Adriana's Reviews > Candide

Candide by Voltaire
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Sep 19, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 30 to August 01, 2012

This scathing satire follows the young, hopeful, and naïve Candide, and tells of his travels all over Europe, into the New World, and back. At the start of his journey, Candide is kicked out of his home after hitting on the lady of the household (poor Candide is decidedly lower-class). He sets off on his journey to nowhere in particular with only the theories of his mentor, the half-baked philosopher Pangloss to guide him. Pangloss’s main theory was that every person lives in the “best of all possible worlds”, and Voltaire sets out to beat the crap out of this theory in his novel. From the beginning, our hero is beset by tragedy after tragedy. A lot of bad stuff happens to him as a result of bad luck and his too-trusting nature. He encounters everyone from prostitutes to kings on his travels and finds they all have two things in common: lots of bad stuff happened to each of them also, and they all love to talk (even boast) about their misfortunes.
This novel is quite short—only 130 pages. The plot is deceptively simple and the events outlined therein are straightforward. And yet this took me months to read, and not just because I was reading five other books at the time (and goodness knows how many graphic novels).

So what exactly made it so difficult for me to get through?

1. There is an overabundance of references to real people who lived in the mid 18th Century (monarchs, political figures, religious figures, etc…) And since the 1750s are a little before my time, I have zero knowledge of any of those people, so Voltaire’s jabs at these people carry less weight for me, even after reading the endnotes. Much like Dante’s references in Inferno, Voltaire spared no one in his satire, and I expect this made him one unpopular (or infamous) dude.
2. The satire is really hard to pull off successfully. Not only did Voltaire pull it off, he set the standard for all satires, both now and in the future. In Candide, Voltaire elevates sarcasm, wit, and cynicism to an art form. It’s so good, that huge chunks of it go right over my head. And that, understandably hinders my uh, understanding.
3. On a similar note, how much of this novel are we supposed to take at face value? At the end of his journey, Candide learns that perhaps “Does everything happen for a reason?” isn’t the right question to ask. The world is chaotic, and people will hurt each other and cheat each other at every turn. Also, the world is filled with lunatics. Trapped in a materialistic world, few people are ever satisfied. And yet Candide is able to be content and satisfied with his life. Is this because he’s a simpleton? Does happiness come easier to him because he is an idealist and a truly “good person”? Or is Voltaire trying to get at something else here?
In any case, Candide is a brutal social commentary. This novel is a classic that is bound to set you off on your own quest for meaning. And you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool.
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