*Possible Spoilers Below*
Voltaire’s “Candide” is a strange book to put it simply… Candide is a piece of 18th century philosophical fiction that is hailed by many as being a classic piece of satirical work, which makes it a very difficult book to criticize due to it’s influence on modern society’s view of optimism. The point of Candide’s existence as a book is to poke fun at philosophy, science, romance, death and society. The protagonist and the titular character of the book is Candide, a student of Dr. Pangloss, who is a professor of metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology and is also an optimistic fictional philosopher who believes that “we live in the best of all possible worlds”. Candide, who holds Dr. Pangloss on a high pedestal, follows this philosophy religiously. Throughout the novella Candide gets whipped, cut, beaten, and watches the people close to him die in barbaric ways, however Candide remains optimistic like his Master Pangloss told him to because “we live in the best of all possible worlds”.
The issue I have with this book however is that it is far too short. Candide reads more like a very drawn out summary with dialogue. There are about thirty chapters in this book and each chapter is only around two pages long, however a lot of stuff happens in each chapter. While I was reading this book I would grow very confused at times because on one page Candide is in Europe and then on the next page he is in Southern North America about to discover the Utopian city of El Dorado. If Candide was an epic that spanned at least 300 pages then it would be hailed as a classic piece of literature with a very powerful message and very impressive satirical qualities, however Candide already has a very powerful message and very impressive satirical qualities and the book barely goes over 100 pages! Fiction was not a strength of Voltaire’s and this became clear to me as I read Candide.
Now when I said this book has very impressive satirical qualities I was not kidding. Candide can be hysterical at times, and it reminds me a lot of those medieval reaction memes that were popular in 2016.
You also have this one minor character who is an old woman and she goes on about how she only has one butt cheek because the other one got cut off. There is also this very humorous bit where Candide is looking through Ponocuranté’s library and sees John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” on Ponocuranté’s bookshelf. Ponocuranté trashes these books and a few other ones as well with a sense of pride, then Candide goes “Oh, what a surprising man! What a great genius this Ponocuranté must be! Nothing can please him!”, which is still relevant today because society will always have people who believe they are better than people who are more successful than they are. Then you have Candide’s love interest throughout the novel, Miss Cunégonde of “Thunder-ten-tronckh” who also happens to be a blood relative of Candide. Miss Cunégonde also gets raped and “ripped open” at the beginning of the novel, however it turns out she is fine afterwords and just sort of reacts to the incident like “Oh well what can you do about it?”.
So, even though Candide does skip around a bit it does have a very comedic vibe to it and whenever I eventually reread Candide, this is what I am going to be coming back for. Candide was a good read and I am interested in reading more of Voltaire’s work (probably not his fiction though), Voltaire seems like an intelligent guy, and for the most part I agree with his stance on optimism and I like how he portrayed his views in such a satirical light.
Publication Date: 1759
Genres: Philosophy, Fiction, Satire, Novella
Word Count: Roughly 26,000 words depending on the edition you buy.
i. e. 6.9/10