Thursday, February 28, 2013

Candide by Voltaire

Candide is a philosophical story set around the world in 18th century. It depicted a young man who lived in a paradise-like country of Westphalia. He was brought up by a Baron, and fell in love with the Baron’s daughter, the fair Cunégonde. Candide was educated by a philosopher called Pangloss. Pangloss believed that all in the world is created for the best, so even if there are evil and catatstrophe, they are meant to lead mankind to something better at the end. With this philosophy stick on his brain, Candide took his journey around the world after being kicked out by the Baron for seducing Cunégonde.

Having been experiencing real life, the innocent Candide was confronted with so many unfortunate events, evil, corrupt men, greed, and deception. All those times he was bewildered at the evils and injustices, and started questioning whether Pangloss had taught him wrong. Candide even held to his believe in “pure nature is good” principle, although he had just escaped of being eaten by the Oreillons, thanks to Pangloss’ principle.

As a novella, Candide is very uniquely written by Voltaire. If you have ever read Baudolino by Umberto Eco, you will see a style similarity with Candide. Both Candide and Baudolino involved in not only one historical event, but hopping to many of them through some comical and absurd incidents. Like Baudolino, Candide also sailed to many countries, met historical important persons, and presented with many cultures and religions during his journey to unite with Cunégonde. But only at El Dorado that Candide found only happiness and beauty. He was even be made richer than any Kings on earth because all soil and pebbles in El Dorado were made from gold and other precious stones (for outsider) but were treated as just soil and pebbles.

I think it is clear that Voltaire wanted to criticize Leibniz’ theory of “all is for the best”. This German philosopher believed that all is for the best because God is perfect, so everything He created must be perfect. I thought about this long after I finished this novella—and am still thinking about it when I am writing this post. My thought is split in two reasoning. In one way I agree with Voltaire that men should not take his life for granted by expecting that at the end everything should turn to good; we must work hard for it. But on the other hand, I agree at some points—at some points only—with Leibniz’ theory too, that God always provides the best for us, He wants to give us only the best, but only if we truly believe in Him and want it.

So what is best is, I think, if we do our best, and let God do the rest. In a way Candide (or Voltaire) was right, we must work to gain happiness. But we must also realize that we do not know what is best for ourselves, and in that case, we must trust God that He will give us what is best.

And before I end this review, here is one passage that has intrigued me, it’s a discussion between Martin (one of Candide’s philosopher and friend) and Candide, of course at the same topic of the optimistic. Candide was asking Martin whether he believed that men have always done evils.

M: “Do you believe that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them?”
C: “Yes, without doubt.”
M: “Well, then, if hawks have always had the same character, why should you imagine that men may have changed theirs?”
C: “Oh! There is a vast deal of difference, for free will—“

There Voltaire ended the discussion abruptly, but I disagree with Martin. He believed that evil was men’s character, and that was—just like in hawks—their nature; and that the world has been created to ‘plague us to death’. I believe that since God is good and perfect, He created us good, and meant us for the best. However, God grants us the free will—as Candide was about to mention in that discussion—to make the choice ourselves, to be good or evil. Men do have both good and evil in them, but we also have the free will to make choices.

I granted three stars for Candide as a story with all the funny comical adventures, and a half star for making me drown to a deep reflection about life. Thank you Voltaire!


*I read ebook from Gutenberg Project*

*This book is counted for*

 34th book for The Classics Club Project


  1. I think I will read this book ASAP, it's all interesting. I also agree with the concept of free will. Perhaps that's why there's something against Milton in Candide because Milton believed firmly in free will. I MUST read it. TAPI KAPAAAANNN??!! *stress*

    1. Oh that explains! (about Milton). Don't worry, Candide is a novella, it's so short that you can slip between challenges... ;)

  2. Wow this is an interesting story, I think I might like it. Your review is short but substantial anyway, good work! :D

    1. Thanks Mel! Yes, I believe you'll like it. It's funny really, but you know me, I'm not a fan of absurd stories.

  3. I loved this book and remember it as one of the few that has had me laughing out loud while reading it. I really should read it again some day. If you are in the mood for more short but fun books by Voltaire he wrote several more "philosophical tales." Most of them are much shorter than Candide, more like short stories. I seem to remember Micromegas ("small/big") was one of my favorites.
    Is Zoladdiction in April? I thought it started this weekend. I guess that gives me a few more weeks to figure out what I am going to read. That should be fun. Haven't read much Zola in years. I'm overdue.

    1. Yep, Zoladdiction is in April, I hope you'll be able to join us in the fun!

      I haven't any plan to read another Voltaire for the Classics Club, but will note your suggestion if I'd change my mind later. Thanks!

  4. This book was hilarious, wasn't it? I just remember sitting there saying "WHAT?!" every chapter or so. :)

    You know, apparently many people take Candide as a criticism of Paradise Lost, because one of the characters whines about PL. But Voltaire himself was a huge fan of PL - he wrote essays on the topic. So I always get amused when people point out that Voltaire hated PL just because the only work they've read by Voltaire is Candide.

    Don't know why I felt like sharing that tidbit with you. But there you are! :)

    1. Yes, I can see that confuse with Milton, but as I haven't read Paradise Lost, I couldn't decide whether Voltaire indeed critisized it or not. So, thanks for your effort of sharing it with me anyway :)


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