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Candide Voltaire

(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...

(The entire section contains 110958 words.)

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Candide Voltaire

(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.”

Major Themes

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 Reception

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.

Principal Works

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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 History, 1749

Le Micromégas de Mr. de Voltaire, avec une histoire des croisades & un nouveau plan de l'histoire de l'esprit humain (prose) 1752; translated as Micromegas: A Comic Romance, 1753

Le siècle de Louis XIV. 2 vols. (history) 1751; translated as The Age of Lewis XIV. 2 vols. 1752

L'orphelin de la Chine (drama) 1755; translated as The Orphans of China, 1756

La Pucelle d'Orléans (poetry) 1755; also published as La Pucelle d'Orléans; ou, Jeanne d'Arc [complete edition] 1756; translated as La Pucelle, 1789

Essai sur l'histoire générale, et sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations, depuis Charlemagne jusqu'a nos jours. 7 vols. (prose) 1756; translated as An Essay on Universal History, the Manners and Spirit of Nations, from the Reign of Charlemaign to the Age of Lewis XIV. 4 vols. 1759

Poèmes sur le désastre de Lisbonne et sur la loi naturelle (poetry) 1756

Candide; ou, L'optimisme, traduit de l'Allemand, de Mr. le Docteur Ralph (prose) 1759; translated as Candide; or, All for the Best, 1759

Tancrede (drama) 1760; translated as Almida, 1771

Le theatre de M. de Voltaire. 5 vols. (dramas) 1762-63

Traité sur la tolérance (essay) 1763; translated as A Treatise on Religious Tolerance, Occasioned by the Execution of the Unfortunate Jean Calas, Unjustly Condemned and Broken on the Wheel at Toulouse, for the Supposed Murder of His Own Son, 1764

Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (prose) 1764, revised editions, 1765, 1767; also revised and published as La raison par alphabet, 1769; translated as Philosophical Dictionary for the Pocket, 1765

L'ingenu: Histoire veritable, tiree des manuscrits de Pere Quesnel (prose) 1767; translated as The Pupil of Nature, Pupil of Nature, 1771; also published as The Sincere Huron, 1786

Irene (drama) 1778

Memoires de M. de Voltaire ecrits par luimeme [Memoirs de M. de Voltaire Written by Himself,] (autobiography) 1784

Ira O. Wade (essay date 1959)

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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.]


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 Bulgare. …

Candide is literally swarming with these little sentences: subject-verb-object, subject-verb-adverb, that have a tendency to group in clusters:

12.99 … je profitai de cette avanture; je m'enfuis, je traversai toute la Russie; je fus longtems servante de cabaret à Riga … j'ai vieilli dans la misère et dans l'opprobre. …

Each of the elements—subject, verb, object, adverb—often takes on a modifier—adjective, adverb, adverbial phrase. When this occurs, the little basic sentence has a tendency to expand, though not beyond modest proportions. The pattern then becomes subject-verb-adverb-object, or subject-adjective-verb-adverb-object, or subject-adjective-verb-adverb-adverb-object-adjective, or one of the many combinations which these patterns will offer. These various additions have the task of adding modifications, qualifications, value-judgments which the story will accumulate and coordinate into some unified meaning. At times, one of the elements will extend itself, giving the impression of a broadened horizon in time and space. In the sentence just quoted, for instance, the à Riga has been extended to “puis à Rostock, à Vismar, à Leipsick, à Cassel, à Utrecht, à Leyde, à La Haye, à Rotterdam.” This pattern has possibilities of many variations as is evident in the following sentences:

14.7 Il avait été enfant de chœur, sacristain, matelot, moine, facteur, soldat, laquais (where a whole life is recounted by a person's occupations).

17.35 Ils voguèrent quelques lieües entre des bords tantôt fleuris, tantôt arides, tantôt unis, tantôt escarpés (where a whole geographical expanse is given).

18.41 La conversation fut longue: elle roula sur la forme du gouvernement, sur les mœurs, sur les femmes, sur les spectacles publics, sur les arts (where all the elements of a civilization are presented).

Finally, the basic sentence, lengthened or unlengthened, may break into a relative clause, or a series of relative clauses, or a causal, temporal, concessive, or participial clause, or a series of subordinate clauses. The extension of these really long and sometimes complicated sentences is carried out in the terms of the sentence itself, for the purpose of contrast, balance, or buildup. Whatever the terms, a constant effort is made to keep the pattern symmetrical and the rhythm formal:

18.67 Quoi! vous n'avez point de moines qui enseignent, qui disputent, qui gouvernent, qui cabalent, et qui font bruler les gens qui ne sont pas de leur avis.

22.49 … l'un de ces gens empressés, toujours alertes, toujours serviables, effrontés, caressants, accommodans, qui guettent les étrangers à leur passage, leur content l'histoire scandaleuse de la ville, et leur offrent des plaisirs à tout prix.

The merit of the basic sentence is apparent. As long as it is kept short, it presents an opportunity for the densest sort of action, since its verbs are multiplied and varied. The effect should be one of continuous, sharp, exasperating, inevitable, variable little actions which can build up into a flood of paradoxical, ironical, contradictory, but overwhelming action.

There is danger, however, that these short sentences will become monotonous; there is further danger that the story will become more important than its meaning. The moderately expanded short sentence presents an opportunity for avoiding both of these difficulties. The modifying adjective-adverb factors take some of the continuous, exasperating sharpness out of the closely packed action, and at the same time give depth to the meaning. In addition, when one of the elements begins to expand, an explosive effect is added to the movement effect of the primary form. These explosive sentences serve as a halfway stage between that form and the enlarged, complicated sentences which go trailing off into space like oscillations of explosive sound. Thus, the rhythm is from dense, varied action, to deep, varied meaning, to all the ambiguities of density, variety, and depth which go trailing off into universal time and space and in an all-embracing judgment destroy and create simultaneously. One of these sentences of gigantic sweep will suffice:

22.186 Quiconque, ajouta-t-il, n'observe pas toutes ces règles, peut faire une ou deux tragédies aplaudies au théâtre; mais il ne sera jamais compté au rang des bons écrivains; il y a très peu de bonnes tragédies; les unes sont des idilles en dialogues bien écrits et bien rimés, les autres des raisonnements politiques qui endorment, ou des amplifications qui rebutent; les autres des rêves d'énergumène, en stile barbare; des propos interrompus, de longues apostrophes aux Dieux, parce qu'on ne sait point parler aux hommes, des maximes fausses, des lieux communs ampoulés.

If the explosive quality is wrapped up in the sentence and threatens to burst from any of its elements, the energy behind the explosive quality is certainly released from verbs. We have already seen how the nature of the basic sentence itself offers the opportunity of increasing the number of verbs and therefore the quantity of energy released. The following example will demonstrate this release of energy:

2.67 Candide n'en pouvant plus demanda en grace qu'on voulût bien avoir la bonté de lui casser la tête; il obtint cette faveur; on lui bande les yeux, on le fait mettre à genoux; le Roi des Bulgares passe dans ce moment, il s'informe du crime du patient, et comme ce Roi avait un grand génie, il comprit par tout ce qu'il aprit de Candide que c'était un jeune Métaphisicien, fort ignorant des choses de ce monde, et il lui accorda sa grace avec une clémence qui sera louée dans tous les journaux et dans tous les siècles.

The terrible contradiction in the two controlling energies of the sentence is apparent: what Candide asks as a favor and what the King grants as a favor are two very contradictory things. The way Candide makes his request and the nature of the request represent two discordant energies paradoxically situated. Moreover, the energies released in the first part of the sentence all concern Candide; then suddenly a whole series of energies concern the King; the latter series unites with the first only at the end, creating thereby a third energy (mercy) which goes dancing off into eternal time and space and concerns only indirectly Candide and the King. A number of such cases might be cited. Their accumulation would build up an effect of limitless energy ill-directed and badly controlled. If this energy is the source of life, life must be a chaotic thing, contradicting itself, destroying itself, but creating itself, too, in an ironical, paradoxical, symbolic way.

This limitless energy is not so ill-directed or so badly controlled as it first seems. Thanks to the saving power of form some order is kept. A factor in this order-keeping form is the amazing ease and grace with which Voltaire shifts from present to imperfect to perfect and back again. In the case we have just cited, he even shoots the energy into the limitless future. This constant regard for timing the released energy is really a method of controlling and ordering it. But he is just as skillful in giving it direction by cleverly manipulating the infinitive, past participle, and present participle.

The classic example of the infinitive is, of course, “il faut cultiver,” which has given rise to so much discussion. Hundreds of other cases might be cited. An interesting one occurs in the last chapter where la Vieille uses the infinitive to summarize the action of the whole book:

30.45 Je voudrais savoir lequel est le pire, ou d'être violée cent fois par des pirates nègres, d'avoir une fesse coupée, de passer par les baguettes chez les Bulgares, d'être fouetté et pendu dans un Auto-da-fè, d'être disséqué, de ramer aux galères, d'éprouver enfin toutes les misères par lesquelles nous avons tous passé, ou bien de rester ici à ne rien faire?

The role played by infinitives in the release of energy is apparent in this example. They complement the action of modal verbs, and they also designate pure action, that is action in the process of developing with scant reference to time and space. In their own peculiar way, they generalize or depersonalize action. Furthermore, they give it tremendous variety. At times they occur in veritable phalanxes, for instance:

2.41 On le fait tourner à droite, à gauche, hausser la baguette, remettre la baguette, coucher en jouë, tirer, doubler le pas, et on lui donne trente coups de bâton.

Past participles are more useful still. Contrary to the infinitive which marks pure action, they note not only the action itself, but the source of the action, the recipient of the action, the actual condition and value quality that the action possesses. These four possibilities can be seen schematically: the “avoir”-plus-past participle form denotes the origin and also the time of the energy; the “être”-plus-past participle form denotes the recipient of the energy but often leaves its origin obscure; the pure past participle form, that is the ablative absolute, denotes not only the recipient but the condition imposed upon the recipient, while the perfect past participle may denote either the origin of the energy or the direction or the time, or the condition of the energy. Lastly, the past participle used as an adjective, either after “être” or in adjectival suites, may denote not only a condition but a value judgment.

These forms occur in great abundance in Candide. The active form with “avoir” is, to be sure, but one of the active forms used. The story is related with the marvelous variety of tense forms so characteristic of Voltaire. Nevertheless, the release of this active energy discloses the vital urge of his characters to live by acting. In a certain sense, it is a guarantee of the characters, since it takes its origin in them. Candide's energy, like its protagonist, is naïve. That is, in the overflow of active action, the impression produced is that of action not only in its initial stage, characterized by disorder and inexperience, but also in its more mature stage, characterized by all the youth, vigor, freshness of Candide himself. One short example of this usage will suffice:

6.11 On avait en conséquence saisi un Biscayen convaincu d'avoir épousé sa commère, et deux Portugais qui en mangeant un poulet en avaient arraché le lard; on vint lier après le diner le Docteur Pangloss, et son disciple Candide, l'un pour avoir parlé, et l'autre pour l'avoir écouté avec un air d'aprobation.

This naïve, vigorous, struggling action is counterbalanced by a tremendous flow of passive, an action of condition, an inactive action in the sense that its origin springs from outside the person concerned and very often impedes the naïve action in which he is engaged. Just a few examples will suffice: Candide “fut tant friponné” by the Jews (30.24), Cacambo “était excédé de travail” (30.30), Martin “était fermement persuadé” (30.33), la Vieille wonders which is worse, “d'être violée, d'être fouetté et pendu, d'être disséqué” (30.46-49). This action takes its origin in other people, “Cunégonde fut souflettée” (1.88); “la Baronne a été coupée en morceaux” (4.29), but it may be derived from nature, “les toits sont renversés” (5.41); “les gens sont écrasés” (5.44), or it may have some mysterious origin, “Jaques est précipité” (5.19). Finally, a good example of the active responding to the passive is in 28.86:

Eh bien, mon cher Pangloss, lui dit Candide, quand vous avez été pendu, dissequé, roué de coups, et que vous avez ramé aux galères, avez-vous toujours pensé que tout allait le mieux du monde?

The past participle used alone contrasts with the present participle in the same way that passive and active tenses contrast with each other. When used as an ablative absolute or even as an adjective, it serves as a passive with no great stress on the origin of the action but with great importance attributed to the receiver of the action, to the annihilation of the action, and to the past time of the action. The conte is literally filled with these past participles used in an ablative absolute sense: “Candide chassé” (2.3), “Candide tout transi” (2.8), “Candide tout stupéfait” (2.48), “Candide effrayé recule” (4.9).

But there are fully as many cases where past participles have become adjectives, adding a quality to the modified word, whether people or things. They often occur in sequences with adjectives: “… l'un de ces gens empressés, toujours alertes, toujours serviables, effrontés, caressants, accommodans …” (22.49). Often also they form sequences themselves: “… toutes nos Italiennes et ma mère déchirées, coupées, massacrées …” (11.104). Finally, there are examples where they occur in phalanxes, as in the following case:

3.22 Ici des vieillards criblés de coups regardaient mourir leurs femmes égorgées, qui tenaient leurs enfans à leurs mammelles sanglantes; là des filles éventrées, après avoir assouvi les besoins naturels de quelques héros, rendaient les derniers soupirs; d'autres à demi-brulées criaient qu'on achevât de leur donner la mort. Des cervelles étaient répanduës sur la terre, à côté de bras et de jambes coupés.

It would be difficult to give a more perfect picture of total destruction, a condition, incidentally, under which the most violent actions are driving to the annihilation of action. In one of its aspects the world of Candide is submitting to action, is really absorbing action. This action comes from so many varied, unexpected sources that it seems ill-defined, ill-directed, badly ordered. As it permeates living creatures, it does not add to their life, it tends rather to press the life out of them. It is cosmic energy which, in its uncontrolled, undirected aspects, kills life. This is anti-naïve action. Left to itself, it could easily wipe out the universe, or at least it could reduce life to unendurable torture.

It is not, of course, left to itself. All this depressing, annihilating action of the passive, past participle is counterbalanced by the struggling, naïve present participles. There is a whole array of them in Candide. The active, creative quality of these participles is obvious in 25.143: “L'être Eternel produisant le monde.” Corresponding to the ablative effect of the past participle, the present participle used as a gerund occurs very frequently either with or without “en”: “en se promenant” (1.61), “en revenant” (1.74), “en faisant la révérence” (2.23). When so used it adds a condition, a qualification, as well as a continuation of action. This usage is extended and it, too, becomes an adjective: “et étincelante dans leurs yeux” (14.119), “cadavres sanglants entassés” (11.113). But the vast majority of these present participles push the action outward, often introducing additional action. They represent the effort of the submerged universe to meet the energetic chaos of destruction with personal, willful, creative energy. Sometimes they, too, occur in sequences of adjectives: “L'un de ces gens empressés, toujours alertes, toujours serviables, effrontés, caressants, accommodans, qui. …” Often, they appear in massive sequence:

3.32 Candide toujours marchant sur des membres palpitans, ou à travers des ruïnes, arriva enfin hors du théatre de la guerre, portant quelques petites provisions dans son bissac, et n'oubliant jamais Mlle Cunégonde.

At other times, they counterbalance in the same sentence the cumulative effect of dead past participles: “Candide épouvanté, interdit, éperdu, tout sanglant, tout palpitant” (6.32). Or they add vitality to a still scene: “Il entre et voit le fessé Candide l'épée à la main, un mort étendu par terre, Cunégonde effarée, et la vieille donnant des conseils” (9.23). And there is a final case where the present participle serves to prevent life from totally disappearing:

Le lendemain en se promenant, il rencontra un gueux tout couvert de pustules, les yeux morts, le bout du nez rongé, la bouche de travers, les dents noires, et parlant de la gorge, tourmenté d'une toux violente, et crachant une dent à chaque effort.


Thus Candide's world is a world of action, varied, tense, contradictory, and paradoxical. It springs from many unknown sources and submerges those upon whom it falls; with constant pounding it beats out life. Whether it comes from forces in nature or in man-made institutions, it crushes and exasperates. Somehow one gets the impression that action produces energy and energy begets force and force is an evil thing. It must be met by another force which springs from another energy derived from counteraction. For the outside action pressing upon the individual brings forth a response which is another action. This naïve action takes its source in the will to be. It leaves behind the dead, past, traditional action, the absorbed evil action. It pushes forward, young, vigorous, eager, inexperienced, but confident that it can master by struggle, effort, and work the deadly past and the uncertain future. Creation in Candide is certainly the answer to universal destruction.

In this creative action, struggling to overcome destructive action, adverbs and adjectives also play their role. They characterize the actors, the objects involved, and the action. At the same time, they bestow value judgment on the phenomena. In their own powerful way, they bestow character, that is to say, form to Candide's struggling universe; and they give exasperated testimony that as long as the human mind can attribute value judgments to the phenomena of existence life will go on. There is in Candide an extraordinary tendency to attach adjectives to nouns as if the adjectival quality were a guarantee for the existence of the object. Many of them are colorless: “un jeune garçon” (1.5), “le petit Candide” (1.31), “le petit bois” (1.62), “ville voisine” (2.9), “un grand génie” (2.72). Others contribute a trait of character: “le charitable Jaques, le bon Jaques” (5.18), “le prudent Cacambo,” “le naïf Candide” (8.15). Still others add by their incongruity a touch of irony: “cet honnête eunuque” (12.31), “du beau château” (4.25), “cette belle cause” (4.45).

This use of adjectives to characterize is in fact carried to an extreme. Paquette is a “petite brune très jolie et très docile” (1.65); Cunégonde is “haute en couleur, fraîche, grasse, appétissante” (1.28); Cunégonde's brother is “un très beau jeune homme, le visage plein, assez blanc, haut en couleur, le sourcil relevé, l'œil vif, l'oreille rouge, les lèvres vermeilles, l'air fier” (14.78). There are many instances where these adjectives are massed in phalanx, as in 21.47:

Croyez-vous, dit Candide, que les hommes se soient toujours mutuellement massacrés, comme ils font aujourd'hui, qu'ils ayent toujours été menteurs, fourbes, perfides, ingrats, brigands, faibles, volages, lâches, envieux, gourmands, yvrognes, avares, ambitieux, sanguinaires, calomniateurs, débauchés, fanatiques, hypocrites et sots?

This massing very often occurs in Voltaire. One is reminded of the passage in l'Ecossaise in which Fréron is submerged under a deluge of nineteen scathing adjectives.

This massing, however, is no more impressive than the adjective's variety when singly used, and no more impressive than its contrast with opposing adjectives or its paradox with the nouns or the situation it qualifies. Surely the world of Candide is a world of chaos, a world of mutually consuming qualities, ironically and paradoxically qualified. It is not predominantly good nor bad—good in its potentialities, perhaps, bad in its actualities, certainly, and very full of strife, energy, effort.

There is a type of adjective which conveys interpretation much better than the mass of qualifying adjectives we have just mentioned. In a sense it carries a value judgment of superior proportions, it has a superlative force in itself. It attaches to its noun a quality, to be sure, but it carries a very definite intellectual judgment on the part of the speaker. And yet the judgment is partly irrational: “de terribles obstacles” (17.20), “de rochers épouvantables” (17.38), “montagnes inaccessibles” (17.45), and “l'inhumanité affreuse” (16.89). Separately, these adjectives give a tone as well as a quality to an object. Collectively they combine to give a tone to the work. It should be stressed that the judgments they convey are not one-sided, as we are prone to presume in speaking of Candide. They suggest in addition to some irritation a tension that is stretched two ways: a tension between the so-called acceptable qualities and those which are to be condemned (“effroyable,” “épouvantable,” “affreux” versus “vaste et magnifique,” “sublime,” “louable”) and a mounting tension of degree between themselves and the more banal adjectives of everyday life.

This tendency to enhance the tension value of nouns and consequently of the whole work is paralleled by a similar tendency in the use of adverbs. We find in the conte a fair number of transition adverbs used not so much to qualify the action as to keep it running smoothly: “par-devant,” “d'ordinaire,” “longtemps,” “jamais,” “seulement.” In a way they correspond to the long list of banal adjectives. In addition, there is a large number of manner adverbs which state how an action is performed: “il prouvait admirablement” (1.34), “tout est nécessairement” (1.41), “sont visiblement” (1.43), “Candide écoutait attentivement et croyait innocemment” (1.52). Corresponding to the group of superlative adjectives, they give a tone to verbs or adjectives; they add a gesture to the action also, sometimes a very startling one. They carry a judgment not at all of one order, perform their role in producing tension, and present with much variety the paradox and irony of action. At times they appear massively as in 24.144: “vous les rendrez peut-être beaucoup plus malheureux encore.”

Both adjectives and adverbs break into superlatives of the most amazing variety, as Miss McGhee has already shown in her Voltairian Narrative Devices. Candide, with “les mœurs les plus douces” (1.6) has “l'esprit le plus simple” (1.8). This world to be sure is “le meilleur des mondes possibles” (1.35). Nothing is “si beau, si leste, si brillant, si bien ordonné” (3.4) as the two armies. Candide “se cacha du mieux qu'il put” (3.14), he fled “au plus vîte (3.30); he is “infiniment plus touché” by Jaques's “extrême générosité” (3.77) than by the preacher's “dureté.”

The superlative in fact dominates the whole story. The variety with which it is achieved—“si, fort, très, encore plus, le plus, bien plus, bien”—is augmented immensely by the innumerable stylistic or semantic tricks whereby a similar effect is created: “quatre altesses Sérénissimes” (26.110), “il n'est que trop vrai” (7.54), “roide mort” (9.13). These effects in themselves build up a most violent tension, but even this tension is sometimes augmented by a massive buildup: “m'a donc bien cruellement trompée” (8.84), Don Figueroa “parlait avec le dédain le plus noble” (13.22), “portait le nez si haut” (13.23), “élévant si impitoyablement la voix, prenant un ton si imposant, affectant une démarche si altière.” An excellent case where superlative is built on superlative is the judgment of the play seen by Candide in Paris: the actress is “fort mauvaise,” the actor is “plus mauvais encor,” and the play is “encore plus mauvaise” (22.59). At times, the adverbs augment other words which are by their nature diminished: Pococurantè, who incidentally is inclined to speak in superlatives “se soucie fort peu” (25.87), he has “bien assez” (25.107); Candide confesses that he was “un peu trop vif” (28.7), he declares the incident at Venice “bien peu vraisemblable” (27.15).

Of all the words creating intensity tout is perhaps the most important. It takes its origin in the “tout est bien” (1.50) and the “tout est au mieux” (1.51) which occur at the very start and continue at intervals throughout the story (2.28, 3.76, 4.110, etc.). But it is used also in every conceivable way to embrace the whole universe as well as to intensify every phenomenon: “toute la bonne foi” (1.31), “tout étant fait …” (1.40), “toute agitée, toute pensive, toute remplie” (1.70), “tout stupéfait” (2.48).

If one insists upon a logical explanation of these numerous adjectives and adverbs, he could find it, I daresay, in the two expressions “le meilleur des mondes possibles,” and “tout est au mieux,” just as he could find a plausible origin of all the action in Candide in some such cataclysmic event as an earthquake. He would be closer to the truth if he saw in this phenomenon the shattering effect which uncontrolled energy has upon the rational mind, particularly when mind has accepted responsibility for the nature of things. He would be still closer to the truth if he saw in the superlative buildup the explosive possibilities of naïve critical judgment which will assert itself. However, logical consequence is not of importance here. When struck by an earthquake we can hardly be concerned with the question whether we respond with our minds (our entelechie) or our being (our ens). It can be affirmed that a constant effort is made in Candide to keep judgments rational or at any rate rationally oriented. Since many of the acts are irrational, however, many of the responses are irrational, too; consequently, many of the judgments are ironical, sarcastic, paradoxical, and absurd—just as life is. The superlative is an excellent plane for effecting these tones. The important thing to grasp, however, is not the value of a particular act, but the value of the critical act itself. Seen as a by-product of the struggle between the blind cosmic act and the naïve, willful, creative act, it is the energizing force which nurtures the creative act and keeps it merging into the new cosmic act.

Thus there is in the implications of the work itself an inner structure—a vital soul—which is its meaning. Candide states simply and naïvely that life is quality, manner, degree. It is phenomena, criticism, judgment. In all areas in which life becomes—philosophical, aesthetic, moral, social, religious—it becomes through the saving grace of creative criticism. That is the structural meaning of Candide, it is the meaning of Voltaire. I suspect it is the meaning of the eighteenth century, too, particularly in its “unfinished business.”


We have examined Candide as the result of a philosophical system, a series of historical events, and a temperament, taking care to show that these are active agents, creative forces which contribute to the molding of the work. We have analyzed its structure from the point of view of composition, style, and themes to see if there is harmony between that structure and the forces controlling it. It is now our purpose to penetrate the “idea” of Candide in an attempt to discover what informs it. It is quite as difficult to find an effective method of penetrating ideas as to discover a method of analyzing style and at this point in research, we usually succumb to the temptation of describing what the author thought instead of striving to penetrate his thought and grasp the spirit which informs the work. Even in describing his ideas we are inclined to take short-cuts, since a man can do a lot of thinking in sixty-five years and, if he is a Voltaire, he can put an inordinate number of his thoughts on paper. Our problem then becomes how to select, in Voltaire's complex of ideas, the ones that controlled Candide.

There are, to our knowledge, only three ways of approaching this problem. The first is to seek in explicit statements of the author the “idea” or “ideas” entering into his work. For a Flaubert with his marvelous correspondence this procedure produces results; for a Voltaire, despite his tremendous volume of correspondence, the result is practically nil. Besides, Candide is first and foremost a clandestine work; it conceals its thoughts as it conceals itself. Or we set out to discover the conte's ideas in Candide's thoughts, and since every work of the imagination implies its thoughts, we seek the implications in its “situations,” or “conditions.” This procedure gives results in certain instances: in Kafka's Trial, an accurate analysis of the “situation,” or in Dostoyevski's Idiot, the grasping of the “condition” will do much to bring out the “implications,” particularly since in each novel the author himself has devoted a chapter (“In the Cathedral” for Kafka; “The Creative Moment” for Dostoyevski) to clarifying either “situation” or “conditions.” Voltaire cannot do this, because, as we have shown, neither “situation” nor “conditions” are clear to him. Strange to say, Candide is as clandestine for Voltaire as for us.

The third way of approaching the problem is to seek in Voltaire's production up to 1759 the dominating ideas of Candide. This is the approach which for the time being we consider the most proper when used with the controls of other methods, because in a peculiar way, the conte is an implicit summary of all his previous work and draws from its own conclusion the reason for its “act.” Indeed, it is Candide which puts form into that unformed mass of thoughts and opens up the way first for coherent, organic thinking and later (i.e. after Candide) for coherent, organic action.

Fortunately, it is not our task at this point to deal with the complex problem of how thought led to the artistic organization of Candide, and how Candide led to a program of action. It is sufficiently difficult to concern ourselves here with the first part of the problem only. What we wish to examine is how thought content organized itself at the moment of Candide, how Candide became at that moment the total organic and aesthetic expression of that thought. The simplest way of attacking the problem is to select from Voltaire's writings down to 1759 those items having significant bearing upon the making of Candide, to choose works containing ideas which could not fail to enter into its making.

The writings in this category are well known, for they have been analyzed time and time again since Voltaire's day. They are: L'Epître à Uranie, Le Traité de métaphysique, Les Lettres philosophiques, Le Mondain, Les Discours en vers sur l'homme, Les Eléments de la philosophie de Newton, Le Poème sur la loi naturelle, Le Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (the ideological content), and L'Essai sur les mœurs. One might, of course, add his entire production until 1758, theatre, contes, poésies mêlées, and we shall do so at the proper moment, but for the time being it is well to keep to this more restricted list. In these works we shall endeavor to distinguish between the “idea” (that is to say, the core around which all Voltaire's ideas, opinions, and experiences gravitate) and the ideas themselves (the intellectual flashes of insight contributing to or derived from the “idea”); the opinions (personal conclusions drawn by the author either from these flashes or from his experiences), and the facts (these experiences seen rationally or shared rationally with others). These distinctions we shall make silently, trying in each case to disengage the core, not the facts, nor the opinions, nor even the ideas except as they serve to bring the “idea” to the fore.

The central idea of the Epître à Uranie is the existence of a God more universal in scope and power than any anthropomorphic, denominational, or private Deity. From this assertion is derived a series of private opinions both destructive and constructive: the falsity of every organized cult, the superstition of every dogma, the treachery and intolerance of every priesthood, but also the universality of God, the immediacy in the relationship of Creator and created, and the autonomy of moral law. In its inner reality the Epître destroys something; it creates something in its place, and tries to give the impression that its creation is greater, or in any case more real, than the Creation.

The Traité de métaphysique attempts to answer five basic questions concerning (1) the existence of God, (2) the immortality of the Soul, (3) the origin of thought, (4) free will, and (5) the nature of good and evil. Voltaire's answer to each is a succession of constructive and destructive opinions (private ones, of course), confined not solely to the religious field, but operating also in the metaphysical, physical, and moral fields. He had hardly begun his intellectual career before he became overwhelmed with difficulties that he attempts to minimize by insisting upon a deistic providentialism, which, in a way, offers total security. As long as he believes in this providentialism, he does not have to insist too much upon solving subsequent difficulties: there are more arguments against the immortality of the soul than in its favor, but he refuses to worry about it. Arguments against the freedom of man are many—thanks particularly to Frederick, who assumes the role of diabolus advocatus in the dispute—but this is no matter for concern. True, indeed, there are more arguments in favor of God's existence than against it. The foundations of morality become very shaky in his Chapters viii and ix, but again Voltaire refuses to be disturbed, for God has given man fundamental moral laws.

He feels so secure that he decides that all man needs to do is to find ways of enjoying himself. The Lettres philosophiques has as its central idea the concept that freedom of being is possible in this world, provided one lives in the right place, at the right time, with the right manners and customs, with the right culture. Ideas proliferate in every direction from this central theme. Foremost among them is the notion of man's making his freedom by judicious adjustments in all categories of living: religious, political, economic, philosophical, aesthetic. But just as important is the thought that by studying man in his various vital categories one can understand what his reality is. Most important is the idea that man can make the “conditions” which guarantee his freedom. The human creature can do little to influence Providence in his favor, but if he assumes that Providence is on his side or at least neutral he can do much in shaping his own destiny. Thus happiness is humanly possible; this becomes the central idea of the Mondain. It is a matter of squaring man with his moral imperatives: this is the task of the Discours. It would be more fitting to call these imperatives contradictions, for passions are good, passions are bad; pride is good, pride is bad; moderation is good, moderation is bad; good qualities come from evil qualities. “Il n'y a pas de mal dont il ne naisse un bien.” Obviously there is nothing very solid in morality, except natural law. What is natural law? It consists of a certain number of rules applicable to moral man in the same way that a certain number of rules are applicable to physical nature. This is the central idea of both the Eléments de la philosophie de Newton and the Essai sur les mœurs. Once again we note the instability, incoherence, ambiguity, and contradiction of the opinions derived from these “key” ideas. Voltaire would seem to have no ideas, only opinions, no body of thought, only chaotic notions, and he attaches no particular importance to his deficiencies, contradictions, and incoherences. Indeed, he has a deep feeling of security, complete confidence that although everything may be wrong, there is no reason to be concerned. Of course there are moments when personal experiences shake that confidence: Desfontaines, Jore, J. B. Rousseau, the censor, Mme du Châtelet momentarily perturb his inner serenity, but do not succeed in shattering it. Only at the moment of Candide does the crushing blow fall, precisely when Voltaire is unprepared for it.

It is quite possible that we do him an injustice, and in stating that he has opinions but no body of thought, that he has key ideas leading to contradictory, incoherent conclusions, we may be betraying not his deficiencies, but our own ignorance. This professedly objective analysis might be nothing but defective subjectivity after all. Consequently, the only reasonable approach would be to seek some work containing a full presentation of his thought before Candide.

Fortunately, such a book exists. There was published in 1759, the same year as Candide, a volume entitled L'Esprit de Voltaire, which went through at least three editions—1759, 1760, and 1765, the first two with the same preface, the third with a different one, the integral text remaining unchanged. Since the editor has selected from all of Voltaire's work up to 1758 quotations illustrating the author's ideas, the book should present a fairly representative picture of his thought up to that year. In certain instances, the information may be readily supplemented by additional quotations on other subjects. Let us first examine the list of subjects chosen. It is as follows:

Etre suprême, Dieux, Théisme, Athéisme, Christianisme, Persécutions, Confession, Pénitence, Enfer, Rome, Pontifes, Politique, Excommunications, Dispenses, Schisme, Eglises Latine et Grecque, Ecclésiastiques, Sorbonne, Sociétés religieuses, Jansénisme, Convulsions, Disputes théologiques, Sectes, Fanatisme, Inquisition, Hérésies, Guerres de religion, Ligue, Massacre de la Saint Barthélemi, Religion mahométane, Païenne, Oracles du paganisme, Prodiges.

L'homme, Nature, Humanité, Vertus, Amitié, Courage, Fermeté, Grandeur d'âme, Héroïsme, Générosité, Modération, Sagesse, Gloire, Liberté, Fidélité, Sincérité, Reconnaissance, Amour de la Patrie, Honneur, Amour du Travail, Raison, Sagesse, Amour de l'ordre, Usage des Conseils, Passions, Amour, Le Temple de l'amour, Conscience, Remords, Amour-propre, Vanité, Fatuité, Pédanterie, Envie, Jalousie, Rivalité, Médisance, Discorde, Tracasserie, Ingratitude, Inconstance, Intérêt, Ignorance, Faiblesse, Ambition, Hypocrisie, Crime, Honte, Désespoir, Suicide, Esprit du monde, Conduite, Conversation, Liberté, Gaieté, Jeu, Retraite, La Cour, Le Peuple, Naissance, Noblesse, Réputation, La Mode, Le temps, Vérité, Mensonge, Mœurs et usages, Opinions, Préjugés, Femmes, Mariages, Destinée, Biens et maux.

Gouvernement, Monarchie, Rois et sujets, Républiques, Hommes publics, Ministres, Ambassadeurs, Grands hommes, Etats généraux et conciles, Parlement, Commerce, Luxe, Circulation, Loix somptuaires, Finances, Monnoie, Usure, Marques de la pauvreté publique, Etablissements utiles, Ecole militaire, Travaux publics, Justice, Lois, Jurisprudence, Legislateurs, Droit public, Loi naturelle, Usages, Loi salique, Fondateurs d'empire, Conquérants, Guerres civiles, Conspirations, Ambition criminelle, Favoris, Tyrans, Despotisme, Nations, Leurs Caractères, Chinois, Américains, Juifs, Russes, Suisses, Anglais, Français.

Philosophie, Médecine, Inoculation.

Génie, Invention, Génie des nations, Poésie, Spectacles, Tragédies, Comédies, Opéra, Arts, Talents, Artillerie, Mines, Librairie, Imprimerie, Langues, Littérature, Imitation, Traduction, Littératures Etrangères, Anciens et Modernes, Progrès et bornes des connaissances humaines, Goût, Littérature, Satire, Critique, Histoire, Académie, Eloquence de la chaire, Oraisons funèbres.

In reading this, one is impressed by the vast scope of Voltaire's observations and notes also that the selections have been made from his writings in general, as well as from the major works cited above. Items from the Traité de métaphysique are necessarily absent in the list since it had not yet been published, and the Eléments might have been used more fully. These two works might have strengthened Voltaire's views on some of the subjects, but they would not have modified them to any great extent. The ideas listed concern metaphysics, religion, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Conspicuously absent is natural science, conspicuously present is the subject of history and civilization or what Voltaire calls “mœurs et esprit des nations.” About half of the items are from poetry and the drama, the other half from that indefinite thing labeled Mélanges. Taken altogether, the table could easily pass for the table of contents of a Dictionnaire philosophique.

Our first impression in examining this heterogeneous collection of extracts is one of great confusion, since the author has thoughts on many subjects, along with many thoughts on any subject. For instance, under the heading “Etre suprême,” we find this to be his range: the proof of God's existence is the order which obtains in the universe. Physicists have thus become the heralds of Providence. Reason, however, is unable to comprehend God and His ways because it grasps but a part of the vast scheme. It cannot be affirmed that evil disproves God's existence. In the first place, “il est prouvé qu'il y a plus de bien que de mal dans ce monde, puisqu'en effet peu d'hommes souhaitent la mort, vous avez donc tort de porter des plaintes au nom du genre humain, et plus grand tort de renier votre souverain, sous prétexte que quelques-uns de ses sujets sont malheureux.” All races, even the polytheistic, have the notion of a supreme God, and furthermore, the idea of a Sovereign Being, of His Providence, is present in all philosophers, and poets.

Examination of these statements leads inevitably to the conclusion that though Voltaire's belief in God's existence is strong, his arguments in favor of that belief are not impressive. Thus the arguments in the above paragraph do not prove anything except that he has a deistic concept of God, and believes in it with the fervor of a Christian for his God. Nevertheless, he has upset a lot of fixed ideas with his contentions to the effect that the opinions of philosophers, poets, and physicists are as valid as those of prophets and priests, that evil and good can be weighed and one shown to outbalance the other, and that Nature must have superiority over the Deity since it proves God. His belief thus has a destructive as well as a constructive side.

His ideas can be extremely destructive when set up against a corps of beliefs concerning Christianity. He asserts that Christianity, founded in truth, has no need for doubtful proofs, and that it is not the task of metaphysics to prove Christianity. Attempts of reason to do so end in failure, since it is as far below faith as the finite is below the infinite. Then, too, the objects of our faith and reason are of a different sort. And, finally, physics has nothing to do with miracles and prophecies. There is really no need for religion to explain away contradictions. Here we have a double implication: Christianity needs no verification, and human attempts to prove it are unavailing. There are, however, proofs of a deist God, and although one may entertain doubts about their validity, what is one to do with a religion that has no proofs?

Obviously, Voltaire's ideas are circuitous: they are neither penetrating nor profound; they are numerous but not very significant. They represent impressions rather than truths, beliefs rather than knowledge. It would be a difficult task indeed to bring order out of this chaos, and the difficulty becomes more and more formidable as we proceed to his discussion of the Church. He denounces Rome as the “Fille de l'intérêt et de l'ambition.” He deplores the political power exercised by bishops, affirming that public misery has been the result of struggles between ecclesiastical authority and rulers. Temporal domination, in fact, has always been a subject of discord in the West and of never-ending disputes in the East. The greatest disaster, however, has been occasioned by religious, civil wars, and he will have no part in them: “J'ai vu des deux côtés la fourbe et la fureur.” Theologians are the most dangerous of men and fanaticism the source of crime: “L'esprit d'ambition est presque toujours joint à celui d'enthousiasme et se mêle sans qu'on s'en aperçoive, à la piété la plus austère.” Superstition is the source of untold woes: when it sways the prince, it prevents him from doing good to his people; when it dominates the people, it arouses them against the prince. It causes daily ills, family disintegration, persecution of intellectuals: it was responsible for Descartes's exile and Bayle's poverty. Its direst weapon is the Inquisition, source of ignorance and treachery:

Il faut attribuer au tribunal de l'Inquisition cette profonde ignorance de la saine philosophie où l'Espagne demeure plongée, tandis que l'Allemagne, l'Angleterre, la France, l'Italie même, ont découvert tant de vérités et ont élargi la sphère de nos connaissances.

(p. 45)

If Newton had been born in Portugal and if a Dominican had smelled heresy in the inverse proportion of the square of the distances, Sir Isaac would have been clad in a sanbenito and sent to an auto-da-fé. The cure for this strife is a more philosophical spirit since it alone can cope effectively with intolerance, which would have made Europe one vast cemetery had it not been replaced by moderation.

Thus Voltaire reaches a point where the negative far outweighs the positive. He has an optimist's belief in reasonableness, in moderation, in philosophy, in a chance for peace, but an unyielding opposition to any institution, be it the most divine, which breeds intolerance, persecution, and strife.

If he condemns the institution of the Church, he naïvely defends the goodness of man. He declares him the most perfect and most happy of creatures, a combination of virtues and crimes, of grandeur and baseness, neither great nor small—in short, as he should be. All men are equal in nature and in misfortune, and but few are original. All are subject to custom and education and Voltaire conceives of a human nature common to all upon which customs widely varying are based:

Tout ce qui tient intimement à la nature humaine se ressemble d'un bout de l'univers à l'autre. Tout ce qui peut dépendre de la coutume est différent, et c'est un hasard s'il se ressemble. L'empire de la coutume est bien plus vaste que celui de la nature, il s'étend sur les mœurs, sur tous les usages, il répand la variété sur la scène de l'univers; la nature y répand l'unité; elle établit partout un petit nombre de principes invariables: ainsi le fonds est toujours le même, et la culture produit des fruits différents.

(p. 63)

Thus man has really two natures: one common to all men (human nature) and governed in its actions by a small number of principles (natural laws); and a second, common only to individuals of a certain group (spirit of a people) and governed in its actions by customs, manners, and precepts—infinite in number and endless in variety—that are peculiar to the group. The human and uniform nature is invariable, and its precepts are few—the Golden Rule, love of God, patriotism: “Adore Dieu, sois juste, et chéris ta patrie.” The other nature is modifiable in every respect by education. Thus if a people is satisfied with the practice of polygamy or slavery, it will teach those practices as virtues; whenever it becomes dissatisfied with these customs, it will teach the opposite. Virtue and vice are therefore relative to the customs of the group: reform (or revolution even) is merely changing one's habits. Although a change in habits may be disagreeable, painful, and even dangerous, Voltaire naïvely feels that as long as this second nature is controlled by fundamental natural laws, all is well.

He is not too sure, however, that all is well. Persecutions, intolerance, and superstitions exist, and it is difficult to dismiss these things as custom. Moreover, there is that result of living that we know only too well and call “the human lot.” We have our fleeting days of pains and miseries, we walk beneath our burdens, a thousand cruel enemies besiege our lives which we cherish, yet curse:

Notre cœur égaré, sans guide et sans appui,
Est brûlé de désirs, ou glacé par l'ennui.

Voltaire counsels brotherly love (“nous sommes tous frères”), and stresses humanity, the virtue including all others. His admonitions are numerous: Let us live in peace, adore our common Father, help each other to happiness, for this love of one's fellow man and desire to help him is “la vraie vertu.” It is not enough to be just and fair, one must render service also. There would be little inclination today to criticize this attitude adversely, since the doctrine of fraternity which was the old Patriarch's contribution to the democratic credo has been deeply infused in our natures.

The supreme difficulty lies in the fact that man—Western man at any rate—has built up a code of action which he calls his morality and according to which certain qualities of action are considered virtues—they are desirable. Certain others are considered vices—they are undesirable. Friendship, courage, firmness, high-spiritedness, generosity, heroism, moderation, wisdom, glory, freedom, fidelity, sincerity, gratitude, patriotism, honor, industry are all virtues. Voltaire discusses them endlessly, especially in his dramas, but in his histories as well. While he makes every effort to show that he approves them, and wraps this approval in well-measured, neoclassic expression, he is not very forceful in his advocacy. Friendship is something which few understand and practice; real courage is knowing how to suffer; moderation is a treasure of the wise; man is free when he wants to be; honor is in the heart. He continues to pen these banalities, leaving the impression that he really does not believe in them, despite his avowed commitment, and that they are no longer living realities. They might possibly be poetic fictions but only provided an accord could be found between poetic expression and inner meaning. Otherwise, they are dead abstractions, the accumulated moral dust of the past.

The same thing may be said of the so-called social vices: egotism, vanity, pompousness, pedantry, envy, jealousy, discord, minor irritations, ingratitude, inconstancy, personal interest, ignorance, weakness, ambition, hypocrisy. Montaigne discoursed upon them meaningfully in his Essais. Voltaire expresses his disapproval or approval in platitudes: society cannot exist without pride; God gave man love of self; envy is a necessary evil, since it encourages emulation; jealousy causes more crimes than personal interest and ambition; great crimes have been perpetrated by ignorant people. Once more, he gives the impression that these things are not living realities, they are conventional attitudes, poetic fictions, dead abstractions.

It is not surprising therefore that his moral world is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. Contradiction is a key word in his works and Notebooks. He often jotted down frivolous examples gathered indiscriminately from daily living. “Ce monde subsiste,” he wrote, “comme si tout était bien ordonné; l'irrégularité tient à notre nature, notre monde politique est comme notre globe, quelque chose d'informe qui se conserve toujours.” Here he is close to the concept of the “absurd,” but for him absurdity is not an instrument for penetrating reality, it is only another quality or defect; it matters not which way we go, since absurdity, too, is a conventional attitude, a poetic fiction, a dead abstraction. For the moment, Voltaire is as disengaged, and indifferent, as the world about him. He gives the picture of a petty picayune world, of men who “cabalent,” “on joue, on soupe, on médit, on fait de mauvaises chansons, et on s'endort dans la stupidité, pour recommencer le lendemain son cercle de légèreté, et d'indifférence.”

It would be foolish to conclude that he should have abandoned his moral world as he had his spiritual, since the former was so confused, so contradictory and inconsistent. He had no difficulty in abandoning the spiritual world for the moral—that was in the order of the day. It was simply a change of custom, a shift in the climate of opinion, a rearranging in the categories of living. He and his contemporaries felt very complacent in this contradictory moral world: “Le paradis terrestre est où je suis.” He reveled in the mundane politeness and culture of Parisian society, attributing its “douceurs” for the most part to feminine influence, and declaring Paris a center of culture far superior to Rome and Athens:

L'extrême facilité introduite dans le commerce du monde, l'affabilité, la culture de l'esprit, ont fait de Paris, une ville, qui, pour la douceur de la vie, l'emporte probablement de beaucoup sur Rome et sur Athènes, dans le tems de leur splendeur.

(p. 130)

Again, in the Histoire universelle, that history of the human mind which was to become one day the history of human folly, Paris is the center of the cultured universe:

Cette foule de secours toujours prompts, toujours ouverts pour toutes les sciences, pour tous les arts, les goûts et les besoins, tant d'utilités solides, réunies avec tant de choses agréables jointes à cette franchise particulière aux Parisiens, tout cela engage un grand nombre d'étrangers à voyager, ou à faire leur séjour dans cette patrie de la société. Si quelques natifs en sortent ce sont ceux qui, appellés ailleurs par leurs talents, sont un témoignage honorable à leur pays.

(p. 130)

The moral world was beginning to crumble in its foundations, but the social was as brilliant as ever. Louis XV's age of iron was by no means an unworthy age, and Voltaire protests against those who decry it, time and again raising his voice in its behalf and proclaiming the establishment of reason one of its great achievements, indeed, one of the great achievements of all time. It is the only torch in the darkness of the universe, the organizing power; thought, too, is a force. Mankind has always been animated by a spirit of order and reason's rise is the answer to disorder, the “card” of the passions, the source of the sciences and arts; it is a natural law. Although customs and opinions rule both the life and death of mortals, reason transcends custom, it reforms opinion, it is older than any prejudice, it proscribes superstition. It is true that man accepts opinions without reflection, that our ideas are formed by the climate of opinion in which we live, that prejudices are “les raisons des sots,” that things change in such a way that the false becomes true in due time. No matter, reason remains to establish order and to drive out error which must be abandoned even if nothing exists to replace it:

Il faut abandonner ce que l'on voit faux et insoutenable, aussi bien quand on n'a rien à lui substituer, que quand on aurait les démonstrations d'Euclide à mettre à la place. Une erreur n'est ni plus ni moins erreur; soit qu'on la remplace ou non par des vérités.

(p. 134)

Powerful as it is, this reasonable spirit which fosters education in cities, says Voltaire, has been ineffectual before fanatical fury in the Cevennes, the folly in St. Médard Cemetery, and disputes between Jansenists and Jesuits.

His ideas on the state are diffuse and inconsequential: he believes all government to have been founded late, uniformity in government to be a virtue. The spirit of the state resides always in a small number who set the masses to work, nourish them, and govern them. The powerful state requires either freedom founded upon law or sovereign authority without contradictions. Form of government does not seem to him important: monarchy is satisfactory particularly if the ruler is a philosopher, but a republic has the advantage of giving every citizen of merit a chance for advancement. The republican form is founded not on virtue, but on the ambition of the individual citizen which restrains the ambition of the others, on the pride of each which represses the pride of the others, on the desire to dominate which will not permit another to dominate.

In order to preserve equality, laws are made and they are destined to assist citizens as much as to govern them by fear. They should be universal in scope, and repress those who rise up against government, but should not punish those who sin against God. All classes should be subject to laws; only great men can transcend them. Voltaire believes in the economic state and is an enthusiastic partisan of luxury because it encourages commerce and enriches the large state. He is also in favor of public works because of their widespread utility. In his opinion, the best government is the one that protects all classes. Intermediary groups defending the law insure a less arbitrary government. These are more or less the ideas of any eighteenth-century liberal and not especially significant, but in three respects, Voltaire exceeds his own modest liberalism. He believes that the whole of jurisprudence needs to be reformed: “Les états chrétiens ont longtemps manqué et manquent encore de bonnes lois positives.” He is violently opposed to all forms of oppression:

Il semble que ces Traités du droit des gens, de la guerre, et de la paix qui n'ont jamais servi à aucun traité de paix, ni à aucune déclaration de guerre, ni à assurer le droit d'aucun homme, soient une consolation pour le peuple, des maux qu'ont fait la politique et la force.

(p. 183)

Finally, he is rabidly opposed to war, a “fléau épouvantable” whose only justification is to establish an equitable peace. He affirms that no nation since Roman times has ever been enriched by war, and denounces scathingly those in authority who do not protest against this scourge:

Cependant quelle voix chargée d'annoncer la vertu, s'est jamais élevée contre ce crime si grand et si universel; contre cette rage déstructive qui change en bêtes féroces des hommes nés pour vivre en frères, contre ces déprédations atroces, contre ces cruautés qui font de la terre un séjour de brigandage, un horrible et vaste tombeau.

(p. 190)

Voltaire's philosophical interests are negative for the most part. He is opposed to metaphysics, deeming it futile. He is further opposed to all philosophical systems, condemns ancient philosophers as useless to contemporary youth, and states that they should be read with distrust. However, like Plato, he believes them necessary to kings. He terms them superior to conquerors, but has little else to add in their favor, for they know few things and dispute about thousands. They are fortunately not dangerous, because they are not self-seeking, and have no appeal for the general public. They are totally without enthusiasm and will never form a sect. From these views one would not expect profound philosophical conclusions, and indeed there are none. A lengthy discussion on the nature of God, several attempts to clarify the problem of free will, and a continual defense of thinking matter constitute the sum total of Voltaire's philosophy. On the problem of the immortality of the soul, he adds nothing; he discusses at length the problem of evil, but as we have shown elsewhere, he is sadly and irretrievably confused. Otherwise, he is either content to affirm his ignorance, or to talk glibly in platitudes: life is a mixture of pleasure and torture, permanent happiness is not of this world, happiness can be found anywhere, pleasures are a gift from God, they should be enjoyed in moderation, work is often the source of pleasure.

Negative banalities, contradictory truths, insignificant platitudes, renunciation of the theological and metaphysical, betrayal of the moral, ineptitude in dealing with the political—such seems to be the quality of Voltaire's thought in 1758. There is a constant effort to channel all these ideas, to give them a certain order, a certain rhythm. They clearly move from the theological to the metaphysical, to the moral, to the social, to the political. They follow a plan; they pass from category to category, but they come to naught. Within the category, they pass constantly from affirmation to denial, or from denial to affirmation. In this respect also the movement is clear, but it again comes to nothing; the eternally contradictory produces a static (and sterile) condition which negates reality.

It should be possible to create a rhythm—a life rhythm, that inner meaning which each of us seeks to be. If ideas are a source of power, and power is action, then action is a form of being. The relationship between the “fond” and the “forme” is clear, but somehow Voltaire seems unable to grasp the relationship. He is too negative, too positive, too categorical, not categorical enough, too skeptical, too mystical. And now the challenge has been laid down, the moment of being has arrived, this is indeed the moment of crisis.

It is not easy to mark out Voltaire's intellectual response to the challenge of 1758, nor to attribute rightly the blame for his intellectual defeat. The first difficulty stems from our inability (and Voltaire's, too) to see where he is going intellectually between 1719 and 1758. Is he passing from a deep intellectual concern for theology to an ever increasing interest in philosophy? In philosophy, is he shifting intellectually from metaphysics to physical science? Or is he shifting from metaphysics to morality? Is it Leibnitz with his principles, or Newton with his physical laws, or Locke with his natural morality who will give him a foundation for these new ideas? Is it possible to find a form to contain them, a structure in which to express them, a method for conciliating them? After all, aesthetic expression is as important a category for living as science, history, philosophy, or religion. Will the epic, the tragedy, the épître, the ode, the philosophical poem, the philosophical conte be adequate for this task? Is it possible to combine in some gigantic plan these categories, these fields, these ideas, these impressions, these beliefs? Are there any principles to which we may adhere? Only one: the existence of God, all wise, all good, all powerful. Are there any beliefs to which we may cling? Yes, there is the belief in man's freedom, in his goodness, in his ability to know, not first principles, but within respectable limits, belief in the unity of knowledge, belief that happiness is possible and that knowledge is the way to happiness, belief that man can be modified in divers ways and that intelligent modification is desirable; belief, finally, that every man progresses materially, spiritually, and aesthetically. Thus, to belief in man's freedom is added belief in his reason, to which is united a belief in progress, in nature's laws, both physical and moral. In short, we can still have confidence in life, if only the principle by which we abide holds firm.

Voltaire clings desperately to this one principle, as Mr. Pomeau has shown, but even so his beliefs waver: man has taken a long time, and profited from fortunate circumstances, to rise above his primitive state; occidentals owe everything to time, commerce, and slow industry. The advance of civilization is the progress of the human mind, but this progress leads to no principles of living; we have no real way of knowing: “J'ignore comment je vis, comment je donne la vie, et vous voulez que je sache comment j'ai des idées.” Besides, this God-given spirit of curiosity, the urge to know, constantly sweeps us beyond the goal, like all our other springs of action which, if they did not push us too far, perhaps would never impel us onward. And yet there is a point beyond which the search for truth is nothing more than idle curiosity. These ingenious and useless truths are like stars, which, when placed beyond us give us no light. Voltaire tottered on the verge of an impotent Pyrrhonism; the very thing Leibnitz fought to prevent, the very thing Bayle thought was the only human answer to life, Voltaire came close to embracing: “Il faut tout lire avec défiance, l'analyse est la seule manière de raisonner sur les choses. … Tout ce que nous pouvons faire est de sentir notre impuissance, de reconnaître un être tout-puissant, et de nous garder de ces systèmes.”

Under the impact of events between 1753 and 1758, doubt entered Voltaire's mind. His sole abiding principle was suddenly put to question. The one guarantee against banalities, contradictions, absurdities, against his own powerlessness was removed, leaving a world in chaos—and Voltaire himself a helpless old man. It was well that the challenge presented itself, for otherwise he would have fallen into Bayle's never-ending Pyrrhonism, into the fatalism of Leibnitz and Spinoza. As it was he went through a rapid succession of startling emotional responses: terror, anger, irreverence, revolt, and finally, submission. We might say that he lived French classical tragedy during those five years, but a French tragedy could never contain what he had to present. His experience demanded for expression more flexible form, in which the negative could be eliminated, the positive created, in which the real could become the utopic, and knowledge, no matter how painful, could lead to wisdom, and wisdom, in turn, to action. One of the most extraordinary things about Candide is that Voltaire's thought down to 1758, almost explicitly stated, is incorporated in the work. It abounds in platitudes, contradictions, absurdities, there is a savage destruction of that thought, a grim delight in the holocaust. He becomes a wicked self-tormentor, and in this full confession of man's (and his own) defeat, he lays bare with sadistic pleasure his intellectual shame. With fiendish glee he asserts over and over that thought is not power, that ideas lead nowhere, that mind has no control over matter until he nearly believes it himself. But in the end chaos has been given a form, the irreconcilable has been harmonized, destruction which was well-nigh complete has become creation, and passive Pyrrhonism has yielded to dynamic action. In the full meaning of art, Candide is the structured reality of L'Esprit de Voltaire.

This last statement forms the crux of the matter: what Voltaire was seeking, what we must seek, is the structured reality of his “esprit,” not what he thought but the spirit of what he thought. This, of course, is extremely difficult because the ultimate goal is clear after a crisis but never clear in a crisis, and what we are trying to define is thought in crisis. What does thought become when it passes into art? Undoubtedly that depends upon the intent of the artist. But if the artist is undecided, if he is wavering always between two intentions, thought has to find a way for itself. This is exactly Voltaire's state as evidenced in the two following quotations:

Les vers qui n'apprennent pas aux hommes des vérités neuves et touchantes, ne méritent guères d'être lus. Il n'y aurait rien de plus méprisable que de passer sa vie à renfermer dans des rimes, des lieux-communs usés, qui ne méritent pas le nom de pensées.

(p. 228)

Ce sont les beautés de détail qui soutiennent les ouvrages en vers et qui les font passer à la postérité. C'est souvent la manière singulière de dire des choses communes, c'est cet art d'embellir par la diction ce que pensent et ce que sentent tous les hommes qui fait les grands poètes.

(p. 231)

These quotations illustrate perfectly Voltaire's ambiguity. He has reached by 1758 a point where truth has become a commonplace, where the manner of expression is at variance with the thing said, and he does not know whether style is superior to thought or thought superior to style. But he has a conviction:

Quand on est bien pénétré d'une idée, quand un esprit juste et plein de chaleur possède bien sa pensée, elle sort de son cerveau toute ornée des expressions convenables, comme Minerve sortit toute armée du cerveau de Jupiter.

(p. 257)

This divine fury, this commitment seems to be lacking. This dispersal which the author has voluntarily practiced and still practices releases not power but constraint which in effect hinders creation. Voltaire with his religious, metaphysical, moral, scientific, humanistic, and aesthetic interests has reached an impasse where too much thinking, too contradictory thought has produced a stalemate that has dried up the wells of creation. Again the ambiguity of the situation is apparent to him: thought is a power, but too much thinking is a constraint:

Dans tous les arts, il y a un terme par-delà lequel on ne peut plus avancer. On est resserré dans les bornes de son talent; on voit la perfection au-delà de soi, et on fait des efforts impuissants pour y atteindre.

Le plus grand génie et sûrement le plus désirable, est celui qui ne donne l'exclusion à aucun des Beaux-arts. Ils sont tous la nourriture et le plaisir de l'âme; y en a-t-il dont on doive se priver? Heureux l'esprit que la philosophie ne peut dessécher et que les charmes des belles-lettres ne peuvent amollir, qui sait se fortifier avec Loke, s'éclaircir avec Clarke et Newton, s'élever dans la lecture de Cicéron et de Bossuet, s'embellir par les charmes de Virgile et du Tasse.

(p. 246)

It is hard to say how the problem presented itself to the creative artist Voltaire. For the philosophic Voltaire, thought had no focus; for the moralist Voltaire, it had become mere banalities, for the historian Voltaire, it led only to a series of facts that proved beyond doubt the negative quality of human reality. But what was thought to the artist Voltaire: could it be reduced to a series of abstractions such as tolerance, freedom, equality, reason, beneficence, and the like? Could these abstractions be structured into artistic reality? What was the instrument for achieving this artistic reality? Here Voltaire made a discovery of great value: thought which is an end in itself is sterile, at best it becomes an abstraction or a commonplace. Neither its quantity, nor its weight, nor its depth has relevance to the living process. Its sole value is its active ingredient, it is valid only in producing action. It is thus a release to life; it releases all the possibilities within one; it is the liberating spirit. It transforms the negative into the positive, sterility into creativity, despair into effort. It is, in short, the release of the human spirit.

But the human spirit is also the release of thought; Voltaire saw plainly that thought could no more do without wit than wit without thought. It is the combination of the two that leads to action, and to active creation. Let us examine the author's own definition of wit in 1758 from the Esprit de Voltaire:

Ce qu'on appelle esprit, est tantôt une comparaison nouvelle, tantôt une allusion fine: ici l'abus d'un mot, qu'on présente dans un sens, et qu'on laisse entendre dans un autre: là un rapport délicat entre deux idées peu communes: c'est une métaphore singulière; c'est une recherche de ce qu'un objet ne présente pas d'abord, mais de ce qui est en effet dans lui.

(p. 270)

Thus “esprit” is his instrument for harmonizing and vitalizing thought.

He defines “esprit” so rationally and clearly in this passage that he defeats his own purpose: all the dangers of rationalism are evident in the definition. Anyone living in 1759 might remark that Voltaire is trying to define, or to place limits upon, the very thing that for him can have no limits. In any event, he succeeds in bringing out the point that the function of “esprit” is to achieve something new, to sharpen and clarify the obscure, to destroy something threatening, to show the close relationship between two ideas seemingly disparate, to bring out the meaning of something present but not easily apprehended. The Esprit de Voltaire did not, however, give the full statement. In the article of 1741, he had continued:

C'est l'art ou de réunir deux choses éloignées, ou de diviser deux choses qui paraissent se joindre, ou de les opposer l'une à l'autre, c'est celui de ne dire qu'à moitié sa pensée pour la laisser deviner.

Thus “esprit” is Voltaire's instrument for separating the true from the false, for uniting the true with the true in order to obtain “new” truths, for penetrating to the core of old truths and seeking new sources of enlightenment. It is a nimble playing upon phenomena and bringing out meaning. It is the dynamic force of thought. It can be devastatingly destructive, and also amazingly creative.

It is true that Voltaire does not always see it in this light. In the article in which he defines “esprit” as a liberating force, he begins to put restrictions upon it. He is inclined to see it, for instance, as a mode of expression; a metaphor, a comparison, a figure of speech, a “brilliant,” and since he is living in an age of sophisticated culture, he is apt to confuse “esprit” and “bel esprit.” By temperament he attributes to “bel esprit” a somewhat negative value; thus he feels that the simple and the sublime create beauty rather than “bel esprit.” For the most part, he confuses “esprit” and “brilliants” (since both are striking figures of rhetoric) and judges them synonymous. He has a disdain for these “brillants” in serious art: in tragedy or the epic they have no place:

Je reviens à mon paradoxe, que tous ces brillants, auxquels on donne le nom d'esprit, ne doivent point trouver place dans les grands ouvrages faits pour instruire et pour toucher.

In the lesser genres, he finds them, on the contrary, permissible:

Ayez autant d'esprit que vous voudrez, ou que vous pourrez, dans un madrigal, dans des vers légers, dans une scène de comédie qui ne sera ni passionnée ni naïve, dans un compliment, dans un petit roman, dans une lettre où vous vous égayerez pour égayer vos amis.

All this neoclassic conservatism in letters is really beside the point and should not be allowed to obscure the issue. The important thing is not whether “esprit” as a form of expression should be admitted in the tragedy or conte, it is what happens when “esprit,” the faculty of penetrating reality, enters a vital form. Voltaire maintains his neoclassic contentions that “bel esprit” is more undesirable than desirable in classic art, but he is closer to reality when he redefines this “bel esprit” as “jeux de l'imagination, finesses, tours, traits saillants, ces gaiétés, ces petites sentences coupées, ces familiarités ingénieuses” and when he finds even this “esprit” suitable for “les petits ouvrages de pur agrément.” These observations were made before Candide, which was supremely a “petit ouvrage de pur agrément,” but which as tragedy—and cosmic tragedy at that—wanted to instruct and arouse deep emotions. Voltaire not only has a neoclassic tendency to proscribe “bel esprit,” he has a dislike for those who, unable to achieve distinction by thought, try to attract attention by a word. This point of view is not without importance in connection with Candide, also. He recognizes that in the sciences, new discoveries entail new words, but he questions in 1744, “fait-on de nouvelles découvertes dans le cœur humain?” He is very close at this moment to admitting sterility in the field of moral man, but with characteristic energy revolts against the idea even here: “Ceux qui accusent notre langue de n'être pas assez féconde doivent en effet trouver de la stérilité, mais c'est dans eux-mêmes,” and he concludes significantly: “Rem verba sequuntur.”

“Esprit” is then an instrument for uniting thought and penetrating ideas, and it is also a form of expression. It is “une qualité d'âme,” it is not judgment, genius, taste, talent, pénétration, expansion, gracefulness and finesse, “mais il doit tenir de tous ces mérites.” Voltaire calls it “raison ingénieuse.” Metaphor is not the sole method of expressing one's self wittily; it can be done by a new perspective, or by expressing only a part of one's thought: this wit is “fin, délicat” and the more agreeable since it calls forth wit in the listener. Voltaire was possessed with the idea that “esprit” is “raison ingénieuse.” In his opinion it has a very definite connection with genius.

He defines many other relationships of “esprit”: for instance, “esprit de corps” by way of expressing the customs and manner of speaking in a group; “esprit de parti,” to denote what binds a group together; “esprit d'une loi” as a way of distinguishing intention; “esprit d'un ouvrage” as a means of bringing out its character, its aim; finally, it means sometimes “la plus subtile partie de la matière.” We are far from the concept of “esprit” as penetration, organization, expression; it has now become for him a resultant, a tendency, and, as we say in English, a spirit. It is connected with breath, wind, soul. Of still greater moment, it has to do with ingenium, wit, witty, in the original sense of “born free” and “sage,” because “esprit” in this sense of resultant, tendency, is the instrument seeking to release the genius of man. At this point Voltaire's thought joins Diderot's. “Esprit” has now become an instrument, an energizing force of life. It releases from inner man those things which he is capable of creating, vitalizing, forming. Voltaire goes so far as to admit that “esprit” then expresses the concept “umbrae, simulacre, geist,” even ghosts. Its ultimate synonyms are “fantôme, imagination, rêverie, sottise, friponnerie.” It should be noted that with this final series of definitions, we are not far from the romantic conception of creation: indeed we are surprisingly close to Diderot's and Rousseau's concept of creation as liberation. It was perhaps inevitable that Voltaire, being of the eighteenth century, should ultimately express the “esprit” of his time. Curiously, “esprit” in the eighteenth century, by playing the role in aesthetic creation which spirit plays in religion and metaphysics in other centuries, has liberated itself. It is thus not only the thing liberating, it is also the thing liberated.

It would be interesting to note exactly what has been released in Candide and what Candide has released. If the ideas discussed above are turned into beliefs, that is, if they retain their meaning but no longer remain explicit statement, it will be apparent that Candide is the expression of the ambiguity, the absurdity, the uselessness, the abstractness of these ideas. In a way, it is the picture of a confused, embittered, puzzled, uncertain, uneasy mind, and if the ideas are derived from a world in chaos, they disclose when set down the picture of a mind in chaos. The first impression Candide makes is always one of willful destruction and pessimistic despair. Then, by degrees, life conquers destruction; ideas are a force for destroying, and they are at the same time a source of energy and action; it is rather futile to argue one's way through life, but one can think one's way through with profit. Each experience in itself is of little consequence, but the corps of experiences may lead to conclusions of real consequence. It is in this passage from the static to the dynamic, from passivity to revolt, or in its lowest terms from suffering to work that Candide affirms the power of thought. After all, there is hardly any difference between living by wit and living by one's wits.

