Candide Essay

This essay has a total of 2027 words and 13 pages.


Voltaire's Candide

Translated with an Introduction by John Butt

In a world of bureaucrats, engineers, and producers, Voltaire is the necessary philosopher.
--Gustave Lanson

The Best of All Possible Worlds
An Introduction to Candide

While Candide is without a doubt a farcical, humorous, and far-fetched tale, a seriousness
lies beneath its satirical veneer. Candide is the story of an innocent young man embarking
on a series of adventures during which he discovers much evil in the world. Throughout his
journey Candide believes in and adheres to the philosophy of his teacher, Pangloss, that
"all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." This philosophy was prevalent
during Voltaire's day, and Candide is Voltaire's scathing response to what he saw as an
absurd belief that for its followers, the Optimists, was an easy way to rationalize evil
and suffering. Candide was composed mainly as an attack on Gottfried Leibniz, the main
proponent of Optimism. Candide was also written in opposition to Alexander Pope's Essay on
Man, which espouses that "partial evil" is for the "greater good." Though he was by no
means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best.

Voltaire's vehement response was triggered in part by two catastrophic events: an
earthquake in Lima, Peru, in 1746, and an even more devastating earthquake in Lisbon,
Spain, that killed fifty thousand people in 1755. Incensed that the Optimists were
comforting the earthquake victims by assuring them that this event had happened for "the
best," Voltaire wrote Po鋗e sur le d廥astre de Lisbonne (1756), in which he
expresses sympathy for the earthquake victims and lashes out at the Optimists. In the
Introduction to the poem, Voltaire addresses their callousness by writing: "The heirs of
the dead would now come into their fortunes, masons would grow rich in rebuilding the
city, beasts would grow fat on corpses buried in the ruins; such is the natural effect of
natural causes. So don't worry about your own particular evil; you are contributing to the
general good." Voltaire again confronted the mockery of this belief in Candide, which he
wrote three years later in 1759.

Candide is rooted in historical events of the time, including the Seven Years' War, the
execution of Admiral Byng in 1747, and the war between England and France for Canadian
territory. Furthering this time of political unrest was the beginning of the Enlightenment
period during which an educated elite called the Philosophes--including Voltaire and other
well-known figures such as Denis Diderot--began questioning European beliefs and
institutions and speaking out against intolerance and injustice. While extremely popular
with the Parisian public, his contemporaries, and even royalty, Voltaire himself was
subjected to injustices (particularly his imprisonment in the Bastille for writing a
satire about the Regent of France) that are believed to have influenced his writing of

Due to its scandalous nature, Candide was published clandestinely and anonymously, and its
exact publication date is unknown. However, in mid-January of 1759, Voltaire's publisher
sent 1,000 copies of Candide to Paris, and by late February Voltaire's identity was
revealed. The police were ordered to seize all copies of Candide that could be found, but
the controversy only served to further fuel the book's popularity--and by the end of the
year, at least seventeen editions of the work had been published.

Religious officials, however, pronounced the book "full of dangerous principles concerning
religion and tending to moral depravation." The critic Madame de Sta螔 remarked that
Candide was a work of "infernal gaiety" by a writer who laughs "like a demon, or like a
monkey at the miseries of this human race with which he has nothing in common."
Nonetheless, the reading public adored Candide, and the phrase "Let us eat Jesuit" was
spoken repeatedly, and since the late nineteenth century, Candide has been recognized as a
masterpiece. Even Gustave Flaubert admitted that he read Candide one hundred times and
used it as a model in his own writing.

About Voltaire

From his birth (n?Fran蔞is-Marie Arouet) in Paris in 1694, Voltaire's life was
filled with turmoil. He was never on good terms with his father, Fran蔞is, or his
elder brother, Armand. He believed his real father was an officer and songwriter named
Rochebrune. His mother died when he was seven, and after her death he rebelled against his
family and began a close relationship with his godfather, the Abb?de Ch漮eauneuf, a
freethinker and Epicurean. Voltaire attended the Jesuit college of Louis-le-Grand in
Paris, where he grew to love literature and the theater.

At the age of twenty-two, Voltaire was exiled to Sully-sur-Loire for seven months for
writing a satire of the Duke of Orl嶧ns, the ruling Regent of France. The next year
he wrote another satire that resulted in his imprisonment in the Bastille for eleven
months. In 1718, he began using the name Voltaire, rejecting the family name he had long
detested. That same year his first play, Oedipe, was staged, and his epic poem La Ligue
was published in 1723 to great popularity. Voltaire spent several years as a member of the
royal court of Louis XV at Versailles during which time he was also at the height of his
success in Paris.

In 1726, his life changed dramatically when he quarreled with the Chevalier Rohan, a
member of one of France's leading families. Voltaire, who was beaten by the Chevalier's
servants, contemplated calling the Chevalier out for a duel, but he was again imprisoned
in the Bastille for being a threat to public order. He was released after a month on the
condition that he leave Paris, and he spent the next three years in England.

