Candide  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759) is a French language picaresque novel by the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Itself a satire of German philosopher Leibniz's optimism, it was parodized again in 1958 by American writers Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg as Candy.

Contents

Published pseudonymously

Voltaire never openly admitted to having written the controversial Candide; the work is signed with a pseudonym: "Monsieur le docteur Ralph", literally "Mister Doctor Ralph." The name and title "Candide" come from the French adjective "candide" which means "ingenuous". In translation, Candide, ou l'Optimisme has been published under various English titles including, Candide: Or, All for the Best (1759); Candide: Or, The Optimist (1762); and Candide: Or, Optimism (1947).

Significance

Candide is widely considered to be one of the most significant works of the Western canon, and it is thus often included on lists of most influential, or greatest books. Candide is listed in The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages; it's been named as one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written; and it is included in the collection Great Books of the Western World.

Precursors

A satirical and parodic precursor of Candide, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) is one of Candide's closest literary relatives. This satire tells the story of "a gullible ingenue", Gulliver, who (like Candide) travels to several "remote nations" and is hardened by the many misfortunes which befall him. As evidenced by similarities between the two books, Voltaire likely drew upon Gulliver's Travels for inspiration while writing Candide. Other probable sources of inspiration for Candide are Télémaque (1699) by François Fénelon and Le Cosmopolite ou le Citoyen du Monde (1753) by Louis-Charles Fougeret de Monbron. Candide's parody of the bildungsroman is likely based on Télémaque, which includes the prototypical parody of the sagacious tutor on whom Pangloss may have been partly based. Likewise, Monbron's protagonist undergoes a disillusioning series of travels similar to those of Candide.

for more info on the connection to Monbron, see:

  • Voltaire and Fougeret de Monbron a "Candide" Problem Reconsidered
  • J. H. Broome
  • The Modern Language Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1960), pp. 509–518
  • Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association

Publication

Voltaire began writing Candide in 1757 or 1758 before and after moving into an estate in Ferney. He also wrote part of it while visiting the Elector-Palantine at Schwetzingen for three weeks in the summer of '58. He published Candide anonymously on January 15, 1759 in Geneva, Paris and Amsterdam; one month later, The Great Council of Geneva and administrators of Paris banned the work. Candide, nevertheless, succeeded in selling 20,000–30,000 copies by the end of the year in over twenty editions. The same year, it was translated once into Italian and thrice into English.

In 1761, a version of Candide was published that included a revision of Voltaire's to the twefth chapter; this was a lengthy addition to the prose. The title of this edition was, "Candide, or Optimism. Translated from the German of Dr. Ralph. With the additions found in the Doctor's pocket when he died at Minden, in the Year of Grace 1759.

Lisbon earthquake

It is worthwhile to compare Candide to the work of Voltaire that is closest to it in subject and time, yet very distinct in style: Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne ("Poem on the Lisbon Disaster"). Both works specifically attack the philosophical doctrine of optimism and use the evidence of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake against it. This massive earthquake, which occurred on All Saints' Day, had a strong influence on theologians of the day—and on Voltaire, who was thoroughly disillusioned by it. He described it in 1755 as one of the most horrible disasters "in the best of possible worlds".

The nose is designed to wear spectacles

Fundamental to Voltaire's attack is Candide's tutor Pangloss, a self-proclaimed follower of Leibniz and a teacher of his doctrine. Ridicule of Pangloss's theories thus ridicules Leibniz himself, and Pangloss's reasoning is silly at best. For example, Pangloss's first teachings of the narrative absurdly mix up cause and effect:

Il est démontré, disait-il, que les choses ne peuvent être autrement; car tout étant fait pour une fin, tout est nécessairement pour la meilleure fin. Remarquez bien que les nez ont été faits pour porter des lunettes; aussi avons-nous des lunettes.
It is demonstrable that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. tr. Smollett (2008)

See also




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