The strange thing about this is that once we see what thought is doing, it becomes a very simple matter to see where Voltaire's thoughts are going. If we take this corps of ideas in the Esprit de Voltaire and examine each one, we are surprised to see how many of them have entered specifically into Candide. If we begin to divide them according to their negative or positive value, their philosophic or aesthetic meaning, we are quite as surprised to see that they are no more significant taken one by one in Candide than in the Esprit de Voltaire. And yet, although the world, ideas, and experience have not changed, a great change has taken place: What is it? An artist has been touched by life.

Since it is impossible to penetrate the power of this thought directly, the only way of realizing its effect is to take it at three moments in Voltaire's drama: before Candide, at the moment of Candide, and after Candide. This third stage can best be observed in a short volume, even smaller than Candide in actual size. It is the Mélanges de littérature, d'histoire et de philosophie of 1761, the very thing we have been studying and the subtitle of our book. The volume contains the Entretien d'un bachelier et d'un sauvage, Entretien d'Ariste et d'Acrotal, the Histoire d'un bon Bramin, two articles (Des allégories and Du polithéisme) of the Dictionaire philosophique variety and the Ode sur la mort de Son Altesse Royale Mme la Princesse de Bareith with notes of Mr. de Morza.

These little “rogatons” (with the exception of the two Dictionaire articles) are made from remnants of Candide. The Entretien d'un sauvage has its scene laid in Cayenne, the savage is an inhabitant of Guyane, the setting recalls Chapters xvi and xvii of the conte. It is in brief a contrast between man in nature and in society. But the questions addressed by the “bachelier” to the “sauvage” are all ideas occurring throughout the Esprit de Voltaire and Candide: What is one to think of man? What is the soul? Whence comes it? What does it do? How does it act? Are animals machines? In what way is man superior to animals? How does one think? Is the will free? Is it possible to distinguish between good and evil, justice and injustice? What is the best government, the best religion? Is this the best of worlds? Thus the questions are obviously the same, and the “bachelier's” picture of universal destruction in this best of possible worlds is also the same: carnage in war, thousands of mortal diseases, a crime-ridden world.

These questions are reiterated in the “rogatons” regarded from every possible angle and always wittily: we find them in the Entretien d'Ariste et d'Acrotal obviously written to prove that philosophers can never be dangerous to society, but with a conclusion much more far-reaching:

Croyez-moi, gardez le silence vous-même, ne vous mêlez plus de raisonner, soyez honnêtes gens, soyez compatissans, ne cherchez point à trouver le mal où il n'est pas et il cessera d'être où il est.

They occur again in the Histoire d'un bon Bramin where the dilemma of the protagonist is identified with Voltaire's. He laments his complete ignorance after forty years of study, he does not know what time is, he has absolutely no idea of eternity, and no knowledge whatsoever of the principle of thought. He complains that he does not know why he exists, or whether Brahma really exists, why evil submerges the world, or whether this is the best of possible worlds:

Je suis prêt quelque fois de tomber dans le désespoir, quand je songe qu'après mes recherches je ne sais d'où je viens, ni ce que je suis, ni où j'irai, ni ce que je deviendrai.

These very same questions had bedeviled Voltaire from the Traité de métaphysique to Candide.

The Ode sur la mort de la Princesse de Bareith is a poetic summary of the horrors of Candide and opens with a description of a battle where survivors march pitilessly on the mangled bodies of their fellow men. As it continues with macabre details we have a picture patently correlative with the battle scene in Candide. Voltaire interrupts to lament human suffering, fear, and misery; destruction of the arts and virtues, assassination of kings. The Ode is thus a long “réquisitoire” of the situation already discussed in the conte and its conclusion is a vow to denounce the “criminels de l'esprit”:

Vils tyrans des esprits, vous serez mes victimes,
Je vous verrai pleurer à mes pieds abbatus;
A la postérité je peindrai tous vos crimes,
De ces mâles crayons dont j'ai peint les vertus.
                              Craignez ma main rafermie
                              A l'opprobre, à l'infâmie. …

It is evident that Voltaire has experienced a Hamletian episode and come through it determined not to commit suicide, but to fight—and to fight all these “criminels de l'esprit.”

The conclusion of Mr. de Morza's notes to the Ode is very important for the interpretation of the conte. Voltaire is trying to state, and somewhat awkwardly, it must be confessed, that there is a relationship between thinking and knowing, between thinking and doing, between thinking and living, and the creative spirit, between the spirit of man and the spirit of a people, between the spirit and the genius. A total organic vital effect is created by the right adjustment of these relationships. He is close to saying that there is an inevitable mechanical process between knowing and doing, between the spirit of the individual and the spirit of the race, between any form or category of intellectual living and any other form or category. “Il est trop certain,” he says, “que si vous rétrécissez le génie, vous abâtardissez bientôt une nation entière.” His statement is a bit summary and made in the negative, but its meaning is clear. If you release the genius of the individual, you release thereby the spirit of the race, and, in turn, the spirit of man. He cites as example the English race and the magnificent release of the English humanistic spirit in Elizabeth's time:

… mais dès qu'on laissa un libre essor au génie, les Anglais eurent des Spencer, des Shakespeare, des Bacons, et enfin des Lockes et des Newtons.

All freedmen are brothers, all the arts are united, one enlightens the other, and from the process results a “lumière universelle.” Thus philosophy has enlightened politics. He again cites England as an example: “le même génie entreprenant et persévérant qui leur (les Anglais) fait fabriquer des draps plus forts que les nôtres, leur fait écrire des livres de philosophie plus profonds.” Voltaire concludes with an apostrophe to the French to release the human spirit. Candide and the whole Enlightenment have finally been defined.


  1. N. Ac. fr. 2778, f. 29.


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William F. Bottiglia (essay date 1964)

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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.


A point of absolutely vital importance is the fact that Candide, to be genuinely and fully appreciated, must be read aloud, or at least be heard with the inner ear. Its sensuous appeal is almost exclusively aural, and it flows with a calculated spontaneity, so that it sounds like an idealized one-way conversation, like a dramatic monologue performed by a master-showman in an informal social setting. The performer is the creator. The implied setting is an eighteenth-century drawing-room. The implied audience is an Enlightened company of aristocrats and intellectuals of both sexes. The rapport between performer and implied auditors is special and complex. He appeals to them as ‘a privileged minority’ (Worcester, p.111); he invites them to help him ‘convict the many of stupidity’ (p.77). In return, he asks that they recognize his ascendancy, and that they enter into the spirit of the game by affecting belief in the figments of his fantasy and by concentrating on the subtleties on his satire (p.31). Hence the effect of intimacy in the prose of Candide. Hence, at the same time, the impression of aloofness; for the interplay of two-dimensional fantasy with wittily turned criticism reflects sublimation of the emotions, rational pose, observational distance, and sophisticated superiority to the fiction. Hence, too, the author's acute theatrical self-awareness, his pervasion and domination of the narrative without encumbering or oppressing it, his generation of energy without weight and of light without heat, his refinement of phrase, his gallantry of tone, his taste in the handling of obscenities.

An ideal presentation of Candide would be a chamber recital by a single, highly gifted, consummately trained actor before a small group of cultured individuals. The recent musical comedy2, apart from its defects as such, created a world bearing no more than a tangential resemblance to the parent work. Candide was not meant to be sung to slickly imitative music, in doggerel lyrics composed in a foreign idiom, by a company of flesh-and-blood performers, against a series of original and show-stealing stage-sets, before a mass audience expecting entertainment that is innocent of philosophic challenge. The recent recording of the tale by a narrator and cast3 comes much closer to realizing Voltaire's intention; but the use of several performers—not to mention flaws of pacing and of character-interpretation—has disturbing consequences. There are two reasons why, in an ideal presentation, a single actor would have to carry the entire burden. For one thing, he would be projecting the all-pervasive, all-dominating vitality of the demonstrator's ego. For another, he would be rendering the dialogue passages strictly in terms of impersonation. To impersonate the homunculi he would have to have an unusually flexible voice, ranging from basso profundo to high falsetto, which he could modulate to seize the essence of a type without self-effacement. To project the vitality of the demonstrator's ego he would have to make the fantasy, the wit, and the moral earnestness of the tale irradiate a steady phosphorescence; and he would have to play, not only to the ear, but also to the eye with attitudes and gestures and grimaces. Thus the recording tests the cultivated listener's capacity for supplementary visualization. As for the cultivated reader, he must both visualize and hear a text imagined by its author as a dramatic monologue, not ground out as journalistic copy to be skimmed in silence by the unseeing eye.

Van Tieghem states that in the tales Voltaire ‘transforme le plus possible le récit en entretien’ (i.xxiv). Whatever the merits of this generalization as such or with regard to other tales, it seems somewhat exaggerated for Candide, which contains a great deal of dialogue, to be sure, but also much more than a bare minimum of narrative. If, however, the term ‘entretien’ be reinterpreted to mean the showman's one-way conversation with his readers, then the whole of Candide becomes a recital composed as if to be spoken, as if to be narrated and impersonated by a dramatic monologuist in a style that bears throughout the unmistakable imprint of his—that is, of the author's—individuality.

Voltaire realizes his impersonations by flavouring the speeches of his homunculi with details that distinguish a type as belonging to an epoch, a nationality, a race, a social stratum, a métier, a sex, an age-group, an education level, or a temperamental classification. The details are so skillfully selected that, though few in number, they suffice to produce a calculated passing impression of character-differentiation. What intensifies the impression, provided the reader uses his imagination, is the demonstrator's audio-visual projection of each speaking part: not only vocal timbre, pitch, pace, phrasing, etc., but also facial expression, and, in some cases, even gesture. Thus conceived, such speeches as that of Giroflée inveighing against the monastic life (Cxxiv, pp.180-181) and such dialogues as that between Pangloss and the familiar (Cv, pp.35-38) become artistically more interesting, more effective, more meaningful—not because the reader is using his imagination gratuitously, but because Voltaire, by the special qualities of his style, invites three-dimensional appreciation. At the same time those very qualities reveal the demigod speaking, directly or indirectly, through each of his creatures, insufflating them with the form and substance of his own life-giving Word. The various ways in which he asserts his total control have already been studied (chapter vi). It follows that his creatures do not speak like standard literary types. The impression of character-differentiation is produced without sacrificing the basic Voltairean stylistic manner. This is precisely what impersonation entails. No ignorant slave or prostitute ever used the vocabulary, the turns of phrase, the syntax, and the rhetorically expert presentation found in the negro's indictment of Christian civilization (Cxix, pp.127-129) and in Paquette's story (Cxxiv, pp.178-179). Yet, with the aid of particularizing details and the imagined audio-visual projection, the naïveté of the type is conveyed, the mood is established—not fictionally, but philosophically; for the voice, though disguised, is the author's, and the reader is attracted to the ideas, he is not absorbed into the narrative. I have chosen extreme examples, but the speeches of almost all the personages are illustrative of the same procedure4. The old woman, for instance, who has had a very superior upbringing, develops a narrative (Cxi-Cxii) that combines typical and localizing elements with Voltaire's own diction and compositional methods. Naves, incidentally, calls the description of her as a budding beauty (‘je croissais en beauté’, etc.—Cxi, p.59) an evocation worthy of Boucher (Candide, p.27). The comparison is, to my mind, misleading. So far from painting a portrait, Voltaire pieces together some very unevocative rhetorical generalities. He is not cultivating decorative Rococo, he is exposing its inanity: hence the generalities and the satirical twists with which he dismisses them.


An inspection of the vocabulary used in Candide reveals that it is restricted in range, deceptively simple and clear, subdued in colour and imagery5, purged of emotion6, and generally marked by philosophic choice and tone. Lanson has shown that throughout the tales Voltaire applies touches of local colour in passing to names of personages, menus, currency, costumes, institutions, fashions, gods, religions, and means of transportation (Prose, pp.171-172). Candide is no exception; but the touches are light and rapid, and they are introduced ‘pour supporter ou traduire un jeu d'idées, un exercice de critique ou de malice’, never, adds Lanson, ‘pour la simple joie ou pour la simple beauté de l'existence’ (pp.168-170). With respect to emotion, the phraseology of both narrative and dialogue passages mocks its fictional excesses. The bitter plaints uttered by such victims as Candide, Cunégonde, the old woman, the negro slave, Paquette, and Giroflée7 are imitations of emotion from without by a master-impersonator. And whenever the narrator departs from his ironic manner to make direct comments for or against his personages8, he is both parodying fiction and signaling his philosophic sympathy or antipathy. The imagery will be discussed in connection with certain figures of speech.

Another trait of the vocabulary used in Candide is its functionalism. Miss Flowers contends that Voltaire's satirical effects ‘always’ depend on ‘a word, wittily placed and ironically stressed, so as to surprise the reader, or strike him, or trick him into consciousness of the evil being criticized or denounced’ (p.90). It is true that a connective or an adverb or a one-word epithet or coinage often accentuates a satirical effect, but her examples (pp.62ff.) show that the effect very seldom depends ‘entirely and exclusively’ (p.90) on the one word. In the sentence, ‘Candide était tout étonné que jamais les as ne lui vinssent, & Martin ne s'en étonnait pas’ (Cxxii, p.148), the connective, with its special adversative force, skillfully adds to the impact of the thrust (McGhee, Devices, pp.167-168); but, were it not there, the point would still carry home. In the word-group, ‘on lui demanda juridiquement ce qu'il aimait le mieux, d'être fustigé trente-six fois par tout le Régiment, ou de recevoir à la fois douze bales de plomb dans la cervelle’ (Cii, pp.11-12), the adverb intensifies the irony; but without it the idea would still stand. As for one-word epithets and coinages, it would be very difficult indeed to find any whose full satirical charge is independent of what has gone before, or what lies ahead, or what requires historical or linguistic knowledge beyond the scope of the text itself9. The style of Candide is functional precisely because the author has kept his eye on his literary objective; has avoided ornamentation and virtuosity extrinsic to his purpose; has refused to lose himself in ‘small art’; has made word instrumental to phrase, phrase to clause, clause to sentence, sentence to paragraph, paragraph to chapter, and chapter to whole. Individual words are never so conspicuously important that they do not contribute to larger verbal patterns, wherein alone they realize their total meaning.


The aural appeal of Candide finds special expression in onomatopoetic, alliterative, and repetitive effects which enhance the music, add a dimension to the meaning, and help create a world of fantasy governed by a rarefied order superior to life. I have already discussed the onomatopoetic factor in the names Cunégonde, Cacambo, Thunder-ten-tronckh, Vanderdendur, and don Fernando d'Ibaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza (chapter vi). The coinage Waldberghoff-trarbk-dikdorff (Morize, p.9, n.1) unmistakably suggests Germanic barbarousness; while the invention ‘Métaphisico-théologo-cosmolo-nigologie’ just as unmistakably suggests the complexity, the opacity, the flatulence, and the foolishness (Havens, Candide, Vocabulary, p.xxxvi) of Germanic philosophy. When Candide asks to what end this world was formed, the answer, ‘Pour nous faire enrager, répondit Martin’ (Cxxi, p.143), weaves a pattern of r's that matches sound to sense; and the skilled performer will carry the uvular rumble of the gloomy Manichaean's saeva indignatio through from the ‘Pour’ to the ‘Martin.’ Immediately after the auto-da-fé a sentence fusing onomatopoeia, alliteration, and vocalic echo informs the reader that ‘Le même jour la terre trembla de nouveau avec un fracas épouvantable’ (Cvi, p.42). Martin's satire on the Parisians includes a sentence which blends the same devices with verbal echo and rhyme to convey his contempt for three kinds of rabble (Flowers, p.116): ‘Je connus la canaille écrivante, la canaille cabalante, & la canaille convulsionnaire’ (Cxxi, p.142). A striking combination of alliteration with rhyme occurs in the dervish episode: ‘—Que faut-il donc faire? dit Pangloss.—Te taire, dit le Derviche’ (Cxxx, pp.219-220). There are many instances of alliteration. The three that follow are among the more conspicuous: ‘Candide tout transi se traina le lendemain vers la Ville voisine …’; ‘Cunégonde est morte! ah meilleur des mondes, où êtes-vous? mais de quelle maladie est-elle morte?’; ‘c'est un folliculaire. …—Qu'appellez-vous folliculaire? dit Candide.—C'est, dit l'Abbé, un faiseur de feuilles, un F. …’10.

Lanson, speaking of Voltaire's contes and facéties in general, points out that they are thickly sown with repetitive effects. ‘Voltaire’, he says, ‘en fait une joie del' oreille. Il organise musicalement des thèmes verbaux, avec des retours, des développements, des entrelacements expressifs. Ce n'est pas le rythme mathématique de la prose poétique: c'est un arrangement mélodique où les sons et groupes de sons former des dessins capricieux’ (Prose, pp. 158-159). As the previous chapter has shown in much detail, not only do such effects contribute vitally to the structure of Candide, but their arabesque patterns frequently compound stylistic with thematic elements.

Although many of them have been discussed with some attention to the stylistic factor, many others remain from which examples stressing verbal repetitions and variations may be drawn in proof of Voltaire's feeling for certain musical possibilities of language. To create a comically toned impression of the erotic palpitations caused by observation of the lesson in experimental physics, he describes Cunégonde as ‘toute agitée, toute pensive, toute remplie du désir d'être savante …’ (Ci, p.7). Repetition in reverse order, or chiasmus, is used by Jacques in his debate with Pangloss: ‘Dieu ne leur a donné ni canon de vingt-quatre, ni bayonnettes, & ils se sont fait des bayonnettes & des canons pour se détruire’ (Civ, pp.26-27). Two similar instances have already been quoted in chapter vii: ‘une noire mélancolie’, ‘une mélancolie noire’; ‘d'Effendis, de Bachas, de Cadis … d'autres Cadis, d'autres Bachas, d'autres Effendis …’11. The third instance has been analyzed. The first two apparently reflect a striving for variety, in the second case despite an interval of several chapters. Recognition-scenes are regularly automatized with the aid of repetition: e.g., ‘misérable’, ‘misérable’, ‘cher’, ‘cher’ (Civ, p.21); ‘—De ma mère! m'écriai-je.—De vôtre mère! s'écria-t-il en pleurant’ (Cxii, p.66). The passage which follows the auto-da-fé and precedes the recognition-scene between Candide and Cunégonde, and which must therefore bridge two climaxes without derogating from their effectiveness, achieves an effectiveness of its own through suspense, build-up, and repetition, all used in a spirit of fictional parody12. The droll mellifluence of the seduction episode in Paris is considerably aided by such combinations as: ‘vous aimez donc toujours éperduement’, ‘Il est vrai que j'ai aimé’, ‘je crains de ne la plus aimer’; ‘lui dit-elle’, ‘un Français m'aurait dit’, ‘dit Candide’, ‘dit la Marquise’, ‘dit Candide’, ‘dit la Dame’, ‘dit la Dame’; ‘répondit Candide’, ‘Vous me répondez’, ‘je répondrai’; ‘en ramassant son mouchoir’, ‘que vous ramassiez ma jarretiére’, ‘& il la ramassa’; ‘que vous me la remettiez’, ‘& Candide la lui remit’; ‘un jeune homme de la Vestphalie’, ‘un jeune homme de Vestphalie’; etc. (Cxxii, pp.164-165). Variations of the device can be cited almost at random from both narrative and argumentative passages: e.g., the dissection scene; the debate in Paris on evil; the ‘malheurs … malheureux … malheurs … malheureux’ sequence at Surinam; the ‘fou … fou … folie’ and ‘on venait de tuer … pourquoi tuer … il n'a pas fait tuer … il est bon de tuer’ arabesques in the Portsmouth episode; the repetition of ‘qui’, of ‘car’, of ‘quoique’, of ‘quoique’ and ‘quand’13. Especially pointed is the repetition with variation contained in Martin's phrase, ‘sur ce globe, ou plutôt sur ce globule’ (Cxx, p.138). Especially original is the series dealing with the ‘death’ of the baron's son: ‘vous qui futes tué par les Bulgares’, ‘je te retuerais’, ‘Tu peux me tuer encor’14. In the conversation between Candide and Pangloss on syphilis, the word ‘amour’ is pronounced four times in an inflated passage that might almost be a parody of Francesca da Rimini's great recital in the Commedia (Inferno, v.100-106). The Perigordian abbé's explanation that does not explain, with its periodic structure and rhythm, its rhetorical repetitions, its resort to an archaic geographical reference (‘Atrébatie’) and to several covert historical allusions, and its general high-sounding indirection, reads like a take-off on the trobar clus manner.


The verbal patterns of the tale are many and intricate and ever on the move. In movement Candide is a scherzo to be performed vivace. The performance must reflect the author's proportional resolution of a tension between his Dionysiac and his Apollonian faculties (Delattre, pp.33-37), between driving emotional abandon and rational and literary control. On the one hand explosive power, demonic energy, headlong élan; on the other the lightness and grace of winged fantasy, the ease and polish and subtlety of disciplined taste (Naves, Candide, p.13). To resolve that tension Voltaire has objectified and stylized his raw feelings. Control thus triumphs over demonic drive; but the drive, though subdued, is not crushed. It continues its activity underground. The victory of control is definitive without being total. This proportional resolution of the tension, in a scherzo dealing with the problem of human conduct in relation to the mystery of evil, gives its movement a vivacity that is not feverish (Hazard, Pensée, ii.65), but momentous, in a way not unworthy of comparison with the scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It is this impression of momentousness that inspires Alain to remark: ‘le poème de Candide … s'élève à une sorte de grandeur biblique’ (Pomeau, Voltaire, p.187).

The performance must also reflect the changes of pace implicit in the text—significant pauses, both momentary and episodic slowdowns, and momentary accelerations. The eye that reads without visualizing the demonstrator and without the aid of even the mind's ear falsifies the text by forcing upon its flow a fixed, metronomically monotonous rate of speed. The flow does have inevitability, and the over-all tempo is vivace, but there is as much need for diversity within unity in Candide as there is in a Molière comedy. One can easily imagine significant pauses at the ends of chapters, following chapter-titles, to introduce ‘caprices’ of detail, and to permit subsidence of laughter; as well as momentary slowdowns for special stress on a word or phrase or clause, or on a thematically important epigram. One can imagine, too, the momentary accelerations called for by some of the enumerative summaries interspersed through the tale. In addition, there are three episodes which seem to require a slight deceleration. I do not mean the interpolated stories, for they imitate the main story in technique; and they suspend its progress because they are ‘placés à propos’ (Perey and Maugras, p.62), not because they are slower-moving. I mean the Eldorado episode, the sojourn in Paris, and the visit to Pococurante. The latter two must, each in its way, produce an impression of ennui. The other must create the effect of a utopian vision, hence of activity that is serene, not troubled. The pace of all three is still swift, in keeping with that of the whole; but their substance and their style prove that they are to be mildly differentiated from the rest in speed and in tone. Finally, the opening paragraphs of chapter i, since they depict the ironic calm before the storm (McGhee, Devices, p.69), and the concluding paragraphs of chapter xxx, since they present the after-calm of socially productive work, demand a somewhat more than slight deceleration. They should be performed allegro moderato.

The prose of Candide is, of course, irregularly rhythmed. Like a fast-flowing river which rolls along with an inevitable motion, but whose surface keeps breaking into ripples and eddies, it paradoxically permits much discontinuity of detail within continuity of the whole. Lanson's general analysis of ‘le rythme voltairien de la prose’ is roughly applicable to Candide: ‘Ses petites phrases trottent, courent les unes après les autres, détachées. Voltaire rejette toutes ces lourdes façons d'exprimer les dépendances logiques, et de matérialiser, par des mots-crampons, les rapports des idées. Il réduit au minimum qu'il est impossible d'éliminer, les conjonctions, relatifs, et tous autres termes de coordination et de subordination. C'est le mouvement endiablé du style qui lie les phrases, qui les emporte ensemble, comme dans une farandole où les danseuses ne se donneraient pas les mains, et garderaient leurs distances seulement en suivant la mesure. … Voltaire ne cherche que le mouvement: il se moque des cadences poétiques comme des cadences oratoires. Quand il en met dans son style, c'est par malice, en parodie’ (Prose, p.155).

In my study of character I cited many instances of stylistic discontinuity, used by the master of the show to suggest in his personages an unnatural focus, motion, or impetus, a fantastic abruptness or jerkiness, a generally unanatomical behaviour; or to produce effects of staccato, cumulation, transience, rapid review, and flashing vividness, singly or in various combinations (chapter vi). The same procedure is examined by miss McGhee in the tales as a whole (Devices, pp.163ff.). She points out, however, as does miss Flowers (pp.65-66), that Voltaire sometimes deliberately slackens his pace, with the aid of coordinating and subordinating words, in order to achieve greater satirical emphasis. The latter procedure always creates contrast (McGhee, p.165) and parodies periodic eloquence (Lanson, loc. cit.): e.g.,

‘Pour moi je ne vois rien de si divin que Los Padres, qui font ici la guerre au Roi d'Espagne & au Roi de Portugal, & qui en Europe confessent ces Rois; qui tuent ici des Espagnols, & qui à Madrid les envoïent au Ciel; cela me ravit, avançons; vous allez être le plus heureux de tous les hommes’ (Cxiv, pp.82-83).

‘Il y en a où la moitié des habitans est folle, quelques-unes où l'on est trop rusé, d'autres où l'on est communément assez doux, & assez bête; d'autres où l'on fait le bel esprit; & dans toutes la principale occupation est l'amour, la seconde de médire, & la troisiéme de dire des sotises’ (Cxxi, p.142).

‘Candide ne s'arrêta dans Bordeaux qu'autant de tems qu'il en fallait pour vendre quelques cailloux du Dorado, & pour s'accommoder d'une bonne chaise à deux places; car il ne pouvait plus se passer de son Philosophe Martin; il fut seulement très fâché de se séparer de son mouton, qu'il laissa à l'Académie des Sciences de Bordeaux, laquelle proposa pour le sujet du prix de cette année, de trouver pourquoi la laine de ce mouton était rouge; & le prix fut adjugé à un Savant du Nord, qui démontra par A: plus B, moins C, divisé par Z: que le mouton devait être rouge, & mourir de la clavellée’ (Cxxii, p.146).

‘Pendant que Candide, le Baron, Pangloss, Martin & Cacambo contaient leurs avantures, qu'ils raisonnaient sur les événements contingents ou non contingents de cet Univers, qu'ils disputaient sur les effets & les causes, sur le mal moral & sur le mal physique, sur la liberté & la nécessité, sur les consolations que l'on peut éprouver lorsqu'on est aux galéres en Turquie; ils abordèrent sur le rivage de la Propontide à la maison du Prince de Transilvanie’ (Cxxix, p.214)15.

All such examples taken together prove that periodic sentence-structure occurs more often in Candide than one would be led to expect from previous treatments of its style. It should be stressed, however, that the deceleration involved in these cases is slight, and that it is fully offset by the effect of compression, which keeps the story moving vivace.

Respecting the over-all movement of the tale, Morize argues that there is a very palpable difference between chapters i-xxii and chapters xxiii-xxx. The first of these sections seems more patiently constructed, much more thickly documented, thematically more substantial, and slower moving. In the second ‘le roman court, trotte, se déroule tout seul, et, de chapitre en chapitre, les emprunts se font plus rares, les lectures de jadis sont mieux oubliées, et … la narration gagne en aisance et en légèreté’ ( Morize has, of course, conclusively shown that the ‘sources livresques’ are far more abundant in the first section than in the second, but this does not necessarily mean that the final product reflects the difference in terms of thought-burden or of stylistic pace. I question whether a sensitive reader uninfluenced by the array of notes in the Morize edition has ever felt an encroachment of Voltaire's learning upon his art at any point in the tale. One of the most remarkable facts about Candide is that it crystallizes a rich active and contemplative experience with a compactness and a moral earnestness which are paradoxically mediated by a manner of expression that is light, swift, graceful, and subtle. In movement it remains a scherzo to be performed vivace from start to finish, save for episodes and details already discussed. With regard to the thematic factor, I should say that the chapters of the second section are, paragraph for paragraph, as substantial as those which precede. Morize states that the accent in these later chapters is on fictional parody alone. It is true that Candide's quest has by that time shifted to a sentimental emphasis; but the change occurs after chapter xix, not after chapter xxii (see chapter vii above), and the sentimental emphasis of the quest by no means diminishes the force of Voltaire's intellectual attack. The roles of Martin, of Pococurante, of the six kings, the stories of Paquette, Giroflée, the baron's son, and Pangloss, the Portsmouth incident, and the Conclusion involve a great deal more than fictional parody.


The effect of compression, of much-in-little, of miniature concentration expresses itself in a number of ways. One, the periodic sentence, has already been discussed. Another is the aphoristic utterance which sums up, whether seriously or ironically, a whole complex of human experience: e.g., ‘les hommes ne sont faits que pour se sécourir les uns les autres’; ‘Les malheurs donnent des droits’; ‘quand on n'a pas son compte dans un monde, on le trouve dans un autre’; ‘En effet, le droit naturel nous enseigne à tuer nôtre prochain, & c'est ainsi qu'on en agit dans toute la Terre’; ‘quand on est passablement quelque part, il faut y rester’; ‘il est beau d'écrire ce qu'on pense; c'est le privilège de l'homme’; ‘Martin surtout conclut, que l'homme était né pour vivre dans les convulsions de l'inquiétude, ou dans la létargie de l'ennui’; ‘le travail éloigne de nous trois grands maux, l'ennui, le vice & le besoin’; ‘il faut cultiver nôtre jardin’16.

Still another compression device is the sudden telescoping of the narrative: e.g., several pages of discussion between Candide and Pangloss in Holland, then Pangloss's cure and the lapse of two months within a few sentences; many pages devoted to the quick tour of Eldorado by Candide and Cacambo, then the laconic statement: ‘Ils passèrent un mois dans cet hospice’; in their descent back to this world, a hundred days covered in five sentences; following an extended account of the soirée spent at Pococurante's palace, the passing of many weeks indicated in a single sentence17. The dialogue is also telescoped at times, is reduced to a quintessential résumé: either through a rapid-fire exchange—e.g., Candide and the Dutch minister; Pangloss and the familiar; Candide, the Parisian scholar, and Martin18; or through a rapid-review series of remarks, one by each personage—the sailor, Pangloss, and Candide at Lisbon (Cv, pp.32-33). All of these devices call for performance at high speed in keeping with the pace of the whole; but the sensitive reader must imagine each instance vocally inflected and rhythmically phrased according to its own contextual needs.

The master-device of compression in the tale is that of enumerative summaries, or cumulative catalogues (Flowers, pp.68-70, 98-104). They appear in almost every chapter, and they total more than seventy. They include sequences of individual words—nouns, adjectives, or verbs; as well as of phrases, clauses, or full sentences. In content they are divisible into several categories. Some are direct narratives: e.g., the lovemaking scene between Candide and Cunégonde, Candide's military training, the sailor's actions at Lisbon, the quarrel with the cleric in Paris19. Some are flashback narratives: e.g., the attack on the castle as related by Pangloss, the old woman's account of her wanderings, Cacambo's recital, the Paquette-Giroflée story as told by the author20. There are narratives depicting recognition-scenes: e.g., Candide-Cunégonde, Candide-baron's son21. There is the abbé's cryptic analytical narrative of the attempt on the king's life (Cxxii, pp.168-169); and Pangloss's genealogical survey of his disease (Civ, pp.23-24). Another category is the flashback meditation: e.g., Candide at Lisbon and at Venice, Cunégonde at Lisbon and en route to the New World22. There is also the meditation on one's present situation: e.g., Candide in Westphalia, en route to Bordeaux, and after meeting Cacambo; Paquette concluding her story in Venice23. Enumerative descriptions are frequently applied to the personages—their backgrounds, their traits, their physical appearance or condition: e.g., Cunégonde, Pangloss, Candide, the old woman in her youth, don Fernando, Cacambo, Martin, the abbé, the journalistic hack, Giroflée24. They are somewhat less often, but just as impressively, applied to massive physical and social evils: war, a storm at sea, an earthquake, an auto-da-fé25. Fictional parody is achieved in a number of enumerative descriptions wherein exotic local colour is indiscriminately laid on or exaggerated so as to seem unreal: the meals in Eldorado, in Venice, and at the old Turk's; the flight through the Iberian peninsula; the birds in the Jesuit commandant's arbor; the obstacles of the South-American wilderness; the wonders of the Eldoradan capital26. The same device is found in many argumentative passages: e.g., Candide on degrees of happiness in Westphalia, on monks, on mankind in general; Pangloss on the dangers of exalted public office, on the moral purposiveness of causal concatenations; Martin on the evils of the world, and of the French; the Parisian scholar on drama, and on the eternal warfare of society; Pococurante on Homer, Virgil, and Milton27. In addition, there are important catalogues which elude subsumption under the categories listed: e.g., the tableau (Naves, Candide, p.26) that greets the inquisitor's eye as he comes to visit Cunégonde, the dinner conversation in Paris, the bouquet which Pangloss's one lecherous eye examines in exquisite detail28.

Miss McGhee analyzes about a dozen and a half of these enumerations (Devices, pp.124; 142-172, passim), but mostly in connection with other stylistic devices, which will be discussed below. She cites (p.163) the quarrel with the Parisian cleric as an example of rapidity achieved through compression and the spare use of connectives (Cxxii, p.148). As an example of deceleration achieved through periodic structure, with delay of the ironic conclusion for greater emphasis, she quotes (p.165) the sentence in which Candide's attitude is sharply differentiated from Martin's at the start of their voyage to Bordeaux (Cxix, pp.136-137). Otherwise she is not directly concerned with problems of pace in the enumerations of Candide, or, for that matter, with problems of timing and intonation. Nevertheless, her examination suggests in a number of cases29 factors that would be basic to a sensitive rendition: e.g., cumulative repetition of the car by Pangloss, then by Pangloss and the familiar, at Lisbon; of the si in the portrait of don Fernando; of the verbs in the recognition-scene between Candide and the baron's son; climactic order of presentation, as in the description of the supper in Paris; various forms of unexpected conclusion, as in Candide's opening meditation on happiness, the marquise de Parolignac's strictures on Trublet's writings, the account of the auto-da-fé; juxtaposed inconsistencies, as in Candide's comments on monks, or the abbé's on Parisian laughter; and king Théodore's series of antitheses in regular oscillation30. Respecting the tableau that greets the inquisitor's eye (Cix, pp.51-52), I agree with miss McGhee as to its compactness of statement. I find in it, however, neither any moment of absolute quiet nor a clearcut example of rise to climax and descent to anti-climax (p.147). The old woman is talking away. Also, the movement follows the inquisitor's lightning-glance as it takes in the scene, and so implies, not rise and descent, but extreme speed to create the impression of instantaneousness. There is, too, a distinct note of fictional parody in Voltaire's résumé of the situation.

Miss Flowers includes in her study more than three dozen enumerations from Candide (pp.68-117, passim). A third of these are handled as enumerations (pp.68-70, 98-104), the rest under other headings. With regard to their rhythmic structure, she makes several intercontradictory attempts to reduce it to formula31. Her difficulties spring from the fact that the sequences are many, and richly varied in length, in nature, hence in rhythm. Fortunately, some of her individual analyses are more accurate than her generalizations. Like miss McGhee, she suggests here and there32 elements that would be necessary to a sensitive rendition: e.g., cumulative repetition of the qui in Pangloss's venereal genealogy, in Pococurante's speech disparaging Milton; of phrases in the old woman's summary of the Moroccan military situation; slowdown of the tempo in the marquise de Parolignac's censure of Trublet's Mélanges; intensification of movement in the recognition-scene between Candide and Cunégonde; rhythm broken by an unexpected conclusion, as in Pococurante's comments on Venetian ladies; the series of parallelisms in the Parisian scholar's remarks on social evil; of antitheses in the old woman's reflections on the will to live33. Miss Flowers states that the marquise's satirical speech ends with a ‘thundering conclusion’ (p.66); miss McGhee, that the conclusion, ‘mais il ne me dégoutera plus; c'est assez d'avoir lû quelques pages de l'Archidiacre’, is distinctly anti-climactic (p.148). Miss McGhee, it seems to me, is right. As for the recognition-scene, the movement is not only intensified, it is made to imitate a succession of short spasmodic breaths, to produce an effect of panting staccato. According to miss Flowers, the enumerations are static (pp.103-104)—which is indeed often the case, but not always. One of her static examples, the love-making scene of the introductory episode (Ci, p.7), is in fact boldly dynamic. Elsewhere (pp.94-95), with specific reference to Cunégonde's account of the Bulgare attack on the castle and on herself (Cviii, p.46), miss Flowers affirms that Voltaire's verbs either avoid action altogether or, as here, convey, not violence, but ‘a feminine clawing action.’ The description is not completely accurate, for the recital includes two extremely violent verbal phrases: ‘se mit à me violer’ and ‘me donna un coup de couteau.’ And the enumerative account of the same incident by Pangloss (Civ, p.22), quoted directly before that given by Cunégonde, strings together four more of them: ‘elle a été éventrée’, ‘après avoir été violée autant qu'on peut l'être’, ‘ils ont cassé la tête’, ‘Madame la Baronne a été coupée en morceaux.’

The profusion of enumerations strewn through the tale makes inevitable their great variety of form and content. Yet they are all compressive, and they are all cumulative. Taken together they pile up a formidable case against the implications of romance and the claims of optimistic dialectic—against the notion that Providence concatenates events in such a way as to secure the sentimental happiness of the individual and the triumph of the good.


The satirical form of utterance adopted by Voltaire in Candide represents a special blend of the critical and the creative faculties. The point of departure—the ‘thesis’—is his sense of what ought to be, his need for a cosmos in which coherence and correspondence are completely concordant, in which natural and logical and moral and aesthetic order are harmonized with, because they are harmonized by, divine order. The ‘antithesis’ is his experience of what is, of physical and social disorder, with consequent disillusionment, bewilderment, perturbation, and indignation. The ‘synthesis’ at which he aims is a deistically managed civilization, wherein men will resign themselves to uncontrollable physical evil and work to reduce social evil and spread social goodness. His satire, be it noted, is criticism, not of divine, but of human, conduct; not of physical evil, but of men's reactions thereto. Its incongruities and distortions have a cathartic function in that they enable him to laugh at what is in the light of what ought to be, and thereby to adjust to what is well enough to retain his sanity. They also have an aggressive agency in that they mock actuality with a view to promoting changes in the direction of a civilization inspired by Eldoradan values. Again, they fulfill a dual artistic purpose in that they express the author's keen delight in aesthetically effective patterns of words and ideas, and rhetorically effective devices of persuasion. These factors combine to produce emotional sublimation. The satirical style of Candide, detached and cool, makes its appeal to reason—not abstract and systematized, but concrete, empirically restrained, practical, common-sensible. Common-sensible, however, does not mean common. Voltaire's appeal to reason is intended for the few, because the many are too ignorant to understand, too weak to care, or too malicious to sympathize. The many are variously warped. The few are worth converting, for on the leadership of such as they rest the hopes, at best of the present generation, at very least of generations not yet born, hence not yet warped. But one does not speak to the few in language which is either dangerously or popularly obvious. Voltaire cannot afford to be dangerously obvious—to expose himself to the countermeasures of censorship. Nor can he afford to be popularly obvious: he must attract the few by making them feel superior, and this he can best achieve by adequately challenging their intelligence. These are two of the reasons why the satire in Candide is couched mostly in indirect terms. There are two more. Voltaire is an acutely sensitive idealist who has been bruised by experience, and so forced to grow a tough protective integument of sophistication. His idealism remains at the core of his being, but to expose it nakedly to view would be to invite just accusations of naïveté. Finally, Voltaire is a great prose artist. In Candide more sustainedly than in any other of his works, he is striving for creativity-in-depth, for plural meaning.

In a tale spangled with ‘innumerable rich and colorful stylistic devices’ (Grubbs, p.540) it is to be expected that the satire will vary in type and in degree of indirectness. Occasionally the satire is directly expressed by the author himself: e.g., the sailor is called ‘ce brutal de matelot’ and ‘le coquin’; Vanderdendur, ‘ce scélerat’34. One cannot, however, escape the impression that these instances are complicated by fictional parody. Farce appears in such scenes as Candide's ‘baptism’ and the dissection of Pangloss35. The character of Martin provides a vent, here and there, for sarcasm (Fowler, p.513, art. ‘Sarcasm’): e.g., ‘Vous êtes bien simple en vérité, de vous figurer qu'un valet métis, qui a cinq ou six millions dans ses poches, ira chercher vôtre maîtresse au bout du Monde & vous l'aménera à Venise …’ (Cxxiv, p.176). There are examples, too, of invective: notably, Candide's question enumerating the evils of mankind and the abbé's portrait of the hack journalist36. Miss Flowers argues that in the latter passage, directed against Fréron, Voltaire departs from his standard attitude of calm moderation, is carried away by his hatred, ‘becomes not only violent, but crude and grotesque’ (p.76). Is this really the case? In varying his satirical tone by means of such a passage, added in 1761, he has correlated it perfectly with the speech assigned to the same character in 1759 (Cxxii, p.150), when there was no reference to Fréron. The personal reference makes the portrait more pointed, but Voltaire has subordinated the topical to the typical, has depicted ‘un folliculaire’, ‘un faiseur de feuilles’, ‘un F. …’—not the individual Fréron. Another kind of satire in Candide is grotesque caricature (Flowers, pp.93-98): e.g., the description of Pangloss ravaged by syphilis and the theme of the old woman's missing buttock37. Of capital importance is satire through parody, or burlesque: of fictional conventions, as well as of metaphysical and other dogmas, from beginning to end; and of epical heroism in such passages as the one that mocks Candide's desperate resolution after ‘killing’ the baron's son in Paraguay38. Burlesque is, of course, inseparable from caricature, which is by no means restricted to grotesquerie. It is also inseparable from irony, which is in fact so intermixed with most of the types just listed that it comes close to being the all-enveloping satirical form of utterance in Candide.

Irony is indirect satire. It says one thing and implies one or more others. Like allegory and symbolism, but in its own way, it pluralizes meaning, makes for subtlety and complexity, and thereby enlists—to use Worcester's phrase—‘[t]he reader's creative participation’ (p.31). In his penetrating study of the art of satire Worcester distinguishes four basic kinds of irony: 1) verbal, 2) of manner, 3) dramatic, 4) cosmic (pp.76ff.). The first two combined pervade and dominate Candide. The third and fourth, which ‘produce satire of a tragic cast’ (p.76), are absent from the tale.

Dramatic irony, or irony of fact, takes for its province ‘life as a whole and the ways of Providence.’ The author employs no ironic style and assumes no ringmaster's pose. He disappears behind his subject-matter, which is, however, ironically charged in such a way that his characters speak a double-edged language and perform double-edged actions whereof the full implications are lost on them, but not on the reader or spectator who makes the necessary effort of interpretation (pp.76, 111, 113-114, 117, 120-121). In Candide the ringmaster, so far from disappearing behind his subject-matter, is omnipresent and runs the entire show, with the aid of a very forceful ironic style. The tale does contain double-edged language and actions throughout, but this is because the demonstrator is very obviously lending voice and movement to his mechanically passive folk in what may be called a mocking imitation of dramatic irony.

Cosmic irony has three characteristic themes: ‘the spectacle of man, the lord of creation, desiring death out of sheer boredom’, ‘the spectacle of the creature turning in wrath against his Creator’, and ‘the vision of earth as a speck of dust’ (pp.128-129, 131, 136-137). At its most extravagant, when it lacks ‘a positive, creative purpose’, it conveys ‘an impression of megalomania and frustration—of weakness, not of strength’ (p.144). Attempts have been made to find cosmic irony in Candide, to prove its author a romantic pessimist. A careful analysis of the text leads to quite other conclusions. Voltaire depicts taedium vitae only to reject it emphatically in favour of socially productive activity. The earth is a ‘globule’ (Cxx, p.138), and men are insignificant ‘souris’ (Cxxx, p.219); yet the earth is also the garden, and men may, by cultivating it, give meaning and dignity to their lives. Martin, the embittered Manichaean, argues that God has abandoned it to some ‘être malfaisant’, and that it contains nothing good (Cxx, pp.138-139); but Voltaire warns the reader that pessimistic fatalism, no matter how tempting it may appear in dark moments, is finally detestable (Cxxx, p.218). The deliberately accentuated presentation of evil in Candide is a satirical attack, not on God's handiwork (Mornet, Origines, p.88), but on finite man's pitiful pretensions to infinite knowledge, and his equally pitiful claims to the special protection of Providence. So far from shaking his fist at Heaven, Voltaire moderately suggests that we resign ourselves without futile protest to physical evils beyond our control, and work hard at ‘ce qui dépend de nous’ (Naves, Candide, p.16): namely, at realizing as best we can the possibilities of the deistic ethic.

Irony of manner involves ‘a deliberate pose’ on the part of the author, ‘a manipulation of the literary personality.’ He performs as ringmaster before spectators who are well aware that he has chosen all the facts and arguments and is presenting them ironically, but who are also aware that the task of discovering and interpreting is largely theirs. This type of irony, Worcester adds, is close to burlesque (pp.76, 119). Voltaire's performance in Candide as master of the show has been studied in great detail, and much has been said about his challenge to his readers, and his use of burlesque or parody (chapters ii-vii, passim)—all in harmony with Worcester's analysis. What needs to be stressed here is that, while verbal irony and irony of manner combined pervade and dominate the tale, the former subserves the latter. The style of Candide is not merely a sum of miniature verbal ironies. As a whole, it is unified by the demonstrator's beautifully sustained ironic manner.

In connection with the over-all tone of the tale, Francisque Vial affirms that, as the author proceeds, ‘l'ironie se détend; le ton se fait plus sérieux; une sorte de pitié enveloppe peu à peu la sécheresse aiguë du récit’ (pp.xxxviii-xxxix). I must confess that I find no relaxation of irony in the later chapters, coloured as they are by Martin's corrosive pessimism, Candide's own pessimistic drift, Giroflée's bitterness, Pococurante's negativism, Parisian corruption, the build-up to the shocking reunion with Cunégonde, etc. The tone does become more serious—or rather, more somber; but this is because of the challenge of pessimism. At no point does the author contaminate his attitude of aloofness, his pose of superiority to the fiction, his rational control of the demonstration with an admixture of pity. In sum, his ironic manner is sustained throughout.

A detailed examination of the various forms of verbal irony in Candide has been made by Havens, miss McGhee, and miss Flowers. In what follows I have attempted a brief synthesis of the major devices which they list, with one example for each device, it being understood that each major device is susceptible of analytical subdivision, that a given device often overlaps with another, and that a given example could often serve to illustrate more than one device, so compact and so complex is Voltaire's style (McGhee, Devices, p.152).

Irony through understatement: (Candide on the Old World) ‘il faut avouër qu'on pourrait gémir un peu de ce qui se passe dans le nôtre en Physique & en Morale’ (Cx, p.56)39.

Irony through overstatement: (Pangloss) ‘Il prouvait admirablement … que dans ce meilleur des Mondes possibles, le Château de Monseigneur le Baron était le plus beau des Châteaux, & Madame la meilleure des Baronnes possibles’ (Ci, pp.3-4)40. Miss McGhee makes the important point (pp.22-23) that the device of overstatement, among other things, fuses the attack on intellectual optimism with that on sentimental romance in its ‘précieux’ form: ‘le plus beau des Châteaux qui renfermait la plus belle des Baronnettes …’ (Cii, p.9).

Irony through contrast: (Cunégonde at the auto-da-fé) ‘on servit aux Dames des rafraichissements entre la Messe & l'exécution’ (Cviii, p.48). This device blends into the figure of oxymoron: ‘Don Fernando … sourit amérement …’ (Cxiii, p.75)41. Miss McGhee (p.131) sees ironic contrast in Candide's and Cacambo's incongruously ‘undignified’ response ‘to the formal directions for greeting a monarch’ in Eldorado: ‘Candide & Cacambo sautèrent au cou de Sa Majesté …’ (Cxviii, p.120). Voltaire, however, is mocking, not their delighted response, but the complicated and degrading formulas of obeisance demanded by earthly rulers. The passage as a whole does illustrate ironic contrast between Eldoradan and terrestrial values.

Irony through exotic example: the entire Eldorado episode42. Although in one sense a variation of irony through contrast, this device deserves separate listing because of its normative and inspirational functions. It presents the deistic ethic in thin disguise, and suggests adoption of that ethic by the reader. I think it wise in this case to cite additional instances as proof that exotic example may also be found in the world of reality: the words and actions of Jacques, of the dervish, of the old Turk.

Irony through repetition: the ‘car’ used eight times by Pangloss and the familiar at Lisbon (Cv, pp.35-38)43.

Irony through surprise: (the old woman) ‘Les noces furent préparées. C'était une pompe, une magnificence inouïe; c'étaient des fêtes, des Carouzels, des Opéra Buffa continuels, & toute l'Italie fit pour moi des Sonnets dont il n'y eut pas un seul de passable’ (Cxi, pp.59-60). This device blends into the figure of syllepsis: the king of the Bulgares pardons Candide ‘avec une clémence qui sera louée dans tous les journaux & dans tous les siècles’ (Cii, p.13)44.

Irony through absurdity: ‘Maître Pangloss, le plus grand Philosophe de la Province, & par conséquent de toute la Terre’ (Ci, p.6)45. I would include under this heading the incident of Candide's visit to the Dutch judge in Surinam (Cxix, p.133). Miss McGhee calls it ‘a good example of irony through inversion’ (p.155), but Candide's first payment is a fine which follows an offense. The irony is based on the absurd disproportion between the triviality of the offense and the extravagant amount of the fine, not on a reversal of normal order.

Of the three scholars who have closely examined the various forms of verbal irony in Candide, Havens presents the most consistently sound, though necessarily the briefest, analysis. Miss McGhee, despite occasional errors, likewise makes a very solid contribution, enriched by categorical subdivision and liberal illustration. Miss Flowers adds appreciably to public knowledge of the subject, but is more erratic in her handling of devices and examples. I do not have space here for a point-by-point consideration of her study, and shall have to content myself with remarking that it may be read with profit, if it is approached with caution46.

Still another major device is that of verbal irony through parodical or burlesque imitation. Miss McGhee deals with the fictional subdivision of this device by analyzing Voltaire's stylistic mockery of ‘préciosité’ and of recognition-scenes. She treats verbal suspense and climactic effects independently of fictional parody47. I have already called attention to the game of easy familiarity played by the author with his readers to induce an affectation of belief in two utterly fantastic New-World episodes (chapters v and vi); and to his use, in the Eldorado episode, of delayed-action irony and of foreshadowing by means of a key word subtly dropped in passing (chapter v). There are several examples of a key word or phrase which mischievously hints at the theme of a proximate development. Thus Candide, dolorously questioning Pangloss about Cunégonde, asks: ‘mais de quelle maladie est-elle morte?’ (Civ, p.21). This illness motif, by a bizarre transference, becomes Paquette's and Pangloss's venereal disease, which is also associated with death: ‘elle en était infectée, elle en est peut-être morte’; ‘Pour moi je ne la donnerai à personne, car je me meurs’ (Civ, pp.23-24). Cunégonde begins her story with the words, ‘J'étais dans mon lit …’ (Cviii, p.46), which cannot be dismissed as insignificant, in view of what follows. Her brother, at the commencement of his recital in Paraguay, includes among those butchered in the attack on the castle ‘trois petits garçons’ (Cxv, p.87). Shortly thereafter this apparently pointless reference reappears transformed into the pederasty theme. Just before the encounter with the Oreillons, the lovesick Candide plaintively moans: ‘Comment veux-tu … que je mange du jambon … ?’ (Cxvi, p.92). By an imperishably comic twist his words soon modulate into the cannibals' chant: ‘mangeons du Jésuite, mangeons du Jésuite.’ Similarly, the Spanish captain's offer of a ‘marché honnête’ (Cxix, p.130) at Surinam leads into the bargain-scene between Candide and Vanderdendur. These examples, in variety and originality, reveal the master of fictional burlesque at his ironic best. There is, in addition, a converse procedure wherein a key word or phrase mischievously recalls an earlier development. The ‘Cordelier très savant’ of Pangloss's narrative (Civ, p.23) echoes the lesson in experimental physics; and the ‘cérémonies’ with which the old woman helps Candide (Cvii, p.43) remind the reader by contrast of the auto-da-fé.

Mimetic mockery of verbal suspense and climactic effects is perfectly illustrated in the recognition-scene between Candide and Pangloss: “‘qu'est devenuë Mademoiselle Cunégonde, la perle des filles, le chef-d'œuvre de la nature?—Je n'en peux plus”, dit Pangloss. Aussi-tôt Candide le mène dans l'étable de l'Anabatiste, où il lui fit manger un peu de pain; & quand Pangloss fut refait: “Eh bien, lui dit-il, Cunégonde?—Elle est morte”, reprit l'autre. Candide s'évanouït à ce mot …’ (Civ, p.21).

The same scene satirizes the notion of death from heartbreak (Civ, pp.21-22). Melodramatic pathos is cleverly parodied in the passage which immediately follows Candide's expulsion from the ‘Paradis terrestre’ (Cii, p.9). Voltaire also ridicules sentimentality by frequent resort to rhetorical questions, exclamations, and apostrophes48. Cunégonde is made to employ a pious terminology which has a typically feminine ring—‘il plut au Ciel’; ‘Je louai Dieu’; ‘il n'y a plus de remission; nous sommes excommuniés’; and which reaches a peak of irony in her exclamation. ‘Sainte Vierge!’49. In the course of her recital Voltaire has her invent two delightful puns, both of which are lost on her love-smitten idolater: ‘Ce Juif s'attacha beaucoup à ma personne, mais il ne pouvait en triompher’; ‘l'aimable Candide’ (Cviii, pp.47, 49). In a hit at fictional decorum the author manages to have her fall, as she faints, upon a sofa50. Even more ludicrous is the pattern whereby he keeps postponing the erotic issue so that the lovers may tell their stories, and then eat51. The first and third of the passages referred to are oddly connected by another play on words: ‘Candide … la dévorait des yeux’; ‘Vous devez avoir une faim dévorante, j'ai grand appétit, commençons par souper.’ Finally, mention should be made of the adroit manner in which Voltaire mimics the excitement of fast fictional action by shifting verbs to the historical present: e.g., the duel between Candide and don Issachar (Cix, p.51).

Verbal irony through parodical or burlesque imitation includes other subdivisions as well. There is sustained mimetic mockery of thinkers: above all, of Leibniz and Pope52; in passing, probably of Rousseau53 and Plato54. There is occasional parody of the Bible: in two cases whimsically55, in four cases with symbolic irony56. Another Biblical reference57 and two Biblical allusions58 are also charged with irony, but they are not imitative. Finally, there is parody of the profane literary classics, too, both ancient and modern. Voltaire's ‘fidéle Cacambo’ unmistakably echoes Virgil's ‘fidus Achates’59. The baron's son, ‘haut en couleur, … l'oreille rouge, les lévres vermeilles’, pointedly recalls Tartuffe, as described by Dorine60. Candide's ‘suis-je dans cette galère?’ is, of course, a take-off on Géronte's famous refrain in Les Fourberies de Scapin61. And in the mock-climactic recognition-scene of the next-to-last chapter the burlesque adaptation of Phèdre's confessional words to the reaction, not of Candide, but of Cunégonde's brother (‘Le Baron pâlit à cette vûë’), is another instance of bizarre transference62.

There are three more major devices of verbal irony in Candide: euphemism, paronomasia, and figurative comparison. Voltaire treats most of the many obscene passages euphemistically: e.g., Pangloss's erotic adventures, the baron's homosexual activities, and various experiences which befall Candide and the old woman63. Such passages often include, to be sure, an element of fictional parody; but in addition they are always fundamentally related to the grand theme of social productivity (see chapter vii above). Euphemism is also, upon occasion, interestingly blended with literal reduction, as in the description of the ‘crimes’ committed by certain victims of the Inquisition, of Candide's and Pangloss's prison cells in Lisbon, and of the naval battle between the British and French admirals64.

As for paronomasia, or word-play, several examples have been cited in other connections. The device recurs with a frequency that is hardly surprising when one considers Voltaire's inventiveness, plus his acute sensitivity to sound-values and to overtones of meaning. Here are a few typical instances: ‘Cet Orateur … lui dit: “… y êtes-vous pour la bonne cause?—Il n'y a point d'effet sans cause”, répondit modestement Candide …’; ‘—Il faut que vous ayez le Diable au corps, dit Candide.—Il se mêle si fort des affaires de ce Monde, dit Martin, qu'il pourrait bien être dans mon corps comme par-tout ailleurs …’; ‘Le Clerc jura qu'on n'enterrerait point Candide. Martin jura qu'il enterrerait le Clerc s'il continuait à les importuner’; ‘Candide fut très content d'une Actrice qui faisait la Reine Elisabeth dans une assez plate tragédie. … Candide … demanda … comment on traitait en France les Reines d'Angleterre. “Il faut distinguer, dit l'Abbé: en province on les méne au cabaret, à Paris on les respecte quand elles sont belles, & on les jette à la voirie quand elles sont mortes.—Des Reines à la voirie!” dit Candide’; ‘Celui-ci outré des procédés de sa femme, lui donna un jour pour la guérir d'un petit rhûme, une médecine si efficace, qu'elle mourut en deux heures de tems dans des convulsions horribles’65.

Three other examples of paronomasia call for special comment. 1. It is ironically piquant in the extreme that the ‘Exécuteur des hautes œuvres de la Sainte Inquisition’ should be so clumsy in stringing up a victim (Cxxviii, p.210). 2. The reappearance of Pangloss is prepared by Candide's exclamation: ‘Que d'épouvantables calamités enchaînées les unes aux autres!’ (Cxxvii, p.206). Shortly thereafter Pangloss describes his punishment in these terms: ‘Je fus enchaîné précisément dans la même galére & au même banc que Monsieur le Baron’ (Cxxviii, p.212). And he concludes his story as follows: ‘Nous disputions sans cesse, & nous recevions vingt coups de nerf de bœuf par jour, lorsque l'enchaînement des événements de cet Univers vous a conduit dans nôtre galére, & que vous nous avez rachetés’ (Cxxviii, p.212). 3. I pointed out in chapter vi that the word-group, ‘la fleur de la santé brille sur vôtre visage’ (Cxxiv, p.180), used by Candide in addressing Giroflée, manages to express both the literal and the figurative senses of the name. In the La Vallière manuscript Voltaire first refers to him simply as a Theatine and a monk; then, not long after Candide's descriptive clause, says: ‘Candide donna deux mille piastres à Paquette; et mille piastres à frère Giroflée: c'était le nom du téatin …’ It is possible, then, that the description inspired the name, but just as possible that Giroflée occurred to the author by floral association with Paquette.

Respecting the device of figurative comparison, Lanson states that in the contes Voltaire ‘recourt moins à la métaphore qu'à l'image directe, et c'est plutôt par la précision du détail réel que par l'éclat des analogies sensibles qu'il colore son style’ (Prose, p.167). This generalization holds for Candide insofar as its diction is subdued in colour and in imagery. None the less, figurative comparisons, not picturesque but intellectual in quality, are used with ironic intent often enough to constitute a major device. In a very real sense the entire tale is an extended metaphor. But what I have in mind here, of course, is metaphors, as well as similes, of detail. Not all such metaphors are ironical. The garden figure which concludes the narrative, for instance, has rich symbolical connotations—none of them seasoned with irony. Also, there are, inevitably, dead metaphors of no interest in the present connection (Fowler, pp.348-349, art. ‘Metaphor’). There remain well over a dozen live metaphors and about a dozen similes—a respectable number for so brief and so fast-moving a work: e.g.,

(metaphors) ‘Le fantôme le regarda fixement’; ‘Il semble que vos Européens ayent du lait dans les veines; c'est du vitriol, c'est du feu qui coule dans celles des habitans du Mont Atlas & des pays voisins’; ‘Car y a-t-il rien de plus sot que de vouloir porter continuellement un fardeau qu'on veut toujours jetter par terre? … enfin de caresser le serpent qui nous dévore, jusqu'à ce qu'il nous ait mangé le cœur?’66; ‘—Quel est … ce gros cochon … ? … c'est un de ces serpents de la litterature qui se nourrissent de fange & de venin …’; ‘ce sont des ombres à un beau tableau’; ‘ne pourrai-je sortir au plus vite de ce pays où des singes agacent des tigres67? J'ai vû des ours dans mon pays; je n'ai vû des hommes que dans le Dorado’; ‘Platon a dit il y a longtems, que les meilleurs estomacs ne sont pas ceux qui rebutent tous les aliments’; ‘Quand Sa Hautesse envoye un vaisseau en Egypte, s'embarrasse-t-elle si les souris qui sont dans le vaisseau sont à leur aise ou non?’68.

(similes) ‘Nous nous embarquâmes sur une galère du pays, dorée comme l'Autel de St. Pierre de Rome’; ‘Elle était bâtie comme un palais d'Europe’; ‘de grandes places pavées d'une espèce de pierreries qui répandaient une odeur semblable à celle du gérofle & de la cannelle’; ‘les puissants les traitent comme des troupeaux dont on vend la laine & la chair’; ‘il hait quiconque réussit, comme les eunuques haïssent les jouïssants …’; ‘la Dame … remarquait avec des yeux de linx tous les parolis’, etc.; ‘remenez moi comme un éclair à Constantinople …’ ‘Le Lévanti Patron … avait déja tourné la proue vers la ville, & il faisait ramer plus vite qu'un oiseau ne fend les airs’69.

The device overlaps with others already discussed, makes fairly frequent use of animal comparisons, and is most heavily concentrated in the old woman's story, the Eldorado episode, the sojourn in Paris, and the first two chapters (xxiv-xxv) of the stay in Venice.

So much for major devices of verbal irony. There are several minor ones worth mentioning. The author twice uses aposiopesis to break off debates involving the problem of free will: between Pangloss and the familiar at Lisbon, between Candide and Martin at sea70. In one instance he satirizes through Candide what Ruskin was later to call the pathetic fallacy: ‘Tout ira bien … la Mer de ce nouveau Monde vaut déjà mieux que les Mers de nôtre Europe, elle est plus calme, les vents plus constants’ (Cx, p.56; see also Cii, p.9). Occasionally he achieves irony through anaphora: e.g., (the Parisian hack journalist) ‘cette Actrice est fort mauvaise, l'Acteur qui joüe avec elle est plus mauvais Acteur encore, la piéce est encor plus mauvaise que les Acteurs …’; (Candide on arriving in Venice) ‘… Tout est bien, tout va bien, tout va le mieux qu'il soit possible’71. Here and there his irony becomes two-edged. A personage makes a speech which justly points out the faults of another, yet at the same time betrays the faults of the speaker: e.g., the anonymous guest's scornful criticism of Gauchat, the marquise's mockery of Trublet, Martin's censure of Pococurante72. Finally, there are a few examples of irony through anastrophe: (the narrator's parodical description of the storm off Lisbon) ‘Travaillait qui pouvait …’; (Martin) ‘De vous dire précisément s'il y a plus de gens à lier dans un pays que dans un autre, c'est ce que mes faibles lumiéres ne me permettent pas’; (Pococurante) ‘Ira voir qui voudra de mauvaises Tragédies en musique. … Se pâmera de plaisir qui voudra, ou qui pourra, en voyant un châtré fredonner le rôle de César & de Caton’, etc.73.

It is clear from the number and variety and character of the stylistic devices which inform Candide that the tale offers a surprisingly comprehensive display of the author's powers in the art of rhetorical discourse. To say of that art that it is an imitation of rhetorical discourse wrought in satiric mockery of senescent classicism is to speak the truth, but not the whole truth. Through the atmosphere of aggressive mockery, and transfiguring it with a beauty which is its own sufficient reason, shines Voltaire's irrepressible delight in the creation of artistically effective sounds and rhythms and figures (cf. Lanson, Prose, pp.151-152, 169). So intimate is the union of style and meaning in Candide that it is dangerous, in any given instance, to regard meaning as the sole determinant of the verbal pattern—or, for that matter, style. Two phrases drawn from the Eldorado episode, and, incidentally, not in themselves satirically toned, will serve to illustrate the point. 1. The 1759 editions of the tale state that the ‘Palais des Sciences’ contains ‘une galerie … toute pleine d'expériences de Physique.’ In 1761 the statement is revised to read: ‘… toute pleine d'instruments de Mathématique & de Physique’ (Cxviii, pp.121-122). Morize comments as follows on this change: ‘Il ne me semble pas qu'il faille chercher le motif de cette addition ailleurs que dans le souci artistique d'améliorer le rythme de la phrase et sa cadence un peu sèche: je ne vois pas Voltaire, à la fin de 1760, particulièrement occupé de mathématiques’ (p.122, n.1). The stylistic factor in this revision is, I think, both real and important; but I would hesitate to dismiss the thematic factor on the ground suggested by Morize. I am inclined to believe that Voltaire, in re-examining his presentation of the deistic vision, found a way to improve the thought-content of this particular phrase by associating in an ideal partnership the two foundation sciences of the Enlightenment. 2. The old sage, in describing the religion of his country, says: ‘nous adorons Dieu du soir jusqu'au matin’ (Cxviii, pp.115-116). The expression puzzles Pomeau, who acknowledges that it was ‘couramment usitée au xviiie siècle’74. Voltaire himself had already used the same turn of phrase in the ‘Epître dédicatoire’ of Zadig: ‘quoiqu'on vous loue du soir au matin …’ (Van Tieghem, i.3). Both cases involve the rhetorical figure of hysteron proteron, with which the alumnus of Louis-le-Grand and lifelong student of the classics was obviously familiar. The reversal of the natural order not only enhances the rhythmic euphony of the word-group, it also reinforces the round-the-clock or morning-noon-and-night impression. In Candide this impression is echoed shortly afterward by the old sage's remark, ‘nous le remercions sans cesse’ (Cxviii, p.117).


