What is the significance of Voltaire's Candide in regard to the culture, economics, and politics of pre-revolutionary France?
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When Candide was published in 1759, thirty years before the beginning of the French Revolution, it did not create a stir: It created a political firestorm--and literal fire. Voltaire was living in Ferney, in eastern France very near the Swiss border, when Candide was published. Upon its appearance, political rulers in Switzerland, sitting as the Great Council of Geneva, condemned the work and ordered the burning of all copies. Their edict, however, did not remove the novel from the European public, as it continued to be circulated secretly. Although public officials and many citizens condemned Candide, it developed a following and some strong defenders.
The social, economic, and political climate in France was not receptive to Candide. Although the Age of Enlightenment was spreading through England, France remained under the strict control of the Catholic Church and the monarchy. The themes developed in Candide and Voltaire's satirical, bitter attacks on the government, the Church, the established social heirarchy, and the accepted philosophy in regard to man's relationship to God all represented a threat to the power structure in France.
In Candide, Voltaire identified and challenged, through satirical exaggeration and outrageous events, the cultural, political, and economic conditions in France that fueled the French Revolution soon to come. Candide did not cause the French Revolution, of course, nor does the work predict it. It does, however, through its content, publication, and reception signify that the Age of Enlightenment was on its way to France.
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