(Born François-Marie Arouet) French autobiographer, essayist, historian, poet, playwright, and prose writer.
The following entry presents criticism on Voltaire's novella Candide; ou, L'optimisme (1759). See also, Voltaire Criticism.
Candide; ou, L'optimisme (1759) is one of Voltaire's later works, and is acknowledged as one of his most incisive satires on the state of the world. Voltaire composed this novella following two devastating earthquakes in Lima and Lisbon during the 1740s and 1750s, and in response to the optimistic and benevolent philosophy espoused by such intellectuals of the age as Leibniz, Bolingbroke, and Shaftesbury. In the novel, Voltaire attacks the theory of Optimism, using irony, wit, and sarcasm to arouse his readers into considering some of the most significant intellectual issues of the time, such as God's role in the world and its events, and the apparent randomness of metaphysical events.
Plot and Major Characters
Candide is considered one of Voltaire's most powerful satires. In this work, he uses the story and characters to explore the capacity of the world to suffer from disaster and the corresponding human ability to cope with misfortune. In particular, Voltaire is believed to have been eager to explore the philosophy of Optimism shared and expressed by other intellectuals of his time, including Alexander Pope, who summarized in his Essay on Man that “Whatever is, is right.” Confronted with a series of natural disasters that caused massive destruction, Voltaire took offense at this type of optimism, and used his novella to satirize this philosophy. In the stylized narrative of Candide, Voltaire created a set of simplified characters, using wit and irony to examine the tenets of Optimism via the interaction of the two main characters of the story, Candide and Dr. Pangloss. At the beginning of the story, Candide has been unjustly thrown out of his mistress's, Lady Cunégonde's, castle. Following his eviction, he is forced into service with the Bulgar army, and eventually participates in a pointless war in which thousands die and many more are injured. At this point, Candide meets his old teacher, Dr. Pangloss, a deep believer in the theory that all things happen for a reason, and that the reason is always for the best. The two characters, reunited, suffer several more catastrophes including a tempest, an earthquake, and even a shipwreck—Dr. Pangloss is eventually hanged and Candide is reunited with his beloved Cunégonde, who also has a harrowing tale of misfortunes to share. Following their reunion, Candide and Cunégonde travel around Europe and other parts of the world, witnessing several more incidents of human folly and suffering. Through it all, they maintain a sense of hope and renewal, and are even reunited with a revived Dr. Pangloss, who survived his hanging, only to spend his life as a maimed galley slave on a Turkish ship. Despite his fate, Pangloss continues to hold dear his philosophy of optimistic hope, declaring in the end that, “I still hold my original views.”
Although the narrative and action of Candide is often playful and full of action, the theme of human suffering, happiness, and the role of providence is a constant and consistent presence in the story. In fact, critics have remarked that in using a tale of human suffering and irony, Voltaire uses the story of Candide and his friends to jolt his readers into considering of the role of God in world events. Voltaire despised organized religion, and many of the ideas developed in Candide were expanded upon in his later works. There are many biblical and mythical allusions in the work, including several references to the Garden of Eden and the New Testament. In using these metaphors, writes Clifton Cherpak, Voltaire uses aspects of comedy to poke fun at those who use grand philosophical theories to explain human suffering.
Critical studies of Candide have focused on the relationship between the structure and thematic intent of the novella. For example, I. O. Wade remarks that Voltaire uses subjects and verbs very effectively in this work to modify and expand the meaning of the text. This technique of expansion, according to Wade, creates a large horizon of time and space in which to consider the tale of Candide and his partners. In his study of the style and narrative techniques employed by Voltaire in Candide. William F. Bottiglia writes that the diction in the work is a “vehicle of sustained symbolism.” The critic notes that it is impossible to summarize clearly the stylistic and narrative technique of the novella because the entire work operates as an extended metaphor accompanied and supported by its verbal text. Bottiglia also lauds the depth and scope of the subject matter handled by Voltaire in a text the size of Candide. In his evaluation of the novella, Haydn Mason pronounces that Candide has many timeless aspects. Yet he is appreciative of the topicality of the work, which he feels rests firmly in the era in which it was created. According to Mason, it was Voltaire's concern with the world around him that prompted him to write Candide, and its grounding in the physical and political reality of Voltaire's time is part of its power and influence.