Upon the publication of Lettres philosophiques (1734), Voltaire was condemned by the
Parliament of Paris as offensive to politics and religion. A warrant was soon issued for
his arrest. He went into hiding at Cirey where his mistress, Madame du Ch漮elet,

When the War of the Austrian Succession broke out in 1742, Voltaire was sent on a secret
mission to rally the King of Prussia to the French cause. This act restored his favor with
Louis XV, and he was appointed court biographer at Versailles. His period of favor at
Louis' court ended in 1747 amid indiscretions of his affair with Mme du Ch漮elet,
and the two were forced to flee.

Voltaire faced the greatest crisis of his life when he witnessed Mme du Ch漮elet's
death in childbirth in 1749 (the child was not Voltaire's). Devastated by her death, he
accepted the invitation of Frederick of Prussia to join him in Berlin. At Frederick's
court he brawled with a compatriot, Maupertius, on whom he then based a satire which was
immediately burned on Frederick's orders. His clashes with Frederick caused Voltaire and
Mme Denis, his niece with whom he was having an affair, to leave Berlin in 1753, and he
was held under house arrest by Prussian authorities. Louis XV forbade him entrance to
Paris, and he eventually settled in Geneva.

Voltaire wrote two major historical studies, Le si鋃le de Louis XIV (1751) and Essai
sur les moeurs (1755), which traced the history of the world from the end of the Roman
Continues for 7 more pages >>

  • Charles Dickens
    Charles Dickens Charles Dickens Dickens has always presented problems for literary criticism. For theorists whose critical presuppositions emphasize intelligence, sensitivity and an author in complete control of his work the cruder aspects of his popular art have often proved an insurmountable obstacle, while for the formulators of traditions his gigantic idiosyncrasies can never be made to conform. If difficulties such as these have been overcome by the awareness that Dickens sets his own stand
  • Catcher in the Rye Vs Huckleberry Finn
    Catcher in the Rye Vs Huckleberry Finn J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye Compared to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn All famous American authors have written novels using a variety of characters, plots, and settings to illustrate important themes. Throughout literary history many of the same themes have been stressed in different novels. In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, each author writes about the common theme of coming of age. The
  • The spain cervantes lived in
    the spain cervantes lived in The Spain Cervantes Lived In Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, writer of the world famous novel Don Quixote, was born in Spain in 1547. He was the son of a practical doctor, and although they were "hidalgos," a title of lesser nobility, they were relatively poor. Cervantes\' life can be described as somewhat chaotic. Coincidentally, the time period when he was alive was also considered chaotic in Europe, and particularly in Spain. Europe as a whole was going through the
  • Regionalism and Humor in Huck Finn
    Regionalism and Humor in Huck Finn Effective message through dialect, regionalism, and humor in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Some writers use dialect, regionalism, and humor in their literary works to enhance their themes. Mark Twain’s ability to write in the vernacular allows him to capitalize on humor and dialect. In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, the author conveys an effective message through dialect, regionalism, and humor in southern cultur
  • The Scene of the Screen Envisioning Cinematc and E
    The Scene of the Screen Envisioning Cinematc and Electronic Presence This essay is published in Materialities of Communication., eds. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994): 83-106. A much shorter version also appeared in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanties 10.1 (Fall 1990): 50-59, under the title "Toward a Phenomenology of Cinematic and Electronic Presence: The Scene of the Screen." It is used here with the permission of the author. I
  • Handmaids Tale
    Handmaids Tale In the course Y2k and The End of The World, we\'ve studied apocalyptic themes, eschatology, and for some, teleology. Apocalypse, which is to unveil or reveal, eschatology, which is a concept of the end, and teleology, the end or purpose to which we are drawn, are all themes used in Margaret Atwood\'s The Handmaid\'s Tale. The book is apocalyptic in that it revolves around dystopian ideals. Atwood creates a world in which worst-case scenarios take control and optimistic viewpoints
  • Use of Language in Catcher in the Rye
    Use of Language in Catcher in the Rye The Language of Catcher in the Rye The passage of adolescence has served as the central theme for many novels, but J.D. Salinger\'s The Catcher in the Rye, long a staple in academic lesson plans, has captured the spirit of this stage of life in hypersensitive form, dramatizing Holden Caulfield\'s vulgar language and melodramatic reactions. Written as the autobiographical account of a fictional teenage prep school student, Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in th
  • Grapes of Wrath: Biblical Alusion
    Grapes of Wrath: Biblical Alusion John Steinbeck always makes it a point to know about his subjects first hand. His stories always have some factual basis behind them. Otherwise, he does not believe that they will be of any value beyond artistic impression. Therefore, most of his novels take place in California, the site of his birth and young life. In preparation for writing his novels, Steinbeck would often travel with people about whom he was going to write. The Grapes of Wrath was no excepti
  • Lucky Jim
    Lucky Jim Characters There is more than a touch of the picaresque rogue in Jim Dixon. Jim perpetrates a succession of practical jokes, tricks, and deceptions on other characters in the novel, especially those who offend his democratic sensibility. He has a talent for pulling faces and projecting voices gestures Amis uses to enhance Jim\'s social commentary. He is sometimes aided and abetted in his roguery by his fellow boarder, the salesman Bill Atkinson. On campus, in addition to Welch, Johns,