Literalist or ‘Fundamentalist’ critics of Voltaire's great scherzo are duly impressed by its clarity of utterance, but they are surely wrong in refusing to look below the surface for hidden meanings. It is not necessary to invoke the theories of the modern depth psychologists in this connection. Voltaire himself declares Zadig to be a work ‘qui dit plus qu'il ne semble dire’ (Van Tieghem, i.3); and, speaking through Amaside in Le Taureau blanc, gives the following prescription for theme in a philosophic tale: ‘Je voudrais surtout que, sous le voile de la fable, il laissât entrevoir aux yeux exercés quelque vérité fine qui échappe au vulgaire’ (ibid., iv.75). Thus when, on another occasion just prior to the composition of his ‘grand chef-d'œuvre’ (Delattre, p.69), he is reliably reported as saying that in a skillful narrative ‘la catastrophe doit être énoncée, aussi laconiquement que possible’ (Perey and Maugras, p.62), it becomes the reader's obligation to look for the calculated symbolism in the concluding pages of Candide. If he does so, not fancifully (Price, pp.38, 209-213, 227), but with careful attention to Voltaire's life and activities and thought-processes and literary methods, he will see more in the final paragraph than ‘un rétrécissement’ (Pomeau, Voltaire, p.52), and more in the old Turk's attitude than ‘the passing words of an man tired of royal courts and the affairs of an ill-run world’ (Havens, Age of ideas, p.205). The tale as whole simply will not stand up on the purely literal level (‘Voltaire's romances’, p.390). If read without symbolic interpretation of any kind, it is indeed dismissible as a bagatelle, a ‘plaisanterie d'écolier’ (Best.7405), a ‘coïonnerie’ (Best.7474), a medley part travesty, part fairy tale, part lampoon, and part fabliau. Now, it is not a defect, but it is a dimensional limitation of any philosophic tale that one cannot enjoy the story for its own sake. This, however, only proves all the more conclusively that one is expected to participate actively in the search for the ideas behind the story, which is, after all, not so much a story as it is a pretext and an invitation. For the reader who is willing to make the effort, such participation provides its own form of enjoyment and offers a very solid reward.

The diction of Candide is a vehicle of sustained symbolism. The critic cannot legitimately contend that it is symbolical here and literal there, in accordance with his personal preferences. The entire work is an extended metaphor, and its verbal texture everywhere connotes ideas which range beyond the face-value meanings of their embodiments, though without loss of logical rapport. To take one example, Pangloss's venereal genealogy highlights the promiscuity of the race, normal and abnormal, laical and clerical; satirizes unnatural vows; illustrates the reality of an evil that outruns human responsibility; mocks the notion that causal concatenations prove the cosmos to be logical and moral in terms comprehensible to man; and suggests an in-reverse parody of Biblical begat sequences (Flowers, p.85). The preponderantly negative emphasis, so necessary to jolt the reader out of his complacency (Havens, Candide,, at the same time implies by contrast a whole set of affirmations (Brailsford, pp.160-161): e.g., the account of the auto-da-fé becomes by inversion a plea for intellectual honesty, resignation to uncontrollable physical evils, works as the substance of faith, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. In other words, Voltaire uses irony, not with sterile causticity, but ‘as a means of lending force to [his] creative beliefs’ (Worcester, p.106).

Special attention must be drawn to the symbolic effect which Voltaire produces by maintaining throughout an off-centre viewpoint. This device is the prerogative of the artist who chooses to look at man and the world in satirical perspective. It enables him to deform by simplifying and exaggerating—caricaturally when he is on the attack, seriously when he is urging his own convictions. The reader, in his turn, is expected to savour the literary and moral trenchancy of the device, then by a commonsensible adjustment to centre directly upon the author's sober meaning.

Since the tale is basically an attack, it opens with, and for the most part stresses, caricatural deformation. At the midway point, in depicting a utopia which is genuinely perfect yet unreal, Voltaire masterfully blends the two kinds of simplification and exaggeration. He idealizes the deistic way of life while parodying real and extraordinary voyages. In the concluding paragraphs the caricatural element, though still present in the speeches of Pangloss and in the author's ironic hits at the garden of Eden, sentimental love, and monastic otiosity, is heavily overbalanced by the serious. The statement of his solution confronted Voltaire with a formidable artistic challenge. After so much negation, after so much comical distortion, he had somehow to shift to the affirmative in all earnestness without lapsing into banal didacticism or bathetic sensibility, without marring the over-all tone or manner or style of his scherzo. Furthermore, he had somehow to achieve subtlety without obscurity or preciosity. In my judgment his response to this challenge has resulted in one of his supreme triumphs as a conteur.

I have already explicated the author's sober meaning with regard to the dervish and old Turk passages and the final prospects for the marriage between Candide and Cunégonde, as well as his full meaning with regard to Candide's garden (chapter iv). In the first two of these cases (dervish, old Turk) he continues to maintain his off-centre viewpoint, deforming by simplification and exaggeration, but in a serious, not a caricatural, vein. He thereby preserves the tone, manner, and style of the whole, despite the shift to earnest affirmation. And he achieves a subtlety which is neither opaque nor overrefined, for the symbolical connotations are organic to the verbal texture and the structure of the tale. The third case (marriage) differs from the first two only in that the caricatural vein carries through to the closing paragraph, when Voltaire suddenly turns serious in mid-sentence: ‘Cunégonde était à la vérité bien laide; mais elle devint une excellente patissiére …’ As for the fourth case (garden), from Candide's first announcement of his resolution to his terminal restatement of it, Voltaire plays back and forth between the off-centre viewpoint, which he manipulates caricaturally, and the on-centre viewpoint, which he handles dead-seriously. The former includes Pangloss's Biblical reference with quotation (see chapter iv above), the comments on Cunégonde and Giroflée, and Pangloss's logical concatenation with a moral. Cases one and two avoid caricature because they deal with exemplary personages75. Case three requires that a personage ridiculed for twenty-nine chapters be redeemed at the last; so the mockery is prolonged until, in the final moments, Cunégonde may be more acceptably regenerated along with the rest of the little band. More elaborately, case four oscillates between viewpoints and tones because the tale is adjusting from an eccentric, caricatural emphasis to a serious, on-centre conclusion. Once the adjustment has been definitively made, the tale must end, lest its artistic unity be flawed. In another and very real sense, however, as has already been underlined (chapter iv), the ‘mot de la fin’ paradoxically concludes without concluding. It affords the reader a vista of human possibilities arranged in a receding and ascending perspective toward an impossibly lofty horizon far-distant and half-lost in a luminous haze.



In his book review of Candide Grimm expressed the opinion that the tale has ‘ni ordonnance ni plan’, and that it ‘ne soutiendrait pas une critique sérieuse’ (p.85). Almost two centuries later (1955) Jacques Barzun condemned it with equal severity on similar grounds: ‘we credit him with one great creation, which is Candide—a topical piece of criticism thinly disguised as fiction. Judged strictly as a novel, it lacks verisimilitude and characterization, as well as ascertainable form, since many of the incidents occur without necessity and could be multiplied or removed without much harm to either the thesis or our pleasure … enchanted as we are by Candide, it would not be perverse to maintain that another of the tales—Zadig or the Princess of Babylon—has more concision and hardly less variety. But then only Candide has the famous tag line about cultivating our garden, only Candide has caught the world's ear and become “a creation”’ (quoted in Wade, Search, p.109). According to Pomeau, on the other hand, ‘il est impossible d'imaginer Candide écrit autrement. Le style de ce chef-d'œuvre a un tel caractère de nécessité qu'on ne pourrait sans dommage y changer un mot. … L'originalité de Candide est … dans la continuité de la perfection’ (Voltaire, p.63). In the present study I have tried to prove that Candide will withstand minute critical analysis, that it is a carefully planned and executed work of art, and that it is therefore a masterpiece.

The La Vallière manuscript reveals that, after dictating his tale (from notes? from a rough draft?), Voltaire reread and corrected it. Wade shows that, besides changes ordered during dictation, there are suppressions, substitutions, and additions made by way of later revision in the author's own hand. These fall into several categories, and, corrections of slips by Wagnière apart, they are aimed at perfecting the work in large and in small (Candide, pp.160-179). The dictation procedure strengthens the impression that Voltaire thought of Candide as a one-way conversation or dramatic monologue, hence as an effluence of his ego expressing itself in a manner that would sound spontaneous and achieve inevitability. It also offers evidence of his Mozart-like capacity for intense superconscious creativity. The revisions, both before and after publication, make it plain that he regarded the tale, not as a bagatelle, but as a significant literary creation worth improving and polishing with care.

How close is the final product to perfection? Once the fact is understood that Candide must be judged by standards proper, not to the novel, but to the conte philosophique as an independent genre, minute critical analysis almost completely confirms Pomeau's evaluation. Almost, for there is no explaining away certain flaws of detail: e.g., the confusion of references in the two passages dealing with the play seen by Candide in Paris (Havens, Candide, p.133); or the failure, in the episode of the six kings, to adjust Candide's preliminary remark—‘pourquoi êtes-vous tous Rois? pour moi je vous-avoue que ni moi ni Martin nous ne le sommes’, so that it would not blunt the edge of the concluding exchange, added in a final revision—‘… Etes-vous roi aussi, monsieur?—Non, messieurs, et n'en ai nulle envie.’ Havens points out, too (p.128), that the ‘autres’ in the phrase, ‘Tous ses autres rivaux’ (Cxix, p.135), is difficult to justify. I am inclined to consider it a slip. There may be others76. As for larger matters, it seems fair to conclude, on the basis of the evidence presented here, that the structure of Candide is impaired by neither long nor short digressions (see chapter vii); that the Eldorado episode triumphs, both in form and in content, over the adverse criticisms of Le Breton, Toldo, and Faguet (see chapter v); and that the obscenities in the tale, despite the general outcry against them, have a legitimate artistic function, are handled with good taste, and subserve a basically moral aim (see chapter vii).

There remains the problem of chapter xxii and the 1761 revision. Morize argues that, in expanding his account of Candide's sojourn in Paris, Voltaire has stuffed it with personal attacks that are cruel and uncalled-for (pp.lxxxviii,154). One may readily grant their cruelty: ‘Wit’, says Torrey, ‘is ever cruel, often unfair in its emphasis …’ (Spirit, p.186). But the cruelty of wit in a philosophic tale is not per se a true test of its literary validity. Voltaire creates mechanically passive personages in whose humanity no one is expected to believe, and he makes them embody a dynamic moral message. Unlike the novelist, he is not interested in depicting individual character for its own sake with a nuanced complexity. He is interested in urging the adoption of the deistic ethic as a practical means to social progress. So long as his creatures are mere impersonations, so long as his manner is intellectual rather than emotional, so long as his emphasis is typical rather than topical, and so long as his satirical thrusts are worked into an effective artistic pattern and contribute to a worthy ethical cause, he is entitled to a certain latitude of personal reference. Voltaire is contemptuous of ivory-tower contemplation, with its stress on ideas that are academically pure, fair, abstract, paralyzed by the Eleatic illusion, hence not quite of earth and socially unproductive. He insists that ideas, to be humanly meaningful, must be introduced into the arena, must be used as weapons in a polemical struggle against social abuses and for social reforms. The struggle is real because the enemy is real, and the enemy is particularly well entrenched in Paris—the openly identified arena of chapter xxii. The 1761 revision, addressed first and foremost to the Parisian public, concretely attacks Fréron, Gauchat, and Trublet as representative of the enemy. The personal references are cruel, but in a special way. They increase the pointedness, and thereby the topical force, of the satire; but they are neither exclusively nor predominantly personal. They do not attack individuals as individuals. They attack types in terms of the socially unproductive ideas and attitudes for which they stand. Thus they are not uncalled-for, because Voltaire has made the personal and the topical minor elements of a design that remains consistently literary and ethical. Candide does describe the journalistic hack as ‘ce gros cochon’, but, as already indicated, the 1761 passage referring to Fréron is correlated perfectly with the speech assigned to the same character in 1759, when there was no such reference; and, fundamentally, the abbé's ‘portrait’ delineates ‘un folliculaire’, ‘un faiseur de feuilles’, ‘un F. …’—not the historical individual (chapter viii). Its satire, moreover, is two-edged, reflecting on the abbé no less than on hacks like Fréron. The same device has been shown at work in the anonymous guest's scornful criticism of Gauchat and the marquise's mockery of Trublet (loc. cit.). In sum, the 1761 revision does not blemish the author's design through the addition of personal labels. Without them the assault would retain its essential thrusting power, though it would lose some of its piquancy and colour—proof that they enrich the presentation.

The final version of chapter xxii, save for the confusion of references in the passages dealing with the play, demonstrates Voltaire's success, after several efforts (Wade, Candide, pp.177-179), in meeting the challenge of the Paris episode (Petit, ii.100). It transforms Candide from a mere spectator into an active participant, and captures with sufficient realism for philosophic purposes the atmosphere of contemporary life in the capital (Pomeau, Candide, pp.66-68). It skillfully elaborates the themes announced through Martin in the preceding chapter. It includes mischievously clever comparisons with Westphalia and contrasts with Eldorado, as well as implicit contrasts with the socially productive activity of the garden. It contains an impressive series of ‘portraits.’ It heavily stresses the cultural motif, merely mentioned en passant in Eldorado, and later effectively varied in the visit to Pococurante. It continues both the intellectual and the sentimental satire, creating, with the aid of numerous and elegantly turned stylistic devices, not only a rapid-review picture-sequence, but also the mood, of Parisian ‘vice’ and ‘ennui.’ The depiction of urban tedium, again expertly varied in the account of the soirée at Pococurante's, shows that, at least in the hands of a master-conteur, the tale may sometimes rise above the novel. Voltaire fuses swift compression with his other narrative gifts to describe boredom without boring the reader77. Who would dare say as much for L'Education sentimentale or Bouvard et Pécuchet?

Internal analysis thus proves that Candide is a masterpiece. Criticism may argue over details, but the over-all excellence of Voltaire's performance is incontestable. On this point, moreover, there has long been general agreement among specialists: e.g., Lanson, Havens, Torrey, Green, Pomeau, and Delattre78.


Does comparative analysis justify the more ambitious claim that Candide is a classic? A classic is a masterpiece that possesses sufficient depth, scope, and elevation—in sum, sufficient dimension to rank as a model expression of some basic civilized response to the challenge of life, and therefore to deserve the enduring admiration and attention of mankind. According to Redman, ‘Candide is, indeed, a masterpiece. … It is … the tale at its highest level. But, even at its highest, this form is not one which is capable of bearing burdens that other literary forms can bear; not one in which the experience of life can find its fullest, most profound, and most affecting expression’ (p.38). This is well said. The physical size of Candide, as well as Voltaire's attitude toward his fiction, precludes the achievement of artistic dimension through plenitude, autonomous ‘3D’ vitality, emotional resonance, or poetic exaltation. Candide, then, cannot, in quantity of quality, measure up to the supreme classics. The question is whether, by means other than those listed, it achieves sufficient dimension to merit evaluation, not as a minor (to me a meaningless designation), but as a miniature, classic. In Torrey's judgment, ‘Candide is a classical masterpiece in every sense of the term’ (Spirit, p.271). Havens affirms that ‘Candide has become a classic’, and, as such, ‘part of the intellectual heritage of the educated world’ (Candide, pp.lxi-lxii). I am unable to accept the historical sense of the term classical as used by Torrey, because the evidence of the present study shows Voltaire departing, not only from certain rigidified formulas of French classical composition, but also from French classical thought with its cult of coherence, society with its exclusive stress on status, and economy with its support of a ‘parasitical’ clergy and nobility. Otherwise I am convinced that he and Havens are right, if they mean that Candide is a miniature classic79.

The scope of the tale is truly amazing when one considers its physical brevity. Voltaire has succeeded, by virtue of his multum in parvo technique, in expressing his views on almost all the major aspects of civilization: love, the family, recreation, society, economics, government, morality, the arts, science, philosophy, and religion—drawing his examples from a very wide range of times and climes. In fact, a close reading of Candide proves it to be the Voltairean synthesis, ‘le résumé de toutes ses œuvres’ (Flaubert, quoted in Morize, p.v). Furthermore, despite its lack of poetic exaltation, it finds a way to soar, thanks to its creation, through a magical blend of winged fantasy with phosphorescent wit, of a rarefied order superior to life; thanks also to the indirect affirmations contained in its satire, the direct moral exhortation of the Conclusion, and the presentation of the author's deistic ideal in the Eldorado episode.

The criterion of profundity brings up problems which call for more extended comment. Although Candide possesses neither autonomous ‘3D’ vitality nor emotional resonance, it is quickened and deepened by the energy of Voltaire's personality, the momentous vivacity of its stylistic movement, the philosophic sympathy it arouses for its message, and the levels of meaning it suggests through a unique fusion of irony, symbolism, and, here and there, duplicity. But its attainment of profundity by these essentially artistic and moral means has been denied in the name of Christianity, of Marxism, of metaphysics, of the novel, etc. Such fundamental divergencies of taste and world outlook are, for all practical purposes, insuperable. Suffice it to say that the critical method applied in this study presupposes the validity of the liberal-arts approach, which demands, not only sympathetic cultivation of all genres and media and period-styles the world over and throughout history, but also deliberate suspension of one's own religious, philosophical, political, or economic preferences. In terms of that approach, ‘Voltaire stands and will stand as a landmark and a symbol; toweringly identified with one notable stage of man's development; perfectly representing one of man's possible responses to the challenge of life’ (Redman, pp.46-47); and Candide, his greatest work of art and the synthesis of his ripened wisdom, is thus seen to be a model expression of that response—a response not necessarily the same as the critic's, but none the less basic, civilized, and profound.

Voltaire has avoided the danger of topicality (Furlong, pp.20-21), has achieved universality and ensured the perdurability of his satire, by attacking the bluff and waste in metaphysical and theological speculation, the criminality and waste of faith without works and of status without responsibility, the folly and waste of sentimental quixotism, etc.—in short, the sins of commission and omission that follow from all negations or perversions of social productivity, no matter when or where.

He has avoided the dangers of pessimistic fatalism by concluding that men should resign themselves to uncontrollable physical evils and work toward the diminution of social evils and the realization of the deistic ethic. The pile-up of the case against optimism and romantic love is an artistically exaggerated mockery of human pretensions, not an indictment of the Deity. As Pomeau says, ‘En fin de compte, Candide ne nie pas la Providence, mais le providentialisme’ (Religion, p.307). This is not to say that Voltaire is undisturbed by the presence of evil in God's creation. How disturbed he could be by it is amply revealed in the Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne. But distinctions must be drawn. As I have pointed out elsewhere (review of Wade, Candide, p.174), Zadig and Memnon prove that a decade before Candide ‘Voltaire's intellect could already no longer accept the “tout est bien”’; that in the Poème ‘his acutely augmented sympathy for the sufferings of others80 forced his emotions to catch up with his intellect’; and that between 1755 and 1758 ‘[h]is sense of proportion and his sense of humor reasserted themselves’, so that he was able to win through to a momentous affirmation. In Candide Voltaire's intellectual honesty compels him to admit that the problem of evil is beyond final human solution, his self-discipline teaches him resignation to the inevitable, and his self-determination summons him to melioristic action.

The term pessimism has been used rather loosely in connection with Candide and the Ferney period. At the beginning of this study I defined a pessimist as one who believes that all is for the worst, and that men are powerless to change the situation. The man who, whether occasionally or frequently, makes cynical or misanthropic comments in moments of weariness or illness or depression or impatience or frustration is not ipso facto a pessimist. Nor is the man a pessimist who bewails the decadence of literature, but labours long and hard to renew it; who preaches social indifferentism, but propagandizes for reforms; who declares the cause of humanity hopeless, but fights the good fight driven by hope. ‘What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts’81. The Conclusion of Candide and the Ferney campaign betoken a way of life which is not pessimistic, but melioristic. Voltaire's meliorism is the fuel that makes his motor go; his pessimistic thoughts are the exhaust. In him, as in the eighteenth century generally, ‘the rare combination of the belief in the sovereignty of reason with the insight into the factors which oppose reason's autonomy’ creates ‘a tension which does not paralyze but which propels’ (Dieckmann, p.297).

Both Vyverberg and Crocker fail to distinguish adequately, in their analyses of Voltaire, between thought that produces action and thought that lets off steam82. Academicians, and especially intellectual historians, are prone to treat ideas in abstraction from life (Dieckmann, p.303); but for a literary artist who is at the same time a practical moralist, and who therefore lives by the unacademic and unbiblical principle that ‘Im Anfang war die That!’, this can result in serious distortion. When Vyverberg concludes that there is ‘a fundamental inconsistency in Voltaire's philosophy and world outlook’ (p.187), he is right—and he is wrong; for with Voltaire the contradictions of the ivory tower are resolved in the arena. When Crocker insists on Voltaire's ‘torment’, ‘anguish’, ‘agony’, and ‘despair’83, he deforms the Enlightenment drama of Voltaire's intellectual perplexities into the twentieth-century melodrama of the neo-romantic existentialist's neurotic broodings. Torrey once delightfully suggested that the Church canonize Voltaire for the salvation of humanity (Spirit, p.283). This is not likely to happen in the near future. But the likelihood does exist that the ‘Age of anxiety’ will soon enshrine him as ‘Our Patriarch of the bleeding heart’—forgetting that the sage of Ferney was a sage precisely because his inner oscillations did not tear him apart and freeze him into morbid inaction, because he exerted a superb comic control over his thoughts and his emotions, because he ‘dr[a]nk delight of battle’, achieving a wholesome unity at the deepest level of his being through moral blended with literary productivity.

This being so, it follows that the Conclusion of Candide and the Ferney campaign also reveal, not a fatalist, but a determinist for whom ‘Freedom is the joyful and triumphant participation of an individual in the uniform and compulsory processes of nature’; for whom effects, so far from being completely contained in their causes, ‘can have more value and … can have or be new emergent qualities and properties’84. Causality triumphs in Voltaire over metaphysical and theological notions of free will; it does not triumph over creativity, it does not paralyze the reason, it does not immobilize the campaigner.

In sum, it may be confidently affirmed, with respect to Candide, which is, as suggested, a sort of definitive statement, that Voltaire's presentation of his views on evil and on human freedom is not only brilliant, it is profound. It opposes intellectual honesty to ingenious conjecture, and sagacious moderation to sensational extremes. It uses satire, not destructively but constructively, ‘as a means of lending force to [his] creative beliefs’ (Worcester, p.106), as ‘a powerful civilizing agent’ (Johnson, p.36). And it shows Voltaire sensitively adjusting his attitude to the new needs of society and the implications of the new science (Pomeau, Religion, p.307).

I have underscored the point that Voltaire must be judged as a literary artist and as a practical moralist, not as a philosopher (chapter i). Like a number of other eminent creative writers, he is an intellectual, but he is definitely not a system-builder. By conviction as well as by temperament he is opposed to all ambitious speculative constructions. If he is to be taxed with superficiality on the ground that he is not an architect of abstract thought, then so are Sophocles and Shakespeare, Homer and Dante, Cervantes and Dostoievski, Pascal and Milton. In all these cases the accusation is simply irrelevant. The artist has a way of attaining profundity that is strikingly different from the way of the philosopher. Yet Auerbach seriously argues against the literary respectability of Candide because ‘Voltaire in no way does justice to Leibnitz's argument and in general to the idea of a metaphysical harmony of the universe’ (p.408). Here again, as so often, it is Pomeau who best says what needs to be said: ‘Si Candide n'opposait à l'optimisme que des arguments, il ne serait pas le chef-d'œuvre voltairien. Candide démolit la construction leibnizienne par l'obsession d'un style. Optimisme ou pessimisme sont éprouvés non pas tant comme des idées que comme des modes contrastés d'existence’ (Religion, p.303).

The didactic element is, of course, as intrinsic to Candide as the literary. The tale fuses art with propaganda. It has therefore been aprioristically condemned by the zealots of ‘l'art pour l'art.’ In their desperate attempt to isolate and glorify ‘pure’ beauty, they have not only overlooked the empirical fact that ‘all art’, being human, ‘is in a sense propaganda’ (Torrey, Spirit, p.186), they have by ex post facto decree ruled unchaste the deliberate fusion of ethical with literary values by many of the world's greatest writers. Unfortunately for these proponents of insignificant form, beauty and goodness appear inseparably, though variously, blended in most works of literature, both sacred and profane. Now, the moral factor is rightly implicit rather than explicit in some genres; but it necessarily becomes more explicit in others, such as the religious epic, oratory, the fable, and the philosophic tale. By necessarily I mean that in the latter the union between literature and morality is a happy marriage, not a shotgun partnership which would better be dissolved. Thus the Divina commedia, the Oraison funèbre d'Henriette de France, ‘Les Animaux malades de la peste’, and Candide succeed; and they succeed because of the blend, not in spite of it. Critics who deny this are suffering from acute cultural angustitis. They seek a purity, not of strength, but of weakness. They would emasculate art by dehumanizing it. The artist qua artist remains a human being; and to be human is to be concerned with the good life.

Candide is a profession of faith in the deistic ethic. Voltaire proposes no rules of conduct for the individual as such (Pomeau, Religion, p.225), nor does he interest himself in the other private aspects of the individual's life. The morality he preaches relates exclusively to man's public actions in a civilized context. His key principle is therefore ‘bienfaisance’, conceived, not as a noumenally sanctioned categorical imperative, but as a norm of behaviour which has its source in ‘the uniformity of inclinations, instincts, and appetites’ (Dieckmann, p.307), and so prescribes ‘what is universally useful to human society’ (Crocker, ‘Voltaire's struggle’, p.157). This principle is fixed, but its applications are innumerable, since they depend on what is practical, on what is concretely possible at a given time in a given situation. The dynamics of life force constant readjustments. A morality based on abstract contemplation and insisting on absolute ends and immaculate means is unviable, escapist, and even immoral; for it conduces to inaction, and so serves the purposes of reaction. It seeks a universal and eternal purity, not of strength, but of weakness. Voltaire's ethic, on the other hand, faces up to the agonizing responsibilities of the Heraclitean flux, which necessitates finite either-or decisions amid the infinite more-or-less diversity of circumstances-on-the-move. It is an ethic that favours correspondence over coherence, existence over essence; partial reforms now or soon, by flexible means which include duplicity but exclude physical violence or martyrdom, over ideal ends to be attained by spotless means in some sweet by-and-by. Voltaire would have agreed heartily with Goethe that there is no humanity, there are only men. To him the immediate needs of the suffering individual (Torrey, Candide, pp.ix; 63, n.2) outweigh all the ponderous demonstrations ever elaborated in support of ‘a metaphysical harmony of the universe.’

Candide is cast in a form that is beautifully suited to the tactics of Voltaire's deism. His off-centre viewpoint manages to spotlight with devastating effectiveness the social evils which are obstructing the cultivation of the garden. It is in the nature of satire to distort. It is in the nature of great satire to distort with a corrective, affirmative, civilizing aim85. This is the aim realized by Voltaire through his ‘searchlight device’ (Auerbach, p.404). If he had sought to reproduce in Candide ‘the whole truth’ (ibid., loc. cit.) about optimism and love, he would have lost himself in Eleatic niceties ‘sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.’ He would, moreover, have failed to reproduce that aspect of the whole truth which bears directly on social morality-in-action. But this is the very aspect that constitutes his speciality. The duty of the satirical surgeon is to excise the cancerous growth, not to prescribe against an operation because the rest of the body seems reasonably healthy. Thus the accusation that the author of Candide simplifies, exaggerates, falsifies, hence is superficial (ibid., pp.408-411) betrays a surprising insensitivity to the art of satire. Voltaire's simplicity is one of strength, not of weakness. As already stated (chapter i), it is a simplicity of controlled choice and compression, which masterfully sifts the raw data for epitomes of experience, and organizes and vitalizes the resultant quintessences in accordance with principles of dynamic stylization. That Voltaire had investigated the pros and cons of his subject-matter, and that his deformations reveal the creative satirist intentionally selecting and accentuating with an eye on the realities of power and the needs of action, is beyond dispute86.

This incorporation of ideas into the stream of time is admittedly a dangerous game. If the intellectual too pure to act is a socially irresponsible escapist, the cynical opportunist who prostitutes ideas in the public domain solely for self-aggrandizement is an unforgivable demagogue. Voltaire repudiates both extremes. He is realistically, not cynically, opportunistic. His ends, which he knows must be approached gradually if at all, justify many, not any, means. He opposes unjust force, not with counterforce, but with every conceivable device of persuasion, because at bottom he believes that the power of persuasion may sometimes in some measure triumph over the persuasiveness of power. Those who would preserve their purity and engage it, too, have found no solution to the problem of social morality-in-action that is practically superior to Voltaire's (e.g., Maritain, pp.48-68). His Fabian tactics, adapted as they are to the palpable imperfections of man and the world, prove that he has profoundly understood the limitations, along with the progressive possibilities, of the human condition.

Finally, the development of scientific and contractual humanism during the two centuries which have elapsed since the publication of Candide decisively confirms the judgment that the tale has sufficient dimension to rank as a model expression of one basic civilized response to the challenge of life, and so deserves to be called a miniature classic.


  1. Candide, pp.96-97, 98, 139. See also Pomeau, Candide, pp.206 (note to l.108), 209 (note to l.22).

  2. Candide (1956): music by Leonard Bernstein; book by Lillian Hellman; lyrics by Richard Wilbur, Dorothy Parker, and John Latouche.

  3. Voltaire's ‘Candide’ (Caedmon Publishers. New York 1958): read by Robert Franc, narrator, and others.

  4. the exceptions are rare, and highly significant. In the utopian other world of Eldorado, where distinctions of character in an ordinary human sense have no relevance, Voltaire speaks undisguisedly for himself through the host, the old sage, and the king (see chapter v above). In the Conclusion, when the time has come for imparting the final wisdom to his readers, he speaks just as plainly in his own voice through the dervish and the old Turk, making both of them genuine philosophes and masters of literary utterance (see chapter iv above).

  5. the satirist's ‘art is an exercise of the intellect rather than of the imagination’ (Richard Garnett, quoted in Furlong, p.11).

  6. the satirist ‘fails when emotion clouds his intellect’ (Furlong, p.21).

  7. Cvi, p.42; Cx, pp.56-57; Cxii, pp.70-71; Cxix, pp.128-129; Cxxiv, p.179; Cxxiv, pp.180-181.

  8. e. g., ‘ce pauvre homme’ (Cxix, p.127); ‘un pauvre Savant’ (Cxix, p.134); ‘ce brutal de matelot’ (Cv, p.31); ‘ce scélerat’ (Cxx, p.140).

  9. e. g., ‘le coquin’ (Cv, p.31)—Candide, Thunder-ten-tronckh—Pangloss, Cunégonde, Pococurante.

  10. Cii, p.9; Civ, p.21; Cxxii, p.154.

  11. Cxix, p.133; Cxxiv, p.176—Cxxx, p.217.

  12. Cvi, p.42; Cvii, pp.43-44.

  13. Cxxviii, pp.210-211; Cxxii, p.163; Cxix, pp.133-135; Cxxiii, pp.171, 173-174; Cii, p.11; Cv, pp.35-38; Cvii, p.45; Cxx, p.137.

  14. Cxiv, p.85; Cxxix, p.215.

  15. see also Cvii, p.45—‘Candide lui obéit … de leur séparation’; Cxvi, p.102—‘Mais après tout … je n'étais pas Jésuite’; Cxviii, pp.114-115—‘Les Espagnols … jusqu'au dernier’; Cxix, pp.133-134—‘Enfin un vaisseau … de la Province’; Cxix, p.134—‘Candide en écoutant … de très grands malheurs’; Cxx, pp.136-137—‘Cependant, Candide … le systême de Pangloss’; Cxxiii, p.174—‘Candide fut si étourdi … sans délai à Venise’; Cxxv, pp.190-191—‘J'ai bien assez … pour être ignorant’; Cxxv, p.196—‘Cependant les jours … le remercier’; Cxxvi, p.197—‘Candide partagé … le Carnaval à Venise’; Cxxvii, pp.207-208—‘Chien de Chrétien … cinquante mille sequins’; Cxxviii, p.213—‘Je suis toujours … la matiére subtile’; Cxxx, pp.216-217—‘Il était tout naturel … que Cunégonde’; Cxxx, p.218—‘Pangloss avoüait … & n'en croyait rien.’

  16. Cii, p.10; Cxiii, p.76; Cxiv, p.79; Cxvi, p.99; Cxviii, p.123; Cxxv, p.191; Cxxx, p.218; Cxxx, p.221; Cxxx, pp.222-223.

  17. Civ, pp.21-25; Civ, p.26—Cxvii, pp.106-111; Cxviii, pp.112-122; Cxviii, p.122—Cxix, p.126—Cxxv, pp.183-196; Cxxv, p.196.

  18. Ciii, pp.17-19; Cv, pp.36-38; Cxxii, pp.162-164.

  19. Ci, p.7; Cii, pp.10-11; Cv, p.33; Cxxii, p.148.

  20. Civ, p.22; Cxii, pp.67, 70; Cxxvii, pp.205-206; Cxxx, pp.218-219.

  21. Cvii, pp.44-45; Cxiv, p.85.

  22. Cvi, p.42; Cxxiv, p.176; Cviii, pp.49-50; Cx, p.57.

  23. Ci, p.6; Cxx, pp.136-137; Cxxvi, p.197; Cxxiv, p.179.

  24. Ci, p.3; Ciii, p.20; Cvi, p.42; Cxi, p.59; Cxiii, pp.73-74; Cxiv, p.78; Cxix, p.135; Cxxii, p.149; Cxxii, pp.153-154; Cxxiv, p.177.

  25. Ciii, pp.14-15; Ciii, pp.15-16; Cxi, p.62; Cxi, p.63—Cv, p.30—Cv, pp.31-32—Cvi, pp.41-42.

  26. Cxvii, pp.108-109; Cxxiv, p.177; Cxxx, p.221; Cx, p.55, plus n.1; Cxiv, p.84; Cxvii, p.104; Cxviii, p.121.

  27. Ci, p.6; Cxviii, pp.117-118; Cxxi, pp.144-145; Cxxx, pp.221-222; Cxxx, p.223; Cxx, p.139; Cxxi, p.142; Cxxii, pp.161-162; Cxxii, p.163; Cxxv, pp.187-188; Cxxv, p.189; Cxxv, pp.193-194.

  28. Cix, pp.51-52; Cxxii, p.159; Cxxviii, p.211.

  29. pp.124-125, 142-144, 148, 150, 159, 172.

  30. Cv, pp.35-36, 37-38; Cxiii, p.74; Cxiv, p.85; Cxxii, p.159; Ci, p.6; Cxxii, pp.160-161; Cvi, pp.41-42; Cxviii, pp.117-118; Cxxii, p.153; Cxxvi, p.202.

  31. pp.68, 71 (involving three examples of broken rhythm), 102.

  32. pp.65-66, 68-71, 83, 85, 87-88.

  33. Civ, pp.23-24; Cxxv, pp.193-194; Cxi, p.62; Cxxii, pp.160-161; Cvii, pp.44-45; Cxxv, p.183; Cxxii, p.163; Cxii, pp.70-71.

  34. Cv, p.31; Cxx, p.140.

  35. Ciii, p.19; Cxxviii, pp.210-211.

  36. Cxxi, pp.144-145; Cxxii, pp.153-154.

  37. Ciii, p.20—Cix, p.52; Cx, pp.55, 57; Cxii, pp.68-69; etc.

  38. ‘Il ne nous reste qu'à vendre cher nôtre vie … il faut mourir les armes à la main’ (Cxv, p.91).

  39. Havens, Candide, pp.lvi, lviii; McGhee, pp.152-153; Flowers, pp.77-79. See also Brailsford, p.161.

  40. Havens, p.lviii; McGhee, pp.123-124; Flowers, loc. cit.

  41. Havens, p.lvii; McGhee, pp.129-134, 158-159, 167-168, 170-171, 173 (n.37); Flowers, pp.86-88.

  42. Havens,; McGhee, pp.116-117.

  43. Havens, p.lviii; McGhee, pp.124-125, 165, 172; Flowers, pp.65-66, 70, 101-102.

  44. Havens, pp.lvii-lviii; McGhee, pp.142, 144, 148, 150 (n.76), 161, 167 (n.16); Flowers, pp.63-65, 74, 88-90, 123-124.

  45. Havens, pp.lvi-lviii; McGhee, pp.112-113, 118-121, 155.

  46. Sareil has recently analyzed Voltaire's use of irony through repetition in the contes, including Candide (‘Répétition’, pp.137-146). Despite his claim to originality (p.137), his treatment is essentially derivative—a ‘repetition’ in different terms and various recombinations of what his predecessors had already discovered and presented. For his contention that in Candide repetition serves to ‘pallier les insuffisances du plan’ (pp.139-140) see above, chapter vii.

  47. pp.22-23, 172; 142-144, 147-148, 150 (n.76).

  48. e. g., Cxvi, p.99; Cxiv, p.85; Cvi, p.42.

  49. Cviii, p.46; Cviii, p.50; Cix, p.52; Cix, p.51.

  50. Cvii, p.44; see Torrey, Candide, p.20, n.1.

  51. Cvii, p.45; Cviii, pp.46, 50.

  52. ‘[L]e meilleur des Mondes possibles’, ‘l'harmonie préétablie’, ‘la raison suffisante’, ‘les effets & les causes’—‘tout est bien.’

  53. ‘[L]e bon Pangloss m'avait souvent prouvé que les biens de la terre sont communs à tous les hommes, que chacun y a un droit égal’ (Cx, p.54); ‘Ah que dirait Maître Pangloss, s'il voyait comme la pure nature est faite?’ (Cxvi, p.99). See Havens, Candide, pp.xliv-xlv, 124.

  54. ‘[U]n être à deux pieds sans plumes, qui avait une ame’ (Ciii, p.19). See Havens, p.118.

  55. ‘[I]l n'est pas resté pierre sur pierre’ (Civ, p.22)—see Havens, p.118; ‘Candide eut plus de joie de retrouver ce mouton qu'il n'avait été affligé d'en perdre cent tous chargés de gros diamants d'Eldorado’ (Cxx, p.140)—see Havens, p.130. Havens says that in the latter case the similarity may be purely fortuitous. I am inclined to believe that Voltaire, with his memory and his ear, must have been aware of the resemblance.

  56. the Jesuit ‘Royaume’, emphatically of this world, or ‘vigne’ (Cxiv, p.79; Cxv, p.89)—see Morize, p.89, n.2; Havens, p.123; also chapter iv above; and the two references to the garden of Eden (Cii, p.9; Cxxx, p.223)—see Havens, p.144, and chapter iv above.

  57. the list of Old Testament perpetrators or victims of public violence (Cxxx, pp.221-222)—see Morize, p.222, n.1; Havens, pp.142-143.

  58. Abraham's ‘mensonge officieux’ (Cxiii, pp.74-75)—see Morize, pp.74-75, n.2; Havens, p.122; and the captain's ‘gros livre’ (Cxxi, p.143)—see Morize, pp.143-145, n.1; Havens, p.130; Torrey, Candide, p.72, n.1; Pomeau, Candide, pp.266-267. It seems much more likely that a ship's captain would have a Bible on board than a copy of Buffon's Théorie de la terre, or even of De Brosses's Histoire des navigations.

  59. Cxix, p.130; Havens, p.127.

  60. Cxiv, p.85; Le Tartuffe, i.iv; ii.iii.

  61. Cxxvii. p.207; Fourberies, ii.vii.

  62. Phèdre, i.iii; Cxxix, p.214.

  63. Ci, pp.6-7; Civ, pp.22-24; Cxxviii, pp.211-212—Cxv, pp.87-88; Cxxviii, pp.209-210—Ci, p.7; Ciii, p.19; Cxxii, pp.164-165—Cxi, pp.61-62, 64; Cxii, pp.65-66.

  64. Cvi, pp.40, 42; Cvi, pp.40-41; Cxxiii, pp.173-174.

  65. Ciii, p.17; Cxx, p.138; Cxxii, p.148; Cxxii, p.151; Cxxiv, p.178.

  66. the first of these figures recalls the ‘who would fardels bear’ of the Hamlet soliloquy (iii.i), an image which is not, however, reproduced in the free translation of that soliloquy made by Voltaire for his eighteenth Lettre philosophique.

  67. as Havens point out, the ‘singes’ are priests, while the ‘tigres’ are assassins such as Châtel, Ravaillac, and Damiens (Candide, p.135).

  68. Civ, p.21; Cxi, p.63; Cxii, pp.70-71; Cxxii, pp.153-154; Cxxii, p.163; Cxxii, p.170; Cxxv, p.195 (see Besterman, Notebooks, ii.360); Cxxx, p.219.

  69. Cxi, p.60; Cxvii, p.108; Cxviii, p.121; Cxx, p.139; Cxxii, p.154; Cxxii, p.157; Cxxvii, p.208.

  70. Cv, p.38; Cxxi, p.145.

  71. Cxxii, p.150; Cxxiii, p.174.

  72. Cxxii, p.159-160; Cxxii, pp.160-161; Cxxv, p.195.

  73. Cv, p.30; Cxxiii, p.172; Cxxv, pp.186-187.

  74. Religion, p.430; Candide, p.261.

  75. interestingly enough, in parallel with his handling of the Eldorado episode, Voltaire has it both ways in his depiction of the dervish and the old Turk. He presents two venerable sages and describes an exotic meal in a continuing parody of fictional stereotypes, but without any caricature whatever of the personages themselves or of their ideas.

  76. Pomeau calls attention to three details worth pondering in this connection (Candide, pp.30, 237, 259). 1. In chapter i the scene in the bushes presupposes that the season is spring or summer. The very next day, in chapter ii, it is winter. Pomeau admits that the author of Candide ‘n'a cure de lier les épisodes par une chronologie stricte.’ It should be added that Voltaire is here mocking both fictional verisimilitude and the pathetic fallacy. 2. In chapter iv Pangloss brings Candide to with the aid of a little bad vinegar which just happens to be in the stable. ‘Il est peu vraisemblable’, comments Pomeau, ‘que du vinaigre, même “mauvais”, se trouve “par hasard” dans une étable.’ Granted; but Voltaire satirizes fictional coincidences throughout the tale. To cite one of many other such instances, in chapter ix Candide is suddenly attacked by don Issachar with a dagger, but manages to kill him with a sword which he just happens to have on his person, thanks to the old woman's ‘prudence.’ 3. In chapter xvii, after reaching Eldorado, Candide ‘mit pied à terre avec Cacambo auprès du premier village qu'il rencontra.’ Yet, as Pomeau points out, they appear to be on foot, since their canoe had been shattered. ‘Auraient-ils pris place’, he asks, ‘dans l'une de ces voitures tirées par des moutons rouges?’ The answer must be yes, but Voltaire shrewdly bypasses this link in the narrative chain, and he does so by literary license. Many of the important effects he is preparing in the Eldorado episode would have been spoiled if he had dwelt on such a carriage ride and its attendant conversation.—In fine, these details would be slips in a novel, but they are perfectly legitimate devices in a philosophic tale.

  77. cf. Crocker's judgment (Candide, p.17) on both the Paris and the Pococurante episodes: ‘From the aesthetic viewpoint, it is regrettable that chapters xxii and xxv break up the rhythm and movement. The satire in these two chapters, though often amusing in its revelations of the foibles of contemporary Paris, is too long, and in places, too topical to be of lasting interest.’ One of the basic distinctions between talent and genius is that genius, unlike talent, is capable of universalizing the topical. The supreme example of this capacity in world literature is Dante's Commedia, but I should like to suggest, on the basis of the evidence presented here, that in its less ambitious way Candide proves Voltaire's genius along the same lines. As for the rhythm and movement of the episodes in question, which I have analyzed in chapter viii, Crocker seems to have missed the point that the depiction of unproductive ‘ennui’ is an important element in the author's grand design, and that it calls for a technique very different from, say, the narration of an earthquake or of a headlong flight. Voltaire knew, moreover, as Beethoven knew, that the effectiveness of a scherzo is markedly enhanced by the apt inclusion of a contrasting episode.

  78. Voltaire, p.150; Prose, p.183—Candide, pp.vii, xxviii, xxix, lvi—Spirit, pp.39, 271—Contes, p.xxviii—Voltaire, p.63—p.69.

  79. in his review of Analysis (p.322) Topazio argues, following Torrey, that Candide is a classic in every sense of the term. He also insists that it is not just a miniature classic, but a classic, period, since, according to him, quantitative distinctions are irrelevant in such matters. Every sense would include the historical (see Torrey, Spirit, pp.11-14, 271-272), against which I have amassed a great deal of evidence here. If Topazio has valid counterevidence, he should cite it. With respect to quantitative distinctions, they have no place in internal analysis, which attempts to evaluate the artist's degree of skill in performance, to determine how closely he approaches perfection. On the other hand they are inevitable in external or comparative or dimensional analysis, which concerns itself with degree of greatness in performance, with the size of the artist's achievement. It is clear enough, I think, why Candide deserves to be called a classic; but compared with such monumental works as the Odyssey, the Commedia, King Lear, and The Brothers Karamazov, Candide is surely no more than a miniature classic. It seems to me that this is as far as sober judgment can take us. To go farther is to be carried away by one's enthusiasm.

  80. for factors contributing to this acute augmentation of sympathy, see, in chapter iv above, my discussion of the pessimistic trend of the fifties.

  81. G. Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman: ‘The Revolutionist's handbook: Religion.’

  82. pp.170-188—Age of crisis and Nature and culture, passim.

  83. e. g., Age of crisis, pp.36, 63, 64, 65, 140, 222, 388; Nature and culture, pp.238n., 243, 344.—When Crocker writes as a literary critic rather than as a historian of ideas, he comes much closer to the essential Voltaire as presented in this study. See, e. g., his Candide, p.22.

  84. Williams, ‘Human freedom’, p.413; ‘Logical and natural compulsion’, p.190.

  85. Worcester, loc. cit.; Johnson, loc. cit.

  86. Morize, pp.xiii-xxii, xxxiv-lxiii, and notes, passim; Torrey, Spirit, p.279; Naves, Voltaire, pp.155-156.

List of Works Mentioned in the Text

[References in the text and in footnotes have been methodically limited to key words. The list which follows is cross-indexed to facilitate the finding of the complete references. In the text Candide is cited as C, chapters are indicated by Roman numerals, and page numbers refer to the Morize edition.]

Aldington, Richard, Voltaire. London 1925.

Analysis. see Bottiglia, Voltaire'sCandide’: analysis of a classic.

An Anthology of eighteenth-century French literature, ed. Ira O. Wade [and others]. Princeton 1930.

Ascoli, Georges, ‘Voltaire’, Revue des cours et conférences (Paris juillet 1924; avril, juillet 1925), xxv.ii.616-630; xxvi.ii.153-167, 619-639.

———Zadig. see Voltaire, Zadig.

Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis: the representation of reality in western literature, trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton 1953.

Beaumont, Cyril W., Puppets and the puppet stage. New York 1938.

Beer, sir Gavin de, ‘Voltaire's British visitors’, Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century (Geneva 1957), iv.7-136.

Bellessort, André, Essai sur Voltaire. Paris 1925.

Bénac. see Voltaire, Romans et contes.

Bergson, Henri, Le Rire: essai sur la signification du comique. Paris 1901.

Berl. see Voltaire, Traité sur la tolérance.

Besterman, Theodore. see Voltaire, Voltaire's correspondence [cited as Best.].

———Notebooks. see Voltaire, Notebooks.

———‘Voltaire et le désastre de Lisbonne: ou, La Mort de l'optimisme’, Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century (Geneva 1956), ii.7-24.

Boehn, Max von, Dolls and puppets, trans. Josephine Nicoll. London 1932.

Bottiglia, William F., review of Wade, Candide, Modern language notes (Baltimore February 1961), lxxvi.171-174.

———Voltaire'sCandide’: analysis of a classic, Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century (Geneva 1959), vol.vii, 1st ed.

Brailsford, Henry N., Voltaire. London 1935.

Brunetière, Ferdinand, Histoire de la littérature française classique (1515-1830), vol.iii. Paris 1912.

———Histoire et littérature, vol.iii. Paris 1886.

Castets, Ferdinand, ‘Candide, Simplicius et Candido’, Revue des langues romanes (Montpellier et Paris novembre-décembre 1905), xlviii [5e sér. viii]. 481-491.

Champion, Edme, Voltaire: études critiques. Paris 1893.

Cherpack, Clifton, ‘Voltaire's Histoire de Jenni: a synthetic creed’, Modern philology (Chicago Aug. 1956), liv.26-32.

Clarétie, Léo, Histoire des théâtres de société. Paris 18..

Colles, H. C., ‘Symphonic poem’, Grove's dictionary of music and musicians, 5th ed. (London 1954), viii.206-207.

Crocker, Lester G., An Age of crisis: man and world in eighteenth-century French thought. Baltimore 1959.

———Candide. see Voltaire, Candide ou l'Optimisme.

———Nature and culture: ethical thought in the French Enlightenment. Baltimore 1963.

———review of Bottiglia, Analysis, The French review (Baltimore February 1960), xxxiii.425-427.

———‘Voltaire's struggle for humanism’, Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century (Geneva 1957), iv.137-169.

Crowley. see Voltaire, Poème sur la loi naturelle.

Dargan, E. Preston, review of Torrey, Spirit, Modern philology (Chicago Nov. 1939), xxxvii.217-218.

Delattre, André, Voltaire l'impétueux. Paris 1957.

Desnoiresterres, Gustave, La Comédie satirique au XVIIIe siècle. Paris 1885.

———Voltaire et la société française au XVIIIe siècle. Paris 1867-1876, 8 vols.

Dieckmann, Herbert, ‘An Interpretation of the eighteenth century’, Modern language quarterly (Seattle Dec. 1954), xv.295-311.

Disney. see Origin and development of the microscope.

Du Bled, Victor, La Société française du XVIe siècle au XXe siècle. Paris 1900-1913, 9 vols.

Eder, Joseph M., Ausführliches handbuch der photographie (erster band, erster teil: Geschichte der photographie [erste hälfte]). Halle (Saale) 1932.

Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, ed. Denis Diderot and Jean L. d'Alembert. Paris 1751-1780, 35 vols.

Encyclopédie méthodique, ou par ordre de matières: Dictionnaire des amusemens des sciences mathématiques et physiques. Paris 1793.

English satire: an anthology, ed. Norman Furlong. London 1946.

Euler, Leonhard, Lettres à une princesse d'Allemagne sur divers sujets de physique et de philosophie. London 1775, 3 vols.

Faguet, Emile, Dix-huitième siècle: études littéraires, 19th ed. Paris 1901.

———Voltaire. Paris 1895.

Falke, Rita, ‘Eldorado: le meilleur des mondes possibles’, Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century (Geneva 1956), ii.25-41.

Fellows, Otis, review of Bottiglia, Analysis, Modern language notes (Baltimore December 1959), lxxiv.754-755.

Ferrigni, Pietro C., La Storia dei burattini. Florence 1884.

Flandrin. see Voltaire, Œuvres choisies.

Flowers, Ruth C., Voltaire's stylistic transformation of Rabelaisian satirical devices. Washington 1951.

Fowler, Henry W., A Dictionary of modern English usage. New York 1950.

Freer, Alan J., review of Bottiglia, Analysis, Studi francesi (Torino sett.-dic. 1959), iii.494.

Friedell, Egon, A Cultural history of the modern age, trans. Charles F. Atkinson, vol.ii. New York 1931.

Furlong. see English satire: an anthology.

Gage, Simon H. and Henry P. Gage, Optic projection. Ithaca 1914.

Garcilaso de la Vega, Histoire des Yncas, rois du Pérou: Histoire de la conquête de la Floride, trans. Jean Beaudoin. Amsterdam 1737, 2 vols.

Goncourt, Edmond de and Jules de Goncourt, La Femme au dix-huitième siècle. Paris 1905.

Graffigny, Françoise d'I. d'H. de, Vie privée de Voltaire et de Mme du Châtelet pendant un séjour de six mois à Cirey. Paris 1820.

Green, Frederick C., Contes. see Voltaire, Choix de contes.

———Eighteenth-century France. New York 1931.

———French novelists, manners, & ideas from the Renaissance to the Revolution. London 1928.

Grimm, Friedrich M., Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique [par Grimm, Diderot, Raynal, Meister, etc.], ed. Maurice Tourneux, vol.iv. Paris 1878.

Grubbs, Henry A., ‘Voltaire and rime’, Studies in philology (Chapel Hill, etc. July 1942), xxxix.524-544.

Guérard, Albert, The Life and death of an ideal: France in the classical age. New York 1928.

Hatzfeld, Helmut A., Literature through art: a new approach to French literature. New York 1952.

Hauser, Arnold, The Social history of art, trans. Stanley Godman. London 1951, 2 vols.

Havens, George R., The Age of ideas. New York 1955.

———Candide. see Voltaire, Candide, ou l'Optimisme.

———‘The Composition of Voltaire's Candide’, Modern language notes (Baltimore April 1932), xlvii.225-234.

———‘The Conclusion of Voltaire's Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne’, Modern language notes (Baltimore June 1941), lvi.422-426.

———‘The Nature doctrine of Voltaire’, Publications of the Modern language association of America (Menasha, Wis. Dec. 1925), xl.852-862.

———review of Torrey, Spirit, The Philosophical review (Boston, etc. May 1940), xlix.375-376.

———‘Voltaire's pessimistic revision of the conclusion of his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne’, Modern language notes (Baltimore Dec. 1929), xliv.489-492.

Hazard, Paul, La Pensée européenne au xviiie siècle, de Montesquieu à Lessing. Paris 1946, 3 vols.

———‘Le Problème du mal dans la conscience européenne du dix-huitième siècle’, The Romanic review (New York [Lancaster, Pa.] April 1941), xxxii.147-170.

Johnson. see A Treasury of satire.

Jones. see Voltaire, L'Ingénu.

Joseph, Helen H., A Book of marionettes. New York 1936.

Jullien, Adolphe, Les Grandes nuits de Sceaux. Paris 1876.

Kahn, Ludwig W., ‘Voltaire's Candide and the problem of secularization’, Publications of the Modern language association of America (Menasha, Wis. Sept. 1952), lxvii.886-888.

La Harpe, Jean F. de, Lycée, ou Cours de littérature ancienne et moderne, vol.xiii. Paris 1816.

Lanson, Gustave, L'Art de la prose, 13th ed. Paris n.d. [pref. 1908].

———Contes. see Voltaire, Contes choisis.

———Histoire de la littérature française, 12th ed. Paris n.d.

———Voltaire, 2nd ed. Paris 1910.

Larousse du xxe siècle, ed. P. Augé. Paris 1928-1933, 6 vols.

Le Breton, André, Le Roman au dix-huitième siècle. Paris 1898.

Levy, Bernard, The Unpublished plays of Carolet. New York 1931.

Littré, Emile, Dictionnaire de la langue française. Paris 1885-1889, 4 vols. plus ‘Supplément.’

Lovejoy, Arthur O., The Great chain of being. Cambridge, Mass. 1953.

———‘Optimism and romanticism’, Publications of the Modern language association of America (Menasha, Wis. Dec. 1927), xlii.921-945.

McGhee, Dorothy M., Fortunes of a tale. Menasha, Wis. 1954.

———Voltairian narrative devices as considered in the author's contes philosophiques. Menasha, Wis. 1933.

Magnin, Charles, Histoire des marionnettes en Europe depuis l'antiquité jusqu'à nos jours. 2nd ed. Paris 1862.

Maritain, Jacques, L'Homme et l'état, trans. Robert et France Davril. Paris 1953.

Martin, Kingsley, The Rise of French liberal thought, ed. J. P. Mayer. New York 1954.

Modern France, ed. Arthur Tilley. Cambridge, Engl. 1922.

Moland. see Voltaire, Œuvres complètes [cited as M.].

Morehouse, Andrew R., Voltaire and Jean Meslier. New Haven 1936.

Morillot, Paul, Le Roman en France depuis 1610 jusqu'à nos jours. Paris 1892.

Morize. see Voltaire, Candide ou l'Optimisme.

Mornet, Daniel, Histoire de la clarté française. Paris 1929.

———Histoire de la littérature et de la pensée française. Paris 1924.

———Histoire des grandes œuvres de la littérature française. Paris 1925.

———Les Origines intellectuelles de la révolution française: 1715-1787. Paris 1933.

———La Pensée française au xviiie siècle. Paris 1926.

———review of Torrey, Spirit, Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France (Paris oct.-déc. 1938), xlv.532-533.

Musschenbroek, Petrus van, Essai de physique, trans. Pierre Massuet. Leyden 1739, 2 vols.

Naves, Raymond, De Candide à Saint-Preux. Paris 1940.

———Review of McGhee, Devices, Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France (Paris, oct.-déc. 1934), xli.614-615.

———Voltaire: l'homme et l'œuvre. Paris 1942.

Nollet, Jean A., Leçons de physique expérimentale. Paris 1753-1764, 6 vols.

———Programme ou Idée générale d'un cours de physique expérimentale. Paris 1738.

Origin and development of the microscope, ed. Alfred N. Disney [and others]. London 1928.

Patterson, see Voltaire, Traité de métaphysique.

Pellissier, Georges, Voltaire philosophe. Paris 1908.

Perey, Lucien [pseud. of Clara A. Herpin] and Gaston Maugras, La Vie intime de Voltaire aux Délices et à Ferney: 1754-1778, 2nd ed. Paris 1885.

Petit. see Voltaire, Contes.

‘The Philosophy of Voltaire's romances’, Temple Bar (London May 1887), lxxx.91-110.

Pomeau, René, Candide. see Voltaire, Candide ou l'Optimisme.

———Politique. see Voltaire, Politique de Voltaire.

———La Religion de Voltaire. Paris 1956.

———review of Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century, vii, viii, ix, Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France (Paris janv.-mars 1961), lxi.85-87.

———Voltaire par lui-même. Paris 1955.

Price, William R., The Symbolism of Voltaire's novels with special reference toZadig’. New York 1911.

Redman. see Voltaire, The Portable Voltaire.

Saintsbury, George, A History of the French novel, vol.i. London 1917.

———A Short history of French literature, 7th ed. Oxford 1928.

Sareil, Jean, Anatole France et Voltaire. Geneva and Paris 1961.

———‘La Répétition dans les “Contes” de Voltaire’, The French review (Baltimore December 1961), xxxv.137-146.

———‘De Zadig à Candide, ou Permanence de la pensée de Voltaire’, The Romanic review (New York December 1961), lii.271-278.

Saulnier. see Voltaire, Zadig.

Sibbald, Reginald S., Marionettes in the north of France. Philadelphia 1936.

Spitzer, Leo, Linguistics and literary history: essays in stylistics. New York 1962.

———A Method of interpreting literature. Northampton, Mass. 1949.

Strachey, G. Lytton, Landmarks in French literature. New York 1923.

Strauss, David F., Voltaire, trans. Louis Narval, 3rd ed. Paris 1876.

Thibaudet, Albert, ‘Réflexions sur la littérature: le roman de l'aventure’, La Nouvelle revue française (Paris sept. 1919), [n.s.] xiii.597-611.

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Toldo, Pietro, ‘Voltaire conteur et romancier’, Zeitschrift für französische sprache und litteratur (Oppeln, etc. Feb. 1913), xl.131-185.

Topazio, Virgil W., review of Bottiglia, Analysis, Symposium (Syracuse Fall 1959), xiii.320-322.

Torrey, Norman L., Candide. see Voltaire, Candide or Optimism.

———‘The Date of composition of Candide, and Voltaire's corrections’, Modern language notes (Baltimore Nov. 1929), xliv.445-447.

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Van Tieghem. see Voltaire, Contes & romans.

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———Candide ou l'Optimisme, ed. Lester G. Crocker. London 1958.

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Wade, Ira O., Anthology. see An Anthology of eighteenth-century French literature.

———Micromégas. see Voltaire, Voltaire's ‘Micromégas.’

———review of Torrey, Spirit, Modern language notes (Baltimore May 1939), liv.383-384.

———The Search for a new Voltaire, Transactions of the American philosophical society (Philadelphia July 1958), vol.xlviii [n.s.].

———Studies on Voltaire. Princeton 1947.

———‘Uranie.’ see Voltaire, ‘The Epître à Uranie.

———Voltaire andCandide’: a study in the fusion of history, art, and philosophy. Princeton 1959.

———Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet: an essay on the intellectual activity at Cirey. Princeton 1941.

Whitman, Cedric H., Sophocles: a study of heroic humanism. Cambridge, Mass. 1951.

Williams, Gardner, ‘Free-will and determinism’, The Journal of philosophy (New York Dec. 1941), xxxviii.701-712.

———‘Human freedom and the laws of nature’, The Journal of philosophy (New York July 1944), xli.411-415.

———‘Logical and natural compulsion in free will’, The Journal of philosophy (New York Mar. 1945), xlii.185-191.

———‘Wrath, responsibility, and progress in a deterministic system’, The Journal of philosophy (New York Aug. 1942), xxxix.458-468.

Worcester, David, The Art of satire. Cambridge, Mass. 1940.

I. O. Wade (essay date 1966)

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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, it is a freak of wit which, in order to please a wide public, needs a bit of decency and some more circumspection. We wish the author had spoken more respectfully concerning religion and the clergy, and that he had not made use of the miserable story of Paraguay, which as it appears here contributes nothing new or amusing. …

Thus the author of the article assumed that if the conte were intended to refute Leibnitz, its success would be doubtful, and even if it were effective as a refutation, it could not be considered a work of art because of its indecencies and exaggerations. In general, the Journal's criticism gives the impression that Candide can neither be taken seriously nor dismissed lightly.

Voltaire found present in his period this same peculiar ambiguity noted by the Journal encyclopédique in its review. At the time he was writing the conte, he commented again and again that Paris “qui chante et qui danse” had abandoned its frivolous air for the serious air of the English. Instead of being “singes” [monkeys] performing “singeries,” [monkey-business] which was perfectly normal and natural, Parisians had become “ours,” [bears] debating and prattling about serious things. One gathers from his comment that he deplored the change, and in fact he does so in his Correspondance, but in Chapter xxii of the novel itself, he condemns Paris “qui chante et qui danse,” Paris of the “singeries.” His attitude toward this situation is not the important thing, however; the author's attitude never is, in a work of art. What is really significant is that the conte has absorbed the ambiguity of its time and of its author. Candide is the product of those “qui dansent et qui chantent,” the “singes” and their “singeries,” but also of the “ours” who take themselves seriously. And it is difficult to know which is the real, authentic Candide.

Grimm's review in the Correspondance littéraire, less favorable still, did precisely what the author of the Journal encyclopédique article deemed impossible. Renouncing any attempt to treat the work seriously, Grimm insisted that the only way to handle it was to take it lightly. After finding the second half superior to the first, after condemning the chapter on Paris, after denying the conte every serious literary and philosophical quality, he found only Voltaire's gaiety to praise:

Gaiety is one of the rarest qualities to be found among wits. It is a long time since we read anything joyous in literature; M. de Voltaire has just delighted [but égayer has also the sense of “mock”] us with a little novel called Candide, or optimism, translated from the German of Dr. Ralph. There is no need to judge this performance by high standards; it would never stand up to serious criticism. There is in Candide neither arrangement nor plan nor wisdom nor any of those happy strokes which one sometimes finds in English novels of the same sort; instead, you will find in it plenty of things in bad taste, low touches, smut and filth deprived of that discreet veil which renders them supportable; but gaiety and facility never abandon M. de Voltaire, who banishes from his most frivolous as from his most carefully worked writings that air of pretension which spoils everything. The fine touches and gay sallies which he gives off at every moment make the reading of Candide a very amusing experience.

Thus Candide became for Grimm what Voltaire often called it: “une plaisanterie” [a jest].

Mme. de Staël, on the other hand, takes a position the very opposite of Grimm's. She admits willingly that the book abounds in laughter, but considers it in no way a “plaisanterie,” for this laughter contains something inhumanly diabolical. She concedes that Candide basically was directed against Leibnitz, but stresses that it was directed against the fundamental propositions which preoccupy mankind, especially those philosophical opinions which enhance the spirit of man. Nothing could be more serious:

Voltaire had so clear a sense of the influence which metaphysical systems exert on the direction of our thinking, that he composed Candide to combat Leibnitz. He took a curious attitude of hostility toward final causes, optimism, free will, and in short against all these philosophic opinions which tend to raise the dignity of man; and he created Candide, that work of diabolic gaiety. For it seems to have been written by a creature of a nature wholly different from our own, indifferent to our lot, rejoicing in our sufferings, and laughing like a demon or an ape at the misery of this human race with which he has nothing in common.

While Grimm stresses the conte's gaiety, and Mme de Staël its seriousness, Linguet in his Examen des ouvrages de M. de Voltaire (Bruxelles, 1788) notes its dual character, that is to say, the glee with which Voltaire destroys the philosophy of optimism by graphically describing the tragic miseries of humanity:

Candide offers us the saddest of themes disguised under the merriest of jokes, the joking being of that philosophical variety which is peculiar to M. de Voltaire, and which, I repeat, seems like the equipment of an excellent comedian. He makes the all's well system, upheld by so many philosophers, look completely ridiculous, and cracks a thousand jests even as he holds before our eyes at every instant the miseries of society and portrays them with a very energetic pencil.

(p. 170)

Without being too dogmatic, we can confidently assert that these four opinions, though based on the same fundamental ambiguous assumptions, are widely divergent and represent the cardinal points of all Candide critics. There are those who, like the author of the Journal encyclopédique, feel that the work can be taken neither seriously nor lightly, those who maintain with Grimm that it must be treated only lightly, those who aver with Mme de Staël that it can be taken only seriously, and finally those who like Linguet, find that it must be taken seriously and lightly at the same time.

This double quality of gaiety and seriousness, so characteristic of Voltaire and of his time, is apparent at every turn throughout the conte, but it is not a simple matter to grasp the deep ambiguity of its personality. When the reader is ready to revolt in horror, a sudden reflection, a quick turn in events, an unexpected quip, or the mere insertion of a remark brings him back to normal. When he is inclined to levity, an incident, an observation, or an injustice brings him back to consider the deadly earnest attack which is being made on all aspects of life.

The difficulty in harmonizing these two attitudes in the reader's understanding has led to divers partial interpretations of Candide, practically all of them valid in their way but each woefully deficient in itself. If the book is to be taken lightly, how lightly? Can it be dismissed as the “crême fouettée de l'Europe,” [whipped cream of Europe] or is it a “bonne plaisanterie,” with a “fonds le plus triste” [an undertone of sadness]? Does Candide, like Figaro, rail at everything to keep himself from weeping? Is it, as Montaigne once said of Rabelais, “simplement plaisant” [naïvely comic] on the surface, but “triste” underneath? There is a similar progression in the opposite attitude. How far does Voltaire go in his satire? Does he, for instance, merely castigate the social conditions of his time, as Boileau or Horace had done before him, or does he satirize the fundamental conditions of life, like a Homer or a Racine, or does he push his revolt to the point of satirizing the Creator of life? These are difficult, almost irreverent, questions. The answers must always be yes, although every yes is contradicted by another yes, or a yes and no by another yes and no. Far from being a structure of “clear and distinct ideas,” Candide is confusion confounded. But it is the confusion of a universe clearly and distinctly controlled. Whatever happens may be terribly and devastatingly irrational, but once it has been sifted through Voltaire's intelligence, it has been ordered by the keenest sort of criticism into a created form which does not differ from the form of life itself. Candide embraces everything that has occurred in the life of Voltaire as well as everything that had occurred in the eighteenth century. It is astounding in its comprehensiveness, and quite as remarkable in other aspects: the rhythmical arrangement of the above-mentioned phenomena, the careful selection and presentation, the exact apportionment, and the very orderly expression.