Œdipe (play) 1718
Epistle to Urania (poetry) 1722
La ligue; ou Henry le Grand [Henriade: An Epic Poem] (poetry) 1723
Essay on Civil Wars (essay) 1727
Essay on Epic Poetry (essay) 1727
Brutus (play) 1730
Histoire de Charles XII, Roi se Suede [History of Letters Concerning Charles XII, King of Sweden] (history) 1732
Letters Concerning the English Nation [Letters philosophiques] (prose) 1733
La Mort de César [The Death of Caesar] (play) 1735
Alzire; ou, Les Americains (play) 1736; translated as Alzire, 1736
Zayra [The Tragedy of Zara] (play) 1736
Oeuvres de M. de Voltaire 12 vols. (essays, plays, philosophy, poetry, prose, history, and criticism) 1738-60; translated as The Works of Voltaire, 35 vols. 1761-69
Mahomet (play) 1742; translated as Mahomet the Impostor, 1744
La merope française, avec quelques petites pieces de litterature (play and criticism) 1744; translated as Merope, 1744
Memnon: Histoire orientale (prose) 1747; also published as Zadig; ou, La destinee, 1749; translated as Zadig; or, The Book of Fate. An Oriental...
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SOURCE: Wade, Ira O. “On the Relationship between Structure and Meaning in Candide,” and “Thought, Too, Is A Power.” In Voltaire and Candide: A Study in the Fusion of History, Art, and Philosophy, pp. 243-80. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959.
[In these essays, Wade focuses on the artistic organization of Candide, providing context for the creation of the work.]
ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STRUCTURE AND MEANING IN CANDIDE,
Il est certain qu'il y a dans toutes les langues du monde une logique secrète qui conduit les idées des hommes sans qu'ils s'en aperçoivent, comme il y a une géométrie cachée dans tous les arts de la main, sans que le plus grand nombre des artistes s'en doute.
—Voltaire to Beauzée1
In reading Candide we become immediately conscious of its basic short sentences, which run on, someone has said, like Walt Disney's mice, each performing some trick as it passes before the reader's eyes:
8.69 Je me frottai les yeux, je regardai attentivement, je le vis pendre, je tombai en faiblesse. …
8.9 … cela me fit revenir, je repris mes sens, je criai, je me débattis, je mordis, j'égratignai, je voulais arracher les yeux à ce grand...
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SOURCE: Bottiglia, William F. “Style” and “Evaluation.” In Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century: Voltaire's Candide: Analysis of a Classic, edited by Theodore Besterman, pp. 243-97. Geneva, Switzerland: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1964.
[In the following essays, Bottiglia analyses the style and themes of Candide and offers a detailed examination of the text.]
Style is language which expresses and communicates a literary inspiration; it is diction organized toward beauty. The style of Candide is not naturally separable from its other component elements—which is why some attention has already been paid it in previous chapters. Yet there is something to be gained by isolating it artificially for purposes of close examination. Proof of this is found in studies of Voltaire's tales by Lanson, Van Tieghem, miss McGhee, and miss Flowers, and of Candide by Havens and Naves. Though not all of equally high value in their treatment of the verbal texture of Candide, taken together they provide a solid foundation for further analysis, and the discussion which follows will supply ample evidence of my indebtedness. That discussion will be based on the Morize vulgate, save for the revisions of detail noted by Wagnière, reported by Torrey (‘Date’, p.446), and incorporated by Havens in his edition of the tale1....
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SOURCE: Wade, I. O. “Voltaire and Candide.1” In Voltaire: Candide, or Optimism: A New Translation, Backgrounds, Criticism, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 142-51. New York: W. W. Norton, 1966.
[In the essay below, Wade offers a brief critical history of Candide.]
The Journal encyclopédique2 was far from favorable in its review of Candide. Indeed, it was so severe that Voltaire felt constrained to take its editors to task for what he deemed their ineptitude. Their article, however, certainly merits attention, since it contains the type of ambiguous evaluation characteristic of all criticism of Candide down to the present day:
How to pass judgment on this novel? Those who have been amused by it will be furious at a serious criticism, those who have read it with a critical eye will consider our lenity a crime. The partisans of Leibnitz, far from considering it a refutation of optimism, will consider it a joke from one end to the other, a joke which may be good for a laugh but proves nothing; the opponents of Leibnitz will maintain that the refutation is complete, because Leibnitz's system, being nothing but a fable, can only be attacked effectively by another fable. Those who seek in fiction only a portrayal of the manners and customs of the age will find its touches too licentious and too monotonous. In short,...
