Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh
Castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh. Castle in Westphalia of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, Candide’s presumed father, in which Candide is born and from which he is eventually expelled. Voltaire’s ironic description of the castle sets the tone for the entire text. According to Candide’s mentor, the Optimist philosopher Pangloss, the castle is the best of all castles in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire immediately undercuts this notion by “supporting” it with carefully chosen ironic details. For example, the castle is a fine one because it has windows and a door, and a piece of tapestry in the great hall. A fine castle would have many windows and doors, and tapestries everywhere to insulate its occupants from the cold stone walls. Voltaire’s narrator goes further, describing the castle’s 350-pound baroness of Thunder-ten-tronckh, a pack of ordinary dogs that doubles as the baron’s hunting pack, and household servants who double as huntsmen. If the castle truly were the best of all possible castles, its baroness should personify grace and beauty, it would have dogs used for hunting only, and would have servants dedicated to training and managing the hunting dogs. The greatest irony lies in Pangloss’s insistence that stones were made for building castles, so man has castles. Castles were built for defense; in an ideal world, there would be no need for defense.
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Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake on the morning of All Saints' Day, November 1, 1755. The six-minute earthquake kills 15,000 people, injures at least that many more, and destroys thirty churches as well as thousands of houses. Despite the sophistication of natural science, the coincidence that Lisbon, a city fervently Catholic, is destroyed on a Catholic feast day—when the pious were at church—gives rise to superstitious speculation.
On November 19, 1500 Pilgrim homes are destroyed by earthquake. Many explanations again explain the disasters in religious terms. Voltaire outraged at such stupidity, writes an infamous reaction to the Lisbon earthquake. In response comes a letter from Rousseau, stating that Voltaire is the one who is wrong. Humans are at fault. Had we not left the natural world, or committed the original sins, and lived in cities, the disasters would not have happened. Further, Rousseau argues that Leibnitz is right—in the long run, everything must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. To believe otherwise is to give into suicidal pessimism.
The Enlightenment period in Europe is about to give way to political revolution. Reason, during this period, is held to be the supreme power with which to challenge the old institutions and superstitions. In Britain, where the church had long been relegated to the role of ceremonial trappings, science and...
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Candide's journey takes him around Europe, across South America to the fabled El Dorado, and back to Europe again. His companions at various points in his journey include the Baron's daughter and son, a loyal manservant of mixed race, and his tutor, Pangloss, who persists in the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. Candide endures great dangers in war and other human blunders as well as natural disasters, all accurately represented in Voltaire's satirical fashion. Voltaire shows an up-to-date knowledge of geography as well as a wry perceptiveness for international relations. The satirical tone makes Candide's ever-changing fortunes a good match for his plucky, good-humored nature.
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Taking seriously the old adage that the entire world is a stage Voltaire employed that idea in his novel. Much the same way science fiction does today, Voltaire placed ideal societies and backward societies in obscure parts of the world. The rest simply needed to be exaggerated. For example, with a few facts about the unexplored mountains of Peru and the legends of golden cities, Voltaire can create a credible Eldorado. Likewise, the lack of knowledge about tribes in the Amazon jungle allows the tale of the cannibalistic Oreillons.
Another element of Voltaire's use of setting is his invocation of the Eden trope. Many writers since the writer of the biblical book Genesis have used the idea of gardens as paradises (or hells) that one finds oneself in and, for some reason, banished from. Candide journeys through a series of such gardens. Each garden has a geographic location and a lesson to be learned. However, the best garden, like the best bed, turns out to be the one Candide makes himself.
Voltaire chose satire as a way to challenge the cult of optimism that reigned during that time. While this form of storytelling and literary composition is ancient, its historical form came into being with the Greek author, Aristophanes, and became its own genre with two Roman poets, Horace and Juvenal. Voltaire is a comic satirist. He simply loved humans too much to be tragic. But because he loved...
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Voltaire was one of the most voluminous writers of all time and he had much to say. He used a larger vocabulary than any of his non-technical contemporaries, and by his clear, flexible precision, he avoided much of the circumlocution so often found in French prose. Often, he included extremely technical words in a very readable sentence, to improve the exactness of what was being said. Reading Candide or any of Voltaire's prose fiction was a learning experience, and still is today.
It is almost impossible to translate this story from the French without capturing something of the stilted, formal prose and the satirical tone of the original. Voltaire never lets go of his sense of humor, even when describing acts of torture and barbarism. It is not that the author marvels at or laughs at human cruelty; Voltaire simply finds it ludicrous that people think so well of themselves and the world when they do so many terrible things to each other.
This sense of humor seems to sustain Candide as well, or at least keeps him marveling at each turn of events. The reader's interest in Candide is perpetually renewed, despite a series of depressing events alternating with opportunities for adventure. It would be too easy for a lesser writer to fall into the trap of a serial adventure story, but Voltaire manages to sustain a sense that Candide is likeable, means well, and is holding up rather well in astonishing conditions. Candide's good humor is as...