That is the reason why every judgment of Candide is bound to be partial, one-sided, contradictory, and vague, just like every judgment we make of life or of our individual lives. Since every man is a “Démocrite” and a “Héraclite,” he must be “Jean-qui-pleure” and “Jean-qui-rit.”3 But every man must be these two characters at the same time: he is neither optimist nor pessimist, rebellious nor submissive, free nor enslaved, formed nor unformed, real nor unreal. He must make a reality of these necessary contradictions.

The four opinions expressed above, while representing the four cardinal positions in Candide criticism, in no way exhaust the range of partial interpretations given the work. I pass over Voltaire's own sly remark that it was written to convert Socinians, as well as the superficial, but amusing, epigram current at the time of its appearance:

Candide is a little crook,
Shameless and weak in the head;
You can tell by his sly look,
He's kid brother to The Maid.(4)
His old dad would give a pack
Just to be young again:
His youth will come back,
He's writing like a young man.
Life isn't great, take a look,
He proves it six different ways,
You'll even see in this book
Things really stink, like he says.

Of more importance is the qualification printed in the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques:5 “Bad novel, full of filth, perhaps the most impious and pernicious work ever to come from the pen of M. de Voltaire,” or the opinion attributed the Patriarch [i.e., Voltaire himself] by the unknown author of the Confession de Voltaire:6 “It follows from the reading of Candide that the earth is a sewer of horror and abominations [with a quotation from Job 10:22 ‘A land of misery and shadows, where is no order but eternal horror dwells’]; more than one chapter of it was composed during attacks of migraine …” or the more drastic qualification of Jules Janin in Le dernier volume des Œuvres de Voltaire.7

The book was much read in high society, where it was not understood. People saw nothing but romantic adventures where Voltaire with fiendish logic had intended to ridicule God.

After so many categorical statements, made with appropriately French nuance, it may seem idle to seek a clearer view of Candide's reality. It is quite possible to agree that the work is a “vaurien” [no-good], or obscene, or perhaps the most impious ever written by Voltaire, or that its portrayal of the earth is abomination and horror incarnate. One might even go so far as to agree with Janin that “Voltaire avait voulu railler Dieu” [Voltaire intended to ridicule God]. But to understand that the work is at the same time a revolt and a submission, an attack and a defense, a joy and a suffering, a destruction and a creation requires more than ordinary insight, patience, and serenity. There is, indeed, the temptation to dismiss it as only one thing, as too simple, too superficial.

What is dangerous in Candide is not its simplicity, but its duplicity. Candide is always deceptively two. Its unremitting ambiguity leads inevitably to a puzzling clandestinity, and the reader, beset with difficulties in forming a well-considered opinion, settles for trite commonplaces. The work actually encourages him in this. Let us take as an example the oft-repeated remark that Voltaire attacked Leibnitz. Though true, this statement adds nothing to the comprehension of Candide's reality.

It would be useful, nevertheless, to understand the relationship between Candide and Leibnitz. Undeniably, Voltaire satirized Leibnitzian terminology in his conte but ample testimony has been adduced to show that he never rejected Leibnitzianism: he rejected some things in it—the theory of monads, for example—but he readily accepted other ideas such as the principle of sufficient reason. We have already shown that he needed Leibnitz's principles, just as they were needed by the eighteenth century at large. It is a particularly carefree criticism that envisages the development of ideas as a matter of acceptance or rejection. Voltaire was certainly more realistic in his attitude. What he satirized was the terminology; not the philosophy, but what in that philosophy was now contributing to making life sterile. Moreover, at the moment he was writing Candide, he stated explicitly that people had ceased paying attention to what Leibnitz said. Soon after, when a new edition of Leibnitz's works was published, he complimented the editor. The truth of the matter is that Voltaire, like his time, had to integrate Descartes, Pascal, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Malebranche, Locke and Newton in order to create an Enlightenment philosophy. Leibnitz was as important to that philosophy as any of the others, and fully as useful. It is probable that in 1750 he had played his role and in that sense had ceased to claim people's attention. But even this assessment is subject to caution.

This dilemma has led certain critics to insist that what Voltaire is attacking is not a philosopher, but a philosophy. Ever since the article of March 15, 1759, in the Journal encyclopédique, some critics have insisted that Voltaire definitely aimed his attack not against Leibnitz or Pope, but against a system of philosophy to which Leibnitz, Pope, and many others had contributed and which we now call optimism. Since he himself entitled his work Candide,ou l'optimisme, it would be extremely difficult to deny that he directed his satire at this way of looking at life. To conclude, however, with Linguet, that “il tourne complètement en ridicule le système du tout est bien” [he makes the all's well system look completely ridiculous”], or, with Lanson, that “le but est de démolir l'optimisme” [“his aim is to demolish optimism”], is misplacing the emphasis. It would not take a very skillful lawyer to prove that Voltaire's treatment of optimism is quite as optimistic as the treatment of the optimists themselves, that he says no more for or against it than Leibnitz, Pope, King, and hundreds of others. Voltaire is assailing all feeling of complacency which nullifies and stultifies human effort in a universe requiring a maximum of human effort to realize itself—he is assailing, in a word, all restraints upon the creative spirit of man.

It must be admitted that his attitude toward optimism is difficult to trace because of the ambiguity of his position. He was congenitally opposed to any attitude which complacently asseverated that “tout est bien,” mainly because such a belief limited human effort. But he was quite as opposed to any attitude which despairingly asserted that “tout est mal,” chiefly because such a standpoint also limited human effort. But other considerations were important, too. Voltaire knew that “tout n'est pas bien” because there are numerous concrete cases of evil, and he knew also that “tout n'est pas mal” because there are many concrete cases of good. Throughout the conte, he draws a constant parallel between the wretchedness of others and his own happiness, and he continually wavers between the achievements of his time and its follies. He weighs facts as scrupulously as Montaigne weighed truth: the facts prove two things, two exasperatingly contradictory things. Cacambo's friendship and loyalty make him “un tres bon homme” [a very good man], while Vanderdendur's duplicity makes him “un homme très dur” [a very hard man], but both are realities, just as the “duretés” of the “homme noir” and the kindness of the “bon Jacques” are realities. There is thus in Candide a compensatory quality, common to all Voltaire's works and to the eighteenth century in general, that is, that good is counterbalanced by evil. This is no new attitude: it is evident throughout his works from the Epître à Uranie to Candide. Le Monde comme il va, Micromégas, Zadig hold steadily to this idea.

It is not the view, however, that is important, but the conclusion to be drawn from it. Should one conclude for optimism, or surrender to pessimism? Should one be content with weighing impassively this against that, refusing to take sides, enjoying fully his own happiness? This skeptical conclusion, characteristic of the Renaissance in general and of Montaigne in particular, did not find favor with Voltaire, although he, like most Frenchmen, was strongly attracted to it. The ambiguity of Candide's garden, and of its actual prototype at Les Délices and Ferney, was occasioned in fact by this skeptical conclusion. But Voltaire's skepticism, which is as positive as Montaigne's, is no proof against his cynicism. It was impossible to “jouir largement de son être” [enjoy freely his existence] in 1758 after the fiasco at Berlin, the Lisbon Earthquake, and the Seven Years War. It was possible, perhaps, to criticize, blame, satirize, laugh mockingly, always with indifference, in this completely mad world. Voltaire attempted to adopt this attitude also but found it quite unsatisfactory.

Candide is thus in its inner substance not wholly optimistic, or pessimistic, or skeptical, or cynical: it is all of these things at the same time. Since every created thing resembles its creator and the moment of its creation, it is precisely what Voltaire and his time were: optimistic, pessimistic, skeptical, and cynical, a veritable “moment de la crise” [moment of crisis]. Facts had produced ideas, it is true, but ideas had not yet produced ideals, and no one knew what to do.

There are, of course, several ways of meeting this situation. First, there is resignation: Christian or even philosophical resignation, both unacceptable to Voltaire. Having rejected Christianity, dogma and all, he could find no solace in an attitude leading to consequences that he could not accept, and having long since adopted libertine Epicureanism, he saw no sense in any form of stoicism, Christian or pagan.

Second, there is the way of attack, for if conditions are intolerable, they can be denounced. It is as easy to ridicule distasteful facts, offensive people, disagreeable incidents, and unfair judgments as to satirize an unacceptable view of the universe. Voltaire responded freely and fully to this temptation: the list of things and persons he assails is practically endless: kings, religious intolerance, the Inquisition; Fréron, Vanduren, Trublet; war, inequality, injustice; disease, earthquake, tidal waves; petty thievery, rape, social pride; Jesuits, Jansenists, slavery. In this mass and single attack there is a complete upheaval of the social order; in the political area we find deep criticism of monarchy, the policing of the state, the lack of freedom and equality before the law. In the realm of religion there are powerful accusations against persecution, intolerance, useless dogma, and hierarchical institution. In the moral order, dishonesty, shame, false pride, prostitution, rape, all the petty inhumanities of man against man are viciously assailed. In the natural order, disease, cataclysms, malformations are damned with an irreverence barely short of blasphemy. And yet, though Candide attacks, it does not ultimately destroy. The reason for this is very simple: life is full of miseries, but it also has its pleasures. It is perhaps true that few people would like to relive it, but also true that few voluntarily renounce it. Voltaire was certainly not one to abdicate.

Nevertheless, as the crisis developed, he was torn between cynical renunciation and the urge to create. He was completely aware that the forces restraining this urge were powerful enough to eliminate not only the desire but the person desiring. Experience had taught him the stupidities of man, the horrors of war, the power of kings, and the eccentricities of nature. Any one of these could easily suppress him and his urge to create. He was thus literally reduced to living by his wits, like J. F. Rameau and Figaro, and living by his wits meant very literally indeed the application of wit to all this stupid phenomenon. The world had become a paradox and Voltaire responded with a revolt.

It is imperative to understand the nature of this revolt, since the whole eighteenth century and subsequent centuries have derived from it. Voltaire's response was born of both anger and despair. He was “fâché” [angry] with kings, “fâché” with earthquakes, “fâché” with God. Agamemnon, the great Earthshaker and Zeus had “let him down,” just as they had seemed to abandon Achilles in a far distant moment. The two urns which stand at the feet of Zeus poured forth both good and evil upon the old Patriarch and he, in his frustration, became deeply unhappy, the more so since events transcended all understanding by the human mind:

Poor feeble reason, blind, misled, bemused,
If with God's insights it be not suffused,
Will ne'er conceive what power out of hell
Mingled so much of ill with what is well.

Voltaire's attitude toward Providence must be considered very carefully if we are to grasp the meaning of Candide. It was perhaps well to ask ourselves what role Rousseau's letter played in the composition of the conte. While it is extremely unlikely that the Lettre sur la Providence provoked Candide, as Rousseau would have us believe, it is nevertheless true that Rousseau's defense of Providence touched Voltaire in his sensitive spot. The conclusion of Zadig, it will be recalled, had definitely been a defense of Providence, along more rational, Popian lines than Rousseau's later defense. The problem is therefore posed as to Voltaire's subsequent attitude.

If, to be specific, Voltaire felt that Pope's arguments no longer “justified the ways of God to man,” and Leibnitz's were equally deficient, did he think that he had better ones, or that he could find better ones elsewhere? In other words, was his quarrel with the optimists whose arguments could not justify God's ways or with God whose way could not be rationally justified? And did he assail the philosophers with fiendish glee because he did not know how to attack Providence which was really responsible for evil? Why did he not heed Rousseau's letter as the Duke de Wurtemburg thought he should have done? Why was it rather an incitement to Candide, just as Rousseau thought? These are strange and almost irreverent questions, and totally unanswerable in any critical way, but necessary in divining Voltaire's state of mind. It is undoubtedly true that his act was not a critique but a revolt, a titanic revolt brought about by a breakdown in the power of critique. Having reached the place where understanding was irrational, Voltaire had no other resource than to attack overtly those who thought they understood, and who gave good rational reasons for their comprehension. Simply put, he could only attack the irrationality, the ambiguity of the universe by annihilating rationally all rationality. In that respect his wit is a spiritual, not a rational, instrument for assailing the ambiguity, the clandestinity of a universe which refuses to make itself known.

This state of things explains why one never knows in reading Candide whether to laugh with Voltaire or at him, whether to laugh with the philosophers or at them, whether indeed to laugh with or at Providence; whether, in fact, to laugh at all. In uncertainty and despair there is much ground for hesitation, uneasiness, bitterness, frustration. Taken seriously, the moment of Candide is a tragic affair. But should it be taken seriously? Mme d'Epinay in her characterization of Voltaire states that when he has become most serious he immediately starts making fun of himself and everybody else. This reaction seems to hold true for Candide. Certainly no one takes himself too seriously in Candide. When the moment of revolt becomes too intense, each person resorts to his wit to save the situation. Thus wit is not only a means of revolt, it is at the same time an instrument for the release of intolerable pressures and better still, it serves as a release for the inner forces of man; it is a force, too, a creative effort, an urge to be. Standing face to face with the power of annihilation, impotent to solve either the rationality or the irrationality of things, witness to an impossibly ludicrous cosmic tragedy, Candide proclaims loudly, not that

The play is the tragedy Man
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm

but that the play is puny, insignificant, unregenerate man, and its hero an unconquerable, defiant, eternal wit.


  1. From I. O. Wade, Voltaire and Candide (Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 311-322. Copyright 1959; reprinted by permission of the publisher. Quotations from the French have been translated by the present editor.

  2. March 15, 1759, p. 103.

  3. Title of a poem by Voltaire which concludes: “We're formed of clay divine, so much I know, / And all, one day, will rise to heavenly glory; / But here on earth we see a different story, / Souls are machines, which fate bids stop or go. / Watch nature change her giddy mood; / Although, like Heraclitus, he was sad, / Let business suddenly be good, / And man will, like Democritus, be glad” [Editor].

  4. Voltaire's La Pucelle.

  5. September 3, 1760, p. 158.

  6. Geneva, 1762, p. 39.

  7. Paris, 1861, p. 103.

Donna Isaacs Dalnekoff (essay date 1974)

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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. …


In contrast to the first six places through which Candide has passed, Eldorado, whether a true or false ideal, is a utopia in a much narrower sense of the word, with the conventional features of this literary phenomenon. Voltaire did not invent Eldorado, but read about such a country in the course of his research for the Essai sur les mœurs (1758). His sources told him of a place where, according to legend, a group of Incas had taken refuge after the Spaniards had conquered their empire. It was said to be a place of fabulous riches, and therefore named the golden one, Eldorado, by the Europeans, who in their avarice, made it the object of an intense, but always unsuccessful search. Eldorado is thus by tradition a country of marvels, an object of desire, and at the same time a place whose reality is unproven and dubious. …

It is a basic characteristic of a utopian community that it be radically cut off from the world outside. More's Utopia was deliberately cut off by Utopus who dug an artificial channel to transform a peninsula into an island. Even Rabelais's Thélème, although an abbey without walls, had an inscription on its gate designed to warn away all but the select few. It is thus that the utopia preserves its integrity which would otherwise continually be subject to corrosion. At the same time however, this cutting off casts an ambiguous light over the reality of the utopia as well as its relevance to the problems of the world outside.

[Voltaire scholar William F.] Bottiglia, in his analysis of Candide, asserts that Eldorado serves as an ideal, which he defines as a ‘standard of perfection supremely desirable but not fully attainable, though more or less approachable’. Its function is to ‘serve as a lure so powerful that it seems fully attainable’, although by definition it is ‘beyond complete realization’. While Bottiglia is correct that Eldorado has features that seem highly desirable, Eldorado is presented as an ideal of a curiously paradoxical kind, whose approachability, not only its attainability, is very much in question. The journey to Eldorado is described in such terms as to emphasize its inaccessibility, as is the departure from it further on. … That Eldorado only exists at the price of its absolute isolation, is a point made clear by the old sage who receives Candide and Cacambo in his home. The rule that no inhabitant may leave the kingdom is what has conserved Eldorado's ‘innocence’ and ‘felicity’. The facts of its geography have sheltered it from the Europeans who would otherwise kill every last one of the inhabitants in their rapacity for gold. Eldorado does not offer itself as an inspiration to the nations of the globe, for it is a condition of its survival to remain unknown. It is a society that is exceedingly fragile and in need of careful sheltering from the reality without.

The magnificent riches of Eldorado are an important cause of its need for protective isolation. The wealth of Eldorado is described most graphically, while so many other aspects of this society are merely touched upon. In the first village where Candide and Cacambo set foot, the first sight that they see is of children playing a game of horseshoes with gold pieces, emeralds, and rubies, ‘dont le moindre aurait été le plus grand ornement du trône du Mogol’.1 These objects which Candide and Cacambo gather carefully and later offer in payment for their dinner at an inn, are merely the pebbles of the road as far as the inhabitants of Eldorado are concerned and of no intrinsic value whatsoever. Bottiglia remarks correctly that the episode of the children ‘illustrates the unreality of Eldorado, parodies actual and extraordinary voyages, and satirizes by contrast human notions of wealth’, but does not examine the significance of how this is accomplished. It is a characteristic of utopian literature to satirize the economic systems of real society and the lust for gold and silver that the moralist in the Christian tradition regards as one of the seven deadly sins. … While in the real world of Europe gold and silver are associated with what is noble and exalted, in Utopia they are associated with what is despicable and low. While Europeans enslave themselves to gold and degrade themselves for it, in Utopia gold binds the slaves and serves the basest functions. Voltaire follows in this tradition in that he employs the device of estrangement to suggest the intrinsic worthlessness of gold; the inhabitants of Eldorado refer to it as ‘la fange de notre terre’.2 It is clear here however, as throughout Voltaire's writings, that he is not one who scorns luxury. In Eldorado material riches are held in little esteem only because they are so abundant, and they are employed to enhance the enjoyment of life. The attitude of the Eldoradan children to them is identified by Candide ironically with the attitude of young European princes who have had a fine upbringing: ‘Il faut que les enfants des rois de ce pays soient bien élevés puisqu'on leur apprend à mépriser l'or et les pierreries’.3 In Europe the contempt for riches is a snobbery of those who possess them. Moreover, it appears that in Eldorado there is another substance that is to gold and precious stones what in the world outside gold and precious stones are to pebbles and sand. Of the portal of the king's palace, the narrator writes: ‘il est impossible d'exprimer quelle en était la matiére. On voit assez quelle superiorité prodigieuse elle devait avoir sur ces cailloux et sur ce sable que nous nommons or et pierreries’.4 It is only from our perspective that the pebbles and mud of Eldorado are valuable. The Eldoradans have their own scale of values whose bottom is our top. …

The fundamental satiric point that emerges with regard to the riches of Eldorado is that European man is such that he only considers wealth to be valuable in as much as it raises him above his fellow man, in that its distribution is uneven. In order to savour really the luxuries of Eldorado, Candide and Cacambo feel they must take them out into the real world. … They are not content till they can flaunt their wealth before others and show themselves superior. Wealth can only have meaning for them and give them true pleasure in a place where it is scarce and they are among the lucky few to possess it. There it can afford them power, put them beyond the authority of the rulers of the multitude, and buy them the women they desire. Cagily, Cacambo requests from the king only several sheep loaded with provisions and with what he now refers to as ‘de cailloux, et de la boue du pays’.5 Just a short while earlier, he had attempted to pay for his dinner at the inn with the substances he now disparages.


The nature of the religion of Eldorado is revealed through the discussion that Candide and Cacambo hold with the old sage, rather than being demonstrated through action or event. This discussion has a typical satiric structure juxtaposing a European traveller with a member of a foreign society. The traveller, by his naive and foolish questions and assumptions, unwittingly exposes himself and his own society to satiric attack. The very fact that Candide brings up the subject of religion is placed in a ridiculous light by the narrator's parenthetical explanation that it is a result of his ‘goût pour la métaphysique’,6 which in the context of the work has connotations of absurdity. Candide's first question is whether the country has a religion, and provokes a shocked response from the old man as to how he can doubt it and whether he takes the Eldoradans for ingrates. Through this response, atheism is implicitly attacked; it is exposed as contrary to human reason and decency. As the discussion continues, the same is true of the multiplicity of religions, polytheism, prayer, and the existence of a special caste of priests. Candide ingenuously exposes the perniciousness of monks in his surprised question which makes use of the device of ironic juxtaposition: ‘Quoi! Vous n'avez point de moines qui enseignent, qui disputent, qui gouvernent, qui cabalent, et qui font brûler les gens qui ne sont pas de leur avis’?7

The discussion of religion has been cited as evidence by those who would prove that Eldorado is Voltaire's true ideal. Voltaire the deist offers the reader a blueprint of a model society where deism prevails. Voltaire, the enemy of religious oppression, describes a country where tolerance is practiced. Nevertheless, the emphasis in the treatment of religion in Eldorado is negative rather than positive; its primary function is to satirize religious concepts and practices in the world outside. … In Eldorado, men are free in theory: ‘tous les hommes sont libres’, says the king. They have the right to leave Eldorado, but they have made vows by which they have effectively deprived themselves of this liberty. Moreover, the faith itself of Eldorado rings hollow in its context. [Voltaire scholar] J. G. Weightman suggests that the only way to justify the Eldorado chapters is to suppose that they are really a conscious or unconscious criticism of god. It is easy to thank god continually and to have nothing to ask of him in Eldorado, but it is rather difficult in the world outside, with its earthquakes, wars, and persecutions. The fortunate Eldoradans are not confronted with circumstances that might provoke a crisis in belief, while such circumstances are shown as continually arising in the world outside. It is simplistic to see in the description of the religious beliefs and practices of Eldorado a direct expression of what the author holds to be right.


The nature of the political structure of Eldorado is also cited as evidence that the society is Voltaire's ideal as to what mankind should strive toward. Nevertheless, very few details are provided on the actual functioning of the government. The country is ruled by an enlightened monareh who presides over an excellent table and possesses an admirable wit. … Institutions such as the court of justice, parliament, and prison are remarkable by their absence. The inhabitants of Eldorado are evidently so virtuous that there is no need for these as there is in the world outside where men are corrupt. Bottiglia explains that there are no courts or prisons on the grounds that the state has withered away under the ideal rule of the beneficent monarch. Surely, however, this is to beg the question. In Eldorado, the citizens seem to have preserved the original innocence that man in the outside world has lost. They can do without institutions that are necessary in a society of fallen individuals. Because evil is non-existent in Eldorado, controls can be dispensed with; the dispensing with controls does not bring about the non-existence of evil. As outside, evil exists, Eldorado cannot provide a genuine model to be striven toward. Only the material achievements of Eldorado are given a limited potential explanation in the palace of sciences with its ten thousand foot long gallery of instruments; the encouragement of scientific inventions has brought about the high living standard.

The institutions and practices of Eldorado—religious, economic, social, and political—serve primarily a satirical purpose, affording the reader with indirect critical insights into the inadequacies of European institutions and practices. Eldorado is a foil to the societies through which Candide has passed and will pass where the Inquisition imposes a reign of terror, and poverty, corruption and oppression are everywhere to be found. Eldorado itself is more of an impossible dream world beset by paradoxes and ambiguities than the true ideal of the perfect state. It is touched by ridicule for its remoteness from reality in a work that insists upon its confrontation and exposes evasions of it through the retreat into metaphysical speculation. Candide and Cacambo, dazzled by what they see in Eldorado, ask each other: ‘Quel est donc ce pays … inconnu à tout le reste de la terre, et où toute la nature est d'une espèce si différente de la nôtre’?8 Eldorado is a place where nature, physical and human, is of another kind than in the outside world. It is much more than a matter of surface manners of the inhabitants; it is the very essence of life that is totally different. The opinion proffered by Candide, as Pangloss's pupil, is: ‘C'est probablement le pays où tout va bien: car il faut absolument qu'il y en ait un de cette espèce’9 (italics mine). The word for should alert the reader to the presence of irony, for it and its synonyms have appeared a number of times already in the work as a part of ironic constructions. … In this context, the assertion that Eldorado is the best of all possible worlds is just another proof deduced on the basis of a spurious causality or necessity, and not to be accepted by the reader as the author's opinion on the subject.

The choice of Candide and Cacambo to leave Eldorado has been variously derided by critics of the work as foolish and praised as wise. In the context, the decision is ambiguous in its merits reflecting the ambiguous status of Eldorado itself. On the one hand, Candide and Cacambo would seem to be the object of satire for their incapacity to settle down and remain in the excellent society they have found. The motives given by Candide for departing are hardly worthy of commendation. His desire to be richer than all those around him is certainly deplorable. Even his yearning for reunion with Cunégonde is stripped of much of its potential laudableness by the manner in which he speaks of it; Cunégonde is paralleled casually with ‘quelque maîtresse en Europe’10 that Cacambo undoubtedly would like to rejoin. The additional motives offered by the narrator, restlessness and the longing to boast of things seen in the course of travelling, are also lacking in merit. The narrator's evaluation of their behavior is a condemnation: ‘les deux heureux résolurent de ne plus l'être’,11 and is reinforced by the king's chiding remark: ‘Vous faites une sottise … quand on est passablement quelque part, il faut y rester.’12 On the other hand, to stay in Eldorado would mean to escape from the evils of the real world rather than to face and deal with them. It is not in man's imperfect nature to find happiness in such a perfect society; the best of all possible worlds is not best suited to man as he is. The best that Candide and Cacambo can do is to take something of Eldorado back with them into the real world. Ironically, what they choose to take seems to be what is of least spiritual value, the gold, silver, and gems that constitute material wealth in the society they have come from. Gradually, these are lost, stolen, and wasted away till almost nothing remains. Enough is left, however, of this earth of Eldorado to purchase the farm where in the end the characters do find a limited contentment.

It is significant that it is after Candide has passed through the utopia of Eldorado that he can at last reject the philosophy of optimism. In approaching, Surinam, confronted with the miserable mutilated Negro, he defines it: ‘c'est la rage de soutenir que tout est bien quand on est mal’.13 He now views optimism as a mania, the delusion of a sick mind. Hereafter, when Eldorado is invoked, it is as the exception that proves the rule that the world is full of imperfections. After listening to the tales of woe of his would-be companions, Candide muses; ‘Certainement si tout va bien, c'est dans Eldorado, et non pas dans le reste de la terre’.14 After his bad experiences in France, Candide is provoked to exclaim: ‘J'ai vu des ours dans mon pays; je n'ai vu des hommes que dans le Dorado’.15 Martin, the pessimist, qualifies his assertion that God has abandoned the world to some evil being: ‘j'en excepte toujours Eldorado’.16 He attempts to prove that there is little virtue and happiness on earth, ‘excepté peut-être dans Eldorado, où personne ne pouvait aller’.17 The Eldorado episode serves to emphasize the sordid qualities of the places to which Candide travels in the succeeding episodes: Surinam, France, England, Venice, Constantinople, the Propontis shores.

All of Candide militates against the existence of a best of all possible worlds. The message of the garden of the conclusion is to make the best of the world that is through active work rather than resorting to metaphysics to prove that all that is, is for the best. The satirist is lured by utopia although it is fundamentally at variance with his meaning and method. Voltaire resolves this dilemma and manages to use Eldorado to further his satiric aims rather than confuse them. Eldorado embodies virtues that act to show up the contrasting shortcomings of the world outside. Nevertheless, Eldorado is itself the object of satire; it is treated with ironic detachment and mocked as an impossible dream.


  1. The smallest of them would have been the greatest ornament on the Mogul's throne.

  2. the pebbles and dirt of our land.

  3. The royal children here must be very well brought up if they're taught to turn their noses up at gold and precious stones.

  4. There are no words to describe what it was made of, which in itself gives some idea of just how prodigiously superior it was to the sand and pebbles we call ‘gold’ and ‘precious stones’.

  5. pebbles and some of the local dirt

  6. passion for metaphysics

  7. What! You mean you don't have any monks to teach and dispute and govern and intrigue and burn people to death who don't agree with them?

  8. What is this place … which is unknown to the rest of the world and where the whole nature of things is so different from ours?

  9. It's probably the place where all goes well, for there absolutely must be such a place.

  10. some sweetheart back in Europe

  11. the two happy men resolved to be happy no longer

  12. You're making a great mistake. … When one is reasonably content in a place, one ought to stay there.

  13. it's a mania for insisting that all is well when things are going badly

  14. One thing's certain: if all is going well, it's happening in Eldorado and not in the rest of the world.

  15. I have seen bears in my own country; I have seen men only in Eldorado.

  16. apart from Eldorado, that is

  17. except perhaps in Eldorado, where no one can get to

Peter Kivy (essay date fall 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6137

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 in the subtitle. One of the literary values of Candide, then, is supposed to be a philosophical one: its “refutation” of Leibniz; and it is to some considerable degree, at least, because of this philosophical value that Candide has maintained its reputation as a “classic” of modern European literature.

This traditional “textbook” view of Candide might be thought of as a conjunction of the following assertions:

  • (1) Voltaire intended to “refute” Leibnizian optimism in Candide.
  • (2) Pangloss faithfully represents Leibniz's position.
  • (3) The combination of Candide's misadventures and Pangloss' laughable “arguments” constitutes a successful reductio ad absurdum of Leibniz's view.
  • (4) The author's intention is realized.
  • (5) The philosophical success of Candide is one, if not the chief, reason for placing a high value on the work.

But, clearly, nothing that happens or is said in the book succeeds in logically “refuting” the Leibnizian. So if Voltaire really did intend to “refute” Leibniz, he failed in his intention. Therefore, whatever its virtues, Candide is bad philosophy, and cannot be justly admired for any philosophical merit. In some crucial way, then, the “textbook” view of Candide must be defective.

In what way (or ways)? Erich Auerbach writes in Mimesis that “The novel Candide contains a polemic attack upon the metaphysical optimism of Leibniz' idea of the best of all possible worlds,” and adds: “… Voltaire in no way does justice to Leibniz' argument and in general to the idea of a metaphysical harmony of the universe, especially since so entertaining a piece as Voltaire's novel finds many more readers than the difficult essays of his philosophical opponents, which cannot be understood without serious study.”2

Two possible views are suggested by Auerbach's remarks. The first, what might be called a “frontal attack,” can be summarized as follows:

  • (1) Voltaire intended to “refute” Leibnizian optimism in Candide.
  • (2) Pangloss faithfully represents Leibniz's position.
  • (3a) The combination of Candide's misadventures and Pangloss' laughable “arguments” does not constitute a successful reductio ad absurdum of Leibniz's view.
  • (4a) The author's intention is not realized.
  • (5a) The work is a philosophical failure, and, on that account, the philosophical content of Candide cannot be a reason for placing a high value on the work.

But a second view is also suggested, charging Voltaire not only with bad arguments but with serious misrepresentation of Leibnizian optimism. This “two-pronged” attack might go something like this:

  • (1) Voltaire intended to “refute” Leibnizian optimism in Candide.
  • (2a) Pangloss does not faithfully represent Leibniz's position.
  • (3b) The combination of Candide's misadventures and Pangloss' laughable “arguments” constitutes a successful reductio ad absurdum of Pangloss' weak form of optimism, but not Leibniz's stronger and more sophisticated one.
  • (4a) The author's intention is not realized.
  • (5b) The philosophical success of Candide is a rather limited, trivial one, and cannot, on that account, be a reason for placing a very high value on the work.

The second of these attacks suggests a riposte: that Voltaire really had no intention of “refuting” Leibniz; that, as John Butt puts it, “Though he ridiculed Leibniz' terminology, … he attacked, not Leibniz' philosophy, but its popular perversions.”3 Thus, it is hardly fair, on this construal, to criticize Voltaire for not representing the philosophy of Leibniz accurately, and failing, therefore, to refute it, since he had no such intention in the first place. He was not, in other words, guilty of ignoratio elenchi. We arrive, then, if we accept this view, at a revised version of the “textbook” interpretation, which goes this way:

  • (1a) Voltaire intended to “refute” a weak, perverted form of optimism in Candide.
  • (2b) Pangloss faithfully represents this ersatz optimism.
  • (3b) The combination of Candide's misadventures and Pangloss' laughable “arguments” constitutes a successful reductio ad absurdum of Pangloss' weak form of optimism, but not Leibniz's stronger and more sophisticated one.
  • (4) The author's intention is realized.
  • (5b) The philosophical success of Candide is a rather limited, trivial one, and cannot, on that account, be a reason for placing a very high value on the work.

Whatever textual evidence there might be for rejecting the revised “textbook” version, particularly its first premise (and I think there is sufficient), there is also what might be called a “sentimental” reason. We want to make the best of our well-loved Candide; we do not want it to be consigned to the scrap-heap of the philosophically trivial. What, after all, is left of the work, to justify its reputation as a “serious” classic, if it is divested of its philosophical reputation? Is it nothing more than an amusing diversion? This, of course, is not an argument, but merely a motive for finding one. What I wish to do is rescue Candide for philosophy, and restore that part of its reputation that rests thereupon. This requires walking tippy-toe between the “textbook” version, its revision, and such criticisms as Auerbach's. What is wanted is an interpretation that will preserve our traditional intuitions about the work: namely, that Voltaire succeeded in his intention, that Candide is “about” Leibnizian optimism and not some trivial kind, that Pangloss does fairly represent the Leibnizian, that its philosophical success is one of the chief reasons for placing a high literary value on the work. At the same time, a valid interpretation must, I think, acknowledge that the Leibnizian is not “refuted” by Candide.

What will be defended, then, is a fresh revision of the “textbook” interpretation which accepts unrevised its second, fourth and fifth premisses, and accepts in altered form the first and third. In this fresh revision, the “textbook” interpretation will preserve Candide's philosophical respectability, while admitting that some criticism of the “textbook” interpretation is well-taken (namely, part of Auerbach's), and some revision of the “textbook” interpretation required (but not Butt's). In order to accomplish this, we must now turn to the so-called “problem of evil,” and the Leibnizian solution. For the revision of the “textbook” interpretation I have in mind depends on a particular view of that solution: a view available to Voltaire but neglected by Candide's commentators, a view philosophically respectable and, perhaps, correct.


As is well known, the defining qualities of God seem incompatible with the existence of evil in the world. If God is omnipotent, he is able to prevent unmerited pain and suffering (and from now on I shall take “evil” and “unmerited pain and suffering” to be synonymous). If he is omniscient, he must know of their existence. If he is good, he must desire to prevent it. Yet evil is palpably present in the world. How can this be, given the omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection of the Deity?

To answer this question, Leibniz asks us to imagine Creation as the Deity's choice among competing “possible worlds,” that is, complexes of logically possible states of affairs. His choice is directed by his goodness; and so, of the logically possible worlds, he chooses that which, through his omniscience, he determines to be the best: thus, all things considered, the one with the least possible unmerited pain and suffering. This is how Leibniz puts it in the Monadology:

53. Now since there is an infinity of possible universes in the ideas of God, but only one can exist, there must be a sufficient reason for God's choice which determines him to one rather than another.

54. This reason can be found only in the fitness or in the degrees of perfection which these worlds contain, each possible one having a right to claim existence in the measure of the perfection which it enfolds.

55. And this is the cause for the existence of the best, which his wisdom causes God to know, his goodness makes him choose, and his power makes him produce.4

A word or two will be necessary here with regard to the “all things considered” clause inserted above. For, on Leibniz's view, the amount of unmerited pain and suffering in the world is not God's only moral consideration. There may be, in other words, possible worlds with less unmerited pain and suffering than our own. In particular, God thought it best to actualize that possible world with the fullest plenitude of being, “like … a learned author who includes the greatest number of subjects in the smallest possible volume.”5 Thus, we must assume, our world contains the least amount of unmerited pain and suffering commensurate with this fullness of being, and whatever else, in God's view, constitutes moral perfection. “It is true,” Leibniz writes in the Theodicy, “that one may imagine possible worlds without sin and without unhappiness, and one could make some like Utopian or Sevarambian romances; but these same worlds again would be very inferior to ours in goodness.”6 When we refer, therefore, in what follows, to the Leibnizian claim that this world contains less unmerited pain and suffering than any other possible, it must be understood always as the least amount consistent with all that goes into making this world the most perfect: the “all things considered” clause must be understood throughout.

Now Leibnizian optimism is frequently described as a position which solves the “problem of evil” by denying that evil exists. In a sense this is so, and in another it is not. Leibniz, after all, does not deny that pain and suffering exist. What he claims is that as little unmerited pain and suffering as possible exist, that God chose to actualize that possible world containing the least amount of evil. So one way of looking at the Leibnizian solution is not as a denial of the existence of evil but as a denial of God's omnipotence. There is something that God cannot do: he cannot do the logically impossible; logical necessity is a constraint on his power. God, then, has permitted evil in the world, but he is not culpable, since he has permitted the least logically possible; and to do better would have been to do the logically impossible, which is beyond his (or anyone's) power. Perhaps it is absurd to think of “impossibility” in the logical sense as a limitation of anyone's power, even God's. This appears to be the view of C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, where he writes that “It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”7 For those, however, who think it intelligible to talk about the logically impossible being a constraint on the power of the Deity, it may seem plausible to represent the Leibnizian answer to the problem of evil in this way: as a denial of God's absolute omnipotence.

But if we mean by the world containing evil, that the world could have been better than it is, could, that is, have contained less unmerited pain and suffering, and if we mean to convey by could the logical possibility, then Leibniz is denying the existence of evil; for he is denying that there is a logically possible world, all things considered, better than our own. If there were, God would have chosen it rather than the one he did choose. We shall, therefore, henceforth represent Leibnizian optimism as denying the existence of evil and holding all purported cases of evil to be “apparent” evil only, in the sense outlined above, always with the caveat that this may not be the only way of representing the matter.

What now of the appearance of evil? Needless to say, we are not, like God, omniscient; and that is why for us, and not for God, there is apparent evil. God sees in every particular, why and how every instance of unmerited pain and suffering is the least possible, all things considered; but we cannot. “I cannot show you this in detail,” Leibniz says; “For can I know and can I present infinities to you and compare them together?”8 So we are in thrall to an illusion. How can we liberate ourselves? We can, at least, be given a paradigm explanation from our own everyday experience, which provides, as it were, a recipe—a recipe, however, that we cannot follow except as a kind of Gedanken-experiment. It is as if we were given the recipe for dispelling bent-stick illusions, “If you take the stick out of the water, it will look straight,” when we are never in a position actually to be able to pull sticks out of water.

The recipe for dispelling the illusion is taught us by our perfectly ordinary experience of things “working out”—of apparently unalloyed misfortunes revealing themselves in the event to be blessings in disguise. “We know … that often an evil brings forth a good whereto one would not have attained without that evil.”9 I have to make a flight to Seattle. I leave in plenty of time, but my taxi has a flat tire, and I miss my plane. Then I hear that the plane I missed has crashed, killing all on board. I now see my flat tire not as a misfortune but an apparent misfortune only, and, in reality, the most fortunate of accidents.

All we need now do is see every case of pain and suffering as a case like the flat tire, or a visit to the dentist, and we dispel the illusion of evil. But we can do this only in principle. We cannot actually trace out all of the consequences of the Lisbon earthquake that make the world in which it occurs the best possible: the one, all things considered, with the least amount of unmerited pain and suffering. Only God can do that. All we can do is begin the process by pointing out some of its beneficial consequences, and add that it is logically possible, at least, that when all of the consequences are weighed and measured, their benefits will outstrip the palpable evil of the event. That is to say, when the pain and suffering of the Lisbon earthquake, and whatever positive beneficial results it might have, are tallied up with all of the assets and debits of this world, and compared with all of the possible worlds which did or did not contain the Lisbon earthquake, it will be seen that our world, with the Lisbon earthquake, contains less evil, less unmerited pain and suffering, than any of these others.10 So, to get a little ahead of our story, when Candide explains optimism as “the passion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong with us …,”11 we need only read “apparently wrong” for “wrong” to see that this depiction, in its way, is as accurate as it is funny. It must be the passion of the Leibnizian to dispel the “illusion” of evil with his paradigm, his recipe, just as it must be the passion of the Parmenidean to dispel the “illusion” of motion.


These are the bare bones of Leibnizian optimism, as I view it. Needless to say, to flesh it out fully, and do justice to its metaphysical niceties, lies beyond the scope of the present paper. What we must now ask ourselves is: Can the optimist be thwarted? Can his position be “refuted”? If by “refuted” we mean shown to be logically inconsistent, made the object of a formal reductio ad absurdum, the answer of Philo in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is “No”—and I suspect he is right. Leibnizian optimism does successfully, irrefutably show that one can consistently (although improbably) believe God is omnipotent, God is omniscient, God is good, in face of all the unmerited pain and suffering in the world. “I will allow,” Philo is forced to admit, “that pain or misery in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity. …”12 It is, as he phrases it, a “mere possible compatibility”; but as such it stands beyond logical refutation. How could we, after all, prove that, all things considered, this is not the world with the least amount possible of unmerited pain and suffering, since, ex hypothesi, we can never consider all things. Which is to say no more than that Leibnizian optimism might just possibly be true, as might the belief that Hitler is alive and well in Argentina.

On Philo's view, then, it would be pointless to try to “refute” optimism: a formal reductio is impossible. Is optimism, then, completely impregnable? By no means.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, a man I shall call “Pangloss.” How close he comes to being the character in Voltaire's book I will let the reader judge. Pangloss is certain that (i) God exists, (ii) God is omnipotent, (iii) God is omniscient, (iv) God is perfectly good. For him it is a necessity to embrace optimism in order to make his beliefs logically coherent. Since he is completely unwilling to give up (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), he must accept optimism, no matter how unlikely it might seem in the face of pain, suffering, and world catastrophe. And logically his position is impregnable: we cannot charge him with inconsistency. Further, his belief in God's existence and nature is on a priori grounds: that is to say, he sees (i) through (iv) as the conclusion of a valid deductive argument with intuitively certain premisses. We cannot, therefore, do anything in the way of ratiocination to dislodge his optimism, short of beginning at the beginning, with his a priori proof (or in Leibniz's case, proofs) of God's existence and attributes, and showing the proof invalid or the premisses false. We can, however, get at Pangloss' optimism directly, without making this “end run,” in another way. We can, by bombarding him, so to speak, with the evil of the world, by, in other words, sticking his nose in it, force his belief in optimism closer and closer to the zero point, and, in so doing, put such a strain on his theological belief system that it may crack, thus impelling him to a reexamination of its a priori grounds. This is not “refutation” in the sense defined above: it is not, that is, a logical demonstration of falsity. So let us call it instead “confounding,” which will be, in this paper, a term of art.13

What I would like now to suggest is that we can best understand Candide by ascribing to Voltaire a view of Leibnizian optimism very much like Philo's in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Whether it is Hume's view is another question. But that a character in the Dialogues presents such a view shows, at least, that it was a view not unknown in the eighteenth century. That being the case, it would be no anachronism to impute it to Voltaire.14

But would the imputation be justified? There is a rather enticing passage in the Philosophical Dictionary—the article “Théiste”—which does tend to support the notion that Voltaire shares Philo's view. Here is the opening:

The theist is a person who is firmly persuaded of the existence of a Supreme Being, as good as he is powerful, who has created all extended beings, vegetative, sentient, and thinking; who perpetuates their species, who punishes crimes without cruelty, and repays virtuous actions with kindness.

The theist does not know how God punishes, how he bestows favors, how he pardons; for he has not the temerity to flatter himself that he knows how God acts; but he knows that God does act, and that he is just. The objections to [this] providence do not shake his belief in the least, for they are only great difficulties, and not proofs.15

This passage can be interpreted somewhat along the following lines. The theist believes that there is a God; that he is omnipotent and morally perfect. He believes, further, that God makes good the apparent inequities and injustices in the world: in other words, the theist is an optimist. And if the order in which Voltaire presents the theist's position has any significance, it is to suggest that the theist's optimism follows from—is a logical consequence of—his prior commitment to the existence of an omnipotent and morally perfect Deity.

But, Voltaire adds, there are serious objections to the notion of a Divine Providence that governs a morally perfect world. And these objections can be none other, it is safe to assume, than those embodied in the traditional problem of evil. Yet the aforementioned objections do not shake the theist's belief system, because they are only great difficulties (grandes difficultés), not demonstrations (preuves). That is to say, the palpable existence of unmerited pain and suffering in the world is not a formal reductio ad absurdum of theistic optimism, although it does present the theist with the not inconsiderable problem of accounting for the seeming moral imperfections of what he must believe is a perfect universe. The suggestion, then, is that optimism is a difficult position to hold, but not a logically contradictory one: exactly the view that Philo later is driven to in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

If, like Philo, Voltaire thought Leibnizian optimism logically impregnable, he clearly could have had no intention of logically “refuting” it in Candide; for he would have thought “refuting” it—i.e., proving it logically untenable—a logical impossibility. Nothing in the novel “implies” that Leibnizian optimism is false. But the reason for that is not, as Auerbach seems to suggest, a failure on Voltaire's part. It is Voltaire's view, I am arguing, that such a refutation is impossible. It is pointless, therefore, to blame him for not providing one: he never intended to.

What Voltaire did intend to do is to “overwhelm” the Leibnizian with the palpable pain and suffering in the world, in the hope of straining his belief system to the breaking point. Indeed, there is almost an echo of Voltaire's strategy in a speech of Demea's, from the same section of the Dialogues in which Philo's previously quoted remarks occur. “Were a stranger to drop, on a sudden, into this world,” Demea says,

I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, an hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcases, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.

That “stranger” is Candide, the fictional tabula rasa, as his name of course is meant to suggest. He is the instrument by which the “diversity of distress and sorrow” in the world is brought into sharp focus, and made the unavoidable object of the optimist's attention. In this way, Voltaire hoped, the premise that evil is illusory would be made to seem so unlikely as to lead, finally, to the optimist's rejection of the theological belief system which makes its acceptance necessary for him.

What part of that belief system did Voltaire intend the Leibnizian to abandon? Not, clearly, the belief in God's existence. Voltaire was no atheist, if the Philosophical Dictionary is any indication; for it is full of enthusiastic endorsements of the “argument from design” for the existence of God.16 More likely, Voltaire inclined towards a denial of God's omnipotence—and this on explicitly stated Humean grounds, which can only lend support to a general Humean interpretation of Candide. The argument of Hume's, to which Voltaire refers, is to be found in Section 11 of the first Inquiry (“Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State”). In Voltaire's formulation: “The celebrated historian philosopher, David Hume, says in ‘Particular Providence’: ‘A weight of ten ounces is lifted in a balance by another weight; therefore this other weight is of more than ten ounces; but one can adduce no reason why it should weigh a hundred ounces.’”17 The conclusion of Hume's argument, which Voltaire puts to its intended theological use, is that “If the cause be known only by the effect, we never ought to ascribe to it any qualities beyond what are precisely requisite to produce the effect. …”18 We observe a world of immense size and complexity. From that we can conclude that the Creator of our world must be immensely powerful and capable of producing enormous complexity in his creations. But we cannot conclude that the Creator is infinite or omnipotent, since we do not know if our world is infinite or producible only by omnipotent power. “One must be very powerful,” Voltaire observes, “to have caused to be born spiders which spin webs to catch flies; but that is not to be omnipotent, infinitely powerful.”19 Thus there is no reason for us, in the face of palpable evil, to be Leibnizian optimists. “If the great Being had been infinitely powerful, there is no reason why He should not have made sentient animals infinitely happy; He has not done so, therefore He was not able.” So much then, on Voltaire's view, for the “problem of evil.” “This necessity [to which even God is hostage] settles all the difficulties and finishes all the disputes.” All is not well: “We say—‘All is the least bad that is possible.’”20 That is to say, all is the least bad physically, empirically possible, given the physical, empirical infirmities of God, and given the natural necessities, the laws of nature, which neither God nor man can thwart.

We have established, then, that, on Voltaire's view, the Leibnizian is logically secure, but that pressure can be put on his optimism, for the purpose of shaking his belief in the omnipotence of God. On the strength of this, we are now in a position to present our revision of the first premise of the “textbook” interpretation of Candide; it is:

(1b) Voltaire intended to “confound” (but not “refute”) Leibnizian optimism in Candide.


What, now, of Pangloss? Is he a fair literary version of the Leibnizian, given the humorous intent of his creator? In a recent article, Carolyn Korsmeyer has done much to restore Pangloss' good character as a disciple of the master; and I can confidently refer the reader there for further enlightenment.21 But for the present purposes, one word of caution ought to be enough to give Pangloss all the Leibnizian credentials he requires. We are not to look to Pangloss for a demonstration of optimism. The proof lies in the argument (or arguments) for the existence of God, and for the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness that have preceded (we must imagine) the events befalling Pangloss in Candide. When he enters the stage in the first chapter, as teacher of “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology,”22 he is already committed, on a priori grounds, to the theological premisses necessitating his optimism. His role thereafter is to provide what I earlier called the “recipe” for dispelling the illusion of evil that its denial requires. As Professor Korsmeyer correctly observes, “Pangloss's extended arguments generally have to do with the connectedness of events and with the view that evil in the world is illusory since it contributes to the good of the whole.”23 In what is perhaps his most masterful Leibnizian disquisition, Pangloss argues that “There is a chain of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not been turned out of a beautiful mansion at the point of a jackboot for the love of Lady Cunégonde, and if you had not been involved in the Inquisition, and had not wandered over America on foot, and had not struck the Baron with your sword, and lost all those sheep you brought from Eldorado, you would not be here eating candied fruit and pistachio nuts.”24 Here is just the sort of “recipe” for dispelling the illusion of evil that optimism requires. But what this is frequently mistaken for, I think, is a parody of a proof, by the good effects of “evil” events, that optimism is true. And seen in this way it is, to be sure, a gross misrepresentation of Leibnizian optimism. Seen correctly, however, it is not a representation of the Leibnizian proof of optimism, but a necessary appendage: an instance of the paradigm argument for dealing with the “apparent” evil of unmerited pain and suffering.

Premise (2) of the “textbook” interpretation, to the effect that Pangloss fairly represents the Leibnizian, can be accepted, then, without revision, with the understanding that we do not confuse the recipe for dispelling the illusion of evil with the Leibnizian proof of optimism. It is the former that Voltaire puts in Pangloss' mouth, not the latter, which, indeed, never appears in Candide at all; for that proof amounts to the argument for God's existence and the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfection.

The revision of the third premise of the “textbook” interpretation follows directly from the revision of the first. Voltaire intended to “confound” rather than “refute” optimism. And the realization of this intention is perfectly compatible with the failure to provide a logical reductio ad absurdum, something which Voltaire, if I am right, thought impossible. Thus the third premise reads:

(3c) The combination of Candide's misadventures and Pangloss' laughable arguments does not constitute a reductio ad absurdum of Leibniz's view but a devastatingly successful “confounding” of it, which is all that is possible, given its logical impregnability.

In what way is Candide a successful “confounding”? The key is given by Candide himself: “The terrified Candide stood weltering in blood and trembling with fear and confusion. ‘If this is the best of all possible worlds,’ he said to himself, ‘what can the rest be like?’”25 In other words, when we are brought face to face with the immensity of pain and suffering in this world, that there is no logically possible world that has less, no logically possible world the least little bit better, becomes well nigh incredible: not logically impossible, but so remotely possible as to approach probability zero. We are asked to believe that almighty power, all-seeing intellect, and holy will cannot have made a world more perfect in any respect than the charnel-house in which we live. This is the whopper the Leibnizian must accept, as Candide so forcefully impresses upon us.

We are now, finally, in a position to justify the fourth and fifth assertions of the “textbook” version. Voltaire's intention has been realized in Candide: it is a successful “confounding” of Leibnizian optimism, and so this, its philosophical success, can be a reason for placing a high value on the work, if philosophical success is a literary value in the first place (and I have no reason to believe it is not). The lack of “rational argument” in Candide, far from being a philosophical failure, is, on the contrary, the result of a sound philosophical insight: that optimism is logically unassailable, and formal refutation a misguided endeavor. What Voltaire intended, instead, was to “confound” the optimist by putting his belief system under stress. Neither optimism, nor pessimism, for that matter, can be “refuted” by confrontation with the world. Indeed, the optimist's “recipe” for dispelling the “illusion” of evil is a double-edged sword, serving equally well as a “recipe” for dispelling the “illusion” of goodness, since, just as it is logically possible that every cloud has a silver lining, it is also logically possible that every silver lining has a cloud.


Candide is a philosophical success because it does not attempt the impossible, but accomplishes the possible supremely well, at least so far as humor can do, which is not to say that a walk through Auschwitz or a week in a cancer ward cannot do more to crush the spirit of optimism. Yet, in conclusion, it might be well to observe that there is more to be said for comedy as a weapon against optimism than simply that it relieves us of the terrible burden of staring pain and misery full in the face. Ironically, it was said for the Enlightenment by (among others) one of its most confirmed optimists, as well as one of Voltaire's favorite targets, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. “Truth,” he wrote in his defense of the freedom of wit and humor, “… may bear all lights; and one of those principal lights, or natural mediums, by which things are to be viewed, in order to a thorough recognition, is ridicule itself, or that manner of proof by which we discern whatever is liable to just raillery in any subject.”26 No one understood better than Voltaire what ridicule could do to test the optimist's creed. More important, no one knew better what it could not—and that, I have been arguing, is the signal virtue of Candide most often perversely seen as its fault.27


  1. Voltaire, Candide, trans. John Butt (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 136.

  2. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, trans. Willard Trask (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957), pp. 358-60.

  3. In the introduction to his translation of Candide, p. 8.

  4. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, trans. and ed. Leroy E. Loemker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), II, p. 1053. The Monadology, of course, like most of Leibniz's philosophical works, was not published in his lifetime, or in the period immediately following; but the same views are expressed in the Theodicy, which was. I have chosen the passage from the Monadology simply because it presents in a small compass all the relevant points.

  5. Discourse on Metaphysics, Loemker, I, pp. 468-69. The Discourse, like the Monadology, was not published in Leibniz's lifetime, and, indeed, was only first printed in 1846.

  6. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, ed. Austin Farrer, trans. E. M. Huggard (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 129.

  7. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), p. 28. Cf. Lloyd Reinhardt, “Metaphysical Possibility,” Mind 87 (1978): “when we come … to things of a logical sort …, it is misleading to talk of anything of a logical sort preventing something” (p. 217).

  8. Theodicy, p. 129.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Strictly speaking, on Leibniz's view no other possible world but ours could contain the Lisbon earthquake, since the Lisbon earthquake, the event that occurred in our world, is defined by its relations to all the other events in our world. There could, of course, be events very like it in other possible worlds.

  11. Candide, p. 86.

  12. Part X (text of the 2nd ed., 1779).

  13. I am grateful to Ann Watts for suggesting this term.

  14. Needless to say, I am not claiming that the text of Hume's Dialogues influenced Voltaire, as Candide predates it.

  15. Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, ed. Etiemble (Paris: Garnier, 1967), p. 399. I am grateful to my wife, Lindley, for helping me with this translation.

  16. As, for example: “Certainly the world is an admirable machine: therefore, there is somewhere or other in the world an admirable intelligence. This is an old argument, but none the worse for that.” Dictionnaire philosophique, p. 460.

  17. Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, no translator credited (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1943), p. 240.

  18. David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 11.

  19. Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, p. 243.

  20. Ibid., pp. 243-44.

  21. Carolyn Korsmeyer, “Is Pangloss Leibniz?,” Philosophy and Literature 1 (1977): 201-208.

  22. Candide, p. 20.

  23. “Is Pangloss Leibniz?,” p. 203.

  24. Candide, p. 144.

  25. Ibid., p. 37.

  26. Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury, “Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour,” Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Robertson (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), I, p. 44.

  27. I am grateful to my colleagues in the English Department, Irwin Primer and Ann Watts, for many helpful suggestions both as to style and content. They are not responsible, of course, for my few instances of stubborn refusal to be guided by surer hands.

Frederick M. Keener (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10516

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 the fledgling science of psychology. By mid-century, too, there was a new, developmental sense of change in embryology and physical cosmology.3 Was there a comparable new sense of the development of fictional characters?—of characters' not simply being changed but changing themselves, and of their doing so not ex machina but in relation to the tendencies, the inner processes, that characterize them? If there was—and I believe there was, as I have indicated with reference to the Lettres persanes—it was likely to be tentative and subtle, since representation of self-conscious development by characters would mark a distinct departure from the practices of romance writers and early novelists, and from what is typical of the romance and novel as genres.

“Motivation” is also a technical term in formalist analysis of narrative, indicating the propulsion of a plot toward its conclusion (not to be confused with the comparatively arbitrary “human” motivation of fictional characters, which serves to disguise, and ease a reader's acceptance of, a plot's necessities).4 A tale like Candide, however, presents problems to the formalist because the meaning of the ending is primarily a matter of what a character means to say, and the narrator does not tell us what that is; nor, definitively, does Candide. Those final words about the necessity of cultivating the garden are, according to Roman Jakobson's division, distinctly metonymical rather than metaphorical in their relation to the rest of Voltaire's tale, because Candide's statement differs considerably from, without directly contradicting, statements he has made earlier.5 Most notably, Candide insists that an action is necessary; he has not spoken so peremptorily before. Less obviously, he sets himself apart from not only Pangloss' way of thinking but also that of everyone else, including Martin, as I intend to show. Moreover, the clause “il faut cultiver notre jardin” may itself be metaphorical: the necessary cultivation of that garden may stand for more than agriculture. But that possibility, especially when elaborated, will seem more evident to the historian of Voltaire's ideas than to the critic mainly concerned with Candide as an example of eighteenth-century narrative fiction. What Voltaire may have meant by the clause is one question; what the character Candide, who is not given to poetry or eloquence, may mean in addition to what he says explicitly, is quite another.6

A reading of the conclusion of the tale thus requires a reading of Candide's nature, to discover whether what he says there is linked to what he says earlier. But modern criticism, in its nearly relentlessly a priori emphasis on the difference between the philosophical tale (or apologue) and the nascent novel, has usually been unhistorically neat, too quickly ruling out possibilities of significant characterization in the tale, even though a tale like Candide is obviously less about philosophy itself than about the hero's peculiar use of it.7

Candide's character is not so uninterestingly or insignificantly simple as it seems. Perhaps the comparison with a marionette has itself become too simple. There were other eighteenth-century models of near humanity that a critic might draw upon. Although Voltaire enjoyed marionettes, he was interested too in automata, such as the celebrated flutist, drummer, and duck manufactured by Jacques Vaucanson (“rival de Prométhée,” Voltaire called him in the Discours en vers sur l'homme).8 Automata, it is true, only seem autonomous, though they manage to perform without visible strings, but there was still another, still more lifelike artificial Adam to converse about in the years just before Candide, the awakening statue which Condillac, in the Traité des sensations (1754), employed to demonstrate the conceivable derivation of thought from sense experience—an example put to similar use by Buffon and Charles Bonnet. The statue come to life presents additional evidence of the new, mid-eighteenth-century interest in self-conscious, although general, psychological development. But I mention this series of progressively more lifelike models mainly to suggest historical analogues for Candide other than the marionette, so as to promote reconsideration of him as a character, not to argue that Voltaire probably had one or more of these models in mind.

In reading a narrated philosophical tale one should be attentive to the character of the narrator, who himself may change in some important way, and whose comments are not necessarily more dependable than evidence drawn from what his characters say and do. Though Voltaire's narrator says in the first paragraph that Candide has the simplest of intellects, Candide's mind is certainly not so simple as it seems or as Candide himself regards it. When, in the wilds of South America, he kills the apes pursuing two naked girls, and before he learns from his companion Cacambo that the victims were the girls' chosen lovers, his first response is of delivery from guilt: “Dieu soit loué, … si j'ai commis un péché en tuant un inquisiteur et un jésuite, je l'ai bien réparé en sauvant la vie à deux filles” (“God be praised, … if I have sinned by killing an inquisitor and a Jesuit, I have made up for it well by saving the life of two girls”). Immediately, he has another thought: “Ce sont peut-être deux demoiselles de condition, et cette aventure nous peut procurer de très grands avantages dans le pays” (“These are perhaps two young ladies of quality, and this adventure can procure us very great advantages in the land”).9 The main chance does not escape him. At a later, prominent place in the book, the point of his decision to leave Eldorado, he seems swayed particularly by desire to rejoin Cunégonde, but the sentiment as he expresses it is again not single-minded:

Si nous restons ici, nous n'y serons que comme les autres; au lieu que si nous retournons dans notre monde, seulement avec douze moutons chargés de cailloux d'Eldorado, nous serons plus riches que tous les rois ensemble, nous n'aurons plus d'inquisiteurs à craindre, et nous pourrons aisément reprendre mademoiselle Cunégonde.

(If we remain here, we shall be only like the others; whereas if we go back to our world, with only twelve sheep bearing pebbles from Eldorado, we shall be wealthier than all kings put together, we shall not have any more inquisitors to fear, and we shall easily regain Mademoiselle Cunégonde.)

That Cunégonde figures as the bread and not the filling in this sandwich of motivation, the narrator insists in the one passage of the book that directly criticizes his hero: “on aime tant à courir, à se faire valoir chez les siens, à faire parade de ce qu'on a vu dans ses voyages, que les deux heureux résolurent de ne plus l'être, et de demander leur congé à Sa Majesté” (18; “people love so much to run around, to pride themselves among their friends, to make a show of what they have seen in their travels, that the two happy men decided to be happy no more and to ask his majesty for permission to go away”).

The narrator generally speaks of Candide as an unfortunate innocent preyed upon by evildoers. Such is often the case, it seems, but Candide himself also seems eager to accept that explanation. In the ninth chapter, when surprised with Cunégonde by Don Issacar, who shares her with the Grand Inquisitor, Candide—“quoiqu'il eût les mœurs fort douces” (“although he had the gentlest manners”), the narrator says—slays the interloper. Minutes later, with the Inquisitor's entrance, the narrator records Candide's thinking “to the moment”:

Si ce saint homme appelle du secours, il me fera infailliblement brûler, il pourra en faire autant de Cunégonde; il m'a fait fouetter impitoyablement; il est mon rival; je suis en train de tuer, il n'y a pas à balancer.

(If this holy man cries for help, he will unquestionably have me burned, he will be able to do as much to Cunégonde; he has had me whipped cruelly; he is my rival; I am already involved with killing, there is nothing to hesitate about.)

The selflessness he would think typical of himself is again mixed with less rarefied motives. He runs the Inquisitor through. How could he do it? exclaims Cunégonde, “vous qui êtes né si doux” (“you who were born so gentle”). Candide replies, “Ma belle demoiselle, … quand on est amoureux, jaloux, et fouetté par l'Inquisition, on ne se connaît plus” (“My sweet young lady, … when a person is in love, jealous, and scourged by the Inquisition, he no longer knows himself”). He does not readily acknowledge ordinary, unedifying feelings, and his reluctance persists. Five chapters later, he again looks down upon a man he has stabbed, again astonished by himself: “Hélas mon Dieu! dit-il, j'ai tué mon ancien maître, mon ami, mon beau-frère; je suis le meilleur homme du monde, et voilà déjà trois hommes que je tue …” (15; “Oh, my God! he says; I have dispatched my former master, friend, brother-in-law; I am the best of men, and already there are three men I have killed …”).

“Le meilleur homme du monde”—an epithet amusingly resonant in this tale about the best of worlds, chateaux, philosophers, and so forth. It begins to appear that, if there were no Pangloss, Candide would have to invent him. Invent him in a root sense, Candide through much of the book wishes he could do: to find or recover or resurrect him. It is a humorous obsession. Worlds burst; still Candide yearns to know what Pangloss' explanation would be. As late as the twenty-seventh chapter he is still insisting that Pangloss was right and that all is well. Candide the child keeps fathering that man. And Candide's having saddled himself with Pangloss is suggested also by the hero's manner of replacing him: Candide does not fall in with Martin, his alternate Mentor, accidentally.

After encountering the wretched slave of Surinam, after being robbed of his last two Eldoradan sheep, after being cheated by the judge to whom he complained, Candide feels the deepest melancholy. “La méchanceté des hommes se présentait à son esprit dans toute sa laideur, il ne se nourrissait que d'idées tristes” (“The wickedness of men loomed in all its ugliness before his mind, he nurtured only sad ideas”). But he cannot sustain such ideas by himself; he needs assistance of the sort he is used to, so he sponsors an odd contest to select a traveling companion, advertising for someone “le plus dégoûté de son état et le plus malheureux de la province” (19; “the most revolted by his own condition and the most wretched man in the province”); if it were practical, he would undoubtedly seek the unhappiest person in the world. From the throng that replies, Candide chooses twenty and hears them out, with gratifying misery, thinking of how embarrassed Pangloss would be, until finally Martin is chosen, not because he particularly deserves the prize but because, besides professing to be miserable, he is a philosopher. The logic is bluntly Hegelian: if this is not the best of all possible worlds, it must be the worst. Candide still wishes to believe Pangloss, but if Martin can convince him of the truth of the opposite position, Candide may assent. One way or the other, he will arrive at the absolute truth of the matter. Although constantly regarding himself as indivisible in his sentiments, he is not.

The action of the next chapter, the twentieth, should be seen as an oblique but telling commentary upon the procedures of “le meilleur homme du monde.” Candide is protesting to Martin that the world has some good when the noise of cannons interrupts them. They watch a naval engagement in which one ship suddenly sinks, all hands lost. Candide tends to agree with Martin that the event is diabolical—but, something red is floating in the water where a hundred men have just drowned, one of the Eldoradan sheep. Candide, we are told, “eut plus de joie de retrouver ce mouton, qu'il n'avait été affligé d'en perdre cent tous chargés de gros diamants d'Eldorado” (“was more delighted in regaining this sheep than he had been afflicted by the loss of a hundred sheep all carrying huge diamonds from Eldorado”). The drowned men, the lost sheep, the repetition of the number one hundred for them in so short a space, Candide's sympathy for the dead so quickly followed by joy at recovery of his treasure: he is rather more ordinary in his self-centeredness than he realizes.10 He fondles his sheep and supposes that, since he has regained it, he may also regain Cunégonde.