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SOURCE: Dalnekoff, Donna Isaacs. “Eldorado as an ‘Impossible Dream.’” In Readings on Candide, edited by Thomas Walsh, pp. 64-71. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001.
[In the essay below, originally published in 1974, Dalnekoff identifies Eldorado as an ideal society that is satirized by Voltaire in Candide.]
The meaning of the Eldorado episode in Candide has been the subject of extensive critical debate. Does it represent the author's ideal, his vision of the perfect society, or does it represent a false paradise, to be rejected by the perspicacious reader as it is by the protagonist? If Eldorado is the perfect society as far as Voltaire is concerned, is it portrayed as one that all or some of humanity can possibly attain or at least approach to some degree, or is it portrayed as an impossible dream, incapable of realization by man, incompatible with his nature?
The literary method employed by Voltaire in portraying Eldorado has also puzzled critics. What is the significance of the manner of description, of the inclusion of certain kinds of details and the total absence of others? Why is the society endowed with a particular atmosphere and set of features? The pursuit of such questions has elicited various justifications of and attacks upon the artistry of the episode. …
ASPECTS OF UTOPIA
In contrast to the first six...
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SOURCE: Kivy, Peter. “Voltaire, Hume, and the Problem of Evil.” Philosophy and Literature 3, no. 2 (fall 1979): 211-24.
[In the following essay, Kivy argues for the restoration of Candide's status as a text of philosophical significance.]
Voltaire's Candide is subtitled Optimism. It is about an impossibly naive young man who suffers incredible misfortune, while counselled by his teacher, Pangloss, to perceive the hidden benefits that this merely “apparent” misfortune and misery produce. Pangloss' speeches in this regard are well-larded with phrases and terms coined or made famous by Leibniz, and, so as not to leave the connection merely hinted at, the name of the philosopher himself is also invoked, as for example, where Voltaire has Pangloss say: “I still hold my original views, for I am still a philosopher. It would not be proper for me to recant, especially as Leibniz cannot be wrong; and besides, the pre-established harmony, together with the plenum and the materia subtilis, is the most beautiful thing in the world.”1 Pangloss' various “explanations” and “arguments” are, of course, laughable and absurd. They are, on that account, the very soul of the book. And on that account, too, they, and the book, have been taken to be a devastating reductio ad absurdum of the Leibnizian optimism alluded to...
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SOURCE: Keener, Frederick M. “Candide: Structure and Motivation.” In The Chain of Becoming: The Philosophical Tale, the Novel, and a Neglected Realism of the Enlightenment: Swift, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Johnson, and Austen, pp. 194-216. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
[In this essay, originally published in 1979, Keener focuses on the characterization of Candide, contending that despite Voltaire's use of him as a marionette in the work, he deserves consideration as a character.]
Enlightenment is man's leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's intelligence without the guidance of another. … I do not have any need to think; if I can pay, others will take over the tedious job for me.
—Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”1
That Candide the character is a marionette has become a commonplace in criticism of the tale, despite infrequent though recurrent statements to the contrary by some commentators.2 Yet the primary meaning of the famous, iterated final words is “his” meaning, a matter of Candide's motives in speaking them. The nature of human motivation, the inner counterpart of the “chain of events” that increasingly occupied eighteenth-century thinkers, had, by the time of Candide, become a central subject for writers on ethics, politics, and...
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SOURCE: Reed, Gail S. “Playing on His Readers' Desires.” In Readings on Candide, edited by Thomas Walsh, pp. 121-27. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001.
[In this essay, originally published in 1983, Reed postulates that there is a pattern of cause and effect in Voltaire's exploration of evil in Candide, and that he uses the actions of his characters to mirror the desires of his readers.]