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Cacambo, a man of mixed race, becomes Candide's friend as well as his servant. Other characters that befriend Candide and help him include Jacques, an Anabaptist, and Martin, a scholar and Manichean heretic. Voltaire goes to great lengths to show how these men, who would have been reviled by Europeans of high status, were trustworthy and honest to a far greater extent than the people who should have been held accountable for helping Candide.
In contrast, many of the characters in positions of leadership and social status are lampooned; their desires, greed, and frailties are shown to be as great or greater than could be expected in any person. Voltaire does not hesitate to show us how ridiculous it is to venerate the role or the robe when the person wearing it is unworthy.
One can sense the mind-set that led to the French Revolution throughout this short novel, and in other works written by Voltaire during this time. There is an egalitarian sensibility in Candide that leads the young noble bastard to consider a half-breed as dear a friend as the son of the baron who fostered him. From the perspective of 1759, that is the voice of the future, the voice of the revolution that had "Liberty! Equality! Brotherhood!" for its cry to arms. This is not the voice of a dandy writing lightweight love comedies to pander to the fashions of a paying audience.
The world changed around Voltaire as he wrote his many works. The French Revolution did...
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Compare and Contrast
The Eighteenth Century: France and Britain are continually fighting to see who will be the number one colonial power. Half of this war effort involves stirring up Indian "allies" to kill each other before the colonists spread into the wilderness.
Today: With the demise of the Soviet Union, America stands as the sole superpower.
The Eighteenth Century: The first intentional use of biological agents by a military occurs during King Phillip's War. The British intentionally infect blankets en route to the Indians with smallpox.
Today: The United States enforces economic sanctions against Iraq because of their suspected development and use of biological weapons.
The Eighteenth Century: General George Washington advocates fighting from behind trees and rocks, ambush style, instead of the traditional parade-style formation.
Today: Though guerilla warfare is now the style when necessary, fighting strategies today rely heavily on airpower and missile bombardment to soften up the enemy before ground troops move in. The style today seeks to minimize casualties.
The Eighteenth Century: Medical technology is crude, often doing more damage than the original problem. The STD syphilis is the most dangerous disease of the time....
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Topics for Discussion
1. How does the author get the reader immediately involved.in the story?
2. The sounds of the characters' names are often chosen for the meaning (of one or more syllables) or the effect when spoken aloud. Which names have a humorous effect? Which are more sober? Which have associated meanings?
3. How is the tutor Pangloss' belief that this is the best of all possible worlds made to seem by turns grimly inevitable and ludicrous?
4. How does Candide receive kindness and charity? How does he receive cruelty and injury?
5. How does Candide find himself committing murder? Does this crime change him?
6. Why does Candide give so much of his money and resources away?
7. What differences does Candide notice as he travels the known world?
8. Who among the people Candide meets is happy? Why?
9. What are the major sources of unhappiness that he finds?
10. What sort of innocence does Candide possess, that is not spoiled by rejection, torture, deprivation or sexual knowledge?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. How does Voltaire clarify his beliefs on the futility of war or aggression between Protestant and Catholic believers?
2. Does Voltaire make aggression and war between believers of different faiths ever seem reasonable? Does he suggest that any interaction is more reasonable?
3. How can philosophical beliefs about determinism and Free Will be of more practical use than Pangloss' oversimplified assertion that this is the best of all possible worlds? How does philosophy serve us in daily living?
4. What does Candide learn about the merits of charitable acts? Who benefits from charity? Do believers in Free Will or determinism have different attitudes towards charity?
5. How does the human race benefit from acts of war and aggression, even as individuals suffer? Are such benefits lasting and worthwhile? Can similar benefits be found under other conditions?
6. In Voltaire's opinion, how can one serve one's own needs best? What else does one serve at the same time? What is necessary to live a good life?
7. Compare Candide's adventures with Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Both are works of satire, but the effect is very different. Discuss the authors' differing targets and methods, and what conclusions a reader can draw about the authors' opinions of political and religious conflicts.
8. Voltaire makes use of fantasy elements as well as realism in Candide. In what ways...
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Topics for Further Study
Based on the evidence in Candide, what does Voltaire know about the world's climate and geography? Are these physical facts related to human customs? Do the best locations and climates contain the best societies? How do humans interact with the natural world in Candide?
Although he is exaggerating human customs, what does the satire reveal about Voltaire's awareness of other cultures? Or, what does Voltaire think about the New World—both its indigenous populations and its colonizers?
Voltaire's grasp of scientific knowledge is far above the average person's of the time. Based on the book, surmise the extent of the knowledge of the day of anatomy, physics, and chemistry.
Voltaire subtly attacks the theory of progress. What is that theory, and do we still believe in it? Is it a good belief?
Why is satire such an effective method of critique? As critiques, why are satires so often categorized as children's books? In the late twentieth century, why is animation the most appropriate medium for satire?