The parallel is apt. Cunégonde, and indeed the women of the tale in general, unblushingly reveal an animality that Candide and Pangloss have also but rationalize away. (Candide of course does not notice it in the women either). Though beautiful at first, Cunégonde lacks other Petrarchan characteristics. It is she who takes the lead in Candide's first encounter with her, and later she eagerly receives him in the Grand Inquisitor's house, typically not wondering about their safety together. She tells her tale: a Bulgarian captain, having killed a soldier who was raping her, made her his slave; she adjusted herself to the situation, for “il me trouvait fort jolie, il faut l'avouer; et je ne nierai pas qu'il ne fût très bien fait, et qu'il n'eût la peau blanche et douce; d'ailleurs”—she is telling this to Candide—“peu d'esprit, peu de philosophie: on voyait bien qu'il n'avait pas été élevé par le docteur Pangloss” (“he thought me quite pretty, it must be said; and I shall not deny that he was very well put together, and that his skin was fair and smooth; otherwise, not much brain, not much philosophy; a person could see very well that he had not been taught by Doctor Pangloss”). Later, at the auto-da-fé, she saw Pangloss hanged and she fainted.

A peine reprenais-je mes sens que je vous vis dépouillé tout nu; ce fut là le comble de l'horreur, de la consternation, de la douleur, du désespoir. Je vous dirai, avec vérité, que votre peau est encore plus blanche, et d'un incarnat plus parfait que celle de mon capitaine des Bulgares.

(Hardly did I regain my senses when I saw you stripped entirely naked; that was the extremity of terror, vexation, sorrow, despair. I will say to you, truly, that your flesh is still whiter and of a finer rosiness, than my Bulgarian captain's.)

The flogging of Candide prompted her to recall all her misfortunes, which she summarizes in one of those pell-mell litanies of comically enchained events with which the book abounds—massacres, degradation, “et surtout [le] baiser que je vous avais donné derrière un paravent, le jour que je vous avais vu pour la dernière fois” (“and especially the kiss I had given you behind a screen, that day I saw you the last time”). “Vous devez avoir une faim dévorante,” she concludes, no non sequitur for her; “j'ai grand appétit; commençons par souper” (8; “You must have a ferocious appetite; I am awfully hungry; let us start by supping”).

The old woman has a similar history and personality, this once delectable daughter of a pope, beaten, robbed, mutilated, who wanted to kill herself a hundred times but still loved life (12). More resilient than Candide, the women have no need for a Pangloss or Martin. They have an amoral authority all their own because they claim no authority while simply doing as they like, as much as they can. They even readily fall in with the ways of the world that exploits them. Cunégonde resisted the first Bulgarian, she explains, because she did not know that “tout ce qui arrivait dans le château de mon père était une chose d'usage” (8; “everything that happened in my father's chateau was sanctioned by custom”). The old woman, stripped and probed by corsairs, was surprised, ignorant of the fact that everyone, even the Knights of Malta, acts that way; “C'est une loi du droit des gens à laquelle on n'a jamais dérogé” (11; “It is an article of international law from which no one has ever deviated”). Expostulating with cannibals, the somewhat comparably flexible Cacambo declares, “En effet le droit naturel nous enseigne à tuer notre prochain, et c'est ainsi qu'on en agit dans toute la terre” (16; “As a matter of fact, natural law instructs us to kill our neighbor, and it is thus that everyone behaves throughout the world”).

Candide, who never voices complacent classifications of this kind, whose penchant is for acceptance of metaphysical cosmology rather than custom, seems to occupy a place like that of Man in Pope's Essay, between the assertive doctors, his light and dark angels, and the libidinal if not brutal women. Even in respect to his feelings for Cunégonde, however, he is less simple than the narrator says, not readily quixotic. He has not simply envisioned her as a lady of romance, nor has he given disinterested attention to philosophical Optimisim. He gave Pangloss his credence, the narrator says at the outset, “car il trouvait mademoiselle Cunégonde extrêmement belle.” From the first, his motives are consistently double and mixed, his priorities transparent, to the narrator and the reader, not to him. “Il concluait qu'après le bonheur d'être né baron de Thunder-ten-tronckh, le second degré de bonheur était d'être mademoiselle Cunégonde, le troisième, de la voir tous les jours, et le quatrième, d'entendre maître Pangloss …” (1; “He determined that next to the good fortune of being born the Baron of Thunderten-tronckh, the second greatest sort of happiness lay in being Mlle Cunégonde, the third in gazing on her every day, and the fourth in understanding Master Pangloss …”).

Though Candide would be the last to admit it, his love for Cunégonde and his faith in Pangloss have, consistently, much to do with his wish to be the best man in the best possible world: to be discovered, for example, to be the Baron's nephew, like that other obscure youth turned out of paradise, the romantic, more single-minded Tom Jones. That this is so seems still more probable when one considers Candide's final reason for marrying Cunégonde at the end. To reverse his set of priorities, checked off by events: fourth, Pangloss has become tedious to Candide; third and second, Cunégonde is ugly, poor, and abrasive, now neither companionable nor enviable; but, first, her baronial brother opposes the marriage as beneath her, so Candide, with but not determined by Cuné-gonde's solicitations, makes a point of going through with it (30).

Thus, repeatedly, though Candide thinks himself exceptional for his unselfishness, he acts upon self-regarding motives which he resists acknowledging, and he avoids such acknowledgment, systematically, either by displacing the object of his desires from one thing to another somehow associated with it (despite the fact that, after Locke, the main trend in psychology promoted critical consciousness of mental associations) or by attaching himself to an authority, such as Martin, and thus displacing the subject of his desires. Repeatedly it is shown that Candide's concern about whether the world is for the best or for the worst is displaced concern about how the world will deal with poor Candide. He is really more an automaton, brother to Vaucanson's duck—moved by a concealed drive wheel, concealed from himself—than he is a marionette. Once in a while Voltaire ties a string to him and jerks it, as when Candide, thinking he has killed the Jesuit, worries about what the Journal de Trévoux will say (16). But most of the time Candide goes by his own spring, an adequately motivated comic character whose traits, while too thin for psychoanalysis, are not inhumanly mechanical. He moves the comedy, is not simply moved by it, and he does not simply carry about his favorite philosophical proposition; he embodies and enacts it. Odd as the statement may seem at first, Candide is, energetically, ingeniously on Voltaire's part, a trope.

Considered as a trope in the conventional sense, as a device of communication, as the equivalent of a figure of speech conceived by a rhetorician, Candide may seem a metaphor. His name would give that impression. But as I have tried to show, he is only partially candide (in one sense of the word), for he is not so with himself. He may be considered a figure of irony, and he is that much of the time, but he does not seem so definitely that when he speaks the concluding words. The other major tropes, besides metaphor and irony, are synecdoche and metonymy; and, broadly speaking, synecdoche is everywhere in the tale, but in saying that I use synecdoche not primarily in the common rhetorical sense, to indicate devices mediating between writer and reader. I use the term, rather, to indicate the way in which words are combined in sentences, ideas associated in the mind, by the characters and narrator. As we have seen, Cunégonde and other characters constantly explain (one might say naturalize) strange events by classifying them as species of general codes: custom, international law, natural law. The species-genus relation is especially synecdochic; the part-whole relation is usually regarded as synecdochic too. And, at least in the earlier sections of the tale, the narrator matches his characters in the production of broadly synecdochic associations, as in the particulars chosen to support faint praise of the Baron's chateau, exceptional in Westphalia: “son château avait une porte et des fenêtres” (1).

The grand architects of synecdoche in the tale, however, are the philosophical Optimists; “All are but parts of one stupendous whole,” Pope had written.11 Part-whole classification becomes Candide's main occupation. His esteem for Pangloss derives, as that name suggests, precisely from the philosopher's ability to identify the whole of which Candide is a part, thus establishing rootless Candide as a part, deducing his estimable character and expectations from that best whole. The philosophy of Optimism, as Kenneth Burke points out, is essentially synecdochic:

The “noblest synecdoche,” the perfect paradigm or prototype for all lesser usages, is found in metaphysical doctrines proclaiming the identity of “microcosm” and “macrocosm.” In such doctrines, where the individual is treated as a replica of the universe, and vice versa, we have the ideal synecdoche, since microcosm is related to macrocosm as part to whole, and either the whole can represent the part or the part can represent the whole. (For “represent” we could substitute “be identified with.”) One could thus look through the remotest astronomical distances to the “truth within,” or could look within to learn the “truth of all the universe without.” Leibniz' monadology is a good instance of synecdoche on this grand scale.12

It may be helpful to emphasize that the use of a trope by a metaphysician in this manner is not rhetorical but epistemological. Instead of employing the trope to illustrate a concept distinct from, antecedent to, the trope, he employs the trope to think. The metaphysics is a synecdoche. But statements about the philosophy are synecdochic in linguistic and rhetorical ways. In Candide, the various synecdochic associations constructed by the characters and the narrator have a splendid parodic symmetry. For the most part, the trope of irony persists rhetorically and dominates the epistemological and linguistic synecdoches, as in Cunégonde's unconsciously ironic recourse to custom, the narrator's deliberately ironic specification of door and windows, and mainly in comic transformations of Optimism.

A trope may have a mind of its own, like Alice's corquet mallet. Although in rhetoric trope means a turn or twist given to speech (one says “a sail” and means “a ship”), the figure may twist in one's hands, the resultant meaning not quite what one intended. The vitality of a trope may spring particularly from its instability as a compound, its tendency to be resolved in another trope—its tropism. A metaphor may reveal an implicit set of synecdoches. In Burke's example, initially the part is related to the whole; then it can be identified with it. But once the part has been so fully identified with the whole that it can stand for it, a curious turning occurs: the part tends to become the distinctive part of the whole, the really important part, even in a sense the best part. The trope of synecdoche, a kind of metaphor, tends to become pure metaphor by transforming the species that can stand for a genus, the part that can stand for a whole, into a new, more economical, higher genus or whole.

If, to return to Candide, the not so simple hero is categorized as a trope, his desires are seen to turn that way. Establishing himself as part of the best of all possible worlds, he would demonstrate that, far from being a nobody, he is not a microcosm but the microcosm: “le meilleur homme du monde.” In the sense that Candide himself is synecdochic like Leibniz's noble synecdoche, the full title of the tale has its full significance: Candide ou l'optimisme, the philosophy and would-be philosopher are one.

But though synecdoche for the most part characterizes the hero and typifies much that the narrator says as well, the fundamental trope of the tale is metonymy, which, against some precedents, I should like to distinguish as much as possible from synecdoche as that term is usually understood.13 Synecdoche may verge on the metaphorical, as in Burke and in what I have said thus far. But it may verge instead on the metonymical. Whereas metaphor works with items that have an intrinsic similarity to or identity with each other, metonymy works with items extrinsic to each other: relations of before and after, above and below, cause and effect; relations often temporal rather than spatial. Metonymy is often a trope of movement and change, of calculus rather than algebra. It is also the trope of otherness, for each trope implies a point of view, the condition of the knower in regard to what is to be known; but whereas metaphor and the more metaphorical sort of synecdoche, by their predication of whole or partial resemblance or identity in the items related, tend to identify the knower with the known, metonymy tends to keep them separate. Synecdoche verging on the metonymical rather than the metaphorical will suggest that any resemblance between the part and the whole is slight, or that any predication of identity between them, even partial identity, is arbitrary. A person should be wary about the adequacy of any theory of genus and species. A person sees that this accompanies that but remains in doubt about relations of identity between them, beyond the notion that they “go together.” Hume's epistemology is thus fundamentally metonymical and extremely cautious: post quod is no more than that, and causes, important as they are to us, represent no more than the effects of one principle governing our association of ideas.14

It is into something like Hume's world that Voltaire has dropped Candide, arranging the tale so that it is from the basic, alienated point of view of epistemological metonymy that characters attempt to read the universe, that is, to associate events by general formulae. Throughout the tale Candide is assaulted by discrete, unassimilable, pressing events. He strains to read them metaphorically, to give them a teleology assimilating them to the grand pattern of a world deserving the qualification “best.” His reasoning is always really practical, not speculative, but in person or in spirit there is always at his shoulder, by his choice, one of his mentors to keep him in the dark. Pangloss radiates obscurity. “Remarquez bien,” he argues in the first chapter, “que les nez ont été faits pour porter des lunettes, aussi avons-nous des lunettes” (“Note well that noses were made to hold eyeglasses, so we have eyeglasses”). This reasoning, comically trivial on the surface, becomes sillier when looked into. In the first place, Pangloss has omitted the necessary middle term if the proposition that all is for the best is to make sense as philosophical Optimism, that term being the proviso of a perfect Creator, “Wisdom infinite” (An Essay on Man 1.44); it is because of God's nature that all must be for the best. Second, the given example begins to make sense only if employed to justify the existence of noses, but Pangloss wrenches the argument to justify what we do with our noses, anything we do.

It is not simply the position in which man has been placed that Pangloss is busy accepting; it is what man wants to do there, still clearer in a succeeding example: “les cochons étant faits pour être mangés, nous mangeons du porc toute l'année” (“pigs being made to be eaten, we eat pork all through the year”). Pangloss neatly, gratifyingly, confuses the theological and teleological sense of “end” with the personal and moral sense and thus can adduce the nature of the universe, implicitly the nature of God, to explain the rightness of whatever Pangloss wants to do. He attracts Candide by glossing everything, seeing resemblance in all that happens, and locating his desires in the nature of things rather than in himself. Through the whole argument there is a telling balance in the omission of the First Mover and the neglect of the human agent's motivation. Pangloss could seem rather cunning in all this, but he is not: though given to abstractions, he resembles the women of the tale in completely lacking critical self-consciousness.

It is in the nature of things, not of Pangloss, that he eats pork or gives Paquette a lesson in experimental physics. And Martin resembles him by similarly displacing motives, only shifting them to the devil's shoulders much of the time. Neither philosopher makes room for specifically human desires. And Candide, employing first one and then the other to think for him, establishes for himself the best of possible fools' paradises by successfully shifting judgment from his own shoulders onto theirs. Event follows event, detail is added to detail; the empirical relations are extrinsic, mere relations of contiguity. Why does event B follow event A? Will C, success, follow B? Yes, says Pangloss. No, says Martin. Such is the world, they say in chorus. Each thinks he is associating events by cause and effect when he is only, tacitly, correlating them with his own desires, and, like Candide, correlating his reasoning with a high opinion of himself. Each, to resolve the metonymy of experience, rashly makes the wrong tropic turn. Instead of inquiring into the relation between the whole of himself and the part constituted by his desires, he assumes he is a whole, all integrity, and concerns himself entirely with his relation to the whole universe.

However, metonymy forbids these flights and retaliates by promoting recognition of the most down-to-earth causes. In this respect the tale plays with the mechanistic explanation of human motives common in Swift. Cunégonde, spying Pangloss in the bushes with the chambermaid, “vit clairement la raison suffisante du docteur, les effets et les causes” (1; “clearly perceived the doctor's sufficient reason, the effects and the causes”). Descartes is being stood upon his head: men are machines, mechanically rationalizing animals. Given Cunégonde's regular animality, it follows that she would immediately find an opportunity for applying Pangloss' physics. Given Candide's innocence of natural rather than selfless human motives, he is particularly vulnerable to both manipulation and criticism in this mode.

Now it would seem that the tendency of metonymy is toward perception of chains of events as mechanical (the vogue of naturalistic fiction a century after Candide might seem the historical realization of that tendency, the empire of realism's metonymy). It would seem so, that is, if metonymy did not imply the point of view I have mentioned, that of extrinsicality. The would-be knower perceives one thing going with another; he may forge a causal link; but he does so, at his most self-conscious, with recognition that he has created the association, perhaps delusively.

There is definite movement in Voltaire's tale, in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas too, from the hero's expectation of full understanding of the world to fear that there can be no understanding of it, at least none warranting any contentment. At the beginning, Candide cheerfully accepts the notion that all is for the best with the implication that all shall be for his own personal good. Despite frustrations, he persists in seeking suitable evidence. “Isn't everyone happy?” he asks. Then, having discovered in the first third of the tale that everything European seems far from being for the best, and in the next third that the New World is little better, by chapter 19, Candide, near despair, hirres Martin to prove that all is for the worst. Candide does not want to make that judgment, but his question has now become, “Isn't anyone happy?”—that wealthy, educated senator, or that seemingly jolly cleric with the girl on his arm? Martin's pessimism is repeatedly vindicated, and the metaphysical question falls to earth in the process. Martin seems an expert reader of this world's metonymies—until he ventures to ridicule Candide's faith in Cacambo: “Vous êtes bien simple, en vérité, de vous figurer qu'un valet métis, qui a cinq ou six millions dans ses poches, ira chercher votre maîtresse au bout du monde et vous l'amènera à Venise” (24; “You are really a simpleton to expect that a half-breed servant, with five or six million in his pockets, will go seeking your mistress to the end of the world and conduct her to you in Venice”).

Candide could certainly profit from increased proficiency in reductive, mechanistic prediction of chains of human events, yet not in this instance, for of course his valet returns—without the money, it is true, but having acted in good faith and bringing news of Cunégonde's whereabouts. Martin's chain has broken. The tale moves inexorably toward an attitude of skepticism as explanation after explanation proves false, as metonymy outlasts noble synecdoches, yet there is no corresponding movement toward doctrinaire skepticism. The book moves toward skepticism conscious of and skeptical of itself. Explanations have failed but explanation itself has not been proven futile; what has, at most, been demonstrated is that explanation by unconscious wishful thinking is futile. Erich Auerbach's rather unsympathetic pages on Candide in Mimesis, summarized by the statement that “For Voltaire, it is a perfectly self-evident premise that no one in his senses can believe in … an inner justification for views,”15 seem badly in need of qualification, the addition to the statement of “without first considering whether he is deluded about that inner justification.” There the satirical stress falls; there Voltaire's ridicule comes to a point.

Candide may seem the helpless, passive object of a remarkable series of misfortunes. The misfortunes are remarkable, even an earthquake killing thousands, a natural disaster on a scale afflicting few fictional characters. The world seems Candide's nemesis. However, with the notable exception of that earthquake—which, for all its enormity, is an instance of natural evil virtually required in a work bearing on theodicy—the reader finds that Candide regularly, often actively, induces the world's nasty, morally evil reactions against him. As mimesis of probability in the objective world, the events loom unrealistically huge, frequent, and severe. Yet as mimesis of the probability of the world's responses to someone like Candide, the series of events comes to seem, at the least, less improbable; as mediated through a Candide the world takes on a different aspect. He invites misfortune at a rate very close to that of its occurrence, because, with Pangloss' spectacles on his nose, he insists upon secretly seeing “all things for my use,” despite that warning about the wrong Optimistic turn in An Essay on Man (3.45).

It must be for the best when the Baron's daughter makes love to him, or when the Bulgarian press-gang attracts him by appealing eloquently to the same expectation. “Les hommes ne sont faits que pour se secourir les uns les autres” (“Men were made only so that each one could help out the others”), they say. Candide says that is just what Pangloss thinks. Even when Candide chooses to desert the army, he does so not out of a natural desire to be free and safe but out of the belief that “c'était un privilège de l'espèce humaine … de se servir de ses jambes à son plaisir” (“it was a right of human beings … for a man to have the benefit of using his own legs as he pleases”). Candide is a rigorist.

There is always, as Johnson said of Richardson's Clarissa, something which he prefers to truth, the truth of acknowledged desire. Given the choice of the gauntlet or the firing squad, he chooses by the divine gift of “liberté,” and asking to be killed he is neither desperate nor angry but polite, requesting of the Bulgarians “qu'on voulût bien avoir la bonté de lui casser la tête” (2; “that someone would kindly be gracious enough to crush his head”). This comment nicely illustrates the positivity of Candide as a character; delivered in indirect discourse, it is obviously a sarcasm of the narrator's, yet the reader senses no sarcasm in what Candide seems to mean by it, and no improbability in his speaking this way. He has relative independence from his author. Having escaped, except mentally, Candide proceeds to deduce that the Dutch, being Christians, will take care of him, another Panglossian expectation to be frustrated, but he pays no attention to the anomaly presented by the kindness of the unbaptized Jacques; then, when Jacques is soon drowning, Candide allows himself to do nothing but look on, conveniently persuaded by Pangloss' assertion “que la rade de Lisbonne avait été formée exprès pour que cet anabaptiste s'y noyât” (5; “that the harbor of Lisbon had been shaped expressly for this Anabaptist to drown in”). And so forth; extremely unrealistic as Candide's credulity is, the chain of evil events, as significantly determined by his unrealistic longings, is not entirely without probability.

Although I have suggested in passing that Candide occupies a middle state between his doctors and the women, that vertical scale, that microcosmic Chain of Being, is illusory. Pangloss, Martin, Cunégonde, the old woman, all are in an important sense variations on the same theme. They think about different things, but the ways in which they think about them are fundamentally identical, for all these characters take the events they observe and mechanically reduce them to uniformity. To Pangloss they are all for the best; to Martin, for the worst; to Cunégonde, they are acceptable. (Belonging to a Bulgarian captain, or to Candide, or to a South American governor; it is all the same to her; at the end she does not recognize the change in her own appearance.) Each ancillary character processes experience as if by an assembly line. Each proceeds without introspection. Thus each, though enduring innumerable crises, inhabits a serenely uniform mental world, a world without change, all events linked by similarity. Toward such secure simplicity of world and mind, particularly as represented by the confident, authoritative philosophers, Candide is constantly propelled by his uneasy combination of self-esteem and self-regard. But at the end, whatever else he means by his closing remarks, he refuses to join his companions in continued mock-philosophizing.

In this late turn of events the hero is subtly but definitely seconded by the narrator (there is a parallel development in Rasselas). At the beginning of the tale the narrator had made himself prominent with continual, insistent irony, often sarcasm, but he plays a much subdued part as the tale progresses, particularly after the entrance of Martin in the nineteenth chapter. The narrator's earlier, extreme irony had made a witty, critical foil for the naive optimism of Pangloss and Candide, and for the complacency about cruelty and stupidity exhibited by most of the other characters. Martin, when he enters, is occasionally ironical (it is he who says, in chapter 23, that France and England “sont en guerre pour quelques arpents de neige vers le Canada”—“are at war for a plot of snow near Canada”), but in the main his is a direct critical voice, and he is in addition a pessimist. By contrast with this role, the narrator's, for much the most part toward the close of the tale, is that of an uneditorializing introducer of speakers and straightforward describer of actions. Directly or indirectly, the narrator of the latter part of the tale offers very few opinions, with the result that the irony lodged in his comments earlier now continues almost exclusively in the plot, and his earlier criticism is replaced by Martin's. Yet valid as Martin's criticism often is, he overreaches himself in his pessimism, which turns out to be similar in its affected omniscience about the chain of events, in kind if not in degree, to the optimism of Pangloss. When Cacambo defeats Martin's prediction by returning to Candide, the plot defeats Martin's philosophy too.

One rhetorical effect of the change whereby Martin takes on himself the judgmental responsibilities of the narrator is some attenuation of the tale's satire. The narrator's satirical reflections had worn the absoluteness and invulnerability of irony. Martin's criticism becomes vulnerable because based on a stated, then overstated doctrine; his point of view, unlike the narrator's, remains distinctly limited—formally, but also by consequences in the plot, by the limitations of his nature as fully revealed in the end, and perhaps even by one of the narrator's rare late judgments, the reference to Martin's “détestables principes” (30). That is, part of the satire which continues in the tale after the narrator steps down from the bench qualifies Martin's utterances. And the narrator, who at the outset had taken the reader into his confidence, offering him the absolute assurance that only an omniscient narrator can provide, an assurance like that which Candide sought from Pangloss and metaphysics, toward the end ranges himself less closely with the reader and more closely with Candide, whom the narrator resembles increasingly when Candide finally refrains from explanation, from commentary.

In the final pages, the hero, the narrator, and the tale resist commentary as misreading, likely to be the product of covert egotism, like the philosophies of Pangloss and Martin. In the last page or so Candide says, twice, “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” The narrator, who had earlier made such a point of uncovering the true motives of his blind, compulsive hero, does not explain these declarative, in effect imperative statements, but presents them to the reader as final, seemingly discrete items in the series constituted by Candide's words, thoughts, and actions throughout the tale, presents them to be motivated in meaning by the reader. To be interpreted, Candide's final statements must be associated with his history, and virtually the only way that can be accomplished is to construe them as negation. As part of the tale, not as a historic statement by the historical Voltaire, the clause in context resists all but the most elementary commentary. So often duped by unexamined, grandiose, metaphorical habits of thought, Candide here speaks as unmetaphorically, as literally, as possible.

In the history of interpretation, it is true, the resistance of the text has often been resisted itself. The image of cultivating one's garden is so historically poetical, so pregnant with iconic potentiality—one may even find it in a passage Leibniz wrote about the necessity of universal progress16—that a scholar is hard put not to explode with learned associations. Surely, however, it ought to give an interpreter pause when he considers that the import of the remark in context, the final time Candide makes it, is precisely to rebuff Pangloss' Optimistic assimilation of events up to this moment;

Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles, [Pangloss exclaims] car enfin, si vous n'aviez pas été chassé d'un beau château, à grands coups de pied dans le derrière … —Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.

(All events are enchained in this best of possible worlds, for if you had not been turned out of a fine chateau with strong kicks in the rear … —Well said, answered Candide, but it is necessary to care for our garden).

That bien dit, implying the gap between words and things: has Candide come full circle, finally emulating the narrator's former sarcasm? Pangloss' last speeches compose a brief grammar of facile interpretation, a Panglossary: philosophical, as in the comment just quoted; historical a paragraph before, as he enumerated unfortunate rulers, prompting Candide's first “il faut cultiver,” prefaced by the suspect “Je sais aussi”; mythological and typological in Pangloss' reply, “Vous avez raison, dit Pangloss; car quand l'homme fut mis dans le jardin d'Eden, il y fut mis, ut operaretur eum, pour qu'il travaillât …” (“Correct, says Pangloss; for when man was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was placed in it ut operaretur eum, in order to work. …”). At this point Martin cannot forbear affirming, as he thinks, what Candide has said: “Travaillons sans raisonner”—without arguing, also without reasoning or even without rationalizing in the manner of Pangloss. Yet Martin, being Martin, also cannot resist interpreting and revising Candide's statement and giving a reason for not reasoning, yin for Pangloss' yang: “c'est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable” (“it is the only way to make living bearable”). Candide says nothing.

There is now in Candide a resistance to potentially delusive naturalization of decisions. He is, one might say colloquially, more realistic about the world and himself. But there is a way, though a quite special way, in which he is a rare example of literary realism in this respect. The two philosophers persist to the end in providing absolute reasons for life as they would have it. Candide seems to have learned something from the old Turk with a modest farm and isolationist views, but Candide does not seek to attach himself to that philosopher and he does not parrot his reasoning” (“le travail éloigne de nous trois grands maux, l'ennui, le vice et le besoin”—“work keeps three great evils away from us: boredom, vice, and want”), just as Candide does not echo Martin's reasoning. Candide's final words are most unusual for him in omitting concern for reasoning, while the motive for his behavior that the narrative suggests is, he has come to regard the metonymical from the point of view of metonymy; that is, with recognition that he perceives external events from the outside and that they remain in large measure unknowable except insofar as he can give them modest, motivated, metaphorical meaning, of desire and attainable object, by attending to his own desires instead of resisting acknowledgment of them.

Every effect has a cause, Voltaire would say in the Dictionnaire philosophique (“Chaîne des événements”), but every effect does not necessarily cause further effects.17 In Candide's final words, he concentrates on causing rather than being caused.18 The implication of his words is that, by possibly recognizing the automaton in himself, he may have enabled himself to be different, though what he may become we are not told. He does not grandly rouse himself and shake invincible locks. His repeated “il faut” could be more personal. This is no messianic (or Minervan) moment. But he would not abandon the habits of thought of his philosophical companions if he had not begun to cultivate his mind. In the garden he pauses; everything that has gone before in the tale indicates that he pauses to rid himself of disabling preconceptions, as Condillac's newly conscious statue stops to realize that he is not himself the scent of a rose that was his first sensation.19

Condillac's statue is meant to be taken as a fiction, a teaching model; but to understand it, the philosopher insists, we must share its point of view (as we must share Candide's). Condillac's prefatory “Avis important au lecteur” is urgent on the point: “J'avertis donc qu'il est très-important de se mettre exactement à la place de la statue que nous allons observer. Il faut commencer d'exister avec elle … : en un mot, il faut n'être que ce qu'elle est” (1:221; “I insist then that it is most important to place oneself exactly in the situation of the statue which we are going to observe. We must begin to exist with it … ; in a word, we must be only what it is”). Mental life being “une chaîne dont les anneaux sont tour à tour idées et desirs” (“a chain of which the links are by turns ideas and desires”), we have only to follow that chain “pour découvrir le progrès de toutes les connoissances de l'homme” (1:239; “to discover the progress of all the conceptions of man”). As in Locke, Gay, and others, a person must be very wary of, and curious about, the habits of thought he has formed, “Car, lorsqu'une fois nous avons contracté ces habitudes, nous agissons sans pouvoir observer les jugemens qui les accompagnent …” (1:298; “For once we have formed these habits, we act without being able to observe the judgments accompanying them …”). Amour-propre is the fundamental love felt by the statue (1:233); the mind has a certain natural bias, for example, whereby it tends to think that what pleases it intends to do so (“Elle pense donc que ce qui lui plaît, a en vue de lui plaire …”—(1:305). The mind is also very apt to imitate what it sees: “Nous sommes si fort portés à l'imitation, qu'un Descartes à sa place [in the condition of a wild child] n'apprendroit pas à marcher sur ses pieds: tout ce qu'il verroit suffiroit pour l'en détourner” (1:309; “We are so forcefully drawn to imitate that a Descartes in his condition would not learn to walk on his feet; everything he would see would tend to turn him away from doing so”). These hazards are to be avoided so that the statue, conscious of the chain of his thinking (1:310), may declare: “Instruite par l'expérience, j'examine, je délibère avant d'agir. Je n'obéis plus aveuglément à mes passions, je leur résiste, je me conduis d'après mes lumières, je suis libre …” (1:312; “Instructed by experience, I examine, I deliberate before acting. I no longer obey my passions blindly, I resist them, I go by my own lights, I am free …”).20

The finally enlightened, liberated Candide is a rare and distinguished person in eighteenth-century fiction. A work such as Candide, or Rasselas, supports the seemingly paradoxical observation that the blatantly unrealistic philosophical tale tends to be more realistic, in what I have called realism of psychological assessment, than the “novel of worldliness” in France or the then-new English novel, because the tale promotes attention to the hero as assessor of his own sense of reality. In Candide, unlike most novels of the time, the hero is quite imperfect; there is considerable emphasis, as also in contemporary associationist philosophy, upon his preconceptions as obstacles to knowledge of himself and the “real” world; self-knowledge, including non-rigorist recognition of the hero's own desires, is requisite for whatever happiness may be found (marvelous coincidences finally solve no crucial problems for the hero); and the narrator, prominently and satirically distant from the hero at the beginning of the tale, has become unobtrusive by the end while his judgmental function has been assumed by a less authoritative person, Martin. The mentor or mentors engage the hero in productive exchanges of opinion, dialectic usually only said to be present in novels, and the ending thwarts novelistic absorption of the reader, rhetorical stress there remaining on the dangers of mindless idealization, not the allure of the ideal.


  1. The Philosophy of Kant, Carl J. Friedrich, ed. and trans. (New York: Modern Library, 1949), pp. 132-33.

  2. Much of the history of this question is conveniently summarized in William F. Bottiglia, Voltaire's Candide: Analysis of a Classic, 2d. ed., Studies on Voltaire (1964), 7A; esp. p. 70. For Bottiglia the characters are suddenly and mysteriously transformed into human beings at the end (p. 197). Critics tend to waver somewhat about how to take the characters, as I have indicated in chapter 1. Such wavering, however, is preferable to insensitive deductions about the characters based on heavy-handed preliminary classification of a mercurial work. Among critics who have paid serious attention to the characters, Henri Coulet makes several very useful observations, including the statement that Pangloss' doctrine was made for Candide. “La Candeur de Candide,” Annales de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines d'Aix (1960), 34:87. And Jacques Van den Heuvel, taking Candide very seriously, says the tale is a sketch of a Bildungsroman, Candide coming to think more and more deeply. Voltaire dans ses contes: deMicromégasàL'Ingénu” (Paris: Armand Colin, 1967), pp. 289, 290.

  3. A. O. Lovejoy writes, “One of the principal happenings in eighteenth-century thought was the temporalizing of the Chain of Being. The plenum formarum came to be conceived by some, not as the inventory but as the program of nature, which is being carried out gradually and exceedingly slowly in the cosmic history.” The Great Chain of Being: A Study in the History of an Idea (1936; New York: Harper, 1960), p. 244. Chapter 9, “The Temporalizing of the Chain of Being,” explains Kant's early theory of cosmic evolution and refers in passing (p. 268) to the “evolutionistic” biological transformism of Diderot and Maupertuis, which Lovejoy had described in “Some Eighteenth Century Evolutionists,” Popular Science Monthly (1904), 65:238-51, 323-40.

  4. See Gérard Genette, “Vraisemblance et motivation,” Figures: Essais, vol. 2 (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966), pp. 96-99.

  5. Metaphorical relations, for Jakobson, are based predominantly on “similarity,” metonymical relations on “contiguity.” See his “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” in Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundamentals of Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1956), pp. 81-82. For a recent scholarly evaluation of Jakobson's theory, see David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 73-124, and my review essay, “The Metonymic and the Poetic,” Essays in Criticism (1979), 29:254-63.

  6. Roy S. Wolper, at the conclusion of an illuminating exchange with Lester G. Crocker on the subject of an article by Wolper, urges that narrative point of view be given more attention by students of Candide. “Forum,” Eighteenth-Century Studies (1971), 5:152.

  7. See my chapter 1. Jean Sareil comments that, in the conte philosophique, the ideas are quite sufficiently subordinated to, and a vehicle for, the fiction. Essai sur Candide (Genève: Droz, 1967), p. 40. Ira O. Wade's account of Voltaire's complicated attitude toward Leibniz, in Voltaire andCandide”: A Study in the Fusion of History, Art, and Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 50-61, prevents a reader from taking the tale's philosophy too literally.

  8. André Doyon and Lucien Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, mécanicien de génie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1966), p. 56. Bottiglia gives evidence of Voltaire's interest in puppets and the like (pp. 81-95). Hugh Kenner's The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968) proceeds by way of Vaucanson to consideration of Turing's Game, which hinges on the problem of proving the difference between a human being and a computer (oddly, there is no mention of La Mettrie).

  9. Quotations are from Voltaire, Candide, René Pomeau, ed., Complete Works, vol. 48, William Barber et al., eds. (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1980). Because the chapters are short I give only chapter numbers in my parenthetical citations—here chapter 16.

  10. Douglas A. Bonneville has noted Candide's initial selfishness. Voltaire and the Form of the Novel, Studies on Voltaire (1976), 158:48-50.

  11. An Essay on Man 1. 267, Maynard Mack, ed., in John Butt, ed., The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, vol. 3-1 (London: Methuen; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 47. Parenthetical references are to this edition.

  12. Kenneth Burke, “Four Master Tropes,” A Grammar of Motives (1945; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 508. See also Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), pp. 31-38.

  13. Dumarsais' rhetorical definition is similar to mine: of synecdoche he comments that “il est facile de confondre cette figure avec la métonymie, … mais la relation qu'il y a entre les objets, dans la métonymie, est de telle sorte, que l'objet dont on emprunte le nom, subsiste indépendament de celui dont il réveille l'idée, et ne forme point un ensemble avec lui. Tel est le raport qui se trouve entre la cause et l'éfet, entre l'auteur et son ouvrage, entre Cerès et le blé, entre le contenant et le contenu, come entre la bouteille et le vin, au lieu que la liaison qui se trouve entre les objets, dans la synecdoque, suppose que ces objets forment un ensemble come le tout et la partie; leur union n'est point un simple raport” (“It is easy to confuse this figure with metonymy, … but in metonymy the relation between the objects is such that the object which is named exists independently of the object implied and does not make a whole with it. Such is the relation found between a cause and an effect, between an author and his book, between Ceres and grain, between a container and what it contains—as for example between a bottle and wine. In synecdoche, on the other hand, the relation between objects requires that they make one object, like the whole and the part; the union of the objects does not depend on merely one strand of relationship”). Les Tropes de Dumarsais avec un commentaire raisonné … par M. Fontanier, introd. Gérard Genette (Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1967), 1:130-31.

  14. Hume's insistence that the mind associates ideas by only three principles, “Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause and Effect,” the third being utterly questionable—A Treatise of Human Nature, L. A. Selby-Bigge, ed., 2d ed., rev. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), p. 11—anticipates Jakobson's two polar linguistic relations, that based on similarity and that based on contiguity. See note 5, above. Nowhere should I be understood as claiming that Hume influenced Candide—only that the tale is written with informed sensitivity about empirical psychology in the tradition of Locke, whom Voltaire gives substantial praise in the Lettres philosophiques, Gustave Lanson, ed., 2d ed., 2 vols. (Paris: Hachette, 1915-1917), Lettre 13 (see my epigraph to ch. 2); at the end of “Micromégas,” Romans et contes, Henri Bénac, ed. (Paris: Garnier, 1960), p. 112; and elsewhere. The Lockean tradition of course includes Condillac; cf. note 19, below.

  15. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1953; rpt. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1957), p. 360. Pierre Haffter, in an article that takes its origin from Auerbach's comments, notes that Voltaire's most trustworthy characters tend to be those who speak succinctly. “L'Usage satirique des causales dans les contes de Voltaire,” Studies on Voltaire (1967), 53:27.

  16. See Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, p. 257, for the quotation from De rerum originatione radicali (1697), about the progress “of the universe as a whole … just as a great part of our earth is already subject to cultivation and will hereafter be so more and more.”

  17. Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, Julien Benda and Raymond Naves, eds., rev. ed. (Paris: Garnier, 1967), p. 104. Jean Starobinski quotes from this passage while pursuing a point similar to, but not the same as, mine. “Candide et la question de l'autorité,” Essays on the Age of Enlightenment in Honor of Ira O. Wade, Jean Macary, ed. (Genève: Droz, 1977), p. 309. Cf. his remarks about Martin on the same page.

  18. Explaining the “conative or drive-directed” aspect of Enlightenment thought proceeding from Bacon and Hobbes, Jeffrey Barnouw provides a comment exactly applicable to Candide's final orientation as I have described it: “The rationality of the New Science depends on the certainty of knowledge to be achieved where we are not left simply to infer or conjecture causes from apparent effects or phenomena but can know possible effects from causes in our own control.” “Active Experience vs. Wish-Fulfilment in Francis Bacon's Moral Psychology of Science,” The Philosophical Forum (1979), 9:93.

  19. Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, “Traité des sensations,” Œuvres philosophiques, Georges Le Roy, ed. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1947), 1:225. Parenthetical references in the next paragraph of my text are to this edition. As I have said, I do not claim that Candide was written with Condillac in mind, though the resemblance of the two names is tempting. Pomeau notes an uncommon word used by Voltaire with respect to both his hero and the philosopher (p. 29). In the Correspondence Voltaire speaks highly of Condillac, especially in a letter of 1756 inviting him to stay and work at Voltaire's home: “Il me semble que personne ne pense ni avec tant de profondeur, ni avec tant de justesse que vous” (“It seems to me that no one thinks so very profoundly and justly as you do”). Voltaire imaginatively elaborates the invitation in a manner that calls to mind the little philosophical circle in Westphalia: “… Vous seriez le maître chez moi comme chez vous; je serais votre vieux disciple; vous en auriez un plus jeune dans mad. Denis, et nous verrions tous trois ensemble ce que c'est que l'âme” (“… You would be the teacher in my home as in yours; I would be your elderly pupil, and you would have a younger one in Mme Denis, and we would, all three together, investigate what the soul is”)—D6998, Complete Works, vol. 101, Theodore Besterman et al., eds. (Banbury: Voltaire Foundation, 1971), pp. 319, 320; other references: D7603 (1758), vol. 102 (1971), p. 392; D12234 and D12288 (1765), vol. 92 (1973), pp. 239, 299; D15418 (1769), vol. 118 (1974), p. 236.

  20. Drawing on Hannah Arendt, Ronald Paulson usefully distinguishes between liberation and freedom, the former indicating a release from constrictions, the latter “creation of a new order from the bottom up.” “Burke's Sublime and the Representation of Revolution,” Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment, Perez Zagorin, ed. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1980), 259. When Voltaire's book ends, Candide has achieved liberation and is in the process of seeking freedom.

Gail S. Reed (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2734

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? …


One is the organization of the plot. Beneath the distancing and mitigating ironic tone which characterizes the narrator's presentation, the world of Candide is built upon a fundamental rhythm of expectation and betrayal. Candide is a dialectic of desire and punishment, of trust and the brutal deception of that trust. The hero, innocently desiring Cunégonde and faithfully believing his tutor, is cast out into a best of all possible worlds which proves a mutilating inferno. Despairing, cold, hungry, and penniless, he finds his flagging faith restored by two strangers who treat him to dinner—then brusquely trick him into military servitude where he is robbed of any modicum of individuality and freedom, and finally stripped of his skin in a beating. His fellow sufferer, the old woman, in her parallel journey through life, is deprived by murder of a princely husband at the moment when she joyously anticipates marriage, then ravished, enslaved, and made witness to the dismemberment of her mother and attendants. A eunuch she believes kind fortunately rescues her from the bloody pile of corpses onto which she has collapsed, then quickly sells her anew into slavery.

These betrayals, rhythmic norms rather than exceptions in Candide, frustrate fulfillment; within the fiction they break down the characters' integrity; without, they assault the reader's sense of security through continual frustration of his conventional expectations of the marvelous. The two travelers, so often brutalized and betrayed, withdraw into a state of numbness in which, separate from their bodies, they feel neither physical nor emotional pain; they merely endure. Candide wordlessly traverses a war-torn countryside, objective correlative to his brunt-out inner state; the old woman, less and less desired, becomes first concubine, then slave, then an object dispatched from city to city, until her body is reduced to its most concrete physicality and becomes food. In a final bitter irony, buttock replaces breast in a gruesome parody of the primordial experience of security.

One result of this catastrophic rhythm is the intensified search for warmth and safety. The main characters yearn for protection, for a magic circle of comfort, security, and satiety, as is attested to by their frequent hunger, their stubborn innocence and comic grandiosity, their idealization of Westphalia, and their constant and oft contradicted assertions that they are infallible, perfect, or deserving of the best. Characters and reader are temporarily granted that protection in Eldorado.


Another and parallel result is the release of destructive forces. Indeed the fictional reality of the tale does not permit retreat for long. Outside that magic circle of perfection resides the social world into which the characters are constantly propelled. And this evil outside world is a place where the social institution seeks out the individual to destroy him. Children are castrated to sing in operas, slaves dismembered for disobedience, the military takes brutal possession o Candide's body. In fact, the double row of soldiers poised to club him becomes a giant devouring maw. In this evil social world, rationalized sadism runs rampant. There are, of course, the overt acts of individuals who enslave, rob, rape, and disembowel, but the esthetically pleasing ritual of an auto-da-fé [burning of heretics] camouflages equally sadistic yet socially sanctioned wishes. When brutality is committed in the name of good, when justice condones robbery and charges a fee, when freedom involves a choice between death by clubbing or firing squad, then language becomes the agent of social deception and the social world beyond the magic circle a place of uncertain perception as well as of danger. Deceiving characters emerge from its midst conferring names on themselves, promising uniqueness and coveting riches, and then merge back into its anonymity. Thus the false Cunégonde is only “a cheat.” Candide also becomes part of the universe of shifting forms—separated from his name—stepping back from naïve candor into the socially conferred guise of mercenary. In rapid succession he offers his loyalty to the Spanish, then the Jesuits, avows his German birth and finds Cunégonde's brother, then disguises himself as Jesuit in order to flee, and is held prisoner and threatened with death by the Oreillons because accoutrements designate him as Jesuit. He escapes with his life only by slipping out of the clothing of his assumed identity. This social world, representing the individual's rage at frustration, destroys the self. In becoming part of its spreading insubstantiality, the individual momentarily ceases to exist.

One way in which the evil realm incorporates the self is by undermining the individual's perceptions and thus depriving him of his ability to anticipate, judge, and experience himself as a subjective continuity in time. Encountering Candide, the major characters emerge out of the treacherous social world in continuously changing shapes. The “femme tremblante, d'une taille majestueuse, brillante de pierreries, et couverte d'une voile”1 is Cunégonde, though the other veiled woman is a fraud. One of the women “qui étendaient des serviettes sur des ficelles pour les faire sécher”2 is also Cunégonde “rembrunie, les yeux éraillés, la gorge sèche, les joues ridées, les bras rouges & écaillés.”3 The commander, “le bonnet à trois cornes en tête, la robe retroussée, l'épée au côté, l'esponton à la main,”4 is the young Baron. He metamorphoses into friend, then into arrogant aristocrat, changes effected with a chameleon-like speed paralleled by Candide's confusion of names: “‘Mon révérend père, … mon ancien maître, mon ami, mon beaufrère.’”5 Pangloss reappears as an ineffective galley-slave, as a corpse dissected back to life, and most frighteningly as that phantom who throws himself on Candide:

un gueux tout couvert de pustules, les yeux morts, le bout du nez rongé, la bouche de travers, les dents noires, & parlant de la gorge, tourmenté d'une toux violante, & crachant une dent à chaque effort.6

The destructiveness represented by the instability of the social realm and of the self here intersect, for Pangloss' ghostly “disguise” is a mutilation which ordinarily belongs to nightmare. By making disguise a matter of body, the text turns the possible illusion of the ghost into the fictional reality of a disfigured tutor. As the physical body yields its integrity, the character becomes his disguise, becomes, that is, other.

Both the savageness of the fictional reality and the rhythm of the plot depend on the radical simplicity of the hero for their full effect. An appropriate accompaniment to the cruel and unstable reality which surrounds him, the characteristics united by the name of Candide designate him incomplete. The oscillations of his spirits according to the fullness of his stomach, his taking in of Pangloss' teachings because of the facilitating presence of the beautiful Cunégonde, his profound dependence on her to give his life shape and direction, his belief that a high degree of happiness consists in being her, all suggest that Voltaire has constructed a developmentally primitive literary character. So much, in fact, is Candide's simplicity coupled with devices which suggest infantile experience, that it shocks us to discover in the last chapter that as he has reached maturity he has acquired a beard.

Despite this growth—for much of the tale Candide is so lacking in self-definition that he is … devoid of judgment. Thus, he is dependent on guides to judge for him. Whether they prove trustworthy, like Cacambo, or treacherous, like Venderdendur, is a hazard of his radical simplicity, for his lack of differentiation manifests itself in uncritical, open-mouthed, passive receptivity.

It is this infantile openness, moreover, that involves the reader in the fictional world and thus in its brutal betrayals. Nothing masks Candide's primitive yearning for Cunégonde, or for that best world promised by Pangloss, and these wishes, emerging contrapuntally against the cruel deceptions of the plot, tend to elicit the reader's empathic wishes for food, warmth, and protection. Thus, when Candide's are abruptly frustrated, so too, our own.


The reader's subjective participation in Candide's desires is facilitated in a number of ways. Among the most important is the adroit use of “internal focus” [French scholar Gerard] Genette's term for the restriction of the reader's field of vision to that of a given character. Of course, internal focus is not the norm of Candide where the narration, like that of most tales, is omniscient. Rather, internal focus represents a temporary shift of perspective away from narrative omniscience. Sometimes nearly imperceptible, such a shift may also involve the reader quite dramatically and subjectively in fictional danger. Immediately after the safe arrival in Buenos Aires where Cunégonde and Candide have fled together, new danger supervenes.

Elle court sur le champ à Candide. “Fuyez,” dit-elle, “ou dans une heure vous allez être brûlé.” Il n'y avait pas un moment à perdre; mais comment se séparer de Cunégonde, & où se réfugier?7

Objective description cedes to an internal focus upon Candide's experience of his predicament. At this point, the chapter ends, the danger unresolved and under-distanced.

The reader's vision is reduced to a restricted internal focus that limits his knowledge of the fictional world as severely as Candide's and renders him equally helpless. Thus the reader becomes temporarily one with a character of neither judgment nor knowledge, and the force of that sadistic reality through which the child-hero is deprived of wished-for security increases. The sense of helplessness is complemented by the frustration of the chapter break, a device which, as a formal analogue to Candide's sense of being trapped, places the reader in the same position of powerlessness in relation to the narrator as the hero finds himself in vis-à-vis the causal events of the fiction. …

What spares the reader too much disorientation is the distancing effect of the omniscient narration. The narrator, reliable, objective, in control, gives a counterbalancing stability to the unstable fictional world and authority to the events he describes. The breadth and scope of his vision creates a distance from fictional event which permits the reader the anticipation of danger, the illusion of safety, and the luxury to appreciate irony. With this broader perspective, the narrator exposes the naiveté of Candide and the self-importance of his companions, enabling us, [thank God], to find release in laughter.

Yet this relief is not so complete as we might suspect. It alleviates, but does not prevent, our subjective reaction to the dangers of the fictional world. In the presentation of the earthquake, for instance, disaster strikes mimetically:

A peine ont-ils mis le pied dans la ville en pleurant la mort de leur bienfaiteur, qu'ils sentent la terre trembler sous leurs pas; la mer s'élève en bouillonnant dans le port, & brise les vaisseaux qui sont à l'ancre.8

The restrained description of upheaval in and of itself hardly moves. Rather, its placement in a sequence in which natural disaster and human cruelty follow each other precipitously surprises. When Pangloss and Candide set foot on shore after the death of Jacques and the shipwreck, reader and characters alike prepare for a respite. But safety is accorded only an introductory subordinate clause—in the main clause new disaster shocks.

Only after the reader is startled into subjectivity, does the narrative present the exaggerated and idiosyncratic reactions of the victims: the sailor looks for booty, Pangloss for a way of justifying his philosophic system, Candide for solace. Shock is countered by comedy. Yet these stylized descriptions are dependent on the reader's initial surprise for their comic effect. They afford him release secondarily because they allow him to escape his subjective involvement and to regard the beleaguered characters objectively.

Nor is the earthquake scene an exception. For the first half of the tale, over and over again, deftly and economically, the narrative moves the reader from safety to new danger: Candide and Cunégonde tell leisurely and objectively of the horrors of their lives in the comfort of a sea journey only to be separated the moment they come to port. Further, the narrative moves the reader from safe objectivity to the intimacy of the subjective not only by means of such formal devices as shifts of focus and manipulation of chapter divisions, but also by means of a play with convention which turns the events of the fiction into versions of chance as haphazard and out of control as the fictional world itself.

The rhythm of trust and betrayal, safety and danger thus finds its counterpart in the oscillation of the reader between participation in the danger of the fictional world and a more comfortable sharing of the omniscient narrator's objectivity. Until Candide begins to grow in the second half of the tale, his radical simplicity, evoking as it does a universal infantile defenselessness, emerges as a crucial subjective focus from which objective narration must rescue us before the boundaries of comedy are transgressed.

Through the structure of the text, then, the reader of Candide is engaged in a cycle of wish, frustration, and reactive anger which facilitates a transient identification with an infantile hero, on the one hand, and lends the impact of anger to the arbitrary external authority which assails him, on the other. The plot itself and formal elements such as the ordering of the action, the handling of narrative focus, and the syntax all contribute to the reader's identificatory wishes for warmth, safety, and security. When these wishes, apparently realized, are abruptly frustrated, the resultant anger fosters an experience of outside authority—whether fictional destiny or social institution—as cruel and implacable. The power which anger confers upon frustrating authority, in turn, increases the experience of powerlessness through which the reader, identified with the hero/victim, confronts his own vulnerability. Thus the transient identification with the hero is reinforced and the cycle of wish, frustration, and anger renewed. This reciprocal relationship between literary structure and the affect—conscious or not—that that structure evokes in the reader is an essential and complex element in the esthetic experience of Candide.


  1. trembling figure of a majestic-looking woman, all sparkling with jewels and hidden by a veil

  2. who is hanging towels out on a line to dry

  3. all brown, with her eyes bloodshot, her bosom shrivelled, her cheeks wrinkled, and her arms red and peeling

  4. with the three-cornered hat on his head, his cassock hitched up, a sword at his side, and a halberd in his hand

  5. Dear God, … my former master, my friend, my brother-in-law.

  6. a beggar all covered in sores; his eyes were glazed, the end of his nose was eaten away, his mouth was askew, his teeth black, and he spoke from the back of his throat. He was wracked by a violent cough and spat out a tooth with every spasm.

  7. Whereupon she rushed off to Candide: “Quick, off you go,” she said, “or in an hour you'll be burnt.” There was not a moment to lose. But how could he leave Cunegonde, and where was he to hide?

  8. Scarcely had they set foot in the city, still weeping over the death of their benefactor, than they felt the earth quake beneath their feet. In the port a boiling sea rose up and smashed the ships lying at anchor.

Josephine Grieder (essay date March 1984)

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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 of experience and one of discourse; what is real in the second may not be real in the first, with all the intellectual and moral problems thereupon pendant.”1 She also identifies another looser sense of paradox, “a formulation of any sort running counter to received opinion” (p. 9). She continues, “The paradox is always somehow involved in dialectic: challenging some orthodoxy, the paradox is an oblique criticism of absolute judgment or absolute convention” (p. 10).

Candide is, in effect, a synthesis of these two aspects of this literary genre. The insolubilia, the conflict of discourse and experience, may be phrased in other ways: order and disorder, or stability and changeability; most general perhaps, the opposition of the ideal (here defined as what we wish to believe or are told by authorities that we should believe) and the real (what we in fact see and in which we participate). Fundamental to Candide is the intrusion, or more strongly, the irruption of the real world into the ideal. In the process the paradox (the experience, the real) challenges the orthodox (the discourse, the ideal) by dislocating its equilibrium and calling into question its capacity to deal with the world as it is. Paradox is all too apparent in the work; a more subtle question is the nature of the orthodox which it insists on upsetting. I would suggest that orthodoxy is attacked in at least four forms: rhetorical, logical, sentimental, and psychological.

What is orthodox rhetoric? In one sense it may be interpreted as verbal embellishment designed to elevate the ordinary to another, ideal plane. But in Candide the ordinary subtly but stubbornly refuses elevation, betraying, by a tiny detail, that the rhetoric is no more than a pompous euphemism for commonplace activity. Pangloss most eloquently describes his entry into a mosque: “il n'y avait qu'un vieux iman et une jeune dévote très jolie qui disait ses paternôtres; sa gorge était toute découverte: elle avait entre ses deux tétons un beau bouquet de tulipes, de roses, d'anémones, de renoncules, d'hyacinthes, et d'oreilles d'ours; elle laissa tomber son bouquet; je le ramassai, et je le lui remis avec un empressement respectueux.”2 The scene is decorous, the description of the bouquet lavishly precise, the philosopher's courtesy apparently admirable. But Pangloss's own casual, perhaps even unwitting vulgarism, the “deux tétons,” even though promptly overwhelmed by the catalogue of the flowers, defines plainly the “empressement” that animated him.

A scene in Chapter One, similar in construction, turns on the orthodox rhetoric of experimental science. Cunégonde, walking in the woods, sees Pangloss “qui donnait une leçon de physique expérimentale à la femme de chambre de sa mère, petite brune très jolie et très docile. Comme mademoiselle Cunégonde avait beaucoup de disposition pour les sciences, elle observa, sans souffler, les expériences réitérées dont elle fut témoin; elle vit clairement la raison suffisante du docteur, les effets, et les causes, et s'en retourna tout agitée, toute pensive, toute remplie du désir d'être savante” (pp. 138-39). Omitted from the quotation is, of course, the crucial initial detail: Cunégonde sees them “entre des broussailles.” What, limited to orthodox terminology, appears to be a laudable instructive endeavor is in fact the most elegantly discreet pornography.

Puncturing orthodox rhetoric with realistic detail produces a fine comic effect; more serious in intent is manipulation involving those elevated ideas with which rhetoric traditionally concerns itself. Stylistically, it operates in two ways. The rhetorical vocabulary of the ideal world may be substituted for vocabulary normally employed in describing the real world, or it may be made to explain an inescapable, actual condition. The result in either case is a discreditation of the ideal world which orthodox rhetoric is assumed to express.

The discreditation arises, in the first instance, from the following: substitution of an ideal term for a real term necessitates its continual repetition, since the real occurs so frequently; and at last the repetition empties it of all its ideal sense. In Chapter Two, for example, the two Bulgar officers, identified in any case only as “Deux hommes habillés de bleu,” see Candide and remark, “voilà un jeune homme très bien fait, et qui a la taille requise.” After they persuade him to drink to the health of their king, “C'en est assez, lui dit-on, vous voilà l'appui, le soutien, le défenseur, le héros des Bulgares.” In effect, Candide has become a soldier—but the word “soldat” is never used at all, being replaced, as necessary, with the term “héros.” “Candide, tout stupéfait, ne démêlait pas encore trop bien comment il était un héros,” and quite naturally goes for a walk. “Il n'eut pas fait deux lieues que voilà quatre autres héros de six pieds qui l'atteignent, qui le lient, qui le mènent dans un cachot” (p. 140). In Chapter Three, fleeing after a battle designated only as “cette boucherie héroïque,” he passes through a village devastated by the troops and sees old men looking at their slaughtered wives and babies, and “des filles, éventrées après avoir assouvi les besoins naturels de quelques héros” (p. 142). What received opinion has been taught to accept as glorious is here, by compression and repetition, reduced to meaninglessness and, more serious, indicted as the cause of human suffering.

A variation on this is to explain a real effect by a rhetorically acceptable cause and simultaneously to surcharge the latter with such fulsome elaboration that its credibility is debased still further. Candide meets in Holland “un gueux tout couvert de pustules, les yeux morts, le bout du nez rongé, la bouche de travers, les dents noires, et parlant de la gorge, tourmenté d'une toux violente, et crachant une dent à chaque effort” (p. 143). It is Pangloss, in all his syphilitic misery. But how does he explain the cause of his condition? “c'est l'amour: l'amour, le consolateur du genre humain, le conservateur de l'univers, l'âme de tous les êtres sensibles, le tendre amour” (p. 144). The rhetoric of the ideal fails abysmally to ennoble the initial graphic reality.

Pangloss' rhetorical distortions are not unexpected because he is the established voice of the ideal world. His particular province, philosophy, introduces another form of orthodoxy: logic. As the spokesman for the laws of cause and effect, he is on perfectly sound, logical ground: there are no effects without causes. It might appear that his obviously faulty reasoning, which adds so much comic texture, can simply be dismissed as a display of the fallacy of false causes, e.g., post hoc, ergo propter hoc.3 I would suggest, however, that his errors are far more grave because they proceed from his essential conviction—rendered subtly by the passive voice—that each cause has been ordered, so as to produce a specific effect. We have spectacles not only because we first had noses but because “les nez ont été faits pour porter des lunettes,” and we wear breeches because “les jambes sont visiblement instituées pour être chaussées.” In short, as he says, “tout étant fait pour une fin, tout est nécessairement pour la meilleure fin” (p. 138). But made by whom or by what?

At issue here, by implication, is something far more profound than Pangloss' efforts to interpret the data of the world according to the logic of cause and effect. Consider his unshakable conclusion in the beginning that “Par conséquent, ceux qui ont avancé que tout est bien ont dit une sottise: il fallait dire que tout est au mieux” (p. 138). What is missing from this effect is its specific cause; and the cause, like the ordering principle which dictates that noses are made for glasses, would appear to be the deity.4 Pangloss' formulation would therefore seem to be that known in formal logic as modus ponens. His first premise may be phrased thus: “If God is all powerful and all good, then this is the best of all possible worlds.” His position, so often reiterated, is that indeed, this is the best. It might thus seem to support what is actually his essential and unquestioned second premise: God is all powerful and all good.

Yet, precisely what Candide as a work demonstrates is the impossibility of accepting Pangloss' position: a world which is subject to or condones injustice, treachery, brutality, and suffering cannot possibly be described as “the best.” Therefore, the formal logical equation passes to that known as modus tollens and the second premise is thereby invalidated: if God is all powerful and all good, then this is the best of all possible worlds; the work proves that it is not the best; therefore, God is either not all powerful or not all good. Paradox, paradoxically obeying orthodox logic, in effect challenges and refutes orthodox opinion about the nature of the deity; but such subversive calculation is discreetly left to the reader.

What is to be concluded about Pangloss and, by extension, about the ideal world whose spokesman he is? At the beginning, operating in the realm of pure logic, he succeeds only in justifying the unjustifiable: syphilis is essential to our enjoyment of chocolate and cochineal. At the end, he must explain the unexplainable: how he survived the auto-da-fé and has turned up aboard the Turkish ship. But when questioned by Candide on his views, he remains resolutely faithful to orthodoxy, “car enfin je suis philosophe: il ne me convient pas de me dédire” (p. 216). Yet, even he silently acquiesces in the bankruptcy of the ideal. “Pangloss avouait qu'il avait toujours horriblement souffert; mais ayant soutenu une fois que tout allait à merveille, il le soutenait toujours, et n'en croyait rien” (p. 219).

Both rhetorical and logical orthodoxy are situated in the text itself, either by characters or in commentary. Sentimental orthodoxy is broader in scope: it gives the work its shape and its hero his motivation.5 Consider, for example, the ideal roman d'amour: boy and girl meet, realize they are meant for each other, are separated by unavoidable castastrophes, are reunited, marry, and live happily ever after. Consider equally the character of its hero: devoted to Love and the Woman who embodies it; passionate but discreet, steadfast, courageous, triumphant. Candide the work corresponds exactly to the former definition and Candide the character to the latter. But it is reality—reality as sexuality in the form of Cunégonde and reality as the physicalness of the world—which, by intruding itself into this rather bloodless literary formula, gives the work its movement.

From the beginning Candide possesses “les mœurs les plus douces”; he combines “le jugement assez droit avec l'esprit le plus simple” (p. 137); he listens attentively to Pangloss' lessons “car il trouvait mademoiselle Cunégonde extrêmement belle, quoiqu'il ne prît jamais la hardiesse de le lui dire” (p. 138). Cunégonde, however, “haute en couleur, fraîche, grasse, appétissante” (p. 138), is already more palpable than the orthodox sentimental heroine ought to be. Aroused by Pangloss' demonstration in the bushes, it is she who takes the initiative: she drops her handkerchief, he picks it up, she takes his hand. Behaving impeccably, he kisses hers “avec une vivacité, une sensibilité, une grâce toute particulière,” but physical contact abruptly destroys any pretense of spirituality: “leurs bouches se rencontrèrent, leurs yeux s'enflammèrent, leurs genoux tremblèrent, leurs mains s'égarèrent”—until the baron puts a decisive halt to the scene, and, dislocating the equilibrium of the best of all possible worlds, “chassa Candide du château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière” (p. 139).

To say that Candide is forced out of the ideal world into the real is, as is paradoxically appropriate, simultaneously true and untrue. That this is the real world is verified in very orthodox fashion by places (Buenos Aires, Surinam, Venice), events (the earthquake, the execution of Admiral Byng), and people (the Jesuits, the six kings). That it cannot be the real world is due not only to the presence of mythical lands but also to the mythical talent of its characters to survive a disproportionate number of catastrophes.

What makes these contradictory statements mutually compatible, what gives them their equilibrium, is the function of the work's movement from known to unknown to known in terms of the education of its hero. The expulsion from Thunder-ten-tronckh signals the beginning of a quest—a quite unwitting one on Candide's part but evident to the reader—for the philosopher's best of all possible worlds. Exposure to the real world into which sexuality has thrust him teaches a harsh lesson to Pangloss' pupil; nonetheless, he refuses to disavow his master's instruction. The measure of his intellectual progress can be assessed during the voyage from Europe to South America: “Car il faut avouer qu'on pourrait gémir un peu de ce qui se passe dans le nôtre en physique et en morale,” he tells Cunégonde; “C'est certainement le nouveau monde qui est le meilleur des mondes possibles” (p. 157). Reality being scarcely less rude in Argentina and Paraguay, however, Candide escapes into lands progressively more mythical: the country of the Oreillons (the state of pure nature), and Eldorado. Yet, when he at last discovers his quest's utopian goal—to which I shall return—he leaves it. The logic of the real world—exemplified by the one-handed, one-legged black slave who declares that “C'est à ce prix que vous mangez du sucre en Europe” (p. 182)—is now comprehensible. “O Pangloss! … c'en est fait, il faudra qu'à la fin je renonce à ton optimisme … [cette] rage de soutenir que tout est bien quand on est mal” (p. 183). Accompanied by Martin, whose pessimism he is at present equipped to understand even while he combats it, he re-enters the real, known world, made incongruous only by the reunion of so many acquaintances missing or presumed dead.

Thus, Candide's education, or at least one aspect of it, has consisted in his learning to accept and deal with the reality which so irrationally irrupts into the equilibrium of the ideal taught to him by Pangloss; yet, the end of the work demonstrates a return to orthodoxy, compromised though it has become. Reunited with his mistress, Candide is confronted by the effects of reality on the long-sought ideal: “sa belle Cunégonde rembrunie, les yeux éraillés, la gorge sèche, les joues ridées, les bras rouges et écaillés.” Even he cannot fail to recognize what actually exists. “Le tendre amant … recula trois pas, saisi d'horreur”; but, stubbornly refusing to abandon the sentimental ideal to which he has so long dedicated himself, “[il] avança ensuite par bon procédé” (p. 217). He does indeed marry her, principally to spite her brother, but also because “Cunégonde le pressait si vivement qu'il ne pouvait s'en dédire” (p. 218). Like Pangloss, who is trapped by his commitment to logical orthodoxy, Candide is trapped by his own (and with the same verb) to the sentimental. Received opinion as to how the roman d'amour must conclude and its hero behave is obeyed; actual physical fact exposes the hollowness of the ideal construct.

However, in this confrontation between orthodoxy and paradoxy, there would appear to be one moment at which the ideal effectively triumphs over the real, maintaining its own integrity while the intruder shamefacedly skulks away. Eldorado, at the center of this work, is undeniably an Enlightenment utopia: an ancient civilization in which the arts are valued and the sciences esteemed, an undogmatic religion is respected, and government is benevolently organized to promote the general welfare of its citizens. Surrounded as it is by misfortune and disaster, the episode is a moment of tranquillity spent, as Candide recognizes, in “probablement le pays où tout va bien: car il faut absolument qu'il y en ait un de cette espèce” (p. 177). Yet he and Cacambo leave. Why?