Several of Voltaire's best known tales are similar in shape and plot, apparent variations on an inner theme. Zadig (1741), Candide (1759), and L'Ingénu (1767) all involve a naïve or idealistic protagonist wandering the world in search of a woman who had been denied him by fate and authority, grappling the while with the frustration imposed by arbitrary and powerful men and carried out through their often impersonal and cruel institutions. At the chronological center of the tales Candide has an emotional impact lacking in the others; it has been frequently asserted that it is the product of personal crisis and represents the author's confrontation with the existence of evil. Philosophic and biographical implications aside, for these have been frequently discussed elsewhere, what formal factors, absent in the other tales, compel this impression of the impact of evil? …
A RHYTHM OF EXPECTATION AND FRUSTRATION
One is the organization...
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SOURCE: Grieder, Josephine. “Orthodox and Paradox: The Structure of Candide.” French Review 57, no. 4 (March 1984): 485-92.
[In the essay that follows, Grieder studies the structure of Candide with respect to the technique of literary paradox.]
That critics should still continue to argue about Candide is scarcely surprising. To summarize it is well-nigh impossible; to isolate one idea is often to find that idea contradicted or betrayed further on. Underlying the apparent chaos, I would suggest, is in fact a venerable literary genre: that of paradox. In the epilogue to her distinguished study Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox, Rosalie Colie concludes that by the eighteenth century the “epidemic” had, in general, run its course. Nevertheless, her analysis of certain of its characteristics is equally germane to Candide and provides an orderly structure whose function is to accommodate what appears to be defiant disorderliness.
In the literary tradition of paradox, which embraces a host of techniques—encomia upon unworthy subjects, double-bind propositions like that of the Cretan who declares that all Cretans are liars—two seem especially appropriate to Candide. The first is that of insolubilia, that is, in Professor Colie's words, “the problems arising from the conventional existence of two realms, one...
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SOURCE: Mason, Haydn. “The Context,” “The Importance of Candide,” “Critical Reception,” “History,” and “Philosophy and Meaning.” In Candide: Optimism Demolished, pp. 3-17; 21-57. New York: Twayne, 1992.
[In the excerpts below, Mason provides a detailed analysis of Candide, including discussions of its origin, context, philosophical, and literary background, as well as its connections to Voltaire's other works.]
The problem of evil, which is at the heart of Candide (1759), had long troubled Voltaire. Why is there suffering in the world? Why are human beings malicious toward one another? Why disease, pain, hunger? Why greed, cruelty, and warfare? The questions took on an increasingly somber tone as Voltaire grew older, especially from the 1750s onwards. His own personal life had been darkened by the death of his former mistress, Madame du Châtelet, who to the day she died in 1749 remained a close companion and friend. Her sudden departure left him devastated for a while. He had lost, he said, “half of myself” (D-4024). There was suddenly, after 15 years of living with her, a void. Voltaire filled it by joining the court of the Prussian king, Frederick the Great, in Berlin. For a while things went well, but the experience was to end less than three years later in a bitter quarrel with Frederick, leading to Voltaire's...
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SOURCE: Scherr, Arthur. “Voltaire's Candide: A Tale of Women's Equality.” Midwest Quarterly 34, no. 3 (spring 1993): 261-82.
[In the following essay, Scherr lauds Candide as a classic and perennially popular work of literature, and examines its exploration of gender relationships, arguing that the play makes a case for the interdependent nature of male-female relationships.]
Candide, Voltaire's great philosophical conte, is undoubtedly among the most popular and perennial of literary works; as such it has received an enormous share of frequently esoteric critical attention. Invariably stressing the climactic final chapter, concluding with Candide's decisive pronouncement, “il faut cultiver notre jardin [we must cultivate our garden],” many interpretations center on the issue of theodicy and the extent to which Voltaire and his protagonist recommend active struggle against evil, oppression, and war rather than isolated, selfish withdrawal from an inhumane society. Though these questions are important, Candide may be read on a parallel level as an examination of gender relationships and as Voltaire's paean to the beauty, common sense, intelligence, and resourcefulness of women. An argument for the moral, intellectual, and physical equality of women and men, interdependent composites of strength and frailty confronting an indifferent, often harsh natural...
(The entire section is 6695 words.)
SOURCE: Knapp, Bettina L. “Art and Inquiry in the Philosophical Tale.” In Voltaire Revisited, pp. 144-200. New York: Twayne, 2000.
[In this excerpt, Knapp places Candide in the context of Voltaire's literary career, noting that the author never abandons his belief in relativism and moderation.]
