Voltaire was born Francois Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694 in Paris. He received his education at Louis-le-Grand, a Jesuit college in Paris where he said he learned nothing but Latin and the Stupidities. (His disdain for religion becomes apparent in his later writings.)
After dropping out of school, Voltaire became quite popular among the social circles of Paris. In 1717, he wrote a scathing satire about French authorities and ended up in prison for eleven months.
While in prison, Voltaire wrote his first theatrical success- Oedipe. In 1726, Voltaire insulted a powerful and influential nobleman, Chevalier De Rohan, and was given two options: prison or exile. Voltaire opted for the latter and moved to England. While in England, he studied and became influenced by John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton. He also loved and began writing about the idea of a constitutional monarchy, which the French government saw as criticism, and in 1734, Voltaire was forced to leave Paris again.
Voltaire moved to Luneville in eastern France with his married mistress, Emilie du Chatelet, where they lived for fifteen years. During this time, Voltaire began a correspondence with Frederick of Prussia, finally moving to Potsdam in 1750. Eventually, Voltaire and Emilies relationship ended and he began a new affair with his recently widowed niece.
At first in Prussia, Voltaire and Frederick shared many similar ideas; however, because of their strong-minded tendencies, eventually conflict arose. In March 1753, Voltaire leaves Prussia on poor terms and settles in Switzerland. His choice of a city, Geneva, was interesting because at the time the city was populated with Calvinists- a group who was very pious. Not surprisingly, Voltaire again found himself at odds with the government leaders.
On November 1, 1755, Lisbon, Portugal was destroyed by an earthquake that killed fifteen thousand people in six minutes with another fifteen thousand mortally wounded. Voltaire contemplated on the disaster and began to think if Alexander Pope (a famed Optimist) would agree. Pope once wrote that Whatever is, is right. Voltaire began to question the Optimist philosophy and knew there must be an inherent flaw in a philosophy that believed this devastating earthquake to be the best of all possible worlds.
After leaving Geneva, Voltaire finally settled in Ferney, France where he wrote Candide in 1759. Voltaire considered his book to be a literary response to the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz who attempted to establish a philosophy that merged a scientific explanation of the universe with a belief in a just God. Voltaire disagreed with Leibnitzs assertion that of all possible worlds that God could have created, this must be the best, for God would have chosen the best and set out to satirize what he perceived to be a dangerously nave outlook.
Voltaire was attacking the three main beliefs of optimism:1)Humans can transcend their selfishness
2) A final accounting balance of good and evil in the world is achievable
3) Human philosophies bear some sort of direct relevance to human behavior
Voltaire believed that an acceptance of the Optimist philosophy would lead weak thinkers to complacency and acceptance of evil as a natural course of things. After the publication of Candide, the philosophy was never again as credible or as popular.
Characters of CandideCandide- main character, whose origin is unknown and irrelevant. The book focuses on his adventures and his transformation from an innocent, candid young man to a cynical adult.
Dr. Pangloss- tutor of Candide whose catch-phrase all that is is for the best is representative of the philosophy of Optimism.
Cunegonde- Candides true love; the object of his desire and all of his searches and journeys. She is raped, sold to several men, and eventually is sold as a slave until Candide buys her freedom.
Cacambo- Candides valet and eventual travel companion throughout South AmericaDon Fernando dIbaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza- a nobleman whose name parodies the ridiculous of titles; he takes Cunegonde as a loverThe Old Woman- daughter of a pope and a princess; Cunegondes travel companion
James, the Anabaptist- only person who helps Candide in Holland; Voltaire uses this character to point out the hypocrisy of many ChristiansPaquette- a servant who gives Pangloss venereal disease and eventually becomes a prostitute.Cunegondes brother (the Colonel)- never given a name; hes based partly on Frederick the GreatBaron Thunder-ten-tronckh- master of the castle who kicks out Candide
Tools of SatireRidicule description intended to cause contemptuous laughter.Irony The contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is actually meant. Caricature (burlesque)A representation in which the subjects distinctive features are deliberately exaggerated for comic or grotesque effect.
HyperboleA figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement. Hyperbole can be used for either comic or serious effect; Hyperbole often produces irony at the same time.Sarcasm From the Greek meaning, "to tear flesh," sarcasm involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt of ridicule someone or something. It may use irony as a device, but not all ironic statements are sarcastic.
Wit In modern usage, wit is intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights. A witty statement is humorous, while suggesting the speaker's verbal power in creating ingenious and perceptive remarks. Wit usually uses terse language that makes a pointed statement.Innuendo An indirect intimation about a person or thing, especially of a disparaging or derogatory nature
Understatement -- The ironic minimizing of fact, understatement presents something as less significant than it is. The effect can frequently be humorous and emphatic.