In the context of orthodox and paradox, the answer lies in an opposition of mentalities. What animates Candide and Cacambo to depart is not necessarily admirable. Appropriately alleging his sentimental desire to recover Cunégonde, Candide continues more forthrightly, “Si nous restons ici, nous n'y serons que comme les autres.” Cacambo is pleased with the suggestion, because “on aime tant à courir, à se faire valoir chez les siens, à faire parade de ce qu'on a vu dans ses voyages” (p. 180). But the outlook of the Eldoradans is not necessarily enviable, either. “Je suis fort ignorant, et je m'en trouve bien” (p. 177), says the innkeeper to Candide; “nous sommes tous du même avis” (p. 179), declares the old man; and the king chides them for wanting to leave because “quand on est passablement quelque part, il faut y rester” (p. 180).

Reality, represented by Candide and Cacambo, is thus resisting and rejecting a new sort of orthodoxy: the psychological orthodoxy that accepts with equanimity the stasis that perfection necessarily imposes so that it will not be disrupted.6 Reality can confront, fight, try to give the lie to the other orthodoxies—rhetorical, logical, sentimental—constructed by man. Reality cannot accept immutability based on mediocrity and ignorance, no matter how beneficial its consequences, and voluntarily withdraws.

If, at the end of the work, Pangloss and Candide continue to adhere verbally to the ideals in which they formerly believed, they do tacitly accept the real in which they must participate. “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” is also a sort of stasis, but human-imposed and of undeterminable duration: the midpoint of a see-saw on which paradox and orthodox are at opposing ends. A glance at the minor characters confirms this. Those who have been most buffeted by reality—Paquette, the old women, frère Giroflée—move usefully into this community to which Candide's formulation gives a certain stability; the last “même devint honnête homme.” Relinquishing to a degree his orthodox pessimism, “’Travaillons sans raisonner,’ dit Martin;’c'est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable’” (p. 221). Only the baron refuses to abandon orthodoxy and he pays the price: the others spirit him away to the galley ship, to return to Rome, “et on eut le plaisir d'attraper un jésuite, et de punir l'orgueil d'un baron allemand” (p. 218).

This compromise between the real and the ideal has its rewards, even for the latter's two most doctrinaire spokesmen. “Cunégonde était, à la vérité, bien laide,” as Candide must acknowledge, “mais elle devint une excellente pâtissière.” As for Pangloss, it is only fitting that the work's final paradox should be that the philosopher is, for the first time, absolutely right: “car enfin si vous n'aviez pas été chassé d'un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l'amour de mademoiselle Cunégonde, si vous n'aviez pas été mis à l'Inquisition, si vous n'aviez pas couru l'Amérique à pied, si vous n'aviez pas donné un bon coup d'épée au baron, si vous n'aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d'Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches” (p. 221). How is it possible that Pangloss can at last reason correctly? Because he is explaining the logic of a non-world: the work itself.


  1. Paradoxia Epidemica (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), p. 13, hereafter cited in the text. Although some of my observations coincide with those of other critics, I have encountered none who interprets the entire work in terms of the tradition of paradox. See, for example, Jean Starobinski, “Sur le style philosophique de Candide,Comparative Literature, 28, No. 3 (Summer 1976), 193-200; and particularly William H. Barber, “Voltaire's Use of Irony,” abridged in Voltaire'sCandideand the Critics, ed. Milton P. Foster (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 97-101. The excellent article by France Vernier, “Les Disfonctionnements des normes du conte dans Candide,Littérature, 1 (février 1971), 15-29, is a structuralist approach; while her opposition of the “conforme” and the “disfonctionnement du conforme” and mine of orthodox/paradox resemble each other, her premise involves conceptualizing the economically motivated, bourgeois eighteenth-century reader for the operation of the latter, an analysis which I admire while believing that the tradition of paradox explains the same thing in simpler terms.

  2. Candide, in Romans et contes, éd. Henri Bénac (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1960), p. 216, hereafter cited in the text.

  3. In “Le Comique par non-sens et faux sens dans les contes de Voltaire,” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 9 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 477-87, Jean Sareil says that “Ce rapport de causalité stupide vient donc frapper de ridicule un système sans vraiment le discuter” (p. 481). I would suggest that the statement is accurate but that “discuter” is exactly the task assigned to the reader.

  4. Frederick M. Kenner also notes this absence, without developing its consequences, in “Candide: Structure and Motivation,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 9 (1979), 405-27.

  5. What I call sentimental orthodoxy by no means exhausts the possible literary categories into which Candide falls. Philip Stewart, for example, finds many parallels between it and Prévost's Cleveland; see “Holding the Mirror up to Fiction: Generic Parody in Candide,French Studies, 33, No. 4 (October 1971), 411-19; Vernier seats it firmly in the tradition of the conte (as opposed to roman), as does Vivian Mylne in “Literary Techniques and Methods in Voltaire's Contes philosophiques,Studies on Voltaire, 57 (1967), 1055-80. Jean Starobinski's observation seems most accurate because most comprehensive: “Le romanesque, dans Candide, est la caricature du romanesque, sa version outrée, qui récuse d'emblée toutes les conventions génériques—que ce soient celles du roman d'aventures (de provenance hellénistique), celles du roman picaresque, ou celles, encore plus accueillantes à l'invraisemblable, du conte” (p. 193).

  6. For a discussion of this question on different grounds, see the views of Professors Bottiglia and Kahn, most readily available (in abridged form) in Foster's edition, pp. 144-61.

Haydn Mason (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 20918

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 withdrawal under a cloud of mutual suspicion. Humiliatingly detained for a month at Frankfurt by Frederick's officials, he was left, on his release, with no clear home to head for. He could not return to Paris since Louis XV had indicated that his departure from France to Prussia had made his presence unwelcome to the French king. Nearly two years were to pass before Voltaire found a new permanent home, in Geneva. It was a time of disillusion and uncertainty.

With his arrival in Geneva, however, Voltaire's fortunes began to improve. He bought Les Délices, a fine town house (today the home of the Voltaire Museum and Institute), where at first he hoped he would live and die in peace, if fate allowed. For a time he was happy with Geneva. But here too disaffection was to set in. The Protestant pastors had been among those extending a warm welcome when he arrived, and Voltaire thought he had discovered a band of Christians as enlightened as their religion would allow. He was to learn otherwise. Late in 1757 appeared volume 7 of the Encyclopédie, the great philosophical dictionary being edited in Paris by Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. This volume contained an article, “Genève,” written by d'Alembert but with much help from Voltaire. It expressed Voltaire's view that the Genevan pastors' beliefs were almost devoid of Christian tenets such as the divinity of Christ or the eternity of hell.

The wrath of the pastors can easily be imagined. Whatever their precise personal beliefs, such a description was wholly scandalous. Voltaire's part in the article was well known. In addition, d'Alembert had expressed regret that regular theater was forbidden in Geneva, even in private homes. Here too Voltaire's hand could be clearly discerned. A passionate lover of theater, he had in his early months in Geneva put on performances at Les Délices, until the authorities banned them. The theater question also aroused hostile reaction, notably from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Lettre à d'Alembert sur les spectacles on the subject, appearing in May 1758, remains one of that author's major works. The Lettre ensured that theater would be kept out of Geneva for more than 20 years.

So Voltaire's satisfaction with Geneva had vanished by the beginning of 1758. Once more the search for a new home was begun. He thought of Lorraine, where Madame du Châtelet had died; he put out new feelers about a return to Paris. But he was to learn that Louis XV's approval, required for either move, was definitively withdrawn. Voltaire, it seemed, would never again see his birthplace; he was to be forever cut off from the cultural center of his life.

The dark mood brewing at this time is probably not irrelevant to the composition of Candide. Other, public disasters added their quota. In November 1755 Voltaire learned of the great earthquake earlier that month at Lisbon, where at first it was thought that as many as 100,000 people had perished. His immediate reaction was to see the catastrophe as an unanswerable argument against philosophical optimism. His shock and horror found immediate expression in the philosophical Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756), a work of 180 verses even in the first version, which was written in the space of a week. The poem is aimed directly at the optimists' view of the world, as the subtitle makes clear: “Examination of the Axiom, All is well.” He assaults these complacent philosophers with questions: What explanation have they to offer? Was the earthquake the result of necessary laws? How then can these laws constrain a God both good and free? Or was it divine revenge? In which case, was Lisbon more sinful than London or Paris? The argument broadens to embrace a picture of the universal suffering of human beings and animals alike. Even worse, there is universal slaughter: the predatory vulture falls victim to the eagle, who is shot by man, himself at the mercy of his fellowmen on the battlefield, his body becoming carrion for rapacious birds. Thus Voltaire arrives at the central statement of the poem: “One has to accept, evil is on the earth.”

Voltaire's reaction to the Lisbon disaster, though profound, was relatively ephemeral once he had expressed his pessimistic outlook in verse. But the view of optimism had come to stay. It would be reinforced in more lasting fashion when in 1756 the Seven Years' War began. War, which the philosophes regarded as probably the greatest of all scourges laid upon the human race, was quickly seen by him as a decisive refutation of optimism. He was appalled at the desolation wrought by Frederick's armies after they had turned the tide in their favor with the decisive engagement at Rossbach in November 1757. He was dismayed by the piratical methods of the British navy on the high seas, capturing French vessels in which Voltaire himself had considerable investments, especially the fleet sailing from Cadiz. He intervened, unsuccessfully, with the British government to save Admiral John Byng's life after the latter's ill-starred action against the French forces. “Your sailors are not polite,” he wrote (in English) to an Englishman in 1757 (D-7162). To his friend the duchess of Saxony-Gotha, who while being in the thick of the war yet tried to discover reasons for optimism from it, he commented sardonically: “We cannot yet say ‘All is well,’ but it is not going badly, and with time Optimism will be conclusively demonstrated” (D-7297).

What, then, is optimism? It is, says Candide, “the mania for asserting that all is well when one is not.” Voltaire is drawing on two different philosophical versions of optimism, one deriving from the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, the other from the English poet Alexander Pope. The apparent unrelatedness of these two thinkers may at first seem surprising, until one sees that it was a typical phenomenon of the period. From the early seventeenth century on, a new age of rationalism sprang up over Western Europe, with René Descartes as its progenitor and Benedict de Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz as illustrious epigones in the tradition. After Descartes, confidence in reason as a reliable human instrument was renewed, and it was felt that reason could surely try to explain evil and suffering. Leibniz's Theodicy (1710) is the most distinguished attempt at a response. Leibniz wanted to save human beings from despair; reason, properly used, could lead to enlightenment. So he begins his large justification. He admits right away that evil exists. But evil is always a negative thing, never God's will. There is more good than evil; God is infinite, the Devil is not. However, the essential truth, as Leibniz sees it, is that there are laws of “sufficient reason” in the universe. Even God could not make 2 and 2 add up to 5, or create a spherical cube. So He was obliged, in creating a world, to choose between models all of which were flawed from the outset. In the end, He chose for our earth the best possible world, the one containing the greatest amount of variety and richness within the limitations imposed by necessity.

Leibniz's philosophy was taken up after his death by a disciple, Christian Wolff, who systematized it into an imposing philosophical structure that, since the late 1730s, was being translated into French. Voltaire doubtless got to know it, at least in extracts, through Madame du Châtelet, who was a convinced Leibnizian. In 1744 he wrote a letter to another disciple, Martin Kahle, in which for the first time he expressed a clear dislike for “the best of all possible worlds” (D-2945). Doubts about the nature of providence occur in the first published conte, Zadig (1747), but the plot suggests that in the end a wise man, like the hero, will find happiness, despite many tribulations and the presence of incomprehensible evils in the world. Between Zadig and Candide, Voltaire resolved his hesitations about optimism in taking up an attitude of hostility toward the doctrine.

Pope's philosophical viewpoint is much less thoroughgoing. It is expressed in his Essay on Man (1733) in lines such as these:

All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite,
One truth is clear, “Whatever is, is RIGHT.”(1)

There is no recognition here of the existence of evil; it is simply “Harmony not understood,” part of a universal good in which everything that is present in the world is justly so. Where Leibniz urges his readers to go on improving themselves morally, Pope advocates total submission—what Albert Camus, in our century, would define as “saying Yes to the universe.”2

It is this more superficial version of optimism that Voltaire had in mind when he came to compose Candide. His reaction to the Lisbon earthquake bears this out. In a letter of the time he stated that his poem about that disaster attacks “Pope's principle that all that is, is well” (D-5952); the notes he appended to the poem make clear that he was far more attentive to Pope than to Leibniz. None of this has basically changed in Candide. It has been pointed out that the references to Leibniz are, with one exception (the reference in chapter 22 to evil being as shadows to a fine painting), unspecific. There is no evidence that at the time of Candide Voltaire had read Leibniz with any great care.

Why then, it must be asked, is Candide not an onslaught on Pope rather than on Leibniz? While no clear-cut answers may be given to this question, certain hypotheses may be advanced with some confidence. First, Voltaire admired Pope, as he did not admire Leibniz. For all its depressingly fatalistic attitudes to evil, the Essay on Man contains, in Voltaire's view, high moral and spiritual qualities. The preface to the Poème sur Lisbonne makes that clear, as does a 1756 addition to the Lettres philosophiques (1734) in which Voltaire describes Pope's work as “the finest didactic poem, the most useful, the most sublime ever written in any language.”3 It would have been wrong, therefore, to devastate such a masterpiece because of its one weakness. By contrast with Pope, Leibniz was without value: a purely speculative metaphysician, without relevance to the realities of the world. Besides, Voltaire seems to have known Leibniz, at least at this time, only through the presentation of his work by Wolff, who produced it under such titles as Logic, Cosmology, and Natural Theology—an irresistible target for such barbs as the “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology” that Pangloss is teaching in Westphalia. Furthermore, Leibniz, unlike Pope, had developed a philosophical jargon in which phrases like “sufficient reason” and, above all, “the best of all possible worlds” held sway. What better material for Voltaire's satiric pen? Instead of taking on an admired poet from a country that Voltaire generally respected (England, significantly, almost entirely escapes punishment in the universal denunciation that is Candide), Voltaire found it to be much more straightforward to situate the home of optimism in Germany: backward, provincial, unenlightened.



Why, then, has Candide become so popular—the one work by Voltaire to have taken an undisputed place among the world classics? After all, the belief in Leibnizian optimism that is its ostensible target is no longer in the forefront of our thinking. Constant exposure to the media, with unremitting reports of AIDS, earthquakes, and massacre, has long since acquainted us with the sense that this world is very far from the best possible; we do not need to read Candide to discover that. As Aldous Huxley put it, nearly 70 years ago, “The wisdom of Martin and the Old Woman who was once betrothed to the Prince of Massa-Carrara has become the everyday wisdom of all the world since 1914.” Huxley went on: “Then came the war. … We have discovered, in the course of … the last seven years, that astonishment is a supererogatory emotion. All things are possible, not merely for Providence, whose ways we had always known … to be strange, but also for men.”4 Those words would still hold good today, with the sole difference that since the 1920s we have discovered even more horrors of which man is capable.

So it is not documentary evidence that we seek in Candide. What Voltaire provides is a whole worldview, unique and self-consistent, and this view remains as relevant today as it was in 1759. Voltaire's own prolonged questioning over the problem of evil, which troubled him more immediately than it did any of the other great French writers of the eighteenth century, had led him up to this masterpiece. At last he had been forced to recognize unequivocally that the world contains evil beyond our capacity to in any way justify or explain by the light of our human understanding. But others had done so before Voltaire. Shock at the scandal of suffering and injustice is admirable. Such a reaction, however, is a common enough experience of sensitive souls, and it does not of itself make for great art.

Voltaire's achievement was to show that human existence as he saw it was irredeemably comic. It is not the cheerful comedy of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais's Le Barbier de Séville (1775), still less of Pierre de Chamblain de Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730). But Voltaire had the genius to see that, for him, the posturing gestures of human beings on our little ant heap, as he describes the world in his correspondence, are the very stuff of humor. For human beings are not simply overwhelmed by fate, as a tragic attitude would suggest. Nor do they possess some God-given kind of dignity, as a Christian might suppose. The world is full of evil, undeniably, as Voltaire goes all out to demonstrate from the very first in Candide. But it is also tolerable. More than that, human beings are free, or—amounting to the same thing in practical terms—they act as though they were free. They do not simply react, like billiard balls or cameras, to stimuli. They contain a bewildering capacity for disinterested good, though not, it is true, very often or very widely. More often, they are gratuitously murderous or deceitful. The world is not a happy place, and the simple pursuit of happiness can be naïve and discouraging. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Candide, though it reads like a fantasy, is firmly rooted in reality and in historical events, as we have seen. Voltaire constantly reminds us that the Seven Years' War and its atrocities are a present reality, that princes have been overthrown and often put to death ever since Old Testament Israel, that syphilis and prostitution rage throughout the world. Thus the fictional wickedness of Vanderdendur or the stupidity of the young Baron is entirely believable because these ways of behaving have their counterparts in the world around us. Nor are malice and injustice the only burdens we have to carry; worse, if anything, is the threat of boredom. When human beings find momentary rest from harassment, they may well fall victim to the demon of torpor, the sense that every experience, even the most cultivated, lacks any savor. Long before Baudelaire, Voltaire had seen that human life risks oscillating between ennui and rage, unless we try to find a way of coming to terms with the predicament.

Moreover, this is a universal picture, not just one of Geneva or Paris writ large. Voltaire's classical view of human nature as fundamentally the same the world over beneath the superficial differences of custom between one country and another is brought to bear on what is constant and enduring in the human condition. That is why Candide addresses itself so easily to us more than 200 years later.

But this is not all. Human beings are not only greedy, treacherous, and unpredictable, but also delightfully foolish, even mad. For they surround themselves with systems of belief to keep the sense of evil at bay. The propensity of human beings to find consolation in even the most tragic circumstances is one of the basic aspects of our nature. There is nothing at all incredible about Candide's wish to believe that the desolation caused by the battle at sea finds a meaning in the death of the villain Vanderdendur. Human nature is readily prone to finding “lessons” in disasters because any system of order to which we may appeal seems better than no system at all. Such a failure to see suffering for what it is can be tragic; Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck (1884) is, for example, a case in point. But its failure can also be richly comic, if the perspective is changed. For the foolishness of Candide will not lead to ultimate despair. There has always been hope to keep him going, and when the naïveté of that hope has been finally exposed, he discovers that there still remains something to be tried, however uncertain the outcome. Human beings look forward, they have projects, they leave death out of account so long as the life force burns strongly in them. In brief, they act as though they were eternal. It is a comic spectacle, but the comedy is grounded in compassion and a deep sense of the injustice in human society.

Finally, Candide is not just a vision of the world. It is also a style. Brilliantly ironic, it is the ideal form of expression. It probes with limpid clarity the unclarity of human behavior and reasoning. It erects antithesis and balance to convey disorder and imbalance. The conte is, in this sense, pure paradox, so as to give its proper expression to a world that, as Voltaire put it elsewhere, “exists on contradictions.”5


We do not know exactly when Candide was published. Because it was going to scandalize authority, it would have to appear clandestinely and under a cloak of anonymity, as so many of Voltaire's earlier, also troubled works had done. (The original title made out that it was “translated from the German by Dr. Ralph.”) We do know, however, that in mid-January 1759 Voltaire's publisher, Gabriel Cramer, sent 1,000 copies of Candide to Paris. We also know that by 22 February at the latest the work was selling in the French capital. Inevitably, it was received with disfavor by authority. The police officer responsible for investigating clandestine literature, Joseph d'Hémery, described it as “a bad joke on all countries and their customs.”6 The anonymity of authorship availed Voltaire nothing; he was already named in this early reference. D'Hémery's unflattering remarks were surpassed two days later by Advocate-General Omer Joly de Fleury, who had, not too surprisingly, discovered elements “contrary to religion and morals” (57). A police operation got under way at once to seize all the copies of Candide that could be found. But, as was often the case in the eighteenth century, official repression had not the means to cope with a popular work of literature. By the beginning of April Voltaire was speaking of the six editions that the conte had gone through. Before the year 1759 was out Candide had run to at least 17 editions (and in reality probably many more now lost) and had also been translated into English (three times over) and Italian. The tale appeared not only in Paris but also in Geneva, London, and Amsterdam, and probably also in Lyon and Avignon. Voltaire and his publisher had evidently intended the appearance of Candide to be a European phenomenon, not just an event for the French capital alone. René Pomeau, in his authoritative edition, speculates that the 1759 editions may have amounted in total to 20,000 copies (64). For the period, that is a best-seller figure.

Conservative opinion followed the reaction of the authorities. The Genevan pastors denounced Candide as “full of dangerous principles concerning religion and tending to moral depravation” (65). It was a common reaction to see Voltaire as subversively presenting an odious picture of the world. Voltaire's enemy Elie Catherine Fréron, for example, suggested that “Candide first arouses the mind, but eventually strikes despair into the heart.”7 This view was echoed by the poet Edward Young, who replied directly to Candide in 1762 in a poem entitled Resignation:

With so much sunshine at command,
Why light with darkness mix?
Why dash with pain our pleasure?(8)

No one was to voice this criticism better than Madame de Staël at the turn of the century. Candide, she maintained, was a “work of infernal gaiety,” written by an author who laughs “like a demon, or like a monkey at the miseries of this human race with which he has nothing in common.”9 The conte was equally troublesome on literary grounds. Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, reviewing it in his Correspondance littéraire, refused to take it seriously. It was, he agreed, amusing, but it was devoid of all structure, all plan. Besides, it was full of indecencies. In short, it lacked any wisdom or mature reflection.

But the reading public at large clearly did not share these reservations. “Never perhaps has a book sold so briskly,” reported the duc de La Vallière to Voltaire a week after its appearance. People were already going around quoting the phrase “Let us eat Jesuit” as if it were a proverb (D-8072). Doubtless, it was Candide's wit and liveliness that commended it to readers. Such was the view of Voltaire's friend Nicolas Claude Thieriot; those who normally did no more than snicker were laughing openly because it was so enjoyable to read, he told the author (D-8137). Besides, its attack on optimism was not as revolutionary as some of the authoritative reactions might seem to suggest. Leibnizian optimism had never been very popular in France (Madame du Châtelet's enthusiasm for it was a rare exception), and Voltaire cleverly insinuated in various declarations that an attack on this philosophical doctrine was entirely compatible with an orthodox reading of the Bible.

In 1761 Voltaire produced an augmented and definitive edition of Candide, the main difference being that chapter 22, on Paris, is extended. The duke of La Vallière, while praising the conte on its appearance two years earlier, had indicated that public opinion generally shared his view that this chapter was weak. Voltaire clearly accepted that judgment and made a considerable effort to improve this one section; so much so that chapter 22 is by far the longest in the story. Ironically, its length does little to remedy the original criticism made by the duke, although the chapter contains some interesting passages.

Thereafter, the conte was to pass on to posterity unchanged. The dual nature of the critical reception in 1759 would continue. On the one side, Candide would inspire a spate of imitations or continuations, at least ten by 1803.10 But at the same time the work would go on being seen, even right down to our own times, as diabolically comic, the “hideous grin” of an author unfamiliar with the human sentiments of pity and affection.11 Strange as it may seem to us, the tale did not figure as a prescribed text in French schools until 1968, and even then it was in an abridged version. The alleged “indecencies” were doubtless responsible in large measure. However, since the latter part of the nineteenth century critical opinion has generally come around to the recognition of Candide as a masterpiece. Much of the credit for this must go to Gustave Flaubert, who claimed to have read it 100 times, even translating it into English so as to be able to view it in a different light. When a writer of Flaubert's stature could assert that Candide was one of only five or six literary models he had looked to, Voltaire's story might be said to have joined at last the inner circle of great classics. Present-day opinion the world over has backed Flaubert's judgment. Candide is now available in translations as diverse as Polish, Chinese, and Esperanto, and there is now increasing appreciation for Leonard Bernstein's theatrical adaptation, which, by capturing much of Voltaire's brilliance and vivacity, has become one of the outstanding musicals of our age. In this study we shall try to see why a story rooted so clearly in the eighteenth century can appeal to a public the world over 200 years later.

The conte duly received its recognition as a classic in the critical edition by André Morize, which first appeared in 1913. After the “positivist” fashion of the times, this edition is a masterpiece on all the objective aspects of Candide: composition, publication, gestation, sources, documentation. Henceforth all serious students of the tale had a reference work that, in many respects, cannot be surpassed. Morize's conclusions about Candide sharply rejected the negative, “diabolic” reading of the story: metaphysical speculation may lead only to dupery and disillusionment, but there remains intact a valid sphere of human action and effort. Morize and other Voltaireans did much to rehabilitate the author of Candide as a prophet of sane thinking and doing. In this judgment the concluding lines of the story assumed an importance that we should now consider disproportionate, and the controversy over what Candide actually means by his last remark was long-lived. But Morize's overall views, backed by his magisterial erudition, continue to carry authority.

Further new light was not cast on Candide until after the Second World War. In 1956 appeared René Pomeau's La Religion de Voltaire, which, effectively an intellectual biography, affected our thinking on Candide and on every other aspect of the philosophe's life and works.12 Pomeau largely followed Morize's general conclusions but also emphasized the essential importance of style in the success of the conte. In addition, Pomeau stressed the irreducible paradox for Voltaire: “God exists, and evil exists.” The world has some sort of general order and is not reducible to pure absurdity, for all the horrors. Pomeau's appreciation of this tension underlies much subsequent criticism, among which J. G. Weightman's 1960 article and Jean Sareil's Essai (1967) stand out. Each of these carries the argument further, Weightman by underlining the unremitting antithesis between darkness and light, Sareil by laying emphasis on the essentially comic tone.

In the meantime, the meaning of Candide was being explored further: by W. H. Barber's useful book in its account of Voltaire and Leibnizianism (1960), backed up along the same lines by J. H. Brumfitt's edition of Candide (1971); by Jean Starobinski on the question of authority (1977); and by Jacques Van den Heuvel on the biographical echoes (1967). An important step forward was achieved when Ira Wade revealed the existence of a hitherto unknown manuscript version of Candide (1959), which provided valuable clues on the composition of the conte. As the life of Voltaire came to be better known, thanks in large part to Theodore Besterman's editions of the Correspondence,13Candide could be related with more precision to the growing dilemma in Voltaire's mind about the problem of evil.

Sareil, however, had struck an important blow for criticism of Candide in arguing that the story has no moral or message. It is above all, he claims, a “liberation.”14 This refreshing approach is a theme of later writings: Jean Starobinski on the fundamental irony of Candide (1976); Christiane Mervaud arriving at parallel conclusions from a study of the Venetian episode (1987); and, at greater length, with structuralist overtones of much subtlety and finesse, André Magnan in his edition of Candide (1984) and study (1987). A similar path has been pursued—but leading to different conclusions—by Roy Wolper (1969-70) and others. This new reading is challenging enough in its unorthodoxy to merit a separate discussion later.

The numerous editions of Candide, popular or scholarly, in French or in translation, have long since ensured universal access to the conte. Voltaire, in the contemporary cultural scene, is known above all as its author. It is a sign of the times that Renée Waldinger and others have produced an interesting symposium on how to teach Candide (1987). Their collective conclusions indicate how completely, for all its esoteric eighteenth-century resonances, Candide is a work that still speaks directly to the problems and inquiries of our own age.



As we shall see, Candide has its timeless aspects. But it must equally be said that it also belongs firmly to the world of 1759 and, more broadly, to eighteenth-century Europe. The conte is born out of Voltaire's concerns with the world around him. It takes in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Robert Damiens's attack upon Louis XV of January 1757, and Admiral Byng's execution of March 1757. Shortly before the English admiral meets his death in Candide, the pessimistic Martin has been making the contemptuous point that England and France “are at war for a few acres of snow up Canada way, and spending on this fine war much more than the whole of Canada is worth” (223). The same point was made by Voltaire in a letter of February 1758 in which he expressed his sorrow that people had to “wage a ruinous war” for “a few acres of snow in Acadia” (D-7630). In that same letter he maintained that because of the Seven Years' War people were in a labyrinth from which the only way out was “over dead bodies.” Candide will take exactly that way out of the fight between the Abars and the Bulgars: “He traversed heaps of dead and dying” to escape from the Bulgar battlefield (126). Indeed, the famous opening of chapter 3 bears a considerable resemblance to a letter Voltaire had received from the Margravine of Bayreuth describing the battle of Rossbach in November 1757. She wrote later that month: “This [Prussian] army … was drawn up in battle order along a line. Then the artillery laid down such a terrible barrage that Frenchmen … say each shot killed or wounded eight or nine people. The musketry was no less efficacious. The French were still advancing in columns to attack with the bayonet. … The infantry … were cut to pieces and totally scattered” (D-7477). This must surely be, at least in part, the origin of Voltaire's account of the fictitious war: “Nothing was as beautiful, as sprightly, as brilliant, as well ordered as the two armies. … The guns first of all knocked over approximately six thousand men on each side; next the musketry removed from the best of worlds around nine to ten thousand rascals who were infecting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of a few thousand men” (126). The order of detail is the same: the military lineup, the artillery, musketry, bayonet. Voltaire simply transforms an honest account into a display of ironic brilliance. The roles of each weapon are similarly distributed, and the effect of utter devastation is the same. But at Rossbach only the French were routed. It suits Voltaire's strategy to ensure that both sides are shot to pieces in his absurd and horrible battle. The Margravine may also have suggested to Voltaire how to deal with the immediate consequences for Candide when she wrote a few days later to tell him about the starving soldiers who had taken flight and were wandering about Germany like hungry wolves (D-7483). In chapter 3 Candide too flees without direction and runs out of food.

It must not be forgotten that Voltaire was also working on additions to his world history, Essai sur les moeurs, in early 1758. In particular, the chapters on the American continent bear close resemblances to Candide, showing that they underlie some important parts of the latter work. In chapter 153 of the Essai Voltaire deals with the British possessions in colonial America, including Pennsylvania. This colony in particular retained his admiration for being a place of freedom and enlightenment, as it had done ever since he had devoted one of the Lettres philosophiques to it 25 years before. In the Essai sur les moeurs Voltaire recounts that in Pennsylvania “there are no other dogmas except what was uttered by Penn; so almost everything came down to loving God and human beings; no baptism … no priests … no judges … no doctors.”15 The religion and society of Eldorado are strikingly similar to this: “We do not pray to God … we have nothing to ask of him … we never stop thanking him” (189). When Candide asks to see some priests he is laughed at; the wise old man he is talking to replies that they are all priests. Besides, religion consists simply of worshiping God. There are no other requirements. Eldoradan society is similarly devoid of courts of justice, since there is no need for litigation or legal judgments; prisons too do not exist. We hear nothing about doctors, probably for the good reason that everyone lives a perfectly healthy life. A further proof that Voltaire has Pennsylvania in mind when describing Eldorado is that the country's currency is the pound sterling (Pennsylvania was still a British colony in 1758). How in literal terms the British coinage came to be applied to a country that had always been sheltered by its mountains from European rapaciousness is left unexplained; it is one of the many fantastic aspects of Eldorado. But the realistic comparisons with an actual colony existing in North America when Voltaire wrote Candide must also be borne in mind: Eldorado is, among other things, Quaker country.16

The same relationship holds true for chapter 154 of the Essai sur les moeurs, which deals with Paraguay. The Jesuit establishment in this Spanish colony is seen as a slave camp where the Jesuits possess all the money; Voltaire notes the ironic paradox that whereas their situation in South America obliges the Jesuits to fight the armies of Spain and Portugal, in Europe the same order acts as confessor to the kings of these two countries. These points are made in even more sardonic form in Candide by Cacambo, who has already visited Paraguay: “Los Padres have everything there, and the people nothing; it is the very masterpiece of reason and justice. For my part, I have never seen anything so divine as Los Padres, who wage war here on the King of Spain and the King of Portugal, and in Europe confess these kings. They kill Spaniards here, in Madrid they send them to Heaven. That delights me” (169).

But the most striking example of this concern with the historical present is surely the setting of the opening chapter in Westphalia. The German battlefields of the Seven Years' War provide the ironic location for the Baron's garden, the apparent idyll that turns out on closer examination not to be so. In early 1758 war was raging across Westphalia, as it also was in other parts of Germany. Where better, then, to start this account of “the best of all possible worlds”? Very quickly, the “earthly paradise,” as Voltaire sardonically terms it (122), is replaced by a vision of harsh reality. Candide, impressed into the army of the Bulgar king, finds himself subjected to military discipline, narrowly escapes death for desertion, and becomes an involuntary participant in war against the Abars. The military exercises he undergoes are based on Voltaire's own observations of Frederick's troops during his stay in Berlin. In early 1758—when, it is clear from many references in his letters, he was composing Candide—Voltaire remembered how well trained those troops were, how skilled in marching and in battle (D-7565). Candide has undoubtedly become a trained soldier in the military machine that was the Prussian army. It is often overlooked that Candide, far from being a naïve and inexperienced young man wandering the world, is in fact, from the time of his military induction, a highly trained soldier. Indeed, it is the very display of those talents in Cadiz that wins his immediate promotion to infantry company commander (chapter 10).

The German coloring to the story would be emphasized even more in the 1761 editions, when Voltaire extended the title “Candide, or Optimism, translated from the German by Dr. Ralph,” by appending, “With the additions found in the Doctor's pocket when he died at Minden in the Year of Grace 1759.” Minden, one of the greatest battles of the Seven Years' War, is very suitably a Westphalian town. Later events in 1759, after the first editions of Candide, served only to confirm that German province as an admirable choice for the opening scenes.

Westphalia offers one further advantage for Voltaire's story. It was, in 1758, a province, therefore lacking the dignity of a state or a nation. Technically, the little group gathered at the end in the garden is made up mainly of Germans (Candide, Cunégonde, Paquette, Pangloss, and initially the Baron), as well as the Dutchman Martin, the Italians Giroflée and the Old Woman, and the half-caste Cacambo. But it requires a keen analytical sense to remember this. For the main protagonists of Candide are wanderers of the world, crossing borders without any sense of exoticism or nostalgia. True, Candide yearns briefly for Westphalia at first; but that is only because he believes Cunégonde is still there, an illusion shattered by Pangloss as early as chapter 4. Thereafter, home for Candide is where Cunégonde may be found. Voltaire's cosmopolitan outlook on the world admits of no nationalist patriotism. He has other concerns. It is entirely fitting that in choosing Westphalia he selects backwoods territory, already anachronistic at the outset in the allegiances to which it clings, and soon to be smashed to pieces beyond repair. In Zadig the hero returns to the Babylon from which he had set out. In Candide that circular possibility is quickly removed. Candide is doomed to wander until such time as he achieves the difficult realization that the place where he has come to rest on the Bosphorus is in fact as much of a home as he will ever know.17

But Candide is preeminently not a historical novel. Facts about events like Byng's execution or places like Pennsylvania may be incorporated, but they will always be surrounded by narrative fantasy. A simple example is the auto-da-fé, which constitutes one of the most brilliantly satirical episodes in the whole conte. It is based on historical reality. Auto-da-fés certainly existed in contemporary Portugal, calling down Voltaire's total indictment of the barbarism that underlay them. He had already attacked this ceremony many times before Candide. But the mundane reality of this particular auto-da-fé is not so convenient for exploitation. There was apparently none to commemorate the Lisbon earthquake, and those that took place in ensuing years established no direct connection, nor was anyone put to death (138, n. 1).

A more complex instance of this historical falsehood occurs in chapter 26 during the carnival in Venice, when Candide encounters the six kings. All these kings actually existed, but not at the same time. The first king, Achmet III, died in 1736, four years before the second, Ivan VI, was born. The sixth, Theodore, was also dead by the time Candide was being written. Nor was it only death that prevented some of the kings from being in Venice. Ivan VI was at this time a prisoner in exile, to be executed in 1764. And the fifth king would have been unlikely to find himself in the social company of the fourth. After all, he had driven the latter off the Polish throne! The situation threatens to become even more improbable when at the end of the chapter there arrive four further highnesses who have also lost their states. None of this, however, matters in literal terms. What we have here is a splendid tableau of dispossessed kings, all of them the victims of war. It is no accident that they congregate for the carnival. They have the appearance of player-kings, stage parts devoid of any real meaning or power. Apart from the brief account by each of the circumstances that led to his downfall, Voltaire attempts to make no distinction between them. Their tales contain horrors in the best traditions of Candide (none more so than Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose supporters, he recounts, had their hearts torn out, to beat their cheeks with). But otherwise they might be wearing masks, as befits the carnival, hiding all individuality. Here is a demystification of political power, as hollow as a stage crown. Voltaire credits the first five kings with “a noble compassion” (241) as they each give 20 sequins to the impoverished sixth. But the pathos of this act is highlighted when he immediately adds that Candide presented this king with a diamond worth 100 times as much. The kings perform like mechanical puppets, ridiculous figures robbed of all dignity. Such are the perils of official position; dispossession of one's throne means not only loss of power and wealth but reduction to buffoonery. None of their former glory remains to console and uplift them. They are a masquerade of monarchical grandeur, in a way that anticipates Jean Genet's vision of authority during our own times, in plays like Le Balcon (1957). Christiane Mervaud has rightly pointed out the structural irony in episodes such as this, suggesting that history, indeed life itself, is one huge carnival, in which folly universally rules the world.18


Candide, as we have seen, sets up optimism for Voltaire's “examination.” Why should this particular target have attracted his attention? The answer is contained in Candide's rejoinder to Cacambo, defining optimism. “The mania for asserting that all is well when one is not” (196) points up the unrealistic folly of such a pretense of cheerfulness. But it is not just an absurd belief; important consequences for human behavior flow from it. By acquiescing totally in the way the world is, human beings give up hope, and with it all practical effort. As Voltaire had written in 1756 to a Protestant pastor, “If all is well, then all has ever been as it was meant to be.” Optimism is therefore a despairing doctrine, “a cruel philosophy under a consoling name.” To his pastor friend, Voltaire was able to demonstrate that the biblical “story of the apple” is, humanly speaking, more reasonable, because the Fall, even if it is a myth, at the least implies that a terrible tragedy did occur in Eden, and that it changed God's original plan for humankind (D-6738). But optimism does away with any such concept of a fallen human nature; it simply ignores, in Voltaire's view, the awful realities of evil in the world.

Pangloss, the exponent of optimism, is not just a buffoon. His passive fatalism carries dangerous implications. When Candide attempts to rescue Jacques from drowning, Pangloss restrains him, arguing that “Lisbon harbor was formed expressly for this Anabaptist to drown in it” (134). And drown he does. Unlike so many of the characters reported dead in Candide, Jacques dies once and once only; his death is a real event, not a charade. Now, one has to admit that if Candide had tried to save Jacques, he might himself have easily been drowned. But Pangloss does not argue along those lines. He tries to see what is the present situation, then argues that everything in the past has led up to it. Lisbon harbor was created by God for a purpose that would only be fulfilled with Jacques's death. It is teleology run mad. The divine purpose must be sought at every stage, and then one must fit in with it. Pangloss had already made this clear while still in Westphalia: “There is no effect without cause.” Everything has its place in the divine plan. “You will note that noses were made to hang spectacles on; therefore we have spectacles. Legs are clearly made to wear breeches, and we have breeches. Stones were created to be carved and made into castles; therefore Milord has a very fine castle: the greatest Baron in the province must have the best home; and as pigs are made to be eaten, we eat pork the whole year round” (119-20). Pangloss's endless chains of arguments always lead to where one is now. They give no help for the future, and they take away all initiative. Whether good or bad, things must stay as they are. By contrast, the real world is one where things happen, not according to some grand design, but for reasons often malevolent or ridiculous—sometimes both at the same time, as when Pangloss is hanged by the Inquisition for his absurd logic, or even more ludicrous still, Candide is beaten into a pulp for having listened to Pangloss with an approving look on his face. A few years later, Voltaire was to write his Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), which includes an article entitled “Chain of Events.” In this article Voltaire makes the point that “every effect obviously has its cause … but every cause does not have its effect. … Everything has fathers, but everything does not always have children.”19 Some actions produce absolutely no difference in the world. If a great king, says Voltaire, sleeps on his left or on his right, spits to his left or his right, it has no bearing upon the effect that the king, however great he is, has upon the world. The “great chain of being” linking everything in the cosmos, which figures so prominently in Pope's Essay on Man, simply does not exist. There is no logic or metaphysical finality to the Seven Years' War; yet a brief and terrible succession of causes led to poor old Admiral Byng being shot. If the British government had decided that one must kill an admiral from time to time “to encourage the others,” it is an appalling miscarriage of justice. But it certainly was not decided by God on day one of the universe. Voltaire would have wholly approved of the sentiment that “it ain't necessarily so.”

It is this inconsequentiality of events that must be borne in mind throughout Candide. For a superficial reading of the tale might lead one to believe that, since the optimist Pangloss must be wrong, the pessimist Martin must be right. That reasoning is, of course, very similar to the kinds of argument satirized throughout Candide. The hero, horrified by the execution of Byng, immediately asks: “What devil is it that holds sway throughout the world?” (224). But that is how Martin reasons, and by now Candide has fallen under Martin's influence after largely (though not completely) freeing himself from Pangloss's philosophy. At this stage Candide still has a long way to go toward self-liberation, and Martin is a character to be taken much more seriously than Pangloss. He wins the contest set up by Candide to find the most unhappy and embittered man—and there is plenty of competition. Martin has been “robbed by his wife, beaten by his son, and deserted by his daughter” (200); the mean little job he had working for booksellers (one of the professions Voltaire most disliked) has been taken from him; and he has been persecuted by the clergy (another common target) because they thought him a Socinian heretic (chapter 19). If, then, Martin is disenchanted, “it is because I have lived” (229). And he is proved right time and again. He voices the author's bitterness at the corruption of Parisian life (often expressed elsewhere) when he tells Candide that though Parisians laugh all the time, it is while full of rage and complaint or committing the most odious acts (chapter 22). He evokes a terrible picture of Europe at war: “A million murderers in uniform, rushing from one end of Europe to the other, practice murder and pillaging in a disciplined way in order to earn their bread” (202). This figure of one million may at first seem like an exaggeration, but according to René Pomeau, it was probably close to historical reality (202, n. 3). Above all, Martin is adept at sounding out secret unhappiness. In Venice Candide is plunged into deep gloom because there is no sign of Cacambo or of Cunégonde, and so he needs desperately to believe that some happiness still exists in the world. Along comes a young couple, to all appearances deeply happy with each other. Candide imprudently wagers Martin that these two, at least, are content with their lot. But when he has heard their story he has to accept the truth of Martin's rather unkind boast: “Haven't I won the wager outright?” Without doubt, Martin is someone to reckon with.

But the trouble with Martin is that he goes too far. If one million soldiers are laying waste to Europe, the reason, in his view, is simple: “I think that God has abandoned it [the world] to some evil being.” As he has just announced, the clergy had persecuted him wrongly for being a Socinian. The fact of the matter is that “I am a Manichean” (201). His Manicheism persuades him that the universe is the home of two warring gods of equal strength, one of good and one of evil, and that it is a struggle neither side will ever win. Furthermore, it is the evil god who has taken possession of our earth. As Martin puts it, “The Devil is so much involved in the affairs of this world that he could well be within my body, just as he is everywhere else” (202). Voltaire himself flirted at times with the Manichean hypothesis of evil; the skeptical Pierre Bayle had taught him the possible advantages of such a philosophy.20 It had above all the merit of absolving the Lord of Creation from responsibility for evil, which could then be thrust entirely upon the Archenemy of God. But of course, although the Manichean doctrine preserved God's goodness, the sacrifice that had to be made was considerable: God could no longer be considered omnipotent. Voltaire's fascination with Manicheism, however, always stopped short of any real commitment. Intellectually, he found it impossible to square the ordered harmony of the universe obeying regular laws (the constant and fundamental principle of his deist belief) with the notion of two warring deities. Emotionally, he could not accept the postulate that human beings are inherently evil. He always associated Manicheism with the ultimate in pessimism.

This association holds true in Candide. For all his penetrating observations on the darker side of life, Martin lacks balance. We are given a firm hint of this almost immediately after he is introduced, when Voltaire tells us that Candide had one great advantage over Martin: he hoped to see Cunégonde again, whereas Martin “had nothing to hope for” (201). Clearly, some irony at Candide's expense underlies this remark, since the naïve quest for Cunégonde always seems likely to end in disillusion. Even so, without hope human beings are but empty shells. Despite his perspicacity, Martin is a walking corpse, with no perspectives on the future. He too, like Pangloss, reasons from things as they are and is useless to anyone seeking help on the most effective method of action. His only advice on how to deal with the troublesome Baron at the end is typically nihilist: throw the Baron into the sea, he suggests. It requires the levelheaded Cacambo to find a practical way out of the dilemma and propose the helpful plan upon which the group decides to act. Like Pangloss, Martin believes in final causes, but in his case they are founded on cosmic pessimism: “Martin above all concluded that man had been born to live out his life amid the convulsions of anxiety or the lethargy of boredom” (256). As a description of Candide's life Martin's conclusion has much to be said for it, especially at this point when, free at last of anxieties, Candide like the others finds himself bored to death. In addition, Pococuranté, without any cause at all for worry in the world, has long since fallen into a hell of apathetic indifference; as we shall see later, boredom (implicit or explicit) plays an important role throughout Candide. But life in Candide turns out to be more complex than a simple oscillation between ennui and angst.

Not only does Martin place a false emphasis upon the way he generally looks at the world—on occasion he can be downright wrong. When Candide arrives in Venice and finds that Cacambo is not waiting for him as he had promised, our hero falls into a deep depression. Far from consoling him, Martin exploits the occasion for a little sermon: “You really are pretty naïve, to imagine that a half-caste servant, with five or six million in his pockets, will go and seek out your mistress in the back of beyond and bring her to you in Venice. If he finds her, he'll keep her for himself. If he doesn't find her, he'll take another. I advise you to forget your servant Cacambo and your mistress Cunégonde” (225). Voltaire sets up the situation in such a way that, reading it for the first time, one could easily imagine that this will be yet another disappointment for Candide. Indeed, the fact that he says nothing in reply but simply becomes even more gloomy suggests he is acknowledging that Martin is right. Besides, when Cacambo had left Candide back in Surinam, in what seemed like suspect haste, Voltaire's final sentence was ominous: “He was a very good man, this Cacambo” (197). The narrator seems to be taking an ironic distance from his character. Nor is any of this likely to surprise the reader, who has already witnessed such treacheries as the Old Woman being sold into slavery by her fellow Italian.

And then Cacambo actually reappears! So how does Martin react to this totally unexpected demonstration of disinterested loyalty? Does he express surprise, say he regrets having been so dismissive of Cacambo? Not in the least. Whereas Candide is filled with a mixture of joy at seeing Cacambo and pain at learning that Cunégonde is not with him—“his heart agitated, his mind turned upside down”—Martin “looked on at all these adventures impassively” (238). To expect him to do anything else is to assume that he is capable of change; but he is not. Soon after he and Candide first meet, when Martin proclaims his Manicheism, Candide replies: “But there is some good in the world.” To which Martin answers, with unusual tact for him but also with total firmness: “That may be … but I'm not aware of it” (202).

Because of this stance, he is as inflexible as Pangloss. Voltaire indicates their fundamental likeness in the final chapter when he speaks of Candide “living with the philosopher Pangloss, the philosopher Martin” (254). The latter, just as blinkered as Pangloss, fails to notice the comfort that he still, despite his outlook, derives from life. For he does not appreciate the beneficial effects of companionship. On their Atlantic crossing he and Candide argue constantly, and they get nowhere with each other. This is not, however, a totally futile experience: “But still, they were talking, they were communicating ideas to one another, they were consoling one another” (204). It is yet another instance of philosophy not measuring up to reality. For friendship is one of the positive goods in life. Candide finds solace in Cacambo for a large part of the story, while thinking that only Cunégonde can fulfil his needs. In the final garden he is to discover that, even if sexual love is doomed to end in total disenchantment, the company of his fellow workers is more enduring. This theme of friendship runs through Voltaire's stories as a leitmotiv. In Zadig, for instance, the hero's sorrows are assuaged, even in his worst misfortunes, by the loyalty of his servant Cador, and he will himself act as comforter to the wretched fisherman who, like Martin, is betrayed by his wife and is destitute. Voltaire comments authorially: “People say that one is less unhappy when one is not alone; … that is not out of malice, but of need. One feels drawn toward an unfortunate as to one's fellow. The joy of a happy man would be an insult; but two unhappy people are like two delicate shrubs that, leaning on one another, fortify each other against the storm” (Deloffre and Van den Heuvel, 96 -97). Like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1952), friendship is a support, however limited, against harsh existence. Voltaire's characters are naturally gregarious. For them, the most wretched state of all is one of total isolation. It is significant for the tone of the conte that no one, not even Candide, is left on his own for the space of a whole chapter.

As Candide and Martin near the end of their journey across the Atlantic, Candide asks a question that incorporates his feelings of despair at that moment about the human race:

“Do you think,” said Candide, “that men have always massacred each other as they do today? that they have always been liars, cheats, treacherous, ingrates, brigands, weak, flighty, cowards, envious, greedy, drunkards, misers, ambitious, bloodthirsty, slanderers, debauched, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?” “Do you think,” said Martin, “that sparrow hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have discovered them?” “Yes, probably,” said Candide. “Well then,” said Martin, “if sparrow hawks have always had the same disposition, why do you expect men to have changed theirs?” “Oh,” said Candide, “there's a great deal of difference, for free will …” While debating thus, they arrived at Bordeaux.


This extraordinary outburst by Candide follows closely on the particularly painful experiences he suffers in Surinam at the hands of the rascally merchant Vanderdendur and subsequently in the law courts. This is undoubtedly one of his moments of greatest dejection in the whole conte, when “human wickedness revealed itself to his mind in all its ugliness” (199). It is in direct consequence of this despair that he organizes the contest to find the unhappiest man, which will eventually bring Martin into his life. Even so, he clings illogically to some vague notion of free will, as we can see. But it is Martin's more trenchant observations that concern us directly at this point. For in his opinion there has never been anything in human nature except the inclinations to slaughter and deceit. Such a total view runs into difficulties once it encounters a rare type of human being like Cacambo or Jacques the Anabaptist.

Jacques's own qualities will be considered later. For the moment, let us note his philosophy of human nature, so radically different from Martin's. On the way to Lisbon he tells Pangloss that he cannot share the latter's optimism: “Men … must have corrupted Nature a little, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves. God did not give them heavy cannon or bayonets; and they have manufactured themselves bayonets and cannon to destroy each other” (132). This is a sort of halfway point between the unsubtle conclusions of both Pangloss and Martin, as befits the noblest character in Candide. It sounds very like the picture painted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discours sur l'origine de l'inégalité (1755), which Voltaire had read, appending marginal comments on his own copy.

But to conclude that Voltaire is thereby taking a simple Rousseauist view of the world would be folly indeed. For it is Pangloss who holds to one of Rousseau's most basic tenets in the Discours when he opines that “the riches of the earth are common to all men” and that “each person has an equal right to them” (150). When Rousseau took the selfsame approach at the beginning of the second part of the Discours, Voltaire had commented witheringly: “That is the philosophy of a beggar who would like the rich to be robbed by the poor.”21 In brief, nothing in Jacques's utterance or in any other part of Candide suggests that Voltaire is settling for a philosophically systematic view of human nature, its origins, and its significance.

For Candide is not, in reality, a philosophical novel. Voltaire was not out to make a coherent general statement about man's place in the world. He had a different purpose in Candide.

Now, this may at first sound like heresy. Do we not refer commonly to Voltaire's stories, and preeminently Candide, as contes philosophiques? Is not Voltaire here attacking a philosophical concept? Do not such metaphysical terms as “sufficient reason” and “Manicheism” get bandied about?

All this is true—though it should be added that Voltaire did not use the term “philosophical tale” until a good deal later, and that in any case philosophie held a much wider meaning in eighteenth-century France than it does nowadays. Philosophy was not only concerned with metaphysics, ontology, and logic but also with how a human being should act in the world and toward his fellowmen. In that less rigorous sense, Candide easily qualifies. This may, however, be considered just a technical argument about the meaning of the term philosophy 200 years ago. We must address the question on a wider front.

To be sure, we are told that Martin is a Manichean. But we do not need to know a great deal about Manicheism in order to understand him. His philosophy is essentially a belief that the Devil rules the world—not a very sophisticated concept. It is also true that Pangloss, in the early pages of the story, informs us that things exist necessarily for the best possible end. But that too can hardly count as high-flown philosophy, and as we have seen, Pangloss very quickly brings teleological reasoning down to an argument for eating pork all year round. Worse is to follow. For Pangloss's lesson of “experimental physics” to the chambermaid allows Cunégonde an excellent opportunity for observation, in which “she saw clearly the sufficient reason of the doctor, its effects and causes” (120). Such is the treatment generally meted out to philosophical discourse in Candide. Things tend to be quickly reduced to an earthy level. When poor Candide, destitute and starving, arrives in Holland, he trots out the Panglossian line that there is no effect without cause, while indicating at the same time that what really matters is that he is in desperate need of food. Once more, philosophy carries with it more than purely abstract consequences. Since Candide cannot dogmatically assert that the Pope is the Antichrist, it is his fate to have a bucket filled with unspeakable contents poured over his head. Furthermore, when Pangloss vanishes from the scene in chapter 6, not to reappear until three chapters from the end, the jargon disappears with him. The only connecting “philosophical” thread is Candide's oscillating opinion about whether Westphalia is the best of all possible worlds; here again, we are hardly called upon to reflect deeply. By the time Pangloss reappears Martin is already ensconced as Candide's companion. Surely, if Candide were truly a “philosophical novel” this would be the ideal opportunity for a thoroughgoing debate about the world. Well, that debate takes place—but offstage, so to speak. In the penultimate chapter, Voltaire tells us not only that they reason together but that Candide, the Baron, and Cacambo all join in, arguing “about the contingent or noncontingent events of this universe … effects and causes, moral and physical evil, liberty, and necessity” (252). However, we never hear another word about the nature of those arguments. They are merely a way of passing the time until the group arrives at the place where Cunégonde and the Old Woman are slaves. Philosophy, like storytelling, can serve to fill up empty hours. Indeed, the five men have not only been disputing about great ideas, they have also been recounting their adventures, so that as well as contingency, evil, and necessity, their debates address “the consolations one can enjoy when on the Turkish galleys” (252). These points immediately succeed one another in Voltaire's text; philosophical inquiry of the metaphysical kind has no higher value, evidently, than the purely anecdotal.

In this sort of way the tone of Candide is completely different from that of the Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, which in some respects has always been regarded as the verse forerunner of the conte. The poem about the Lisbon earthquake is undoubtedly philosophical in nature and, as we have seen, full of anguished questioning. There is not a hint of humor anywhere in it. If it can be said to contain irony, that irony is of an unambiguously tragic kind, as, for instance, in the trenchant description of the universal round of slaughter. The basic underlying question of the Lisbon poem is, Why? In keeping with that, the expression is often simply interrogative. Four direct questions occur in the first 20 verses, and no fewer than 20 altogether in the entire work. This interrogation rises to a climactic line near the end, where everything about the human condition is placed in doubt: “What am I, where am I, whither am I going, and whence do I come?”22 In the face of such uncertainty, it is hardly to be wondered at that Voltaire concludes the poem by rejecting every positive attempt to explain the universe: not only the explanations of Leibniz and Pope and of orthodox Catholicism, but even those of Plato and Epicurus. Ultimately, he places his trust in only one thinker, the skeptic Pierre Bayle. For Bayle, says Voltaire, teaches one to doubt, and that can be the only sensible approach, since all absolute knowledge is kept hidden from us: “The book of Fate is closed to our gaze” (477). We must practice doubt, but we may also be permitted to hope—the one gleam of light in an otherwise dark universe and on which the poem concludes.

By the time of Candide three years later, Voltaire had, as it were, absorbed into himself the lessons of the Poème sur Lisbonne. Philosophical optimism is still as much of a cruel joke played upon the human race, but there no longer seems any point in going on about suffering as though it were a surprising new experience. The Old Woman has seen and undergone the worst atrocities of anyone in the story. But she feels no particular sense of horror in telling them over. Indeed, as she points out, she is recounting her tale simply because Cunégonde was foolish enough to think that no one had suffered as she had. She concludes her dreadful story with these words to Cunégonde: “I would never even have spoken of my misfortunes if you hadn't irritated me slightly and if it were not customary on a ship to tell stories to avoid boredom” (163). It is a marvelous throwaway line. The Old Woman wants to put Cuné-gonde right, but she also tells stories to pass the time. Here again, Candide anticipates Beckett's Godot.

When, therefore, the Old Woman has some particularly awful detail to tell, she slides over it as though it were of no importance. She had in her youth been betrothed to a handsome prince who loved her. But at the wedding feast a jealous ex-mistress served him chocolate, and in less than two hours he died “in terrible convulsions.” Lest our sympathies become engaged, she immediately adds, “But it's of no consequence whatsoever” (154). So it will always be for her thereafter. After an appalling massacre that she alone survives, she recovers consciousness to find a handsome young man moving about on top of her. His motives are obvious and undisguised, for he gives eloquent voice to a lament that he was castrated when still a schoolboy. This mournful cry, in Italian,23 informs her that he is her compatriot; indeed, it turns out that he was her music teacher when she was a child. Will this turn out happily? We should have been warned by his attempt to abuse her body as she lay defenseless. Despite his initial offer of help to her in her desperate state, the same lack of humanity surfaces as soon as they leave Morocco: instead of taking her back to Italy as he had promised, he simply sells her into slavery in Algiers. It is a particularly base act of treachery. But the Old Woman makes no comment on it. Such is the world. Like Martin, she has lived—“I am experienced, I know the world”—and she anticipates Martin in claiming that whomever you ask to tell you his story will confess that he has often cursed his life and told himself that he is the most wretched of men. But unlike Martin, she is no philosopher. She has no system of reasoning to explain the world. When need be she acts, like Cacambo, in practical and unsentimental ways. If Candide has to be jettisoned in Buenos Aires because the murders he committed in Lisbon have been traced to him, so be it. It is the only way she can save her mistress—and also, of course, her own skin.

While the Old Woman is far too pragmatic to waste time on philosophy, she has developed a view of human nature out of her multiple experiences. She has known misery and humiliation, folly, degradation. A hundred times over she has wanted to kill herself, she says. But always the instinct to go on living has been paramount. For the majority of people, suicide is simply not an answer. In all her wanderings among wretched and oppressed people she has known only 12 who put an end to their misery: three blacks, four Englishmen, four Genevans, and a German professor. All these except for the blacks (we shall shortly look at Voltaire's treatment of the black slave) are noted with a certain amount of ironic detachment. The English were, in the eighteenth century, considered the suicidal nation par excellence. (Voltaire once propounded the thesis that it was caused by the east wind.) The Genevans, as we have noticed, were no longer very popular with the philosophe after three years' living in their midst. The suicide of the German professor is a reference to one Robeck, a real person who had drowned himself in 1739. But the anticlimactic effect of “a German professor named Robeck” at the end of the list is surely not meant to qualify as tragedy or even pathos. (Pangloss, it may be recalled, is in despair near the end of Candide because he never made his name in a German university; such buffoon aspirations set the unfortunate Robeck in his proper context.) One may say, then, that apart from blacks (who were probably condemned to be slaves), suicide is an option only for foolish eccentrics. For your average white European, life is for living, despite all its drawbacks.

Now, it is very tempting to read this in a complacent light. In the twentieth century Camus was to suggest in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) that the only question of any real significance is, Is life worth living? His answer, too, is an affirmative one: man must “revolt” against his fate, in the name of justice and happiness.24 But Voltaire's view, as expressed through the Old Woman, is a good deal more somber and ironic than that. In her opinion, life is, for most people, an unhappy experience. Through the Old Woman, as again later through Martin, Voltaire stresses the point that cheerfulness is usually a mask that people put on. Yet despite these discouragements people want to go on surviving. She describes this impulse in piquant terms that not even the “sublime misanthrope” Blaise Pascal (Voltaire's phrase for him) could have bettered: “This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most desolating instincts; for is anything more foolish than to want to carry around unceasingly a burden that one wants to cast on the ground? to hate oneself, and to cling to one's existence? in brief, to caress the serpent that devours us, until he has eaten our heart out?” (162).

One is reminded of Hamlet's famous soliloquy “To be or not to be,” which impressed Voltaire early in his stay in England; he referred to it only a few months after his arrival in 1726, when writing about his sister's death. Later, he would include his translation of the speech in the Lettres philosophiques. But the comparison serves only to point up the contrast. For Hamlet's soliloquy is in keeping with high tragedy. Life is full of calamity, such that every true man would put an end to it. But, for Hamlet, “the dread of something after death” stays our hand. In Candide, by contrast, the consideration of an afterlife does not enter into it. It is simply our ridiculous life force that keeps us going. Unlike Hamlet, the characters in Candide do not contemplate death. It is as though the self-preservation instinct acts all on its own, quite independent of any rationality of judgment. The Old Woman is right to define it as a ridiculous weakness. There is an element of the absurdly comic about it. No one exemplifies it better than our naïve hero. He is saved from the auto-da-fé by the Old Woman, but he is in a dreadful physical and mental state: all bloody from his beating, scarcely able to stand up, but also deep in despair at having lost Pangloss and also from the news (later to prove false) that Pangloss had brought of Cunégonde's death. But the Old Woman, practical as ever, gives him a pot of ointment and says to him, “Rub yourself with ointment, eat and sleep.” And Candide, “despite so many misfortunes, ate and slept” (141). It is truly amazing what a little ointment can do for someone. In two days he is able to walk a quarter of a mile to where Cunégonde is in hiding. After their marvelous reconciliation, of course there can be no doubt that he will soon be fully restored to health.

Another excellent example of this mechanical reflex occurs later, when Candide and Cacambo are obliged to flee from the Jesuit settlement in Paraguay after Candide, as they think, has killed Cunégonde's brother. Cacambo displays the same quick-wittedness on behalf of his master as the Old Woman had done for her mistress, and he extricates Candide in the twinkling of an eye, as Voltaire puts it. Once they have made a clean escape, Cacambo suggests that they have something to eat. Candide rounds on him indignantly: “How can you want me to me eat ham, when I have killed the Baron's son and see myself doomed never to look again upon the fair Cunégonde for the rest of my days? What avails it to me to prolong my wretched life, since I must drag it out far from her in remorse and despair?” But, as Voltaire tells us, Cacambo has already begun eating, unaffected by such tragic utterances. There is nothing more infectious for a healthy man who is hungry than the sight of a companion eating. Candide is won over, despite himself, and without realizing it: “While speaking thus, he could not refrain from eating” (176). Disasters notwithstanding, banal life goes on regardless, as though nature were taking care of itself without reference to the higher and more complex feelings of the human race.

To my mind, it is the Old Woman, in the passage about suicide quoted above, who comes closest of all the characters to articulating the special quality of Candide. Many are the critics who have spoken of Voltaire's satanism, of his delight in the horrible.25 That element is undeniably present. But to dwell exclusively upon the savagery of the satire would be to limit the resonance of Candide very seriously. Perhaps no one has summed up the distinctive tone of the conte better than J. G. Weightman: “In this one book, the horror of evil and an instinctive zest for life are almost equally matched and it is the contrast between them … which produces the unique tragi-comic vibration … an unappeasable sense of the mystery and horror of life is accompanied, at every step, by an instinctive animal resilience. … Candide throbs from end to end with a paradoxical quality which might be described as a despairing hope or a relentless charity.”26 As Weightman stresses, there is a deeply inherent duality in Voltaire's vision of the world. Although the proportions may be far from equal, there is no good without evil, no evil without good. Human beings may not often be happy, or for very long, it is true. But it is equally the case that human beings have within them the capacity for happiness. So, in Voltaire's contes, there is an incessant oscillation. The laughter is ephemeral, but in most cases (the black slave always being an exception) so too are the tears. Life moves on again after the drowning, after the auto-da-fé, after the rape or the murder. The survivors … survive. The world will never make rational sense. But life carries on. As Voltaire had already put it in a much earlier work, if there is constant destruction in the cosmic economy, there is also constant regeneration.27 A Voltaire conte published a decade after Candide, La Princesse de Babylone (1768), stresses the universality of resurrection in this world. Grubs reemerge as butterflies; a walnut placed in the earth is reborn as a walnut tree; animal corpses interred in the ground feed other animals, of which they become a part (Deloffre and Van den Heuvel, 373). Like slaughter, rebirth is also continual and also universal.

Here seems to me to reside the essential Voltairean worldview, which the author perhaps only in Candide interprets with complete persuasiveness in his fiction. At other times he falls too easily into the sentimental or the didactic mode. Indeed, even in this tale the balance is precarious, as in chapter 22 on Paris, generally held to be the weakest in the whole book. More closely related, however, to the problem of evil is the episode of the black slave (chapter 19).

We know that this episode was added very late in the composition of Candide, for it does not figure in the La Vallière manuscript. That version, the only manuscript copy we have of the work (apart from some later corrections to chapter 22), was sent to the duc de La Vallière in the autumn of 1758 and probably dates from October of that year (47), three months before the conte was dispatched for publication. At this stage, although the whole tale substantially existed already in its first published version, the black slave did not appear. The second and third paragraphs of chapter 19 were simply inserted subsequently. Late in 1758 Voltaire clearly felt the need to incorporate into his encyclopedic view of the world a striking illustration of the effects of colonial slavery. (There are, of course, numerous instances of servitude elsewhere in Candide: the hero is press-ganged into the Bulgar army, and the three main female characters, Cunégonde, the Old Woman, and Paquette, all offer evidence of how often woman's condition can be one of enslavement.) What had occurred to remind Voltaire of this omission? His inspiration very probably came from reading a work by a fellow philosophe, Claude Helvétius, entitled De l'esprit (1758), which Voltaire had received in mid-October. Helvétius discusses the slave trade, including the poignant comment: “It will be a matter of common agreement that not a barrel of sugar arrives in Europe which is not stained with human blood. So, what man seeing the miseries caused by the cultivation and export of this commodity would refuse to give it up and not sacrifice a pleasure bought with the tears and deaths of so many wretched people? Let us avert our glance from a sight so appalling, which inflicts so much shame and horror upon the human race” (cited in Pomeau, 46). Here, surely, we have the inspiration for one of the most trenchant sentences in Candide: “It's at this price that you eat sugar in Europe” (195-96).

If the link with Helvétius is accepted, Voltaire would have inserted this new episode somewhere between the end of October and about the middle of December, his heart obviously stirred by the plight of the slaves. (A similar concern is shown in chapter 152 of his historical work, the Essai sur les moeurs, which he was also writing at this time.) He evokes the miserable existence of a people who received only two items of clothing a year, who were sentenced to having a leg mutilated if they tried to escape, and whose arm was cut off if their fingers were caught in the mill; all these conditions were legally in force at the time (Pomeau, 195, n. 4).

