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Candide

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

After Candide is evicted from idyllic Westphalia for embracing Cunegonde, the Baron’s daughter, the constitutionally naive young man is beset by one misfortune after another. Conscripted by the Bulgars to fight the Abares, he escapes and arrives in Lisbon, in time for the catastrophic earthquake and to be flogged and hanged by the Inquisition. Rescued by Cunegonde, who had been raped and stabbed by the Bulgars, he kills the Inquisitor and the Jew who have been keeping her on alternate days.

Candide and Cunegonde flee to South America, where she is immediately appropriated by the governor of Buenos Aires. Candide escapes inland, where the native Biglugs almost devour him before discovering that he is not a Jesuit. After leaving them, he finds himself in the remote and happy land of Eldorado. Yet Candide soon becomes bored in this Utopia and returns to the world of catastrophes and villainy.

Cheated of a fortune during his voyage back to Europe and imprisoned in France, Candide eventually makes his way to Venice, to be reunited with his beloved Cunegonde. Now a slave to a Turk, she has been rendered hideously ugly by disease. Candide is reunited with her and with his odd tutor, the fatuously complacent Pangloss, and they settle on a small farm near Constantinople.

Through the wild implausibility of its events and the overt artifice of its structure, the book mocks the pretensions of rational control. Voltaire cynically depicts human beings as both obtuse and vile, perversely pursuing actions that are counter to their own best interests.

Voltaire is more interested in examining general questions about happiness and human nature than in providing rounded, individualized characterizations. He rejects intolerance and fanaticism, holding blind allegiance to abstract systems responsible for most of the troubles that beset the world. The book’s famous closing line, “We must cultivate our garden,” urges that we accept our imperfections and labor with what we have.

Bibliography:

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...

(The entire section is 553 words.)