Candide, by Voltaire

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Candide, ou l’Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment.

My rating: ★★★★ out of 5 stars

I have no idea why I’ve waited so long to read this book. I listened to it, along with another short tale called Zadig. I will review Zadig later, but it’s like a Candide with an oriental flair.

I thought Candide was a philosophical dissertation about the topic of human nature. I was not prepared for this adventures packed short novel, full of humor, witticism, and so engaging, accessible, and modern in style.

Many say Candide is dated. As with In Praise of Folly, I’m sure that when we read them, the specific references to events and people that these books satires are aimed at, may be lost to us. But I don’t think one needs to know all the references to get the humor, or to fully enjoy it. If I had to learn first about the philosophies and personages of past centuries, I’d never have read Dante’s Inferno, or In Praise of Folly. I couldn’t help but enjoying Candide, laughing with the book, and, I believe, getting the irony. Maybe comments like that dissuade people from reading books that are truly modern, and easy to follow and enjoy by someone like me, without much historical or philosophical knowledge of the authors’ eras. I’ve seen this book being compared to Don Quijote, if so, it’s a Don Quijote on steroids and boiled down to a few frantic pages, with a dash of Dante’s Inferno, and even of Robinson Crusoe. The characters go through exacerbated tragedies, and it becomes so comic to the point that no matter if people are stabbed to death, or hanged, the reader will see them spring back to life in the next chapters with fantastic explanations of how they escaped death.

There’s a serious moral of this caricature of life at the end of the book. And even in the midst of this parody, it was very credible. I won’t spoil it. I have to say that listening to Candide was just a bit over 2 hours. As with In Praise of Folly, they are books I’m going to listen or read again.

It delighted me to hear many places in Spain appear in the book. Voltaire gives us an accurate image of the craziness of his era, where Europe, Asia, and the Americas saw a constant flux of people from different social hierarchies, religions, and ethnicity. Candide and his companions tumble across continents, changing fortune (from rich to poor and everything in between), and social status (nobles to slaves).

“‘What is optimism?’, said Cacambo. ‘Alas!’ said Candide, ‘it is the mania of maintaining that everything is well when we are wretched.'” Chapter 19, pg. 83

I highly recommend this book!

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5 thoughts on “Candide, by Voltaire

    • The more I think about it, the more I believe I’ve read pulp fiction of the 18 hundreds! That’s the word, pulp fiction, or the script of a movie by Todd Solondz. I have the feeling you’d love it, Rob.

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  1. I should have read this: As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté.

    When they go to Buenos Aires, they meet the governor: Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza (I was in stitches at that point).

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  2. I will have to re-read this one. Maybe when Karen revives the Back to the Classics category of a book one read in school , since I first read this in college. I remember it being very funny and it later life it has turned out to be useful to know who Dr. Pangloss is and what is meant by “The best of all possible worlds” and “to cultivate your own garden”.

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    • Or maybe a classic with a name in the title! It’s merely 2 hours and a half. Most of the books, like my copy in the picture, have more pages of introduction and commentary than the book itself.
      Yes to knowing those things! (I’m not super versed in philosophy, but since the beginning of the book, with the “best possible world” idea, I recognized it as Leibniz’s idea than this world, since it’s the only existing one, has that quality, existence, that makes it better than any perfect universe that only exists in our minds.
      Zadig is the second part in the same audio I checked for Candide. It’s another short tale, an oriental Candide, another guy instead of candid, more like a good looking, intelligent, guy with potential to be a happy and accomplished person, and all that happens to him while trying to do good unto others.

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