But one has to ask whether this awful spectacle, for all its eloquence, fits in completely with the rest of the work. This is the place in the text where Candide gives his succinct definition of optimism (196). But are we witnessing the same Candide as elsewhere? For here we find him bursting out in indignation, in a manner unparalleled anywhere else in the story. It does not greatly matter if he announces, as he does, that he is at last renouncing optimism, for he had already registered strong doubts about it after the Old Woman's tale (chapter 13), and about Pangloss's teaching once he had seen Eldorado (chapter 18). But it is the way he acts as spokesman for Voltaire that is unexpected and somewhat disconcerting. For throughout the conte, right up to the very final paragraphs, the hero is consistently viewed with a certain ironic detachment. Even at the end he is saying no more than that “we must cultivate our garden” (260). By contrast, here is the unique instance where Candide openly denounces optimism.

One may hazard the speculation that in this late addition to the conte we are seeing the first evidence of the later Voltaire, the Voltaire who would crusade ceaselessly until the end of his life in the cause of justice and who would enlist the aid of trenchant propaganda for his purpose. This Voltaire can already be seen in his correspondence of the final weeks of 1758, and the reason for the new emphasis seems clear: he had discovered the reality of social conditions at Ferney, where he would the following year become the owner and seigneur. On these lands lived, he wrote on 18 November, “unfortunates who hardly have the wherewithal to eat a little black bread.” Half the tenants were dying of poverty, the other half were in jail on ridiculous charges. “My heart is torn when I witness so many miseries. I am buying Ferney just to do some good there” (D-7946). The editor Theodore Besterman comments that “no such language as this is to be found in any previous writing by Voltaire. … It is as if the condition of the peasants and the land had caused all his thinking suddenly to come to a point, exploding in this trumpet-call of social protest” (D-7946, Commentary). This too is the language of the black slave episode. By having the slave explicitly point out, “It's at this price that you eat sugar in Europe,” the author is clearly aiming to subvert his reader's complacency and give him a bad conscience. The reader is forced into direct confrontation and the ground is taken away from under his feet, in a style reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's in Gulliver's Travels (1726)—which Voltaire, incidentally, had read and admired when the novel appeared during his stay in England.

But the satiric approach of the tale as a whole is more direct and subtle than that. The tone here, by contrast, is sharply emotional and belongs more to a later conte like L'Ingénu (1767) than to Candide. Besides, another problem occurs. Within the plot of the story, what is to be done about the black slave? In short, plainly nothing. Candide “wept tears as he looked at his black companion; and weeping, he went into Surinam” (196). What else could he possibly have done for this poor mutilated wretch? Colonial slavery was beyond Voltaire's powers of intervention; like Candide, an individual, even a polemicist of Voltaire's stature could only express outrage. No viable answer was possible for black slaves in Candide's Turkish garden. Impotent sorrow is all that the hero can register in the face of a problem beyond his capacity to affect. And impotent sorrow was not Voltaire's way. He preferred taking practical initiatives that were within his power. Similarly, Candide could save Paquette and Giroflée from poverty, he could rescue Pangloss from the galleys and Cunégonde and the Old Woman from domestic slavery. And he did.

The episode concerning the black slave, therefore, constitutes a paradox. It has the capacity to affect the reader deeply as an isolated incident, but within its context it is an interpolation at odds with the surrounding text. The general view taken of the world in Candide is that it affords material for a huge cosmic joke on the human race; people rush around crazily or preen themselves self-importantly in a universe where evil and, in a much lesser degree, good exist without rhyme or reason. It is in this light that we should now consider the final scenes and the famous last words, “we must cultivate our garden,” over which so much ink has been spilled. Is the final remark meant as a call to social action, a forerunner of the crusading Voltaire of later years? Or is the ending intended to suggest a kind of fatalistic inaction, a defensive self-protection in which the little group shuts out all concern with outside society?

It seems to me that neither of these positions is defensible. We have just seen how the didactic approach shown in the treatment of the colonial slave jars with the overall register of Candide. There is a consistent relationship, it is true, between the satiric tone of the conte and Voltaire's calls to action later in his life; the underlying attitudes are essentially the same. But the Voltaire of early and mid-1758 was not yet devoting all his energies to protest. Admiral Byng's execution was a case of official madness run riot, “in order to encourage the others.” It is quite a different stance from that which Voltaire would take in 1762 to rehabilitate Jean Calas's reputation after the miscarriage of justice in Toulouse. Both Byng and Calas were dead because of the folly of so-called legal justice. Voltaire, it is true, had tried to intervene on Byng's behalf, without success. But by the time of Candide that was long since a lost cause, the occasion only for mordant sardonicism. Whereas Calas would become a crusade enlisting all his direct, dynamic energies in order to right a wrong.

In parallel fashion, the view that at the end Candide and his companions have resigned themselves to an inward-looking passivity goes against everything else Voltaire ever urged. “Man was born for action, as fire flares upwards and stones fall to the ground,” he had written in the Lettres philosophiques (2:205-6). The human necessity to be active was, he believed, as much of a natural law as the force of fire or of gravitation. Such action, too, needed to be productively meaningful, not just a way of killing time. It is no accident that the group finishes up not in a castle or a city but in a garden, at work that will yield produce and enhance the quality of life. The conte has made a ceaseless onslaught upon optimism, which Voltaire had also repeatedly denounced in his correspondence because it destroyed the will to initiative. It would therefore be strange to conclude that at the end of the story Candide has, in a topsy-turvy way, joined forces with the optimists.

That viewpoint has, however, been given a new airing in a radically revisionist thesis by Roy Wolper. Wolper's reading of Candide proposes that, indeed, absolutely nothing has changed at the end—because Candide remains a total fool right up to the last word of the story. He contends that the hero has done no more than fulfill his earliest dreams: to be born the Baron Thunder-tentronckh, to see Cunégonde every day, and to listen to Pangloss (chapter 1). Candide, writes Wolper, is now “a surrogate baron … married to Lady Cunégonde … and has Pangloss as a constant conversationalist.”28 He has achieved nothing, he is still an ironic hero. The final solution, that work cures boredom, vice, and need, is irrelevant to the sufferings we have been witnessing and the abuses and persecution practiced on all sides. By clinging to the belief in work, “the little group itself contributes to the ongoing cruelty and carnage: the produce from the garden will nourish the Vanderdendurs, the Gauchats, the Dutch magistrates, the Christian prelates” (Wolper, 273). At the end Candide, it is true, is no longer Pangloss's puppet; but that is merely because he has found a new puppeteer in the Old Turk, the former whose advice he now slavishly follows as he had previously followed Pangloss's. He has learned little about virtue and helping others. Jacques's example has been unavailing. The values of Candide are not Candide's. “At the end, Candide, reduced to petty revenge, sells Cunégonde's brother into a galley” (Wolper, 277).

This is a refreshingly provocative point of view that has the great merit of forcing critics of Candide to think again about the basic meaning of the story. And it has won admirers, the more so as Professor Wolper has gone on extending his reappraisals to one Voltaire story after another.29 But the danger is that he risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater. His contention is that the banality of the ending in no way does justice to the horrors of man's inhumanity to man that have been described earlier. The force of this argument merits serious discussion. But should one not, first of all, put the question back to Wolper: What significance can Candide hold if the ending is an empty shell? If, after every terrible experience the reader has been through, the end merely shows us an unteachable marionette, one has to ask, Why bother? What is the point of it all? To which questions Professor Wolper has already given his reply: there are values—social concern and education—and these are enshrined in “the spirit Jacques has” (Wolper, 277). In other words, there is a hero to Candide. Unfortunately, that hero appears for only just over one chapter of the 30 (to be more precise, 134 lines out of more than 3,000 in the Pomeau edition) and is very little heard of again in the rest of the story. This is no Banquo's ghost to haunt Macbeth, no Julius Caesar living on after death to trouble Brutus and Cassius. We shall consider in a later chapter the qualities in Jacques's character; they are unique in the conte. But they are never given a chance to dominate, for the tale is not essentially about those qualities, which inevitably meet with a quick end in the world of Candide.

The Wolper view, by seeking to demean the significance of Candide's position at the end, aims to destroy the validity of the ending as a way forward. Not only has Candide learned nothing; he is stupid to the point of brutality. The hero's reaction to Cunégonde's brother, cited above, is a case in point: Candide, in selling the Baron back to the galleys, is “reduced to petty revenge.” But, in fact, in the story it is not like that. First of all, if the Baron had stayed with the group, there would have been an irreducible conflict. For Cunégonde has already reminded Candide of his earlier promise to marry her, “in a manner so peremptory that Candide did not dare to refuse her” (253). When the Baron, however, objects, because of the eternal shame it would bring upon the family in the ranks of the German nobility, Cunégonde throws herself at his feet. But to no avail; “he was inflexible” (253). This paradoxical situation exasperates Candide almost beyond endurance. He no longer pretends complicity with Cunégonde's delusion that she has kept her beautiful looks: “You utter fool,” Candide says to the Baron, “I rescued you from the galleys, paid your ransom, also paid your sister's; she was scouring dishes here, she is ugly, I have the decency to make her my wife, and you still intend to oppose it; I should kill you again if I were to give vent to my anger” (253). But, as Voltaire goes on to show in the following sentences, he contains his anger. As a man of honor, he cannot go back on his word, especially under Cunégonde's relentless pressure. Besides, the Baron's infuriating impudence is a powerful incentive in itself to press on with the marriage. So Cunégonde's brother will have to go; no other solution is possible. Candide acts not out of revenge but out of self-respect reinforced by practical common sense. That much decided, the question then remains: What is to be done with the Baron? We have already noted that the intemperate solution comes, not from Candide, but from Martin, who simply wants to throw him into the sea. Candide, for his part, decides nothing. He has consulted Pangloss, Martin, and Cacambo; only Cacambo produces a helpful answer. It is, moreover, a highly constructive piece of advice. For the Baron is returned to the galleys only as a provisional step, “after which he would be sent to Rome to the Father-General by the first vessel” (254). In short, he will be returned to the authorities who recruited him for Paraguay in the first place. Some hope may still be held out of a new career for him. He has shown himself beyond saving within the little community in the Turkish garden, but so far as his impossible snobbishness will ever permit it, he may yet make something of himself. Cacambo's bright idea is, we are told, generally approved, including by the sagacious Old Woman. Only Cunégonde is not let in on the decision, for obvious reasons.

It is worth going into this much detail on a single point affecting the final outcome in the conte because it shows how, by careful reading of the text, a dismissive judgment on the hero cannot be sustained. Indeed, when we come to consider Candide's role in the tale, we shall see how much Voltaire allows him to develop. For the moment, let us also note that, in the final chapter, the hero is no “surrogate Baron” (Wolper, 268). The original Baron of chapter 1 lived, in tranquil condescension, a life of utter falsity. On occasion, his farmyard dogs were a makeshift hunting pack and his stable boys became huntsmen. The village curate was deemed to be his “Grand Almoner,” and everyone dutifully laughed at his stories. Benevolent though this arrangement may at first appear to be, its underpinning is a rigid philosophical and social order based on keeping things exactly as they are. That is why Pangloss's optimism, with its assurance that this life cannot be bettered, fits in so admirably. But when Candide strays, however briefly, from the deferential position he is expected to maintain in the household, he is literally booted out by the Baron without further ado.

Nothing of this feudal hierarchy remains in the final episode. Everyone contributes on an equal footing; no one is treated as an inferior. There is no underlying religious principle and no representative of the clergy (except a renegade monk). The community defers to nobody; it is entirely made up of commoners. Unlike Candide's expulsion from the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh, a brutally authoritarian act by the Baron, the expulsion of Cunégonde's brother is decided on after general discussion. There are, indeed, parallels to be drawn between the first and the last chapters of Candide. But the superficial comparisons serve only to heighten the fundamental contrasts.30

The basic contention of the Wolper school is that the ending of Candide is a deliberately derisory anticlimax on Voltaire's part. This opinion is well summed up by Theodore Braun in a strong defense of Wolper's position. He argues that the Old Turk's famous advice (“Work keeps away from us three great evils, boredom, vice and need”) is quite invalid in view of what has gone before: “Rape, murder, plunder, assassination, the slaughter of innocents, kidnappings, massacres occur everywhere, in Europe, in Africa, in the Middle East, in the New World. Workers like the Negro slave are mutilated; others who work (judges, law clerks, businessmen) are rapacious thieves; productive workers are often poor and hungry or ill-fed, while those who exploit their labours are rich and satisfied (e.g., the Paraguayan Indians and the Jesuits); even the garden group itself cannot escape boredom through work” (Braun, 314). It is a powerful statement, taking in as it does a horrendous collective picture of the world as we have seen it in Candide.

Here too, however, one must guard against approximations. The little group, it is true, has to face the problem of boredom. But this is only at the beginning of the last chapter. They are bored, in fact, because they are not working, except for Cacambo, who in consequence has too much to do and curses his situation. At this point, the members are for the most part spending their time in argument, either on “metaphysics and morality” or on the melancholy spectacle of those in authority in Constantinople being constantly replaced and banished into exile. It is this repetitive, unproductive round (even Cacambo's gardening is a depressing chore) that provokes their terrible boredom. Only the pessimistic Martin “accepted things with patience” (255). But then, he would, wouldn't he? For the moment, everything is conveniently bearing out his philosophy that nothing can be improved. By contrast, when at last the group accepts the Old Turk's advice, boredom simply disappears. In brief, they do escape boredom through work.

This again is a detail that helps to illuminate the general picture. For the main thrust of the Braun-Wolper thesis is larger: that the banal recipe of work is not a suitable response to the world's atrocities. To answer this, one must consider the Old Turk's remark in its context and on its merits. His life is not heroic. He does not go looking for noble causes. He assumes that political careers sometimes lead to misery, and that the misery is probably deserved. In the meantime, he has created a quiet haven of contentment, and that is enough for him. All he knows is that work keeps certain large wolves from the door. The first, given pride of place, is boredom.

This can hardly be accounted an accident. The Old Woman, in the final chapter, asks whether all the terrible atrocities she and the others have suffered—the multiple rapes, the excised buttock, Candide's running the gauntlet of the regiment, Pangloss's hanging, and so on—were actually worse than “being here doing nothing” (255-56). Candide acknowledges that it is a good question and does not attempt to answer it. Terrible as actual suffering is, ennui may well be more terrible yet, for it destroys the soul. The supreme instance in Candide is Pococuranté, whom we shall consider later. But he is not alone in his apprehensions. Martin latches onto the Old Woman's remark in order to suggest, characteristically, that man is doomed to live in the convulsions of anxiety or the lethargy of boredom. But earlier on in the conte risks of tedium have been faced and indeed overcome. The need to escape from being bored is one of the two reasons the Old Woman gives for telling her story during the Atlantic voyage. The return journey is also filled up with talk, endless philosophical disputes between Martin and Candide that achieve nothing except the consolation of communicating with a fellow being. By contrast, Paris, for instance, is a place of non-communication. The gambling at the house of the marquise de Parolignac is a wretched charade, marked by silences, suspicion, and constant cheating. The supper that follows is no better; initial silence is succeeded by a rush of talk, but it is a meaningless jumble of poor jokes, false rumors, bad arguments, and a lot of backbiting. The evening provides yet another example of the essential vacuity beneath the glittering surface once life has been reduced to a meaningless social round.

So the lethal quality of languor is accorded pride of place in the Turkish farmer's summation, along the lines of what has gone before in the conte. Thereafter come vice and need—the one so often, in Candide, dependent on the other, as Paquette, for example, would readily confirm. But these two little words must be taken at their full value. What we have been experiencing throughout the tale is the combined effect of vicious behavior (murder, rape, plunder, treachery) and need (the black slave, the poor Indians, even Candide himself before he reaches Eldorado). The Old Turk, though he may have no firsthand experience of these horrors, is wise enough to apprehend them and to know the best remedy. He does not claim that work will cure all these evils. They are an abiding feature of the world in which we live. But work “keeps [them] away from us.” An actively occupied person stands a better chance of keeping out of trouble—psychological, moral, financial, physical—than an idle one. The Turk's comment is no more profound than that.

This is perhaps a good juncture at which to ask ourselves whether there is evidence from outside Candide for taking the ending straight. And, of course, there is, if you once accept external biographical evidence, as Professor Wolper would readily agree (while arguing strongly that such evidence is quite invalid). Over and over Voltaire elsewhere advocates the value of work as an antidote to life's ills. One could cite a host of instances. For example, one of the closest parallels to Pococuranté occurs in another literary work, Voltaire's Discours en vers sur l'homme (1738), a collection of seven poetic epistles. In the fourth of these poems Voltaire evokes the spectacle of Brossoret, a rich man with nothing to do, bored to death, immune to the delights of love, poetry, music. Ennui is destroying him. Then suddenly, help arrives: “A god who took pity on human nature / Placed alongside Pleasure, Work and Pain: / Fear awoke him, Hope guided his steps …” (Moland, 9:405). Like Candide, Brossoret is saved by work from a death-in-life and begins to enjoy existence again. Now, there can be no question but that in this poem Voltaire is presenting the situation quite straightforwardly. The answer of the Wolper school to this and similar examples would be that we should not extrapolate from one situation to another. But the parallel is so close between Brossoret and Pococuranté that surely one must give it serious consideration. And if one is to be persuaded that in Candide, uniquely, Voltaire overturns one of the principles that guided him throughout his life, the textual evidence needs to be quite overwhelming. That evidence, however, stops a long way short of demonstrating the case for a totally revisionist reading of the tale.

One of the stronger planks in the Wolper argument is that the Turk's advice and Candide's decision to follow it represent a shallow anticlimax to all that has gone before. There is surely some merit in this. One could hardly argue that Voltaire has stumbled upon or is presenting a startling new truth. It is simply a matter of recognizing when one is well off. The king of Eldorado has already sounded that note very clearly when Candide and Cacambo decide to depart: “When you are fairly comfortable somewhere or other, you should stay there” (192). Then, it had fallen on deaf ears. Now, they are more receptive. It is not just the Turk's example of the good life that has persuaded Candide. Before that, the brusque philosophic advice of the dervish had also played its part. He points out to them the supreme indifference of whatever deity may exist toward human suffering: “When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, is he concerned if the mice on the ship are comfortable or not?” (257). One should therefore stop philosophizing and simply “shut up.” Agnosticism is the sole answer to the paradoxical and incomprehensible nature of good and evil.

The dismissively theoretical approach of the dervish (“reputed to be the best philosopher in Turkey” [256]), aided by the practical wisdom of the Turkish farmer, helps Candide to open his eyes. It is as if the same picture were presented twice, but with a totally different lighting. Candide is, as before, unable to afford more than this humble property because he has been cheated of so much; Cunégonde is still ugly and sour and will doubtless continue to be an intolerable wife; Pangloss will remain a failure in his own eyes, having failed to obtain a professorship in Germany. Doubtless, too, the boats will go on carrying the political unfortunates in Constantinople to exile or worse. But once the element of work for all is introduced into the equation, these miseries will be seen to have another side to them. Cacambo is no longer overworked; the land is productive; Cunégonde is good at pastry, and Giroflée at carpentry; Paquette can embroider; the Old Woman, though now infirm and presumably just as bad-tempered, looks after the linen. And so on. Where there was no structure, a meaning has been imposed.

But that meaning can hardly be termed definitive. Since the world of Candide is full of intractable evils, this cannot hope to be a wholly satisfactory answer. At any time thieves could break in to destroy and kill. An earthquake could just as easily occur in Constantinople as in Lisbon. But it is as suitable a spot as they are going to find, and geographically speaking, it has a special fitness, in being situated on the edge of Europe, for a hero who had to flee the Old World but found the New World (Eldorado always excepted) no better, and whose second exploration of Europe revealed, in a different perspective, just as much villainy as his first. The aim of the characters has been to survive. Here, they may just do so, if they are lucky. At least, while it lasts, they will live a tolerable existence. More than that no one has the right to ask or expect. There are no transcendental goals at which to aim. It is enough to have captured a little light in a dark world.

Flaubert, who admired Candide, considered this conclusion to be the work of a genius because, in his view, Voltaire captures the very sense of platitudinous existence: “this tranquil conclusion, stupid as life is.31 People who have run before the storm for so long can hardly hope for more. In advancing the work ethic, Voltaire was far from proposing a capitalist model, prefiguring the Industrial Revolution. Work is not a universal panacea. It is not going to institute a new world of prosperity untinged by sorrows. This is just a tiny collection of people, trying to find a refuge from the horrors they have suffered. Voltaire adumbrates not an economic solution so much as a moral and psychological one, a modus vivendi to replace the European social order left behind as totally corrupt. At most, a few fragments from the wreck of the group's collective experience are being put together against total despair. But work is therapeutic and marginally more reliable than other means of survival; a modest step forward is being taken toward sanity and against both superstitious despair and optimistic nonsense. André Magnan argues well that nowhere in the tale is a new order of truth established, that there is no true conclusion, no moral message, just a tiny sign of encouragement to the community in the little garden.32 The ending of Candide has no special value, and it is unwise to read the work on the assumption that it has.

Nor is the sociopolitical attitude emerging from Candide particularly radical either. Roland Barthes cogently sums it up as exemplifying the morality of the small individualist landowner, hostile to history and its rationalizations.33 The period of Voltaire's political crusades was still to come, with only the episode of the black slave foreshadowing it here. Candide is no rebel. A reluctant fugitive, forever seeking peace and harmony in Cunégonde's arms, he at last puts together a viable answer somewhat better than what he has encountered on his travels (outside of Eldorado). It would be unwise to read too symbolic a meaning into his expulsion of the Baron from the garden. Candide has no intention of doing any such thing until the inflexible Baron forces it on him. In principle, the final community could well have accommodated an aristocrat, just as it accommodates a cleric, if the member of the nobility had been willing to accept changed circumstances. Voltaire's relations with the French aristocracy were far from hostile. Such nobles as the count d'Argental were among his closest friends. The distinction he drew was between those aristocrats who were socially useful and enlightened and those who were not. The Baron, unfortunately, belongs to the latter camp. The triumph in the last chapter, to the extent to which it can be called a triumph, is an individual one: Candide achieves personal autonomy. He finally frees himself of all father-figures: the Baron, Pangloss, Martin. By contrast, the Turk's advice at the end is merely a help to Candide in working out his own attitudes; the Turk thereafter immediately disappears from view. Voltaire, who believed himself to be an illegitimate child, had already richly exploited the father-son theme in earlier works.34Candide is finally a liberation from patriarchal authority of all kinds.

That said, one must add that Voltaire's political outlook evolves no further in terms of detail here. The organization of the little community near Constantinople is broadly participationist and egalitarian, each one contributing according to his talents. But Voltaire remains wholly vague on how it will settle down into permanent arrangements. How will they manage not to abuse Cacambo's propensity for hard work? Who will keep the accounts, and how will any profits be divided up? Can one count on Pangloss, for example, not to stand around all day leaning on his spade and reciting genealogies? And if one cannot, what is to be done about it? But to pose such questions is to demonstrate a totally aberrant view of Candide. There is no tidily wrapped-up ending, this is not a blueprint of a future civilization. It is just a makeshift arrangement, informed by a reasonable amount of common sense and hope. Candide himself enjoys a moral authority as the one who brought the group together by purchasing their freedom. He may just possibly develop into the seigneur in the fullness of time; the possibility is not excluded. But it is, equally, not considered either. That would be projecting onto Candide a perspective that Candide does not envisage.

Is there, then, a blueprint anywhere in Candide? What about Eldorado, which we have been excepting from the generalizations about other forms of society in the conte? It is certainly the case that Eldorado shows examples of what might be done. The place itself is beyond man's reach, but not all its achievements are equally unattainable. The development of science, the construction of handsome buildings, the exquisite courteousness of the inhabitants, were all within the capacity of enlightened eighteenth-century man. This is a society that supports the advancement of commerce; the hostelries set up to promote trade are state enterprises, funded by the government. Voltaire, who had admired the commercial spirit and energy of England in the Lettres philosophiques—a whole letter is devoted to singing the praises of trade—clearly considers this to be one of the most important aspects of Eldorado. Not only are the people well-mannered; their evident moral sanity springs from a rejection of dogmatic theorizing of all kinds. The landlord of the inn at which they put up responds to Candide's restless curiosity about how Eldorado fits in with the philosophy of optimism by remarking: “I am very ignorant, and all the better for it” (187). Voltaire had, ever since the Lettres philosophiques, praised the value of philosophic doubt and ignorance; a few years later, he was to compose a profession of his own attitudes under the title Le Philosophe ignorant (1766). In keeping with this spirit of tolerance in Eldorado, there are no divisive religious sects, no oppression of others, no churches, and no priests (at least in the European sense: the old man states that “we are all priests” since the king and all family heads sing hymns of thanksgiving every morning). The only religious practice consists of worshiping God and thanking Him for His blessings. All this represents an idealization of Voltaire's wishes for a deist society free of divisive doctrines and persecution. The Eldoradans are evidently people with whom one can maintain a wholly practical and realistic conversation. We are told that Candide and Cacambo talk to the old man at length about very down-to-earth topics like the form of government, customs, women, theater, and the arts. Besides, as has been pointed out earlier, Voltaire had contemporary Pennsylvania in mind as a model for much of what he has to say.

It needs to be noted, therefore, that more elements of Eldoradan society are set up as practical examples worthy of imitation than is sometimes allowed by commentators on Candide. The place, too, serves as a standing reproach to our greed-ridden and disputatious way of life. It thrives on dignified work, not on the mad pursuit of wealth for its own sake. Its people are simple and direct, unlike, for example, the hypocritical wretches of Paris.

But if the reader seeks to find the whole meaning of Candide in Eldorado he will be disappointed. The land is not only unreachable except by extraordinary accident. It is quite utterly different. Candide and Cacambo themselves register this point soon after their arrival when they wonder about “this country … where the whole of nature is of a kind so unlike ours” (186). The gold and jewels lying about everywhere on the ground, the longevity of life (the old man is 172 years old), the fast-running red sheep, the hoisting machine to take Candide and Cacambo over the mountains—all these belong to a fantasy world. Many of the details, seemingly gratuitous, add to the distancing effect. When the visitors ask about the religion of Eldorado, the old man replies that “we worship God from evening to morning” (188). What is one to understand by that? Do the Eldoradans never sleep, or do they perhaps take naps during the day? As the reader proceeds, his sense of bewilderment increases. The old man adds that when the king and all the heads of families sing hymns to God each morning, “five or six thousand musicians accompany them” (189). Here is another totally incomprehensible statement. Do all the patriarchs of Eldorado come together in the palace each morning? If so, at least some of them must have traveled nearly four hours to get there, for that is the time it takes our travelers to reach the capital. Or is the old man referring only to the inhabitants of the capital? Such speculation is futile. Mystery is intended to prevail on the matter. In simple guise, firm information is lacking on the sociopolitical structures of the country. We know that Eldorado is a monarchy, whose king is a man full of wit (a source of surprise to Candide, and the opportunity for a gibe by Voltaire at kings he had known). But the nature and extent of the powers he actually possesses are not made clear. He can evidently command instant obedience from 3,000 men for a crash program to build the hoisting machine. But how much freedom do his subjects actually enjoy? He tells the visitors that all men are free; yet in the distant past the leaders had decreed that no one should ever leave the kingdom. The right of movement, then, was given up at that time, by general consent in the first place. But what of the current generation? Do they ever have the chance at least to reconsider the pledge? We are told only that it would be a tyranny contrary to both their laws and their customs to detain foreigners. Beyond that, we are totally ignorant about the laws of Eldorado, other than that they are universally obeyed, for there are no law courts and no prisons.

Eldorado remains veiled in a kind of haze. We are not encouraged to look for total answers here. No program for ready adaptation to the countries of this world is available. It is more the spirit of Eldorado that others should observe and seek to imitate, a spirit based on the rejection of useless metaphysics, to the advantage of useful work for the common good. Voltaire had achieved something of the same kind many years before. In the Lettres philosophiques he had drawn a flattering picture of England, showing his French readers how much better things were across the Channel. That picture is sometimes distorted to the advantage of England, for polemical purposes. But Voltaire nowhere prescribes the importation of particular features of English life into France. Here too it is more a matter of showing how another culture can be superior to one's own. That approach has, of course, gone much further with Eldorado, which is, unlike contemporary England, a never-never land. But the strategies in each work are broadly comparable.

Unspecific though the king's prerogatives may be in Eldorado, he is the only authentic king on view in Candide. Not only, as we have seen, are there the mock-kings in Venice; royalty when it is effectively practiced can wear a menacing aspect. It is when Candide drinks to the king of the Bulgars that he leaves himself open to forcible impressment into that king's army. The king, it is true, saves him from being shot for desertion. But this is a sort of gratuitous act, dispensed by a personage so elevated that ordinary compassion hardly enters into it. Indeed, Voltaire hints that the “clemency” that the king displays is mainly for show, since it will be “praised in every journal down the ages” (124).35 The true nature of that clemency is revealed very soon after, when the same king declares war on the king of the Abars, with the horrific consequences that Voltaire describes in the following chapter and that the king would have known to be the inevitable concomitant. But far from feeling any concern when the massacre actually happens, both kings proceed to the absurdity of singing a Te Deum to God after the battle, as though each were thanking God for being on his side. Political leaders live in a world of utter brutality and swift change of fortune, where their power and glory may just as easily collapse into farcical destitution (as the Venice carnival shows) or worse (as Candide and his companions observe from their little farm in Turkey). There are no honest princes in our world, only bullies or fools. Authority is mocked. No reliance may be placed on it, any more than upon the so-called philosophy of optimism. Candide offers no comforting answers, on either the political or the religious front.


  1. Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, ed. Maynard Mack (London: Methuen, 1950), 1:289-94.

  2. Albert Camus, L'Homme révolté (Paris: Gallimard, 1952), especially chapters 1 and 2.

  3. Voltaire, Lettres philosophiques, edited by Gustave Lanson and A. M. Rousseau (Paris: Didier, 1964), 2:139; hereafter cited in text.

  4. Aldous Huxley, On the Margin (New York: Doran, 1923), 21-22.

  5. Voltaire, “[Ce monde-ci] subsiste de contradictions,” in Deloffre and Van den Heuvel, 547.

  6. Pomeau, Introduction, 57.

  7. Année littéraire 3 (1760): 165.

  8. Quoted in Voltaire's “Candide” and the Critics, ed. M. P. Foster (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1962), 90.

  9. Madame de Staël, De l'Allemagne, ed. Jean de Pange and Simone Balayé (Paris: Hachette, 1958-60), 4:79.

  10. Christopher Thacker, “Son of Candide,” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (hereafter cited as SV) 58 (1967): 1515-31.

  11. Jean Sareil, “Le Massacre de Voltaire dans les manuels scolaires,” SV 212 (1982): 125-30.

  12. René Pomeau, La Religion de Voltaire, 2d ed. (Paris: Nizet, 1969).

  13. See p. ix. An earlier edition of the Correspondence edited by Besterman was published in Geneva by the Institut et Musée Voltaire (1953-65).

  14. Jean Sareil, Essai sur “Candide” (Geneva: Droz, 1967), 104.

  15. Voltaire, Essai sur les moeurs, in Moland 12:419-20.

  16. The resemblances between Eldorado and Pennsylvania were first explored in depth by W. H. Barber, “L'Angleterre dans Candide,Revue de littérature comparée 37 (1963): 202-15.

  17. See René Pomeau, “La Référence allemande dans Candide,” in Voltaire und Deutschland, ed. Peter Brockmeter et al. (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1979), 170-72.

  18. Christiane Mervaud, “Du carnaval au carnavalesque: l'épisode vénitien de Candide,” in Le Siècle de Voltaire: Hommage à René Pomeau, ed. Christiane Mervaud and Sylvain Menant (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1987), 651-62.

  19. Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, in Moland, 18:127.

  20. See Haydn Mason, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 67-77, and “Voltaire and Manichean Dualism,” SV 26 (1963): 1143-60.

  21. George R. Havens, Voltaire's Marginalia on the Pages of Rousseau (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1933), 15.

  22. Voltaire, Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, in Moland 9:477.

  23. In view of the parallels noted earlier with Beckett's Godot, it is interesting to observe that the phrase “O che sciagura d'essere senza c … !” is used by Beckett on a number of occasions. The matter is briefly discussed in John Fletcher, The Novels of Samuel Beckett (London: Chatto and Windus, 1964), 20.

  24. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (Paris: Gallimard, 1942), 19 and passim.

  25. One of the most persuasive of such commentators in recent times is Jacques Van den Heuvel, Voltaire dans ses contes (Paris: Colin, 1967), 261.

  26. J. G. Weightman, “The Quality of Candide,” in Essays Presented to C. M. Girdlestone, ed. E. T. Dubois et al. (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: King's College, 1960), 338, 340, 346.

  27. La Métaphysique de Newton (1740), in Moland 22:407.

  28. Roy S. Wolper, “Candide: Gull in the Garden?” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3 (1969-70): 268; hereafter cited in text.

  29. See, for example, Theodore E. D. Braun, “Voltaire and His Contes: A Review Essay on Interpretations Offered by Roy S. Wolper,” SV 212 (1982) 311-17, 328-30; hereafter cited in text.

  30. A useful discussion of this aspect has been provided by C. J. Betts, “On the Beginning and Ending of Candide,Modern Language Review 80 (1985): 283-92.

  31. Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise de Cormenin, 7 June 1844, cited in Van den Heuvel, Voltaire, 277 (Flaubert's emphasis).

  32. André Magnan, Candide (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987), 95-96.

  33. Romans et contes de Voltaire, ed. Roland Barthes, 2 vols. (Paris: Club des Libraires de France, 1958), 28, cited in Van den Heuvel, Voltaire, 277.

  34. René Pomeau traces the known history of the circumstances surrounding Voltaire's birth in D'Arouet à Voltaire (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1985), 17-27. The working out of this personal situation in Voltaire's writings is traced in José-Michel Moureaux, “L'Oedipe de Voltaire: Introduction à une psycholecture,” Archives des lettres modernes 146 (1973); René Pomeau, “Voltaire et Shakespeare: Du Père justicier au Père assassiné,” in Mélanges offerts au Professeur René Fromilhague, Littératures (Toulouse, 1984), 99-106; Mason, “Fathers, Good and Bad, in Voltaire's Mahomet,” in Myth and Its Making in the French Theatre: Studies Presented to W. D. Howarth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 121-35.

  35. Pomeau notes that the incident is reminiscent of an actual happening when Voltaire was still at the court of Frederick the Great, and suspects an ironic intent behind it (124, n6).

Selected Bibliography

Primary Works

Pomeau, René, ed. Candide, ou l'optimisme. Vol 48 of The Complete Works of Voltaire. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1980. The currently authoritative edition.

Other Voltaire Works

Besterman, Theodore, ed. Voltaire's Correspondence. Vols. 85-135 of The Complete Works of Voltaire. Geneva and Banbury, England: Voltaire Foundation, 1968-75.

Deloffre, Frédéric, and Jacques Van den Heuvel, eds. Voltaire: Romans et contes. Paris: Gallimard, 1979. L'Ingénu, 285-347; Zadig, 55-123.

Moland, Louis, ed. Oeuvres complètes. 52 vols. Paris: Garnier, 1877-85. Dictionnaire philosophique, vols. 17-21; Discours en vers sur l'homme, vol. 9, 378-428; Essai sur les moeurs, vols. 11, 12, and 13, 1-184; La Métaphysique de Newton, in Eléments de Philosophe de Newton, part 1, vol. 22, 403-37; Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, vol. 9, 465-80.

Articles and Parts of Books

Barber, W. H. “L'Angleterre dans Candide.Revue de littérature comparée 37 (1963): 202-15. Inter alia, shows that Eldorado is to some extent fashioned from Voltaire's views on Pennsylvania.

Braun, Theodore E. D. “Voltaire and His Contes: A Review Essay on Interpretations Offered by Roy S. Wolper.” SV 212 (1982): 311-17, 328-30. An interesting defense of Wolper's views (see below).

Van den Heuvel, Jacques. Voltaire dans ses contes, 236-91. Paris: Colin, 1967. Though occasionally overinclined to discern Voltaire's personal life in his tales, contains a wealth of pertinent observations, especially on the thematic developments.

Wolper, Roy S. “Candide: Gull in the Garden?” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3 (1969-70): 265-77. Important revisionist article on Candide that has stimulated a lively controversy on the meaning of this and other stories by Voltaire. See Braun (1982), Mylne (1982), and Stavan (1982).

Arthur Scherr (essay date spring 1993)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6695

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 environment and a brutal, indeed malevolent social one, is among its themes.

In Voltaire's own life women played a far greater role than men. Though he never married, Voltaire readily acknowledged his dependence on his two mistresses, Marquise du Châtelet (1706-1749) and Mme Denis (1712-1790), who was also his niece, for intellectual, emotion, and erotic sustenance. They were his confidantes; indeed, the scholarly Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet—whom he lived with at her château at Cirey for much of the period from 1734-1749—inspired his enthusiasm for Newtonian physics, the philosophical study of history, metaphysics, biblical criticism, and deism. After the death of Marie Louise Mignot Denis's husband in 1744, Voltaire took his vivacious, affectionate, and somewhat duplicitous niece, whom he nicknamed “Bonne-Maman,” as his mistress, a relationship which continued almost uninterrupted until he died in 1778. Though she supplanted “the divine Emilie” as his sexual intimate, Voltaire remained deeply devoted to Mme du Châtelet as an intellectual partner (and perhaps competitor), a prudent counsellor who often curbed his hot temper and headstrong tactlessness toward his critics. Emilie died tragically at age forty-three, after giving birth to a daughter, fathered by her final lover, the Marquis de Saint Lambert, an officer and poet with whom she had begun an affair after Voltaire's puzzling withdrawal of his affections (which she naively ascribed to impotence). “I have not lost a mistress,” Voltaire lamented to his new paramour Mme Denis. “I have lost half of myself, a mind for whom mine was made, a friend of twenty years” (quoted in Aldridge, 169). Discerning in Emilie a hermaphroditic figure, a mixture of animus and anima, he confessed that she was for him more than a father, a brother, and a son, all male imagoes. Overlooking that her death was the result of a uniquely female function, he mourns her enigmatically as “un ami et un grand homme”—a friend and a great man (Mason, 36, 44), thereby implying his belief in sexual equality and interchangeability and his impatience with unmerited gender stratification.

Regarding Emilie more as a colleague than a lover, Voltaire's lust for her was unwontedly abashed; with his niece Mme Denis he candidly expressed his passion. Perhaps intimidated by Mme du Châtelet's noble birth (though her family was by no means wealthy), he warned a friend to hide from the “Sublime and delicate Emilie” some pornographic verses he had composed (Mason, 44; Besterman, 67-68). He felt more at ease with his sister's daughter, who shared his bourgeois roots. The personalities of the two women resemble Jude Fawley's wives in Thomas Hardy's immortal novel: the mercenary, voluptuous Arabella Donn and the erudite, slender, ethereal feminist Sue Bridehead. On the other hand, both Emilie and Marie Louise, like Candide's Cunégonde, were buxom and rosy-cheeked, suggesting that they embodied Voltaire's physically robust ideal of woman, rather than the eighteenth-century French stereotype of female beauty as pale, slim, and fragile. Indeed, Candide's paramour Cunégonde is in large measure a composite of the physical, sensual Mme Denis and the more cerebral, aristocratic, austere Mme du Châtelet.

Both Voltaire's personal life and his chef d'oeuvre, Candide, attest his respect for women's experience and his belief in equality and reciprocity between the sexes. Both genders endure parallel ordeals, conflicts, and challenges and meet them with a common fortitude. At several junctures Cunégonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman more aptly reflect Voltaire's buoyant, “bisexual” temperament than the men, who invariably, like Candide and Pangloss, engage in passionate defense of absurd philosophical dogmas; argue illogically, often in an unwittingly droll and ironic manner, like the young Baron expounding his aristocratic prerogatives; or cynically evaluate people and events, like Pococuranté and Martin. At least until the final chapter, when Candide invokes the need to “cultivate our garden,” the novel's women display greater common sense, resilience, assertiveness, and sincerity. As this essay seeks to point out, the conte's two protagonists, Candide and Cunégonde, each exhibits a wide range of both “male” and “female,” aggressive and passive, personality traits.

Similarly, the confusion, inversion, and consequent equalization of gender roles are among Candide's most prevalent motifs. Voltaire delineates a controversial theme of the “Radical Enlightenment”—sexual equality and equivalence, the uniformity of human nature, what David Hume (93) called its “constant and universal principles.” He employed his brilliant ironic wit to convey the view that men and women are each congruent compounds of reason and emotion. In his development of Candide's character, Voltaire depicts a young man who, at least at the outset, bespeaks a pronounced femininity and a readiness to interchange sexual identities.

Although Voltaire may have intended Candide to represent Everyman, in the first chapter his personality is far from virile in the traditional sense of that word. On the contrary, we are told that he is naive, sincere, and open, with “the gentlest of characters and the simplest of intellects” (Candide, 3), traits which until recently were deemed “feminine.” Thus Candide's identity is somewhat androgynous, even tending toward “female” passivity and amenability at the conte's beginning.

On the other hand, Mlle Cunégonde, Candide's lover, is presented in far more affirmative terms. She is “seventeen years old, rosy-cheeked, fresh, buxom, appetizing” (5). Especially in light of Voltaire's invariably restrained, symbolic, objectified style, this description is almost prurient compared with that of the other characters; it prepares the reader to perceive the woman as the more active, aggressive figure, and initially to identify with her as such. Indeed, passive, shy Candide finds himself entranced by Cunégonde's beauty, acclaiming her as convincing proof of the veracity of his tutor Dr. Pangloss's dictum that his was the “best of all possible worlds”: “Candide listened attentively, and believed innocently, for he thought Mademoiselle Cunégonde extremely beautiful, although he never found courage to tell her so” (7).

Out of admiration and identification with the lovely young woman, Candide even muses about exchanging his tenuous male persona for her animated female identity, which in the context of activity takes on aspects traditionally associated with maleness: “He concluded that next to having been born Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, the second degree of happiness was to be Mademoiselle Cunégonde; the third, to see her every day; and the fourth, to listen to Master Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the province, and consequently of the whole world” (7). When Cunégonde observes Pangloss engaged in sexual intercourse with her mother's chambermaid Paquette, “a very pretty and very docile brunette,” quite similar, in fact, to the “gentle” Candide, she determines to initiate an identical “lesson in experimental physics” with the young man. By attributing aggressive sexual intent to the female, Voltaire is perhaps indulging in that favorite male fantasy of the nymphomaniac or “phallic” woman.

As Voltaire describes the pivotal event in his delightfully understated style, it is Cunégonde who seduces Candide: she “dropped her handkerchief; Candide picked it up; she innocently took his hand; the young man innocently kissed the young lady's hand with a highly special vivacity, sensitivity, and grace; their lips met, their eyes sparkled, their knees trembled, their hands wandered” (9). Candide the passive observer, acted-upon but not acting, displays “female” innocence in a reversal of gender roles in which woman is subtly the aggressor. Nevertheless, the Baron imputes the blame for this rash conduct to him, mercilessly kicking him out of the “terrestrial paradise” while his wife cruelly slaps Cunégonde.

Punctuating his theme of the relativism and meaninglessness of psychological categories attributed according to gender, Voltaire derides the chauvinistic bravado of the martial spirit as Candide seeks shelter during a battle between the Bulgarians and the Abarians. “Trembling like a philosopher” he “hid himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery” (19). Candide's faintheartedness saves him when the Bulgarian king sympathetically spares his life even though he is considered a deserter from the army (17). Thus, the same “effeminate” innocence that led to Candide's expulsion from the Westphalian “paradise” results in his salvation, while his more macho comrades are slaughtered.

Although Candide seeks shelter instead of combat and generally takes on a passive demeanor, women are by contrast natural, energizing catalysts. Even his initial undoing, which precipitates his voyage of discovery of life's tragic absurdity—the eviction from the Castle by the Baron after his passionate moment with his daughter Cunégonde—resulted from the temptations aroused by her “pretty eyes” (21). Not only do women stimulate men to action, they are themselves capable of immodest and fanatical response. When a Dutch woman pours a bucket of excrement over Candide's head out of anger that he is ignorant of the Pope's demonic character, the narrator comments on this mock anointment, “To what excess religious zeal is carried in ladies!” (23). Disfigured by syphilis, Pangloss blames the maid Paquette for his plight, again implying the greater sexual aggressiveness of women. By contrast, Candide, who faints frequently, performs humbly before everyone (he even wants to kiss the hand of the grotesquely deformed Old Woman), is invariably obsequious. When he again encounters Cunégonde, bedizened in luxurious jewelry and garments, “he falls at her feet,” “devour[ing] her with his eyes” rather than his genitals (53, 55).

Unlike Candide, whose shyness in the early chapters of the novel belies his name's frankness, Cunégonde unabashedly admits her physical attraction to members of the opposite sex, though well aware that this is not the sole criterion for a compatible relationship. Resignedly accepting her situation when a Bulgarian captain enslaves her as a prisoner of war, her sexual feelings unwontedly stimulated by her ignominious condition, she confesses to Candide, “I washed the few shirts he had, I cooked for him. He found me very pretty, I must admit, and I won't deny that he was very well built, that he had white and soft skin; on the other hand little wit and little philosophy” (59). On the other hand, she resists the advances of the Jewish merchant to whom the Bulgarian captain sells her once he has tired of her. Alluding to the indignity she had earlier suffered at the hands of Bulgarian soldiers, Cunégonde vents her rage: “A person of honor may be raped once, but her virtue grows stronger for that” (59). Painfully aware that her survival dictated that she surrender to the lustful soldiers, Cunégonde has not allowed this traumatic experience to adversely affect her self-esteem.

Demonstrating an acute understanding of male psychology, the strong-willed Cunégonde withstands the sexual importunities of both the Jewish merchant and Lisbon's imperious Grand Inquisitor, who eagerly seek her favors. Though they adorn her lavishly, her coyness is impelled by motives of expediency as well as principle. “I have resisted both of them up to now, and I think it is for this reason that I have continued to be loved,” she tells Candide (61), well aware of the male tendency to become bored soon after sexual conquest.

In Candide's case, however, sensuality has a prominent place in Cunégonde's thoughts. Raptly observing his nudity as he is stripped and brutally flogged during an auto-da-fé, she admires his physique instead of pitying his plight, confessing, “I will tell you truthfully, that your skin is even whiter and of a more perfect flesh color than that of my captain of Bulgarians” (61). Musing on their fateful encounter, Cunégonde, a woman of passion, can think only of “the kiss I had given you behind the screen the day I had seen you for the last time” (63). Once again Voltaire depicts his female character as erotic, blunt, and assertive. In the early chapters of the novel Candide seems comparatively shy and reserved.

The emergence of a more violent, aggressive Candide occurs shortly after the fanatical Catholics flagellate him. Set upon by the jealous Jew-merchant, Don Issachar, “even though he had the gentlest of characters,” Candide kills the Jew with his sword when the latter discovers him with Cunégonde. Candide also slays the Inquisitor; his “reason” tells him that this is the only feasible course (69). At this juncture, Candide having sloughed off his earlier naivete and passivity and resorted to violence, sexual roles are somewhat reversed from the mode in which they were customarily portrayed in the eighteenth century, as described, for example, in the recent work of Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: Cunégonde is the voice of reason, deploring the supposedly more rational male's violent and passionate act. “We are excommunicated, our last hour has come!” she exclaims. “What has happened to you, you who were born so gentle, to kill a Jew and a prelate in two minutes?” In a response shouting defiance of an unjust feudal order while asserting his own sensual passion, Candide declares: “My beautiful lady, when one is in love, jealous and whipped by the Inquisition, one does not know who he is any longer” (68; my translation). Thus violence breeds counter-violence, transforming a callow youth into a killer and a rebel who anathematizes the powers-that-be.

Eschewing Candide's immersion in political violence, the novel's women rather than its men most eloquently extol the delights of eroticism, heterosexual and otherwise. As the Old Woman who accompanies Candide and Cunégonde notes, reminiscing about bygone days of youth, beauty, wealth, and elegance, “The women who dressed and undressed me fell into ecstasy when they looked at me in front and in the rear, and all the men would have liked to be in their place” (81). Preoccupied with fantasies about past, irretrievably lost lovers, the Old Woman recalls her dead fiancé, a prince: “I loved him as one loves for the first time, with idolatry, with frenzy” (81). But he is poisoned by a former mistress. This is the beginning of an interminable series of misfortunes for the Old Woman. Yet she continues to maintain a zest for life and sexual passion despite her travail. After a French surgeon heals her mutilated buttock, which had been sliced off to provide food for soldiers during a siege, the Old Woman fondly recalls, “I'll remember all my life that when my wounds were quite closed, he propositioned me” (97).

The Old Woman's cherished erotic memories help her endure life's present pain and anxiety. Her courage and clearheadedness in the face of danger reveal the strength of the female character. She speaks some of the conte's most eloquent dialogue, whose message encompasses the human condition in general, rather than women alone. Despite her suffering, she tells Candide, “I still loved life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most baleful inclinations; for is there anything more foolish than to want to bear continually a burden that one steadily wants to throw to the ground? To hold one's being in horror, and to cling to one's being? In a word, to caress the snake that devours us until it has eaten our heart?” (99). These poetic words show the Old Woman's poignant understanding of what Enlightenment thinkers like Hume called the underlying, “constant and universal principles of human nature.” She expresses a sense of resignation to her abysmal fate more characteristic, in eighteenth-century fiction, of a venerable male sage than a woman. Voltaire again subtly demonstrates his confidence in the intellectual and moral equality of the sexes—through the unlikely, pathetic figure of the Old Woman.

At this point in the conte, Candide's intellectual timidity sharply contrasts with the Old Woman's bold espousal of universal truths. Still too insecure to challenge his tutor Pangloss's inane Optimism, he feebly admits that, even with his new awareness of moral and physical evil, were he now to encounter his old teacher he would merely “feel enough strength in me to dare, respectfully, to make some objections” (103). However, Candide shares his strange old female counterpart's ambiguity toward life: exemplifying the veracity of her statements, he laments his existence and wishes for death, all the while gorging himself with food as his valet Cacambo proposes after their escape from the Paraguayan Jesuits. As psychoanalyst Gail Reed implies, he behaves much like “his fellow sufferer, the old woman, in his parallel journey through life” (192), who regrets her fate yet continues eagerly—voraciously?—to live. Voltaire again expounds the uniformity of human nature—old and young, male and female.

In other ways Candide has retained compassionate, “feminine” values. When he travels in the New World and observes a mutilated slave who informs him of injustices perpetrated against him both by his African parents and Dutch slave-traders, Candide weeps at the sight, once and for all renouncing Panglossian optimism. Unable to control his emotions, “his heart was on his lips” (169) and he bluntly expressed his horror.

Yet, despite his excursions into metaphysics, Candide remains a man of passion as well as compassion. His obsessive love for Cunégonde may be only a temporary romantic fetish, the product of his youth and limited sexual experience; indeed, he is willingly seduced by a Parisian marquise who runs a gambling house, although he feels pangs of guilt over his infidelity. Nevertheless, when he fails to find Cunégonde on his arrival in Venice he grows so despondent that he is rendered temporarily impotent and sinks into a “black melancholy” (227). Candide's infantile dependence on his fantasized image of her reveals he still has a long way to go before reaching maturity. At least until the final chapter of the novel, when he conceives the idea of “cultivating our garden,” he seems much less able than Cunégonde to cope with crises in a self-controlled manner.

Voltaire's depiction of prostitutes and “kept women” in Candide, a theme which critics and historians have seldom noted or taken seriously, conveys his disgust at the system of sexual and physical exploitation inflicted upon them. Flagrantly enslaved by Moslem princes, and, albeit with the assistance of a thin veneer of propriety in European Christendom as well in the form of prostitution and legal prohibitions, women were deprived of social equality and opportunity. Such egregious injustices, Voltaire was well aware, denied women the right to fulfill their potential. The naive Candide is his vehicle for communicating this message. When he observes a robust monk arm-in-arm with a pretty young woman (another of Voltaire's slightly-concealed swipes at priestly asceticism), Candide gleefully asserts that their ostensible happiness refutes his comrade Martin's pessimism. To his chagrin, he soon discovers that the girl is none other than Pangloss's former mistress Paquette, now reduced to prostitution, work she says she despises, an “abominable trade which seems so pleasant to you men, and which is nothing but an abyss of misery for us” (233). The reality of woman's sexual and economic oppression and degradation belies the mirthful appearance of the two lovers, who are actually merely a whore and her client. Perhaps most overwhelming for Candide is the fact that Paquette, formerly a maid in the barony of Thunder-ten-tronckh, like him exiled from the Castle as punishment for a sexual indiscretion, has been forced to resort to this lowly vocation. Far from fitting the stereotype of the lewd, insatiable vixen, Paquette, somewhat like Candide, is an ingenuous, amenable individual, victim of forces beyond her control, forced to sell her body in order to survive because this is one of the few options male society allowed women of her time. Like Candide, who bestows funds on Paquette as well as Friar Giroflée in a feeble effort to lighten their despair, we are prone to feel sympathy for the unfortunate young woman rather than disdain.

The Venetian senator Pococuranté, a member of the idle rich class who lived off unearned wealth in an aristocratic regime, furnishes an example of the odious and dishonest gender relations which pervade an inegalitarian society. Like many powerful men, the senator, reputedly a rich and carefree ruler, sexually exploited women in a futile attempt to fill the emotional void within him. Painting a realistic picture, not an idyllic one, with a frankness to equal Candide's Pococuranté admits that he sometimes sleeps with his serving girls rather than the “ladies of the town,” who annoy him with “their coquetries, their jealousies, their quarrels, their moods, their pettinesses, their pride, their follies, and the sonnets one must write or order for them.” Unfortunately, his scullions already bored him, a sign he would soon resume his courtship of “ladies” of higher social rank.

In contrast with the amoral Pococuranté, Candide's relationship with Cunégonde is a model of chivalry. Even after his valet Cacambo returns with news that she is now a slave of a deposed Hungarian prince at Constantinople, that “she has lost her beauty, and has become horribly ugly” (267), Candide perseveres in his loyal determination to make her his wife: “Ah! beautiful or ugly, I'm an honorable man, and it's my duty to love her always” (267). Though he would soon discover that such quixotism could be extremely painful and marries Cunégonde partly to spite her obdurate, aristocratic brother the Baron, Candide has more respect for women and empathy with their feelings than the insouciant Pococuranté and most of the other male characters, including, ironically, the scholar Pangloss, who views them solely as sex objects.

Candide finds Cunégonde and the Old Woman immured and working as drudges (esclaves) in Constantinople; no sooner do they discern their gentle liberator than they immediately reassert themselves and recover their self-esteem. Insisting that Candide fulfill his pledge to marry her as soon as he ransoms her from servitude, Cunégonde “did not know that she had grown ugly, nobody had told her so: she reminded Candide of his promises in so peremptory a tone that the good Candide did not dare refuse her” (285). With this ironic sentence Voltaire conveys the poignant truth that, so long as women perceive their value as arising from others' opinion of their physical attributes, they will never recognize their real selves. Perhaps Cunégonde's new “ugliness,” by permitting her to discover her worth as a social human being instead of a sexual object, may prove her salvation and path to happiness. Candide plays a crucial part in effecting her socialization, thereby underlining the reciprocal and symbiotic relationship which Voltaire envisages prevailing between the sexes in his ideal society, Candide's garden. Accepting her despite her withered look, he takes her for his wife, an eventually salutary outcome for both partners.

Candide's initial obsession with Cunégonde undoubtedly arises from physical attraction and the sensual experience with her before the Baron expels him from the Castle “with great kicks in the behind” (9). As Douglas A. Bonneville perceptively observes, this first erotic contact with his idealized version of woman has an indelible impact on him, inciting his unrelenting pursuit of Cunégonde and furnishing the novel's leitmotiv. “The ascendancy of that idealized love over a virtually intolerable reality is absolutely essential to the novel,” he points out. When Candide agrees to marry Cunégonde despite her revulsive appearance, he obeys an ethical imperative of duty that transcends his previous motivation. Although he feels “dehumanized” by the change that has come over his beloved, he rejects a nihilistic egotism and, fearful of irreparably damaging Cunégonde's feelings and self-esteem, becomes her spouse (38-39). In Bonneville's view, Candide's decisions at the end of the novel in marrying Cunégonde and settling down at Constantinople evince his growth into a sensitive and compassionate human being, “[and] may be viewed as the two great sacrifices that the feeling individual must make of himself, one to another person or persons, and the other to the community” (55). On the other hand, since his search for Cunégonde has comprised Candide's raison d'être throughout the conte, it would seem that he had little option but to rejoin her and form a petite société with a handful of friends he had encountered since setting out on his journey of discovering life. Voltaire seems to suggest that men and women are interdependent on one another for their identities and self-fulfillment; Candide's obsession with reuniting with Cunégonde—a kind of lost “other self”—like the interchange of gender roles and characteristics that frequently occurs in the novel, indicates this to be among Candide's themes.

Candide is dependent on women for self-realization in other ways as well. Indeed, the Old Woman, like Cunégonde, provides the impetus for his discovery of the garden whose cultivation gives his life meaning at the novel's conclusion. Despite her ugliness and servile status, the Old Woman does not demur at instructing Candide on the proper management of his money after he purchases her freedom: “There was a little farm in the neighborhood; the old woman suggested to Candide that he acquire it until the whole group should enjoy better fortunes” (285). Just as the Old Woman, proposing that he buy the farm which makes possible a tranquil ending to Candide's tale, significantly contributes to the little community's progress, Cunégonde's timely original seductive acts at the outset of the conte, by precipitating his exile from the bogus paradise of Castle Thunder-tentronckh, willy-nilly incited his Bildung in quest of the good life, whose terminus was the garden “paradise” to which the Old Woman directed him. Women take the initiative and play key roles in these two decisive events of Candide's life: the younger in his removal from a sham, corrupted idyll, commencing his voyage to self-awareness; the elder in ensconcing him on his own ground where he might live autonomously and find a semblance of peace. Voltaire thereby hints at female complicity, like Eve's in the proverbial Garden of Eden, in facilitating Candide's entry into his own rustic “paradise.”

Along with the Jews, woman are among the egregiously oppressed social groups, both in Europe and the Islamic world, that are instrumental in assisting Candide's discovery and settlement of his utopian community. Jewish merchants provided the funds and the Old Woman pointed the way to the demesne which symbolizes a society and culture in which they would invariably achieve greater freedom and self-respect than under feudal polities: the liberal bourgeois state. Candide's female companions exercise their freedom to express disappointment at the métairie's failure to achieve an impossible dream—the luxurious, engaging, and at the same time carefree existence they desire. His nagging wife Cunégonde, “growing uglier every day, grew shrewish and insufferable [insupportable],” while “the old woman was ailing and was even more ill-tempered than Cunégonde” (288-89). Yet stoical Candide willingly tolerates their complaints—deeming them as valid as those of the “overworked” farm laborer Cacambo and the disgruntled philosopher Pangloss, who laments his nondescript status—denoting the increased social influence of women in the burgeoning capitalist structure symbolized by the petit jardin. He respects the women's wisdom, empathizes with their misfortunes, and recognizes the authenticity of their experience.

The reaction of the male members of the little community to the return of Paquette and her companion Friar Giroflée, recent escapees from prison, reasserts their compassion for women and their recognition that they were forced into prostitution by the paucity of vocations available to them in the white male-dominated hierarchy of the time. Though Paquette reports that, she and her friend (possibly also her pimp) Friar Giroflée having exhausted Candide's gift, she had “continued her trade everywhere, and no longer earned anything with it” (291), the men welcome rather than ostracize her, the latter a common occurrence during the eighteenth century when prostitutes were frequently denied even a decent burial. Though the satyr Pangloss suspects that Paquette had infected him with syphilis during their earlier frolics at the Castle, even he pities her degraded condition. As C. J. Betts has noted, Pangloss's encounter with the waif-like Paquette, more than any other event in the novel, leads him to doubt the validity of the dogma of Optimism and a beneficent Providence to which he had been so inexorably devoted. “Ah! Ah! So heaven brings you back among us here, my poor child!” he exclaims when he meets her in Candide's garden. “Do you know that you cost me the end of my nose, an eye, and an ear? Now look at you! Eh! What a world this is!” (293). Paquette's and Giroflée's vicissitudes, money's failure to bring happiness either to the man or the woman, only deepen the perplexity of the members of the petite société.

The group's apathy appears to be resolved by Candide's directive, after visiting the industrious Turkish farmer and his two sons and two daughters, that “we must cultivate our garden” (297). This aphorism pithily expresses Voltaire's own view that life's meaning is founded on both genders' pursuit of individual autonomy, productivity, and simultaneous symbiosis and self-reliance. The narrator draws the larger significance of the conte's finale, acclaiming Candide's “praiseworthy plan,” which should enable each member of the community “to exercise his [or her] talents” (297).

Women, like men in Candide's sexually egalitarian society, have their unique function, a role equally essential to the community's survival. The erstwhile beautiful baroness Cunégonde and her former maid, the ex-prostitute Paquette, find themselves social equals on a métairie where only efficient labor counts. Cunégonde decides to make use of her métier de cuisiniére (vocation as a cook), the only skill this ex-aristocrat possessed, which, ironically, she learned during her enslavement by the Bulgarians (62-63). Like the other members of Candide's community, she will employ her abilities for the sustenance and enhancement of the group. As the narrator informs us:

The little property produced much. True, Cunégonde was very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette embroidered; the old woman took care of the linen. Not even Friar Giroflée failed to perform some service; he was a very good carpenter, and even became respectable.


In Candide's cooperative yet individualistic community, woman is an active participant rather than merely an object of male lust. Though Friar Giroflée, Paquette's companion, had wasted his life in profligacy, now both were involved in productive enterprises. Candide's community has reformed the manifold corruptions of the Old Régime, which it replaces with a middle-class paradise in which human exploitation and injustice—sexual, economic, and religious—is uprooted and profitable labor esteemed the standard of value. Himself a successful scientific farmer on his Genevan estate at Les Délices and his French properties at Ferney, Voltaire expounds the Protestant, bourgeois work ethic of modern capitalism in Candide in the metaphoric guise of commercial farming.

Of equal significance with her social role, in Candide's garden, woman's self-image—her consciousness, to use a modern term—is transformed. This is not to deny that Cunégonde's personality has undergone steady maturation throughout the conte; perhaps more than any other character, she has grown through suffering. It is important to keep in mind that in the beginning, she is a recognized member of the nobility, with all the privileges accruing to that caste. Like Candide, she is imbued with belief in the infallibility of Panglossian Optimism. Nevertheless, she is disabused of this vacuous notion much earlier than her paramour, asserting, when she sees Candide flogged and his tutor hanged by the Inquisition, “Pangloss, then, most cruelly deceived me when he told me that all is for the very best” (63). Candide himself, overwhelmed by her majestic beauty and elegance, “obeyed her with profound respect” when they encounter each other in Lisbon (55). She learns a stoic endurance of suffering that hardens her to the exploitation she experiences for three months at the hands of the Bulgarian captain. Despite her religious upbringing, Cunégonde transcends the prejudices of her time sufficiently to feel indignant at the evils of the “barbaric” Inquisition and to be “seized with horror” at the murder of the Jews (61). In Cunégonde's speech describing to Candide her thoughts and feelings at witnessing the auto-da-fé, Voltaire mingles a note of sublime pathos with the satire, indicating his sympathy rather than hostility or derision of women:

Agitated, bewildered, sometimes beside myself and sometimes ready to die of faintness, I had my mind full of the massacre of my father, of my mother, of my brother, the insolence of my vile Bulgarian soldier [who raped her], of the knife cut he gave me, of my slavery, of my trade as cook, of my Bulgarian captain … of the hanging of Doctor Pangloss … and above all of the kiss I had given you behind the screen the day I had seen you for the last time. I praised God, who was leading you back to me through so many trails.


Cunégonde is no longer a callow seventeen-year-old, as she was at the beginning of the novel, but a sensitive and prudent young woman, who, more precociously than Candide, survives her ordeals, and extracts humility and empathy with others out of her own suffering, surmounting her earlier adolescent naivete.

On the other hand, for much of the novel, in fact until their arrival at Candide's garden, the women—Paquette, Cunégonde, even the grotesque Old Woman—resignedly acquiesce, though not without an occasional murmur of protest, in the status of sexual objects which male culture has bestowed on them. Conversely, the ethos of Candide's “Garden of Eden,” as Pangloss indirectly refers to it (297), denigrates the feudal-theocractic and sexually oppressive societies of both the Christian and Moslem worlds. Even the Turkish farmer's daughters in chapter thirty are unduly obsequious as they “perfume the beards” of Candide, Pangloss, and Martin (295), a token of woman's subjugation to the male. By contrast, the women in Candide's garden are in no way relegated to an inferior position: resourcefully and maturely utilizing skills she learned during her captivity, Cunégonde becomes an “excellent pastry cook,” hardly a degrading occupation and one carried on by men as well as women. Paquette and the Old Woman are employed in clothing the group; if they are subjected to drudgery, it is no worse than that of the men, who are laboring on the farm as well.

Candide's final paragraph, part of which has been quoted above describing the occupations of the citizens of Candide's garden, epitomizes the leitmotiv of gender equality in a borgeios paradise. Instructing the apparently indolent, persistently quixotic Pangloss, “we must cultivate our garden” (299), Candide tersely distinguishes his community's moral code from that of the Old World: it differs profoundly from the regimen of rape, torture, and forced labor the women endured from the time of Cunégonde's captivity by the Bulgarians until Candide finally liberates her from her servitude to the deposed prince of Transylvania, whose shirts she washed in the hot sun. Conégonde is no longer beautiful and hardly appealing as a sexual object—a harsh disappointment to Candide, who has fantasized about her in this manner, notwithstanding an illusory romantic veneer, for most of the novel until he observes her wizened appearance, the result of physical, sexual, and psychic abuse under both Christian and Moslem masters. In the new, middle-class Garden of Eden her merit arises neither from her noble lineage nor her sensual charms; she is accepted because of her productivity and to the extent she is willing to cooperate with others. Cunégonde has matured from a stagnant sexual or physical object, valued solely for the bodily pleasure she gave men or the amount of menial toil she performed for them, to an individual esteemed for the quality of her work and imbued with self-respect—pastry cook par excellence of Candide's garden. For this reason Bonneville seems unduly pessimistic in his somber conclusion that the tedium involved in her marriage to Candide symbolizes the universality of “woman's fate” and the deprivation of her former femininity: “True, she is spared childbirth, at least within the time span of the novel, but the banality of being a farmer's wife has neutered her as social function is said to neuter us all’ (62). Nevertheless, most of us ultimately discover that assuming unpleasant responsibilities is intrinsic to growing up and “putting away childish things,” as St. Paul put it. Neither “femininity” nor “masculinity” is essential to living as productive individuals within Candide's halcyon community, nor is procreation a function incumbent on its women.