Doing a little research into Voltaire's hopes for humans, what do you think would most excite or surprise him if he were alive today? What would depress him?
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Originally written in French, the novel Candide was translated into English by Joan Spencer in her 1966 edition for The World's Classics. There are other translations into many languages.
There is a very useful critical edition of Candide by A. Morize (Hachette, Paris, 1913). For the original French version, look to the complete edition of Voltaire's stories: Romans et contes, edited by Henri Benac (Gamier, 1960).
Modern writers who are Voltaire's literary grandchildren include authors as diverse as Hunter S. Thompson (in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (in Breakfast of Champions and Wampeters & Granfalloons) and Harlan Ellison (in any of his speculative novels, but most particularly in his essay collections The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat). There is always an element of fantasy in even the most factual writing by these authors, and the arch sense of humor that Voltaire sustained throughout Candide shows some influence in the ironic tone these authors maintain as their writings move from politics to autobiography to imaginative prose.
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Candide was adapted to the stage with a great deal of difficulty. The writing of the stage production took several decades. The basis for the play was created in 1953 by Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein as their reaction to the "Washington Witch Trials" being waged by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Poet Richard Wilbur was the lyricist, though Dorothy Parker contributed to "The Venice Gavotte." Tyrone Guthrie directed the first performance of the play, with sets by Oliver Smith and costumes by Irene Sharaff. It opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on December 1, 1956, to mixed reviews. The play has been continually rewritten ever since.
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What Do I Read Next?
In reaction to the controversy surrounding the Lisbon earthquake and who was at fault Voltaire penned "On the Lisbon Disaster" in 1756. The poem attempted to reconcile disaster with Leibnitzian optimism.
Historical background for Candide and Voltaire's work generally can be found in Peter Gay's Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist.
One of Voltaire's models for Candide was a work first published in 1726, while he was exiled in Britain, by his new friend, Jonathan Swift. At first titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, the work is known today as Gulliver's Travels. It is a satire of Europe in the 1720s told through the story of Gulliver's travels to many strange and wonderful lands.
An English satire of clergymen by Laurence Sterne, entitled A Political Romance (and later titled The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat) was published in 1759. Sterne, a clergyman himself, is also the author of the stories about Tristram Shandy.
A marked contrast to Voltaire can be found in the works and the person of Samuel Johnson. Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia was published in 1759. It tells how the Prince gathered scientists and philosophers from near and far to discover for him the secrets of a happy life, only to realize he had wasted time he could have spent living.
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For Further Reference
Bottiglia, William F. Voltaire's Candide: Analysis of a Classic, 2nd edition, Geneva, 1964. A book about Candide that includes a critical analysis of the work.
Brailsford, H. N. Voltaire, Oxford, 1935. A book about Voltaire.
Lanson, Gustav. Voltaire, Paris: Hachette, 1906. A book that discusses Voltaire.
Vulliamy, C. E. Voltaire, Geoffrey Bles, 1930. A book about Voltaire.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
A. Owen Aldridge, in Voltaire and the Century of Light, Princeton University Press, 1975.
James Boswell, in The Life of Samuel Johnson, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1978, pp. 210-11.
William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in his Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by W. F. Bottiglia, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978, pp. 87-111.
Georg Brandes, in Voltaire, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1964.
The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. XXIX, May, 1759, pp. 233-37.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, "A Letter on October 2, 1789," in his An Account of a Young Russian Gentleman's Tour through Germany, Switzerland France and England, translated by Florence Jonas, Columbia University Press, 1957, pp. 144-50.
Gustave Lanson, in Voltaire, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966.
André Maurois, "Voltaire: Novels and Tales" in his The Art of Writing, The Bodley Head, 1960, pp. 35-50.
John Morley, in Voltaire, Macmillan and Co., 1872.
For Further Study
C. J. Betts, "On the Beginning and Ending of Candide," Modern Language Review, Vol. 80, 1985, pp. 283-92.
Betts examines the parallels and oppositions between Candide's opening and closing chapter, contending that the end of the...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Aldridge, Alfred Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. A thoughtful study that describes Voltaire’s extraordinarily diverse literary career. Compares Voltaire’s 1759 “philosophical tale” Candide with Jonathan Swift’s masterful satire Gulliver’s Travels.
Besterman, Theodore. Voltaire. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. An admirable and reliable biography of Voltaire that focuses on his development as a writer. In the discussion of Candide, Besterman explains the moral and emotional transformation of the protagonist from an immature and selfish adolescent into a sensitive, responsible adult.
Mason, Haydn. Voltaire: A Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. The chapter on Candide describes the philosophical and ethical motivation for Voltaire’s criticism of excessive optimism.
Pearson, Roger. The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire’s “Contes philosophiques.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An insightful literary study of Voltaire’s use of satire, irony, and understatement in his many philosophical tales. The lengthy chapter on Candide includes an explanation for the appropriateness of viewing Candide as a tale on moral...
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