reference to Alexander Pope. I thought Pope came after Voltaire. ..."

Dear Shaun,
You're the man, Shaun.
Thank you for your valued friendship on GR.

Gary Very insightful review, David. As you say, Voltaire skewers Leibniz and his Theodicy. And in fact, he skewers virtually everyone and everything in the book. No one, it seems, escapes unscathed. Interesting, however, there is one exception--James the Anabaptist. He seems to be the one character that escapes the barbs of Voltaire's rapier wit. He is always the "Good Anabaptist." Interestingly, the Anabaptist does not believe this is the best of all possible worlds but a world mired in sin. I suppose this is why I've always found that particular episode in the book so interesting. And of course, that is why I wanted to further explore the character of James in my new novel.

David Lentz James is one of the most intriguing figures both in "Candide" and in your "Best of All Possible Worlds." Thank you for your insight into this masterpiece.

Thom Dunn Saw the best production ever of the Bernstein-et.al musical in the Berkshires last summer. It was done by young people, theatre majors with great singing voices for the final chorus. Their youthful enthusiasm brought a measure of joy to what can otherwise seem cynical.

David Lentz I would love to have seen it: I can only imagine how great that must have been for you. I totally understand your well made point about youth overcoming cynicism. I am swayed to recognize the sense of Voltaire's "tend your own garden" worldview more each day, which still remains in a sense a paragon of optimism more focused on seeking the best of small possible worlds.

message 11: by Luke (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luke Moffat Completely agree with your review ... It's an amazing book. One of my favourites

message 12: by Thom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Thom Dunn David wrote: "I would love to have seen it: I can only imagine how great that must have been for you. I totally understand your well made point about youth overcoming cynicism. I am swayed to recognize the sense..."

"We're neither brave nor wise nor good, we'll do the best we know. We'll build our house and chop our wood and make our garden grow."

David Lentz Thank you, Thom, for two lines which sum up so well Voltaire's perspective in "Candide."

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