By the end of the novel, Candide himself no longer feels bound to adopt a “macho” persona, now that he is ensconced safely in a gender-neutral utopia. In distinct contrast to his earlier violence—killing the Grand Inquisitor and the Jewish merchant in Lisbon, shooting monkeys and attacking the Baron in South America, sexual passion inspiring his behavior in each instance—he plays a gentler, more peaceful role yet remains leader of the colony. Incorporating both passive and aggressive, “feminine” and “masculine” traits, he renounces brute force, accepting the ambiguities of his personality, facilitating his (and Voltaire's) psychic well-being. For Candide as for his comrades, the middle-class Garden of Eden promotes sexual equality and freedom and encourages the development of human potentialities.

Like the infant's transitory in-utero bond with the mother, Candide's first “paradise,” Castle Thunder-tentronckh, microcosm of an Old Régime in decline, is soon violently eradicated. Though ejected like Adam from Paradise, Candide's “Fall,” precipitated by his “sin” with “Eve” Cunégonde—the act of consenting sexual equals despite an absurd disparity in aristocratic lineage—brings about his “resurrection” through discovery of an alternative, more authentic, “bourgeois” Garden of Eden. Here Cunégonde and the Old Woman join him as a partners, not subjugated pawns like their sisters. Together with Paquette, Martin, Giroflée, Cacambo, and (albeit to a lesser extent) Pangloss, they symbolize the new power of the woman and the commoner in Voltaire's projected sexually egalitarian society.


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Bettina L. Knapp (essay date 2000)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7042

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.]


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 theater—was anathema to Voltaire. Was he perhaps trying to duplicate that happy time he had spent with Mme Du Châtelet at Cirey? If so, he no doubt must have eventually realized the harsh differences existing between the lifestyle at Les Délices and that in the Garden of Eden with his great mentor and friend Mme Du Châtelet (Van Den Heuvel, 238).

Unlike Zadig and Micromégas, with their still relatively positive modus vivendi, Candide is, understandably, pessimistic on the subject of collective problems such as war, fanaticism, intolerance, persecution, clericalism, and the exploitation of the weak and the ignorant. Nonetheless, Voltaire's struggle against the ills of society took on even greater momentum. Nor did his belief in relativism, moderation, and heliocentrism diminish in intensity. Although Voltaire knew moments of despair, he was never one to yield to it.


Because Candide's message so consistently denigrated the optimistic philosophy of both Pope and Leibniz, let us briefly review Voltaire's own stand.

An early partisan of optimism in his poem Man of the World (1736), Voltaire contented himself in his younger days with relatively superficial arguments as a means of confronting the great adversities befalling humanity. He depicted life in glowing terms—“Terrestrial paradise is where I am”—sidestepping the dicta of those who preached frugality and asceticism. In time, however, he could no longer reconcile his own mechanistic interpretation of the universe with Leibniz's notion of a solely good God (Bolingbroke called Leibniz a “chimerical quack,” and metaphysicians “learned lunatics”). Life's vagaries, however, taught Voltaire to be more circumspect. Instead of criticizing unwelcome ideas directly, he used various subterfuges to communicate his disenchantment, as is evident in the ironic choice of the word Optimism as a subtitle for Candide.

What had attracted the young Voltaire to Pope was the English poet-philosopher's adherence to many of Newton's theories, such as his Deism and his repudiation of the doctrine of Original Sin. Indeed, Voltaire's own belief in the divine harmony existing in nature had once bellowed forth in his Discourses in Verse on Man (1738). But in time, he lost his conviction that all was well on Earth in its present form and that an infinitely perfect being had created the earth, as enunciated by Pope in his Essay on Man. He came to dislike Pope's optimism because he felt it encouraged a state of passivity in humans.

Then say not Man's imperfect, Heaven in fault;
Say rather, Man's as perfect as he ought. …
Who finds not Providence all good and wise,
Alike in what it gives and what denies?

Nor did Voltaire accept Pope's concept that what appears to be an evil, which is beyond humans' comprehension, may be part of a universal good, thus fitting into the harmony of God's plan.

In Voltaire's Treatise on Metaphysics (1734), he suggested that the concepts of good and evil had nothing to do with God. They were finite—as was man who created them—and could not be applied to Deity, an infinite being. Humankind, not God, was responsible for good and for evil acts. Therefore, humankind was the propagator of evil in the form of wars, fanaticism, and intolerance: “It is the fault of men if such abominable pillaging takes place, which they frequently honor with the name of virtue; the blame is theirs, the poor laws they made, or their lack of courage which prevents them from executing the good ones” (Brooks, 77).

Good and evil being coeval, Voltaire affirmed that people were free to create their own happiness within the framework of virtue and moderation. Under the tutelage of Mme Du Châtelet, a partisan of Leibniz's optimism, Voltaire came to know the German philosopher's concepts more thoroughly. After her death (1749), and following his own humiliating dispute with Frederick the Great (1752), Voltaire became increasingly disenchanted with life. The bloody carnage during the wars that had engulfed and still were engulfing Europe (the Succession of Poland, the Succession of Austria, the Seven Years' War), as well as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, tidal wave, and fire that killed 30,000 to 40,000 people, added to his disillusionment. Voltaire finally discarded optimism.

The disparities between Leibniz's idealism and the sordid realities Voltaire faced daily seemed irremedially opposed. Although he considered Leibniz one of the most brilliant philosophers of the day, Voltaire frequently and willfully misunderstood or exaggerated his ideas to suit his own purposes. Particularly demonstrable is the leitmotiv of Candide, “this is the best of all possible worlds.” But the German metaphysician had never stated that the world was perfect. He was well aware that evil existed as part of the scheme of things: “an expression of an indifferent and all-powerful Will, but of an all-powerful Will which knows and decrees the best.” Leibniz pronounced himself on matter as well, defining it as an indivisible entity composed of “monads” and possessing a consciousness, similar to but greater than the atom. Rising in an ascending hierarchy, as in a “chain of being,” the highest monad, he concluded, was God. Body and mind functioned according to a “preestablished harmony,” and thus everything has its cause, or, in Leibnizian terms, its “sufficient reason.”1

Voltaire rejected Leibniz's metaphysical premises: that God is good; that he created this world over all the others he could have created, and that although evil exists, it has moral value, given the goodness of God. Voltaire at this juncture found Leibniz's point of view objectionable for the same reason he disapproved of Pope's: their beliefs inspired an attitude of complacency. To accept poverty and stupidity as part of God's “preestablished harmony,” Voltaire subsumed, was to destroy humankind's sense of growth, evolution, and accomplishment. “I owe my precious happiness to myself alone,” Voltaire affirmed. To believe on the one hand in an infinite, perfect God that transcends finite humanity and on the other hand to suggest that he enters into worldly affairs is to degrade him.

Voltaire's antioptimism, basic to Candide, evidently coalesced after the Lisbon earthquake. The disaster was the catalyst that caused him to write the following to his friend Elie Bertrand concerning the doctrine of optimism: “It's a cruel philosophy under a consoling name.” Now more than ever Voltaire questioned the ways of Providence. How did God care for his creatures? Rousseau's blithe statement concerning the Lisbon earthquake—had people been living in the country rather than in the city, fewer would have been killed—could only displease him. Other rationalizations were equally anathema to Voltaire: the Portuguese Jesuit Malgrida's claim that the quake was God's punishment for a vice-ridden Lisbon; and the Moslems' proclamation that it was Allah's revenge for the Inquisition.

All in all, the Lisbon disaster disproved the philosophies of both Pope and Leibniz: the world is neither stable nor benign. It is up to humankind to rectify both personal and social ills, Voltaire affirmed under the rubric “Liberty,” in his Philosophical Dictionary: “Your will is not free but your actions are. You are free to act when you have the power to act.” Individual and collective action are the only means of improving humankind's lot (PD, 178).

To say that Voltaire, in Candide, made satirical mincemeat of Pope's, but mostly of Leibniz's cosmic plan, is an understatement. He accomplished his goal via philosophical disquisitions and satiric innuendos, and by means of rapid accumulation of contrasting episodes, each of which either injected a false sense of well-being into the protagonists or forced them to face catastrophic fallouts. Seeking refuge neither in Pascalian despair nor in a convoluted world of illusions, Voltaire opens his tale with a parody of Genesis leading to Candide's Fall from Paradise.


No longer an outlandish creature, such as Babouc or Zadig, or a giant, like Micromégas, Voltaire's new hero, although exaggerated, nonetheless seems more plausible. His name, Candide, from the Latin candidus (honest, straightforward), underscores his salient characteristics: unprejudiced, unbiased, impartial, honest, and sincere. Such a universal and eternal type lives and reacts humanly to concatenations of all kinds.

One might allude to Candide as a metaphor of Locke's tabula rasa: born pure and unblemished by life's many imprints. Candide's adventures unfold within a picaresque format—a genre whose intent was to deride the prototype of the so-called great heroes of the past, who realized their noble dreams and ideals through slaughter and the usurpation of lands. Candide differed from his predecessors, in that he neither achieved wealth or fame nor inflicted suffering upon others—only upon himself. Nonetheless, each time he was hurt, physically or emotionally, rather than stagnate, he went on to increase his understanding of life, striving to know how best to construct a personality capable of coping with real terrors and how best to avoid being caught up in a dazzling hope syndrome, which would lead inevitably to the deepest of depressive states. Candide's wise reasonings at the conclusion of his life amounted to living life honorably, as nobly and as simply as he could, given the options.

Voltaire, as was his way, offered no theories, no plans, no systems or credos. The individual must seek his or her way, learn from past mistakes, and proceed under the banner of truth and virtue, no matter the pain and difficulties confronted.


To face reality and divest oneself of palliatives—religious, philosophical, or other—was for Voltaire the only way to evolve, to find one's direction, and to strengthen oneself during life's arduous journey. Like such heroes as Tristan and Parzival, Candide would learn to observe and to see clearly through adversity, calamity, and suffering. Although victimized by a series of catastrophes, including wars and the Inquisition, Candide not only endured his ordeals, he never strayed from the path of kindness and stalwartness he had chartered for himself early in his quest.

Candide may be said to be structured around a series of falls—catastrophes—and renewals. Readers are admonished not to fall prey to easy doctrines that promise this and that on earth or in heaven, according to one's behavior in the here and now. They are encouraged to determine, on an individual basis, the most productive way of life for themselves, and to make that life as bearable as possible.

Candide's first ordeal involved shedding the lessons taught him by the great philosopher Dr. Pangloss (Greek, pan, all; glossa, tongue, i.e., “Windbag”), a caricature of Leibniz. To accomplish such a feat, however, required that he begin thinking for himself, and thus reject Leibniz's pat slogan: “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” or Pope's “Whatever is, is right.” He must learn to live his ordeals, his experiences, for these are better teachers than abstract hypothesizing.

We are told that Candide was brought up in the west German province of Westphalia, and more precisely in the castle of the baron of Thunderten-Tronckh, the name being a metaphor for Frederick II, and a mockery of long, convoluted, and guttural German-sounding appellations. Although Candide was said to be an orphan, the older servants suspected he was the son of the baron's sister and a gentleman of the vicinity. So absurd were the traditions of the petty German princes that the baron's sister refused to marry the father of her child because his coat of arms, under the rigorous code of heraldry, did not meet her family's “quarterings.”2

The baron's family was imposing. His wife, weighing 350 pounds, commanded great consideration. The son was worthy of his father. Cunégonde, the 17-year-old “plump” and “appetizing” daughter, became Candide's heartthrob. Dr. Pangloss, the castle's “oracle,” presided over the intellectual evolution of the family. His sphere of expertise was “metaphysical-theological-cosmolonigology” (the last word, of Voltaire's manufacture, includes the homonym nigaud, “simpleton, foolish, blockhead,” and thus the author's derision for Pangloss's philosophy (Candide 1977, 231).

He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause … in this best of all possible worlds. … Tis demonstrated … that things cannot be otherwise; for, since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches. Stones were formed to be quarried and to build castles; and My Lord has a very noble castle; the greatest Baron in the province should have the best house; and as pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork, all the year round; consequently, those who have asserted that all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that all is for the best.

(Candide 1977, 230)

While the entire family listened intently to Dr. Pangloss's discourses, Candide reasoned most innocently that he was living in the happiest of all possible worlds.

One day, while Cunégonde happened to be passing through a wooded area she chanced upon Dr. Pangloss, who was in the process of giving her mother's chambermaid a lesson in experimental physics. “Breathlessly” and “excitedly,” she observed the Doctor's “sufficient reason” and “the effects and the causes” and was “filled with the desire of learning.” The following day,

Cunégonde and Candide happened to find themselves behind a screen; she most innocently dropped her handkerchief, and he most innocently picked it up; she most innocently held his hand; the young man most innocently kissed it with remarkable vivacity, tenderness and grace, whereupon their lips met, their eyes sparkled, their knees trembled, their hands wandered.

(Candide 1977, 231)

The baron, who chanced to pass near the screen, “observing this cause and effect,” banished Candide from the Edenic kingdom (Candide 1977, 231).


Although still a firm believer in Dr. Pangloss's reasonings, once on his own Candide began to experience the chasm separating theory from reality.


Alone, without a sou, shivering in a snowbound land, Candide, a prototype of the contemporary antihero, wandered about. Every now and then he looked up to heaven for counsel, then looked back to the castle with yearning.

Happening upon the town of Waldberghoff-trarbk-dikdorf, after a series of humorous incidents, he was forcibly inducted into the Bulgarian (Prussian) army. No sooner had the two recruiting soldiers taken his measurements, declaring that his height met their standards and predicting that fortune and glory would be his, than they “put irons on his legs and [took] him to the regiment.” So poorly did Candide perform during his drills, that to improve his execution, educational standards required that he be beaten.

On a beautiful spring day, Candide decided to take a walk in the countryside, reasoning that to use “his legs as he pleased [was] a privilege of the human species as well as of animals.” Hardly had he gone two leagues than he was caught, bound, dragged back to the barracks, and put into a cell. He was given his choice of punishments: he could either be “thrashed thirty-six times by the whole regiment or receive a dozen lead bullets at once in his brain” (Candide 1977, 233). Although neither alternative appealed to Candide, he realized that he had to comply with the court order “by virtue of that gift of God [free will] which is called liberty.” He therefore “determined to run the gauntlet thirty-six times and actually did so twice” (Candide 1977, 233). Since there were 2,000 men in the regiment, it meant receiving 4,000 strokes, thus laying “bare his muscles and nerves from his neck to his backside.” So excruciating was the pain that Candide begged to have his “head smashed.” His wish was granted. They bound his eyes and forced him to kneel down, at which point the king of the Bulgarians happened to pass by. After talking with Candide, he realized that he was “very ignorant in worldly matters” and pardoned him. An “honest surgeon”—a rarity for the time—healed the wounds he had incurred from three weeks of beatings. No sooner had Candide's skin begun to heal and his legs to function, than the Bulgarian king declared war on the Abarians. (The bloodsoaked war that was now to be depicted by Voltaire is a reference to the Seven Years' War [1756-1763], in which Prussia was allied with England against the French, Austrians, and Russians.)

The conflagration having erupted, Candide, trembling “like a philosopher,” hid during the “heroic butchery.” An archenemy of war, Voltaire described his battle scenes in purposefully gory terms:

Old men dazed with blows watched the dying agonies of their murdered wives who clutched their children to their bleeding breasts; there, disemboweled girls who had been made to satisfy the natural appetites of heroes gasped their last sighs; others, half burned, begged to be put to death. Brains were scattered on the ground among dismembered arms and legs.

(Candide 1977, 234)

Because the bayonet was the “sufficient reason” for about 30,000 deaths, the two kings commanded a Te Deum to be performed to thank God for victory, or to ask God for his blessing in defeat. Recourse to God under such beastly circumstances was a religious custom Voltaire found more than obnoxious.


Once out of the war zone, Candide walked on until he reached Holland. He had heard that the citizens of this land were rich and Christian, and he looked forward to being well treated by them. Aware that he had not a sou, he asked for alms virtually upon arrival. Much to his surprise, he was told that should he continue to beg he would be put into a house of correction. After speaking with an orator who had been lecturing for one hour to a large group of people on the meaning of charity, he asked him for alms, thinking he would be well received. “What are you doing here?” the orator asked Candide. Had he come here for the Church? Upon repeating Dr. Pangloss's credo—“There is no effect without a cause”—the orator asked: “Do you believe the Pope is the Anti-Christ?” Naively, Candide replied: “I had never heard so before, but whether he is or not, I am starving.” Angered by his answer, the orator told him that he did not deserve to eat, nor should he ever come near him again. As for the orator's wife, who had listened to the conversation from her upstairs window, she settled the matter by pouring the contents of a slop pail on Candide's head. “O, heavens!” Candide cried out, “to what excess religious zeal is carried by ladies!” (Candide 1977, 235).

Since “there is no effect without a cause” and all “is necessarily linked up and arranged for the best,” it stands to reason that Candide should meet a man who had never been baptized (Candide 1977, 235). And he did: Jacques, an honest Anabaptist, who took Candide to his home, washed and fed him, gave him money, and taught him bookkeeping. Out of gratitude, Candide threw himself at Jacques's feet, then said: “Dr. Pangloss was right in telling me that all is for the best in this world” (Candide 1977, 236).


To degrade a protagonist, Voltaire freely used the literary technique of commenting ironically on his or her fate. Candide happened upon a beggar “covered with sores, [one-eyed], with the end of his nose fallen away, his mouth awry, his teeth black, who talked huskily, was tormented with a violent cough and spat out a tooth at every cough” (Candide 1977, 236). This ghastly specimen threw his arms around Candide. Didn't he recognize his “dear Pangloss”? Aghast, Candide asked him what misfortunes had befallen him. His love for Paquette—and for many other women—had brought him syphilis. Candide asked about Cunégonde, “the pearl of young ladies, the masterpiece of Nature” (Candide 1977, 236). Before receiving Dr. Pangloss's answer, Candide took him to Jacques's stable to give him food. Only then was he informed of Cunégonde's demise, and he fainted. She was raped and her belly slit. The Baron, rushing to his daughter's rescue, had his head smashed. The baroness was cut into pieces. The castle was destroyed. But Dr. Pangloss added—in one of Voltaire's memorable ironies—that the family's side had been avenged, for the Abarians did the same to a Bulgarian lord. Where, then, is the best of all possible worlds? Candide queried.


Jacques, called to Lisbon for business reasons, invited Candide and Dr. Pangloss to join him. Aboard ship, Dr. Pangloss philosophized anew. The evils that had befallen them were for the best and “indispensable,” inasmuch as “private misfortunes [made for] public good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more everything is well” (Candide 1977, 239).

As they approached the port of Lisbon, darkness covered the world. A tempest raged. Some of the sick passengers screamed, others prayed. As for the good Anabaptist, he was cast into the waves and drowned after preventing a sailor from falling overboard. Paradoxically, the brutal sailor whose life he had saved not only made no attempt to save him but never even looked his way. Instinctively, Candide wanted to jump into the sea to rescue his benefactor, but he was prevented by Dr. Pangloss, who reasoned that the Lisbon harbor had been created expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in. Moments later the ship split in two, and all aboard were drowned except for Dr. Pangloss, Candide, and the brutish sailor.

No sooner had the group arrived in Lisbon than “the sea rose in foaming masses in the port … whirlwinds of flame and ashes covered the streets and squares, the houses collapsed” (Candide 1977, 240). Meanwhile, Pangloss wondered what the sufficient reason could have been to have provoked this phenomenon. Having perhaps read the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible, Candide reasoned: “It is the last day!” (Candide 1977, 240). While they philosophized, the brutal sailor ran among the corpses, picked their pockets, got drunk, and enjoyed the favors of a prostitute. As for Candide, he was struck by falling stones from a building, fell to the ground, and, believing himself to be dying, begged Dr. Pangloss to get him a little wine and oil. Too busy philosophizing to respond, only after Candide had lost consciousness did Pangloss bring him water from a nearby fountain.

After receiving some food, the group wandered through the ruins, helping the wretched as best they could. Pangloss consoled them with the thought that “all this is for the best; for, if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it cannot be anywhere else; for it is impossible that things should not be where they are; for all is well” (Candide 1977, 241).

A member of the Inquisition, having heard Pangloss's discourse, replied: “Apparently, you do not believe in Original Sin; for, if everything is for the best, there was neither fall nor punishment” (Candide 1977, 242). Pangloss begged to be heard: “The fall of man and the curse necessarily entered into the best of all possible worlds” (Candide 1977, 242). The Inquisitor retorted: “Then you do not believe in free will?” But of course he did, he affirmed, and then discoursed on the subject: “Free will can exist with absolute necessity; for it was necessary that we should be free; for, in short, limited will …” (Candide 1977, 242).

Lisbon's wise men decided that there was no better way of allaying the trauma suffered by a people after their city's destruction than by giving them “a splendid auto-da-fé” (act of faith; burning at the stake). The great teachers at the University of Coimbre maintained that “the sight of several persons being slowly burned in great ceremony is an infallible secret for preventing earthquakes” (Candide 1977, 242). Understandably, they arrested some people on trumped-up charges, bound Pangloss for having spoken, and Candide for having listened, and took them to an area where they would feel no “discomfort from the sun.” At the end of the week, they dressed them in a san benito and on their heads, put paper mitres, and marched them in procession to the accompaniment of a sermon and plainsong. Although contrary to custom, Candide was flogged in rhythm to the music, and Pangloss was hanged; the others were burned at the stake, in keeping with tradition.

While Candide was still questioning Pangloss's reasonings—“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?”—an old woman approached him. “Courage, my son, follow me” (Candide 1977, 243). He obeyed. Once in her hovel, she gave him an ointment for his wounds, food, drink, and clothing. The following day, she took him to an isolated house surrounded by gardens and canals. Leading him up a back stairway, he entered a gilded apartment where he met a veiled woman adorned with precious stones. No sooner did she lift her veil than Candide recognized her as Cunégonde and fainted. After Candide came to, Cunégonde told him that her parents and brother were dead; that she had been raped by a Bulgarian soldier, saved by a Bulgarian captain who forced her to do his washing and cooking; that after tiring of her, he sold her to a Jew, Don Issachar, who took her to Holland, then to Portugal, where he gave her a gorgeous country home. One day, however, the Grand Inquisitor noticed her at mass, “ogled her,” and told her that it was beneath her rank to belong to a Jew. Only by threatening Don Issachar with an auto-da-fé, did he obtain that the two should divide her favors: she belonged to the Jew on Mondays, Wednesdays, and the Sabbath; and to the Grand Inquisitor the other days. The Grand Inquisitor did her the honor of inviting her to an auto-da-fé. Her seat was excellent. It was after having been offered refreshments “between the Mass and the execution” that she recognized Pangloss and Candide (Candide 1977, 247).

In time, Don Issachar, annoyed at the thought of having to share Cunégonde with the Grand Inquisitor, and now with Candide, drew his long dagger to slay the latter. No longer the gullible lad he had once been, Candide, having learned from experience—in this case from the Bulgarian soldiers—slew Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor as well. The latter's body was buried in a splendid church, while Don Issachar's was thrown into a sewer. Cunégonde and Candide fled to Cadiz, then took a ship to Buenos Aires.3


Upon landing, the three called on the governor of Buenos Aires, Don Fernando d'Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza, a spoof on Portuguese and Spanish names. He fell in love with Cunégonde and offered to marry her. Complications arose when Candide learned that he was wanted for the murder of the Grand Inquisitor. It was decided that Cunégonde would remain with the governor and Candide would flee. Though heartbroken at having to be separated from his beloved, Candide and his sensible valet, Cacambo, whom he had brought from Spain, left full speed ahead on Andalusian horses.

Having once been a servitor in the College of the Assumption, Cacambo was familiar with Los Padres land, and its admirable government—“a masterpiece of reason and justice”—for it is “los padres who own everything, and the people nothing” (Candide 1977, 263). Upon their arrival, Cacambo tried to arrange for Candide to see the reverend provincial father (the commandant) but was told that after saying mass, he was out on parade. Candide would have to wait three hours before being given permission to kiss his spurs (Candide 1977, 263). When finally the commandant learned that the visitors were not Spanish but German, he met Candide. They all sat down to a copious breakfast served in gold dishes, in contrast to the Paraguayan people, who ate maize in wooden bowls in the heat of the sun.

No sooner did their conversation grow animated than Candide recognized the commandant as the baron's son, “embraced [him] and shed rivers of tears” (Candide 1977, 265). He informed him that his sister had not been “disemboweled” but was in fine health, and that he intended to marry her. “Insolent wretch,” the Jesuit priest responded, striking him with the flat of his sword. No longer the passive and tender young man, Candide struck him a deadly blow, then wept in disbelief at the thought that he had actually killed three people—two of whom had been priests.

Cacambo and Candide fled on horseback, shouting in Spanish, “Way, way for the Reverend Father Colonel!” and arriving at the land of the naked “savages,” the Oreillons, only to pursue their course to Eldorado.


No sooner had they set foot in the land of plenty, Eldorado (in Peru), than they saw children dressed in torn brocade playing with glimmering red, yellow, and green quoits. Curious about these gorgeous stones, they picked some up and were overwhelmed when they realized they were chunks of gold, emeralds, and rubies. Those children, Candide reasoned, surely belonged to the nobility and were very well brought up since they had been taught to “despise gold and precious stones” (Candide 1977, 274). Wherever they went, people were dressed in gold, and, upon being served the finest delicacies at an inn, Candide paid for his meal with the gold he had picked up from the streets. The host and hostess could not refrain from laughing, explaining that everything in Eldorado being geared to helping commerce, hotels were subsidized by the government.

Unlike all other countries they had visited, Eldorado was devoid of wretched and suffering creatures. A country of wonder in every sense of the word, materially as well as spiritually, it had a population that lived in harmony and serenity. The homes, for example, although lavish, were tastefully decorated. Neither rancor, nor bitterness, nor envy, nor pretentiousness corroded the population. Upon questioning an old sage as to what religion the Eldoradians professed, he answered: “Can there be two religions? … We have, I think, the religion of everyone else; we adore God from evening until morning” (Candide 1977, 277). When asked whether they worshiped one or more gods, the sage answered “One,” but was taken aback by the question. Did they pray? “We do not pray, we have nothing to ask from him; he has given us everything necessary and we continually give him thanks.” Did they have priests? “We are all priests; the King and all the heads of families solemnly sing praises every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians” (Candide 1977, 277). Nor did they have or need monks “to dispute, to govern, to intrigue and to burn people who do not agree with them” (Candide 1977, 277).

Having bathed prior to their audience with the king in his incredibly magnificent palace, Candide and Cacambo were ushered into the throne room. They asked what protocol should be followed: should they “fall on their knees or flat on their faces … put their hands on their heads or on their backsides … lick the dust of the throne-room”? (Candide 1977, 278). Eldorado was a land of sincere and simple mores, Candide was told: “to embrace the King and to kiss him on either cheek” was the custom. After being received with great warmth and dignity, Cacambo and Candide were taken to see the town's marvels, the most impressive being the palace of sciences. Candide was more than surprised to learn that there were neither law courts nor prisons. How could it be otherwise? There was no corruption, no poverty, no envy, no crime. With every yearning gratified, everyone basked in happiness and contentment. Was something missing?

Despite the beauty, comfort, and peaceful surroundings, and against the king's advice, Candide and Cacambo opted to leave. The former was intent on rescuing Cunégonde, the latter, on following his master. Since high mountains surrounded Eldorado, access to the outside world was extremely difficult.

No longer able to cope with a world of extreme purity, light, goodness, and innocence, Candide rejected the very notion of perfect happiness. How could it have been otherwise? Hadn't Adam and Eve also opted to leave their idyllic state in the Garden of Eden? Voltaire must have mused. Only in a world of contrasts does life take on meaning, motivation becoming a factor and a means of working toward an ideal.

Candide asked the king for a few sheep laden with pebbles and mud from his land to help him survive in his own world—a den of virtual iniquity. “I cannot understand the taste you people of Europe have for our yellow mud; but take as much as you wish and much good may it do you,” the king retorted, ordering 3,000 of his learned scientists to design and construct machinery to hoist his visitors over the high perpendicular mountains surrounding his kingdom (Candide 1977, 280).


Following the Eldorado respite, more eviscerating adventures awaited Candide and Cacambo, including the loss of their sheep. Thus they were deprived of their gold and jewels, except for the stones and nuggets hidden in their pockets. Not only had Candide lost faith in humanity; he had come to accept evil as a fact of life and had even learned to deal with it.

He reasoned that since Cacambo had killed neither a Jesuit nor a Grand Inquisitor, he should be the one to rescue Cunégonde in Buenos Aires and take her to Venice, where they would meet. Before embarking for Europe, Candide met Martin, a former Amsterdam bookseller who had fallen on hard times. Deciding to invite him to travel with him, he reasoned that Martin's ability to discuss philosophy, religion, government, and other important matters would distract, entertain, and enrich him. Although both men were disgusted with the evils they had endured, they were both drawn to, as well as revulsed by, the very notion of culture, civilization, and mental gymnastics.

Finally, after innumerable adventures, including an instance of infidelity to Cunégonde, they went to Venice via England and were reunited with the faithful Cacambo. After learning that Cunégonde was living in Constantinople, they took a ship to that city. On board, they happened to notice two galley slaves who, because they rowed so badly, were being whipped by the Levantine captain. Despite the cruelties, the duplicities, and the injustices he had experienced, Candide's heart had retained his innate generosity and sensitivity. Feeling great pity for the less fortunate, he approached the galley slaves, and recognized one of them as Cunégonde's brother, the Jesuit/baron he thought he had killed, and the other, as his dear Dr. Pangloss, who had supposedly been hanged in Lisbon. After Candide had bought them both, the group sailed on to Constantinople.


Relating their adventures to one another, “reasoning upon contingent or noncontingent events of the universe, arguing about effects and causes, moral and physical evil, free will and necessity,” the group arrived at the home of a Transylvanian prince on the shores of the Propontis, where they happened upon Cunégonde and an old woman hanging their master's laundry on a line (Candide 1977, 322).

The baron grew pale at the sight of his sister, and Candide recoiled three paces in horror. His beloved was “sun-burned, bleary-eyed, flat-breasted, with wrinkles round her eyes and red, chapped arms” (Candide 1977, 322). Although shorn of all happiness, he still retained his compassionate and kind ways, so he embraced Cunégonde and the old woman. With his few remaining precious stones he bought them both. Tragically, or perhaps mercifully, since no one had told Cunégonde of her ugliness, she was completely unaware of the physical change she had undergone. Her youthful illusions intact, she reminded Candide that he had promised to marry her. Gentle as always, he agreed, and would inform the baron of his decision.

Still living in his own fantasy world, the baron answered with a categorical “Never.” Lashing out at Candide, he made it clear that he would not “endure such baseness on [Cunégonde's] part and such insolence on [Candide's]; nobody shall ever reproach me with this infamy; my sister's children could never enter the chapters of Germany. No, my sister shall never marry anyone but a Baron of the Empire” (Candide 1977, 323).

Although Cunégonde fell to her feet before her brother and wept loudly, he was unmoved. As for the adamant Candide, he spoke his mind. “Madman, I rescued you from the galleys, I paid your ransom and your sister's; she was washing dishes here, she is ugly, I am so kind as to make her my wife, and you pretend to oppose me! I should kill you again if I listened to my anger” (Candide 1977, 323).

Equally adamant, the baron informed Candide that he was free to kill him once again, but that as long as he was alive, no marriage between him and his sister would take place. Candide, who no longer had any desire to marry Cunégonde, consulted with Dr. Pangloss, Martin, and Cacambo. Acting upon the latter's advice, Candide summarily returned the baron to the Levantine captain, who would take him to the vicar-general in Rome.

Meanwhile, Candide had bought a small farm for the group. Each in his own way was unhappy: Cunégonde was growing uglier each day; the old woman, sicker and crankier; Cacambo was overworked planting, caring for, and selling vegetables; Pangloss, despairing because he did not hold a post in one of the great German universities. Martin, perhaps the wisest of them all, remarked that because “people were equally uncomfortable everywhere, he accepte[d] things patiently,” later concluding that “man was born to live in the convulsions of distress or in the lethargy of boredom” (Candide 1977, 324).

The small group spent their time working and talking, each in his or her own way pondering solutions to unsolvable problems. Candide, perhaps the most reasonable of them all, spoke simply and directly about the activities in which he and his friends should indulge: “We should cultivate our garden.” Pangloss agreed: “for when man was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was placed there ut operaretur eum, to dress it and to keep it; which proves that man was not born for idleness.” And Martin added: “Let us work without theorizing, 'tis the only way to make life endurable” (Candide 1977, 327). And each time Pangloss reverted to his old ratiocinations, Candide interjected: “'Tis well said, but we must cultivate our garden” (Candide 1977, 328).

Although their plot of land and small garden may not have been a Garden of Eden, their world was neither illusory nor sterile. When all was said and done, a conglomerate of different types, classes, sexes, and nationalities were able to live peacefully in the same house; each was given the opportunity to explicate his or her philosophies of life; each worked, thereby fulfilling a function. The admirable fact that the farm yielded food—for thought and for nourishment—was also a wondrous achievement!

Candide was an instant success. Twenty editions were published in 1759. Its condemnation, as of necessity, followed. The volume was ordered destroyed in Geneva, and put on the Index in Rome.


  1. George R. Havens, introduction, in Candide, ou l'Optimisme, ed. George R. Havens (New York: Henry Holt, 1959), xxxv.

  2. Voltaire, Candide, trans. Richard Aldington, in The Portable Voltaire, ed. Ben Ray Redman (New York: Penguin, 1977), 231; hereafter cited in text as Candide 1977.

  3. Voltaire's satire of Judaism throughout his work has led scholars to believe that he was anti-Jewish. He was, however, no more so than most French people from the Middle Ages on. As Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg wrote: “Voltaire complained of the Inquisition all his life. He denounced the persecutions of the Jews many times as evidence of the unworthiness of the Church. In the Sermon du Rabbin Akib. … Voltaire even went so far in that passage as to absolve the Jews of murdering Jesus, although he was not always so generous to the Jews on this point.” In the The Henriade he also took their side once again: Jews were burned at the stake “for not having abandoned the faith of their ancestors” (Arthur Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews [New York: Columbia University Press, 1968], 280).

    Peter Gay maintained that Voltaire “struck at the Jews to strike at the Christians” (Hertzberg, 284). Pierre Aubéry suggested that “all of Voltaire's charges against Jews were meant for the ancient Jews and that the only attack he repeated on those of the present was his dislike for their absurd attachment to their tradition” (Hertzberg, 284). The conclusion for Aubéry would be that they give up their traditions and become “enlightened.” When accused of hating the Jews because he had experienced bankruptcies at their hands, Voltaire retorted that he had also lost money with Christian moneylenders. Although the entire question is ambiguous, Hertzberg concludes that “for the next century [Voltaire] provided the fundamentals of the rhetoric of secular anti-Semitism” (Hertzberg, 286).

Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources

Candide, ou l'Optimisme. Ed. George R. Havens. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1934.

Philosophical Dictionary. Trans. Peter Gay. 2 vols. With a Preface by André Maurois. New York: Basic Books, 1962.

Secondary Sources

Brooks, Richard A. Voltaire and Leibniz. Genève: Librairie Droz, 1964. A brilliant and clearly written volume treating complex ideas.

Van Den Heuvel, Jacques. Voltaire dans ses contes. Paris: Colin, 1967. An in depth analysis of Voltaire's contes.

Theodore E. D. Braun (essay date 2001)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4382

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 more complex: we must first look under the crystalline surface of the narration to find the murkiness that represents life in this tale, that is, we must find the disorder hidden beneath an apparent order, and then look for a different order, a kind of order that may surprise us, perhaps taking us away from traditional views but certainly towards greater depth and complexity than we have been accustomed to in Voltaire.

Chaos, as it is understood by modern scientists and mathematicians, is not used only in “the older sense of chance, randomness, disorder” that most literary and historical scholars are likely to associate with the word; chaotic systems all contain an order in the midst of disorder, they are “both deterministic and unpredictable,” they raise questions (when applied to human beings) of free will and determinism; “chaos leads to order, and order back to chaos.”2 As Crutchfield, Farmer, Packard, and Shaw express it in their seminal article, “Chaos,”

simple deterministic systems with only a few elements can generate random behavior. The randomness is fundamental; gathering more information does not make it go away. Randomness generated in this way has come to be called chaos.3

Among the features of chaotic systems that we will examine here are nonlinearity (which can be seen, from one point of view, as a refutation of some Newtonian principles, such as the proportionality of cause and effect [a small deviation may sometimes have large consequences], and from another point of view as complexity rather than simplicity in design, which leads to “a new awareness of the importance of scale”); recursive symmetries between scale levels (recalling on the one hand, fractal geometry which finds recursive patterns in many natural phenomena in going from the large-event scale to the component-unit scale, as in studies of waves and flows, and exploring, on the other hand, minute fluctuations or differences in the events studied which might bring about unpredictable results); and sensitivity to initial conditions, which either are not identical or cannot be specified with infinite precision, in either case causing chaotic systems to become quickly and increasingly unpredictable. It should be noted, for the analysis that follows, that contingency (and therefore unpredictability) is implied by chaos, and that teleology (which, viewed in this manner, is a mechanistic, linear system) requires predestination. Candide argues consistently against teleological interpretations of human life and for a sense of the contingent, unpredictable nature of Nature.

The shimmering surface perfection and regularity, the limpid style that appears to so many critics to be the trademarks of Voltaire's style, the easy-to-grasp philosophical message that to many critics is not only the heart of a Voltairean conte but also its raison d'être, all make it easy to miss what Voltaire surely understood, that things are never as simple as they seem; that systems of thought never work according to their design because they are flawed and their flaws, once exposed, never cease expanding; that the turbulence that is often hidden by surface calm is nevertheless governed by rules or laws, that is by an order the exact nature of which we are not at present able to comprehend.4

Let us begin our examination of chaos in Voltaire by a brief examination of nonlinearity and recursive symmetries between scale levels in the story, which because they overlap in this tale can be conveniently explored together. The narrative seems to proceed in a linear fashion, picking up Candide's life at the time he is about 18 or 20 and following him for an undeterminable span of years, probably in the order of 5 to 10 years, through many adventures in Europe, in South America, and back in Europe. His adventures tend to begin in a rosy manner only to end in disaster—thus his life at Thunder-ten-Tronckh, his life as a soldier, the war he describes, his career with Jacques the Anabaptist, his rescue by Cunégonde, his trip to Argentina, the Eldorado episode, the 100-day trek to Surinam, the Parisian and Venetian interludes, and the Constantinople episode until the end of the last chapter.5 This recurring pattern, like waves breaking on a shore, gives the story not only depth but also a gradual darkening of spirit: the early chapters seem far more suffused with the light of hope than the later ones, and the experience of Candide certainly gives the reader, if not the central character, a tragic sense of life. The story seems to move forward, but in fact keeps starting over again, only in a different spot, like a huge spiral pulling its characters down and around as well as forward. Far from being simple, it is revealed as complex, unpredictable, nonlinear.

Candide's American adventures, covering about one-third of the book, can serve as a model of the workings of non-linearity and recursive patters. They begin when, by chance, he finds a ship ready to sail from Cadix in need of an officer to train the troops who will fight the Jesuits in Paraguay. Captain Candide sets off for Argentina a hunted man, it is true, the killer of the Grand Inquisitor and of dom Issachar, moneylender to the throne of Portugal. But he cheerfully travels with Cunégonde, the Old Lady, and (we learn later) a part-Indian, part-Spanish valet, Cacambo. He is looking for a new life in a new world: “Tout ira bien,” he says in chapter IX; “la mer de ce nouveau monde vaut déjà mieux que les mers de notre Europe; elle est plus calme, les vents plus constants. C'est certainement le nouveau monde qui est le meilleur des univers possibles.”6

At this point, the Old Lady tells her story. Daughter of a Pope, Princess of Palestrina, about to begin her adult life by entering into a fairy-tale marriage, her ordered, calm, predictable world falls apart, the contingent nature of life erupts and reveals the chaos beneath the surface. Her fiancé is poisoned; she is captured by pirates, repeatedly raped, sold into servitude, partly cannibalized; she works her way into old age across Europe, her life progressively more miserable, until she becomes a maid to Cunégonde. An accessory to two murders, she is now sought along with her mistress and Candide. She has often contemplated killing herself, and finds that every single passenger aboard ship has also at least once in life thought of suicide.

The same downward spiral is evident when the stories of Candide's friends are examined: Pangloss, Cunégonde, Jacques, the young Baron, Martin, Cacambo, Paquette, Frère Giroflée—all their adventures follow the same pattern, extend the geographic bounds of the story to North Africa and Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, include religious, political, ethnic, and moral backgrounds of the greatest variety, and come together at the same place. They are like smaller eddies that become absorbed for a time in a large whirlpool while somehow keeping their identities and at times breaking off from the main vortex in one or more cases never to return.

In the case of Candide, this pattern, like a fractal, continues on even as we see shorter pieces of his life. He is in Buenos Aires for a few scant hours at most. The high hopes he had had on board prove to be groundless: for when don Fernando d'Ibarra, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampadouros, y Souza sets eye on Cunégonde and learns that she is not Candide's wife, the downward spiral takes hold of the young man again and is made more dangerous by the unexpected and unpredictable arrival of the Spanish authorities, who wish to seize him. He is forced to flee with Cacambo, and finds himself in a Jesuit compound in Paraguay where the Indians are virtually enslaved. Unpredictably, he finds that the baron had not after all been killed; but he does the job himself when in a heated argument the old friends draw swords, and then flees with Cacambo towards the north and west. The fugitives are captured and—in a scene that recalls the barbarity of the Turks against the Old Lady and her companions, another recursive incident in the story—are themselves almost cannibalized. When they finally reach Eldorado, seemingly by miracle, their lives seem to start anew, their fortunes mount, their dreams of peace and happiness are about to be fulfilled. But soon they long for the life they have left behind, and their misadventures begin again. Thus, all but two of their llamas die during their 100-day trek to Surinam; they see the horrors of slavery; the friends part; Candide finds people even more miserable than he; he is robbed by the Judge and the Courts as well as by an evil slave-owning Dutch sea captain.7

The apparently linear, forward-moving pattern of the story is interrupted by countless flashbacks to other times and other places, where different but uniformly tragic adventures enrich the readers' understanding of the complexities of life, and where ever-renewed patterns, like waves endlessly crashing onto the shore, display in the differences in detail the chaotic nature of human experience and where simplistic notions of the nature of Nature or of evil or of God are shown to be deficient.

Which is to say that Candide is a story that is nonlinear and characterized by recursions that can be seen at every narrative scale. The novel itself, the overall adventures of any of the numerous characters, the individual adventures they have, all display a pattern that recalls what fractal geometry shows in nature. Furthermore, the disproportionality in Candide between cause and effect (another marker of nonlinearity) is apparent from the very first chapter, when Candide is driven from the château for having kissed Cunégonde, and when his absurd deficiency in quarterings makes it impossible for him to pretend to her hand. The harshness of the punishment meted out to Pangloss and the Baron for their heterosexual and homosexual drives (Pangloss spends too much time, we remember, in retrieving a bouquet from an apparently willing woman's cleavage, and the Baron is arrested for skinny-dipping with a young Muslim), Admiral Byng's execution, and the huge fine imposed on Candide in Surinam for making too much noise knocking on the judge's door—further examples of the disproportionality of cause and effect—are among scores that appear in the book.

The recursive symmetries that can be found in Candide are of similar but not identical life stories. One of the reasons the stories vary in detail is, in chaoticist terms, the sensitivity to initial conditions that the narrator and the author present. Hayles notes that “unless the starting conditions can be specified with infinite precision, chaotic systems quickly become unpredictable” (p. 14). Now since the initial conditions of the characters are of necessity different and since it is not possible to specify the starting conditions with infinite precision, the life story of one character will be unpredictable even to a reader already familiar with the life of another character. For example, Candide and the young baron, apparently of the same age, brought up together in the same castle and educated by the same tutor, will have radically different life stories. The initial conditions set up by the narrator make it possible for them to lead similar lives but not to have identical futures.

Even if the baron had fallen in love with a clone of Cunégonde and kissed her, trembling, behind a screen, he would surely not have been driven out into a harsh winter without ceremony and without support: he is, after all, the heir of the Thunder-ten-tronckh family name and fortune, and the overweening pride that goes along with the title and the stereotypical characteristics of German nobility prevalent in the book. A second initial condition is eventually revealed, the differing sexual orientations of the two young men, which of course help determine the course of events in their lives. Yet who could predict that the baron would become a Jesuit? By chance a Jesuit priest finds him alive, is attracted to him, takes care of him, and arranges to have him enter the order; eventually he finds himself in Paraguay and meets Candide there.

Meanwhile, Candide's experiences have been quite different. Trained as a soldier but flogged for exercising his free will (as the narrator humorously puts it), saved from a sure death by the chance passing of the King who pardons him, experiencing in the midst of a terrible battle the evil that men visit upon one another and the hollowness of the Catholic religion, he escapes only to find that the Protestant religion is no less hollow; he works for an Anabaptist, is one of only three persons saved in a shipwreck, finds himself condemned to a second flogging for having apparently agreed with Pangloss's deterministic philosophy (and need I remind the reader that he had met Pangloss in an unpredictable state and under unpredictable circumstances?), is saved once more from a certain death, this time by Cunégonde who by chance is the mistress of the very same Grand Inquisitor who condemned Pangloss to death and Candide to a flogging … ; eventually, he meets up with the baron in Paraguay, and their stories, converging unexpectedly for a few hours, take separate but once again unpredictable paths when Candide “kills” his friend and future brother-in-law.

In short, the similar but not identical initial conditions of their lives lead to startlingly different results. As Crutchfield and his colleagues explain it, “In principle, the future is completely determined by the past, but in practice small uncertainties are amplified, so that even though the behavior is predictable in the short term, it is unpredictable in the long term” (p. 46).

Initial conditions, recursive symmetries between scale levels, and nonlinearity are all part of the structure of this story, and all contribute to what might be sensed as an implicit moral lesson. To date, only Roy S. Wolper and critics who agree with him seem to have had an intuition of this internally-generated moral (see n. 5. supra). Evil in Candide is regularly associated with stupidity (or Dullness, in Wolper's Swiftian vocabulary) and violence, and often also with greed. Part of the humor of the description of life at the chateau of Thunder-ten-Tronckh comes from the incredibly stupid philosophy of Pangloss, which masks the truth about the Baron's domain: he is in fact an impoverished minor nobleman living in an unpleasant world. And Candide's life in the chateau ends with a violent act on the part of the Baron, whose intellectual prowess we can infer by the fact that Pangloss is his children's tutor. The mindless violence that Candide encounters upon his desertion is magnified by that which he sees during battle. The Protestant preacher who, despite his hour-long sermon on tolerance, berates Candide and refuses to give him alms because he does not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist, and his wife who dumps a chamber pot on the young man's head, add a note of greed to the stupidity and violence of their actions. This association of stupidity and violence and often of greed with evil continues throughout the story and is indeed inextricably intertwined with it right to the end. It is difficult not to see this association and its implied opposite: wisdom and kindness and generosity are attributes of good. This moral (which has nothing directly to do with Optimism or with an interpretation of “il faut cultiver notre jardin”) is embedded in the very structure of the story, in the life history of every character, in every episode we read. It is revealed clearly by chaos theory.

But are we free to choose good or evil? Do we have, in other words, free will? The repeated patterns we noted earlier, the interactions of the characters and their experiences, the constantly changing tempo of the narrative, bring to the tale a sense of unpredictability, of anti-Providential design, of contingency. How different this is from Pangloss's summary, on the very last page of the novel, of Candide's life and adventures:

Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles: car enfin si vous n'aviez pas été chassé d'un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l'amour de mademoiselle Cunégonde, si vous n'aviez pas été mis à l'Inquisition, si vous n'aviez pas couru l'Amérique à pied, si vous n'aviez pas donné un bon coup d'épée au baron, si vous n'aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d'Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches.

Pangloss, ever true to his philosophical beliefs, adopts the perspective of God, and gives to the chain of events that link the characters and bring them to their little tenant farm near Constantinople a teleological slant. He simply cannot accept a universe that is not planned in every detail by an all-powerful deity. His entire thought is essentially Providential, non-contingent, non-chaotic: in the great scheme of things, earthquakes, wars, rape, murder, crimes of all sorts exist in order to support a greater good, the stability of the universe. In this context, Candide's response to Pangloss's interpretation of the events that have led the small group to their little farm can be seen as a denial of teleology and an acceptance of contingency: “Cela est bien dit,” the words are fine, the logic impeccable if one accepts the premises, “mais” [sous entendu: “je n'en crois plus une syllabe”], if we are to escape boredom, vice, and poverty, “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” Only in this way can we be sure to remove some of the contingencies in this world, to reduce the disproportionality between cause and effect, and more importantly, to take on responsibility for our lives in this non-Providential world, that is, to exercise our free will. Candide might not yet be able to accept a chaotic world view, but he can reject a Providential one that seems to leave little room for free will.8

Had Voltaire lived another two centuries, he would have found scientific evidence through chaos theory that it is possible to conceive of free will existing even in a deterministic world; this, as we know, is one of the central problems that Optimism posed for Voltaire, the apparent irreconcilability of free will and determinism, of contingency and Providence, or more broadly speaking, of man in a God-created universe. Indeed, wedded as he was both to Newtonian mechanics and to the existence of God, while at the same time keenly aware of the existence of moral and physical evil in the world, Voltaire suffered throughout much of his career from the intellectual and moral disquietude that is so evident in such stories as Zadig and Candide. His knowledge of probability theory, described by Kavanagh in the first chapter of his book, would have brought him little comfort, for if anything it served to shore up the premises upon which Optimism was based.

On the other hand, what Crutchfield, Farmer, Packard, and Shaw conclude in their article on chaos would at least have given Voltaire some hope in resolving this central dilemma of his life:

Even the process of intellectual progress relies on the injection of new ways of connecting old ideas. Innate creativity may have an underlying chaotic process that selectively amplifies small fluctuations and molds them into macroscopic coherent mental states that are experienced as thoughts. In some cases the thoughts may be decisions, or what are perceived to be the exercise of will. In this light, chaos provides a mechanism that allows for free will within a world governed by deterministic laws.

(p. 57)

Optimism, as taught by Pangloss, is dead at the end of Candide. But even if the world seems deterministic, chaos theory lets us know both that we cannot predict events in the long term, and that the decisions we make are real. It lets us know, as a result, that free will and therefore individual responsibility may be alive and well in this best of all possible worlds.

Chaos theory, as we have suggested earlier, also leads us to an unexpected interpretation of the apparent utopia at the novel's end: the recursive patterns in the story—rosy beginnings in each adventure, rapid deteriorations, disastrous conclusions—should alert us to the fact that Candide ends but has no more a real conclusion than Zadig.9 We can predict (to the extent that prediction is possible, at least) that this utopian community will soon entropy and deteriorate, and that Candide and his friends will encounter unimaginable disasters. We are back, so to speak, at the beginning, the pattern is about to recur. Chaos will reign.


  1. Haydn T. Mason, Candide: Optimism Demolished (New York: Twayne, 1992), and Roger Pearson, The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire's Contes philosophiques (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) present fresh views based on traditional methods. Thomas M. Kavanagh, Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance: The Novel and the Culture of Gambling in Eighteenth-Century France (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) approaches the analysis of Candide from the point of view of probability theory, a field invented by Pascal in the previous century and developed throughout the eighteenth. Chapters 1 (The Triumph of Prabability Theory) and 7 (The Ironies of Chance: Voltaire's Candide and Zadig) are most relevant to this study, but do not broach the question of chaos theory.

  2. N. Katherine Hayles: Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990), 115, 14, 82, 128. See also the work of critics like Patrick Brady, who gives essentially identical categories for chaotic systems, as in his articles “Chaos Theory, Control Theory, Literary Theory: Or, A Story of Three Butterflies,” Modern Language Studies, 20 (1990): 65-79, and “Théorie du chaos et structure narrative,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 4 (1991), 43-51, among others.

  3. James P. Crutchfield, J. Doyne Farmer, Norman H. Packard, and Robert S. Shaw, “Chaos,” Scientific American, 225 (December 1986): 46.

  4. Theodore E. D. Braun makes some of these points in his chapter, “Interpreting Candide: The Anvil of Controversy,” in Approaches to Teaching Voltaire's Candide, ed. Renée Waldinger (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1987), 75, which is based on Roy S. Wolper's hermeneutic study of Voltaire's tale, “Candide: Gull in the Garden?” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3 (1969): 265-77. Since the bibliography on Candide is immense, and the interpretations of the ending of Candide are not only diverse but also the starting point of most critical studies of the book, I will refer the reader to Arthur Scherr's recent article, “Candide's Garden Revisited: Gender Equality in a Commoner's Paradise,” Eighteenth-Century Life 17 (1993): 40-59.

  5. Indeed, in the light of this recurring pattern critics should have been on the alert, they should have been—and we should be—unwilling to accept the end of the story as the conclusion of the little group's odyssey but only the opening act of a new tragedy; but that is another problem with this book and the history of its critical reception.

  6. Voltaire, Candide, in Romans et contes, ed. René Pomeau (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1966), 169-259; the present quotation is found on p. 198.

  7. In studies such as Manuel Moreno Alonso's “América española en el pensamiento de Voltaire,” Anuario de estudios americanos, 38 (1981): 57-100, the critical point of departure is a polemical interpretation of Voltaire's thought as it is perceived to be presented in the work(s) under consideration; in this case, Voltaire is seen as presenting a negative view of Spain and Spanish customs. Arguments are often—one might be tempted to say usually—supported by biographical data. In this Moreno Alonso follows the practice of most Voltairean scholars, whether they wish to support Voltaire or attack him. The villains in Candide, however, even those in South America, are not necessarily Spanish or Portuguese: they are also Dutch, German, French, English, Turkish, Arab, Russian, Oreillon, etc.

  8. Rob Roy McGregor, Jr. presents a different point of view, finding in Pangloss's summary an irony missed by both Pangloss and Candide, but intended by the narrator (and possibly by the author). Unfortunately, McGregor himself falls into one of Voltaire's traps, brought about by the apparent simplicity of the story masking its underlying complexity. McGregor finds that a “great and preferable good has resulted from a series of physical and moral evils; namely, Candide has escaped the world of illusions …” (p. 364). Could he not have learned his lesson without countless deaths and other tribulations? This disproportion between cause and effect is one of the markers of nonlinearity, as we have seen.

  9. Few contemporary critics have come as close to incorporating an intuition of this continuing pattern into an overall interpretation as has Roy S. Wolper in the work cited and others. Indeed, in his note, “Professor Wolper's Interpretation of Candide,Eighteenth-Century Studies 5 (1971): 145-51, Lester Crocker reiterates without fresh examination generations of interpretations that see in Candide's garden at the end of the book a conclusion and a message; even Arthur Scherr's sensitive study fails to take into account the recursive character of the narration and the openendedness of the tale.

Thomas Walsh (essay date 2001)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2540

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; through him Voltaire points out the hypocrisy of many Christians, for though James has not even been baptized, he shows the greatest Christian charity.

The Old Woman. Daughter of a pope and a princess; Cunégonde's traveling companion; she saves Candide at the auto-da-fe.

Dr. Pangloss. The tutor at the castle; a philosopher whose character is a parody of the Optimist philosophers. His simplistic perspective of the world is eventually rejected by Candide.

Paquette. A servant who gives Pangloss venereal disease, then is kicked out of the castle herself, eventually becoming a prostitute. She meets Candide again late in the book.


Candide's story begins in the castle of the baron of Thunderten-tronckh, where he is living with the baron, his 350-pound wife, their daughter Cunégonde, and a son who is not named. Dr. Pangloss is the children's tutor; his philosophy that all is for the best in the world has a profound influence on Candide and Cunégonde. Unfortunately, this influence has disastrous results: When Cunégonde sees Pangloss engaged in sexual intercourse with a chambermaid, her curiosity about sexuality is piqued, and she attempts to seduce Candide. Candide's pleasant existence at the castle ends when the baron catches them in the act and literally kicks Candide out of the castle.

Candide goes without supper that evening, and is famished and nearly frozen by the time he reaches the next town, Wald-Berghoff-trarbkdikdorff. He is penniless and half-dead, so he gladly accepts an invitation to dinner from a pair of strangers. But the men shackle him and take him away to a regiment of the Bulgarian army, where he is trained in warfare, beaten for every mistake, and brutally mistreated. In fact, when he tries to exert his free will and walk away from the army, he is forced to run a gauntlet of two thousand men thirty-six times. Soon the king of the Bulgarians declares war against the king of the Abares, and Candide witnesses the horrible atrocities of war firsthand. Eventually, he escapes and makes his way to Holland, penniless and starving.

Though Holland espouses Christian principles, Candide is met with animosity and threats of imprisonment for begging. A kind Anabaptist named James offers Candide his help. The very next day, Candide runs into a beggar who is ravaged by disease. He is revealed as Pangloss, who contracted venereal disease from Paquette, the chambermaid. He tells Candide how the castle was stormed by the Bulgarians and everyone there killed. James helps Pangloss to be cured and even hires him as his bookkeeper. Soon James has to sail to Lisbon on business, and he takes Candide and Pangloss with him.

While in sight of the ship's destination, a strong storm strikes the ship. James falls overboard and perishes. The ship is wrecked at sea, and Candide, Pangloss, and a sailor are the only survivors. The three make their way to shore just in time to experience an earthquake that destroys three-quarters of Lisbon, killing over thirty-thousand people. Amid the ruins, Pangloss and Candide are arrested by Inquisitionists, who decide to avert future disaster by offering up their prisoners in a sacrificial auto-da-fe (“act of faith,” or execution). Three other prisoners are burned, Pangloss is hanged, and Candide is whipped. Before Candide can be tormented further, an aftershock hits the city, and he escapes to safety with the help of an old woman.

Eventually the old woman takes him to Cunégonde, who tells him how she escaped the storming of her father's castle. Candide is ecstatic to see her, but he soon learns she is a kept woman. During her wanderings, Cunégonde was captured and sold to Don Issachar in Lisbon. To ensure that he has no unpleasant entanglements with the Inquisition, Don Issachar has made a deal with the Grand Inquisitor, who had been taken by Cunégonde's beauty, to share the girl. Issachar occupies the house she is kept in and possesses her on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday; the Inquisitor takes his place the rest of the week. To save Cunégonde, Candide ends up killing both men, and he, Cunégonde, and the old woman are forced to flee.

They reach Cadiz, Spain, where Candide is made a captain in the army by virtue of his martial skills. Soon they sail for Buenos Aires, where the army is preparing to put down a rebellion by natives. During the voyage, the old woman, who turns out to be the daughter of a pope and a princess, relates the horrible story of her life. She describes brutality after brutality, but ends by claiming that she could never kill herself, for she loves life too much.

When they arrive in Buenos Aires, Governor Don Fernando d'Ibarra, y Figueroa, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza immediately falls for Cunégonde and takes her as his own. Before Candide can act to free Cunégonde, the old woman hears the news that an alcalde, or official, from Spain is landing in Buenos Aires to arrest the murderer of the Grand Inquisitor. She warns Candide, who immediately flees with his valet, Cacambo. They go to Paraguay and stay with some Jesuit priests. There Candide meets his reverence, the Colonel, Cunégonde's brother. They are happy and astonished to see each other until Candide tells the Colonel that he plans to return to Buenos Aires and marry Cunégonde. At this point, the priest is insulted and strikes Candide. Regrettably, Candide strikes back and stabs the Colonel, and once more he and Cacambo are forced to flee.

Soon the fugitives are captured by fifty Oreillons, the natives of the country, who mistake Candide for a Jesuit priest. The Oreillons see the Jesuits as invaders and take revenge by cooking and eating those they catch. But Cacambo convinces the Oreillons that Candide is not a Jesuit, and the pair is set free. They wander for well over a month, running out of provisions along the way. Desperate and hungry, they stop at the bank of a river and decide to leave their fates to providence by canoeing down the river in hopes of reaching an inhabited spot. Yet, as with all Candide's adventures, the trip turns into an ordeal that concludes with a twenty-four-hour ride through a dark tunnel. At the end of the journey, however, they arrive in Eldorado.

At Eldorado the travelers find a utopian society that is quite unlike the Europe that Candide left behind. Money and jewels are so abundant that they are of little value to the inhabitants. The people are civil to each other, and everyone values work, community, and education. There is no religious conflict, and even the king greets people on his own level, embracing his guests and kissing them on the cheek. However, although Candide admires the values of the community, he soon tires of life without any struggle or conflict, and he longs to be back with Cunégonde. He arranges to leave Eldorado with many sheep laden with gifts of gold and jewels, planning to return to Buenos Aires to buy Cunégonde's freedom from the governor.

Within one hundred days of traveling, Candide and Cacambo lose all the sheep, with their loads of gifts, save two—though the riches that these carry are still enough to make both men wealthy. When they reach Surinam they meet a negro who has lost a hand and a leg; he explains to Candide that as a worker at a sugar plantation, his owners were responsible for both injuries, the former when one of his fingers was caught in a mill, the latter as punishment when he attempted to run away—such was the price that the natives paid so that people in Europe could have sugar. Thus far, Candide has clung to Pangloss's optimistic philosophy that all is well in the world, but on hearing the slave's tale, Candide rejects Pangloss's rosy and naive outlook on life, explaining to Cacambo that optimism is “the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

Also while in Surinam they learn that in Buenos Aires, Cunégonde has become the governor's favorite mistress, and that Candide—a known suitor—will surely be killed if he goes after her. Candide decides not to risk his life, so he gives Cacambo a great number of diamonds and arranges for him to go to Buenos Aires to buy Cunégonde from the governor. Candide instructs Cacambo to bring Cunégonde to Venice, when the deal is finished, as Candide plans to sail for Europe immediately. When Cacambo leaves, Candide is robbed of his remaining sheep and left with just a few diamonds. He buys passage on a ship headed for Europe and hires an old scholar named Martin to travel with him, paying his passage and a salary. Martin by philosophy is a Manichean who maintains that there are two principles—good and evil—which govern the world with equal power. To counter this rather cynical outlook on life, Candide clings to some of his fading optimism and points out the good side of all they experience. Martin, unconvinced, steadfastly focuses on the negative.

Martin and Candide arrive in Bordeaux, France, then take a slight detour by land to Paris, where Candide falls ill. He soon recovers and is taken to a play by an abbé of Perigord, a sleazy character who also takes him to see the marquise de Parolignac, a woman no better than he. The marquise immediately gives Candide a seat at a card table where Candide loses a great deal of his remaining money.

The next day Candide receives a letter, supposedly from Cunégonde, that tells him that she is in Paris and has been very ill. Candide and Martin hurry to see her, but he is deceived by someone who pretends to be Cunégonde in a darkened room. The deception has been set up by the abbé, and Candide is arrested after giving the fake Cunégonde a handful of diamonds. Though Candide's funds are seriously depleted Martin advises him to bribe the arresting officer. Candide takes the advice and soon leaves Paris.

Candide and Martin travel through Normandy and upon reaching the French coast, they board a Dutch ship heading for Venice. As the ship stops along the English coast on its way to the Atlantic, Candide and Martin witness the execution of a naval admiral who was accused of not having been close enough to the enemy during a battle. Candide is horrified at the spectacle, and pays the captain of the ship to avoid any future stops and sail straight for Venice.

In Venice, Candide searches for Cacambo and Cunégonde to no avail. In the meantime he runs across Paquette, arm in arm with a friar, and she tells him the story of what happened to her after she was thrown out of baron of Thunder-tentronckh's castle. She has been mistress to a long succession of men who have used her, and she is now working as a prostitute. The friar who had paid Paquette for her services also complains of a miserable life, having been forced into a monastic life by his parents. Candide is depressed by the stories, but he still wants to believe that some good exists in the world. Martin tries to convince Candide that he will not find happy people in the world. Determined to prove Martin wrong, Candide goes to see Senator Pococurante, whom people say “has never felt any uneasiness.” Candide soon finds out that Pococurante is a cynic, unable and unwilling to find satisfaction in anything, and highly critical of everything. Candide has failed to counter Martin's conviction.

As Martin and Candide continue their search for Cunégonde, they stop at an inn for dinner. There, as luck would have it, they run into Cacambo. Cacambo informs Candide that Cunégonde is in Constantinople and that he had been robbed of the jewels that Candide had given him. With no finances, Cacambo was made a slave by one of the guests at the inn. This guest and five others join Candide and Martin for dinner. During the meal, the six men reveal that they are former kings who have fallen from power. They relate their sad tales and Candide gives a diamond to the king who he believes is worst off.

Cacambo arranges for passage for Candide and Martin on his master's ship, which is going to Constantinople. He tells Candide what happened to him and Cunégonde since they parted ways: After he bought back Cunégonde, their ship had been set upon by pirates, and everyone on board had been robbed and sold into slavery. Cunégonde was now a slave to a family in Turkey and had grown ugly in servitude. When the ship reaches the Bosporus Strait, Candide buys Cacambo's freedom. Candide hires a galley to take the trio the rest of the way. On board the galley Candide finds that both Pangloss and Cunégonde's brother are still alive and serving as slaves, working at the oars of the galley. Candide immediately buys their freedom, and as the group sets out to find Cunégonde, Pangloss and the Colonel tell their tales of woe that lead to their slavery.

When the group finds Cunégonde in Turkey, Candide is dismayed. She has become ugly without knowing it, since no one has told her so. Though he does not truly wish to marry her, Candide is determined to fulfill his promise of marriage because of the impertinence of her brother, who insists that Candide cannot marry her. After consulting with his friends, Candide pays to have the baron sent away, and he marries Cunégonde. The little group settles down on a small plot of land, all working together according to their talents. Martin says, “Let us work without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable,” and they all do so.

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 3, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277


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 Humor, and the Existential Award.” In Black Humor: Critical Essays, pp. 181-96. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.

Offers an existential analysis of Candide and a discussion of its influence on black humorists of the twentieth century.

Additional coverage of Voltaire's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 13; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Dramatist and Most-studied Authors; European Writers Vol. 4; Guide to French Literature Vol. Beginnings to 1789; Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vols. 14, 79; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 1; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1; Literature Resource Center; Novels for Students, Vol. 7; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 12; Twayne's World Authors; and World Literature Criticism.

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