David Lentz's Reviews > Candide

Candide by Voltaire
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Sep 15, 2011

it was amazing

"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."
02/04/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 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."

Thiruman Archunan Nice review

message 15: by Dale (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dale Pearl Great review..... perhaps God was seeking redemption of the serpent as well?

David Lentz Dear Dale,
You have raised a fascinating question which only a fine mind would pose. Your question implies that God is more interested in saving the adversary than in dooming future generations of man with original sin. But the serpent is presumably doomed as well as mankind. The serpent may think he is offering to humanity the gift of knowledge of good and evil -- a wild apple from the tree of life. Does the serpent know that God has forbidden it? Fortunately God has sent a messiah to redeem man and likely more than one. Did God not also send Judas as the serpent of Gethsemane? Are not both Judas and the serpent acting as agents of God? Or are they both like man just making tragic choices of their own free will? I would be interested in hearing more riffs on this ancient myth from you. You obviously have thought a great deal about this question in order to raise it. I invite you to share more of your thinking about the answers to the question you pose. Thank you for your insight, Dale.

message 17: by David (new) - added it

David Hage Ugh

message 18: by Dale (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dale Pearl David wrote: "Dear Dale,
You have raised a fascinating question which only a fine mind would pose. Your question implies that God is more interested in saving the adversary than in dooming future generations of ..."

Based upon your 2 two responses it is clear that your intellectual capacity has blessed you with the predisposition of clearly knowing all so there is no point in having a friendly discussion. Your wisdom presents itself ready to attack and destroy anything that even remotely suggests to freely think outside of your own concepts and opinions.
Your logic assumes that if there is a God that it is his responsibility to solve all things on earth. When man plays god does he consider the future repercussions of his creations? Maybe the intent of a god in creating paradise has little to do with choices and more with granting an entire planet with 100% freedom. If that is the case it would explain the snakes freedom to existence and to tempt on the planet.
Unlike you I don't have a formed opinion. I don't know. I wasn't there at the beginning of mankind, which leaves me with only the ability to speculate.

message 19: by David (last edited Dec 06, 2015 08:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Lentz message 17: by David - added it
20 hours, 8 min ago

David Hage

Dear Dale,
Thank you for your helpful and insightful response in good faith.
Let me assure you of mine.
Just to be clear, the response just prior to yours is by another David. If you look him up on GR there are no books, no friends and only one posted read of "Candide."
If he is not a troll, then I would welcome further dialogue concerning his sentiment on this subject other than an anonymous grunt from the void however PoMo it may be.
Dale, let me share a story with you about your valued insight.
Every two weeks I participate in a small reading group in a faith journey workshop and currently we are reading a work by Thomas Merton entitled "The Way of Chuang Tzu."
I raised your comments about the serpent in the garden to our faithful group and they, too, were enthralled by your point that perhaps God wanted to redeem the serpent.
I certainly claim to have no answers, only many questions well beyond my meagre capacity to understand. Faith is the given name to such questions beyond the reach of intellect to answer. Your particular question isn't raised as an exercise in sophistry: it speaks to the heart of the powerful and mystical Book of Genesis. Like you, I can only speculate but find that the insight of others in dialogue shapes the speculation and adds clarity and suggests better questions. We are dealing with questions with unknowable answers.
So thank you for your good faith, Dale, and your great insight.

message 20: by Greg (new) - rated it 1 star

Greg Z Great review. And you're so right, there is no end to the laughter at our lives.

message 21: by Scunner (new) - added it

Scunner David Lentz
This is a great review, thank you. Very well constructed and thought out.
I was wondering if I should read this book. Your review has gone beyond recommendation. I shall order it post haste.

David Lentz Dear Scunner,
You made my day.
This is how Goodreads serves members with its humanity.
I promise you at least a few hearty, ironic laughs from "Candide."
Thank you, Scunner.

message 23: by Dale (new)

Dale Muckerman I love Candide and its satire of Enlightenment optimism. One short note: Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds" is making something of a comeback in the philosophical world. Leibniz coined the idea of posssible worlds. Possible worlds are now being discussed by philosophers, physicists, and writers.

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