CANDIDE, OR OPTIMISM (1759)
By 1755, Voltaire's years of wandering had concluded with the purchase of Les Délices, a property in Geneva. His dream of owning a garden, of enjoying country living, and of having the leisure to pursue his writings had been finally fulfilled. Or had it? As for finding a beloved to warm his old age, he settled on his niece, Mme Denis, his paramour for many years. As the days wore on, however, he found her to be dumpy, greedy, loud, and foolish—at least for the time being. Had he anyone else in mind? Did he consciously or unconsciously nourish the thought that Countess Charlotte, Sophie de Beinck, whom he had met during his stay in Prussia, would charm his later years? Disappointment greeted him on this score. Although she settled in Switzerland, she was capricious by nature and remained aloof.
Voltaire's biggest disappointment, however, resulted not from the female quarter but from what he considered to be the “insularity” of the Swiss. Their rejection of new ideas, their Calvinism—especially their ban on...
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SOURCE: Braun, Theodore E. D. “Chaos, Contingency, and Candide.” In 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, vol. 6, edited by Kevin L. Cope, pp. 199-209. New York: AMS Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Braun examines the themes of disorder and chaos in Voltaire's Candide.]
Voltaire has proven to be a formidable obstacle to many modern critical approaches; not impervious, but a kind of unmovable object successfully resisting an irresistible force. Few indeed have been the scholars who have applied to his works the methods of recent approaches such as structuralism, deconstruction, or chaos theory (of course, with the latter being scarcely a decade old, this is perhaps to be expected). Whatever the cause, the effect is clear, and in terms of chaos theory, Voltaire appears to be virginal: I have not found in the MLA bibliography any critic examining any work of his from this point of view, nor have I found it in recent books by Haydn Mason, Roger Pearson, or Thomas Kavanagh.1
One of the problems to be faced in approaching Voltaire and Candide from the point of view of chaos theory is that with most authors—and in particular, most postmodern authors—chaos theory helps us to see the order in apparent disorder, to make sense out of texts that seem to lead nowhere. With Voltaire and with Candide in particular the problem is...
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SOURCE: Walsh, Thomas. “Characters and Plot.” In Readings on Candide, edited by Thomas Walsh, pp. 25-31. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Walsh provides a brief summary of the plot and characters in Candide.]
Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh. The master of the castle who kicks out Candide. He is soon killed when the Bulgarians invade.
Cacambo. Candide's valet and eventual traveling companion and friend. Cacambo's knowledge of South America and its people helps Candide in many ways during his travels there.
Candide. The main character, whose origin is unknown and irrelevant. His name shows who he is at the beginning of the story—a candid, innocent youth.
Cunégonde. Candide's true love, the object of his desire and of all his searches and journeys. She causes Candide's expulsion from her father's castle when she seduces him.
Cunégonde's brother (the Colonel). Never named, he's based partly on Frederick the Great. Candide first runs him through with a sword, then pays to have him sent away at the end of the story.
Don Fernando. His full name is a parody of the ridiculousness of titles; he takes Cunégonde from Candide when they arrive in Buenos Aires.
James, the Anabaptist. The only one who helps Candide in Holland;...
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Black, Moishe. “The Place of the Human Body in Candide.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, no. 278 (1990): 173-85.
Analyzes Voltaire's use of nouns describing the human body in Candide.
Bonhomme, Denise. “Candide.” In The Esoteric Substance of Voltarian Thought, pp. 226-342. New York: Philosophical Library, 1974.
Critical analysis of Candide.
Feder, Helena. “The Critical Relevance of the Critique of Rationalism: Postmodernism, Ecofeminism, and Voltaire's Candide.” Women's Studies 31, no. 2 (March-April 2002): 199-219.
Draws a connection between Candide as a text of rationalism and the ecofeminist vision of modern thought.
Henry, Patrick. “Raisonner in Candide.” Romanic Review 80, no. 3 (May 1989): 363-70.
Reflects on the meaning of the word “raisonner” in Candide, as well as its philosophical and aesthetic implications.
May, James. “Edward Young's Criticism of Voltaire in Resignation 1761, 1762.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 267 (1989): 127-38.
Studies Young's critique of Candide.
Pratt, Alan R. “‘People Are Equally Wretched Everywhere’: Candide, Black...
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