Voltaire: Candide (Volume D)
Portrait of Voltaire (1778) by Catherine Lusurier, copied after Nicolas de Largilliere (1718). Housed in the Palace of Versailles. 2
DeismPantheismcorruption of the social orderancien regimedemocracyfair trial, freedom of religion, no slavery
Voltaire was a Deist, possessing no absolute faith or single truth about God; as a pantheist, he believed that God and the universe could be understood through the use of reason and observation of nature. His works often remark upon the corruption of social orders (church, monarchy, aristocracy) and problems with the ancien regime, in which the First Estates (clergy) exploitation of power led to problems for the Second Estate (nobles) and, worse, heavy taxes on the Third Estate (commoners). Voltaire, unlike Rousseau, viewed democracy as a problem because he considered the masses idiotic. He supports an enlightened monarch who would provide fair trials, freedom of religion, and elimination of slavery. 3
Optimism: The universe is the best possible one God made, as a perfect God leads to a perfect universe.Sufficient reason: All things exist, all events occur, and all truth/ knowledge is obtained for a specific reason (often known only to God).Preestablished harmony: Causeeffect argument: one things purpose corresponds to other things purposes.Plenitude: Infinite possibilities arise in the best of all possible worlds; because human existence is finite, we are ill-equipped to understand natures occurrences in the long term.Subservience to a corrupt leader is preferred to revolution.
Rejection of Leibniz
Leibnizs philosophy (main ideas represented above) was developed as an answer to the problem of theodicy: the reconciliation of the existence of evil in the world with the belief in a God that is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. For centuries, this problem has been resolved by the Christian belief in original sin: that people are responsible for evil in the world due to their disobedience. However, Enlightenment philosophers questioned this idea and looked for more rational explanations to this problem. Leibniz put forth a philosophy that came to be known as optimism, the belief that, despite the existence of evil, we live in the best of all possible worlds because the good in the world outweighs the evil. In Candide, Pangloss represents the Leibnizian worldview and instructs Candide in it. Candide starts out believing in the optimistic philosophy, but the parade of human evils he encounters throughout the story leads to his refuting Pangloss at the end of the novel and arguing that we must cultivate our garden. 4
The primary narrator is frequently interrupted by other characters who take over the novel to tell their story, a technique known as diegesis. Characters who take over the narrative include Cungondes brother, the Negro, Martin, Paquette, Brother Girofle, the six dethroned kings, and Cacambo. The content of all of these stories challenges Panglosss Leibnizian optimism, as the characters tell tales of misfortune and injustice. However, the form of these diagetic incursions also reinforces this challenge to Leibniz by presenting a world in which personal, subjective experience overpowers absolute truth. Candides narrator is unable to fully tell of the experiences of all of the characters and therefore must cede control of the narrative to them, just as Leibnizs totalizing philosophy is unable to account for the specifics of human experience, and Candides belief that everything works out for the best is replaced by his belief that everyone must tend their own garden.
The image is an engraving (1787) by Jean-Michel Moreau. The caption reads: It depicts the scene where Candide and Cacambo meet a maimed slave of a sugar mill near Surinam. The caption of the image reads, It is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe; this line was said by the slave in the text. The slave has had his hand cut off for getting a finger stuck in a millstone, and his leg removed for trying to run away.
The idea of a utopia comes from Renaissance writer Thomas Mores novel Utopia, which presents a supposedly perfect society governed by reason. Many Enlightenment writers borrowed Mores idea to create their own supposedly perfect societies. Voltaires Eldorado and Jonathan Swifts Land of the Houyhnhms in Book 4 of Gullivers Travels are the two most notable examples. Voltaires Eldorado seems to be perfect in that it is serene and peaceful, unlike all of the other places to which Candide travels, and some readers do agree with the king that Candide is foolish to leave. However, other readers have argued that the serenity of Eldorado, like the serenity of Mores Utopia and Swifts Land of Houyhnhnms, marks a stasis and lack of feeling that would make the place ultimately unbearable.
The image is an engraving showing the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The caption reads: This copper engraving, made in 1755, shows the city in ruins and in flames. Tsunamis rush upon the shore, destroying the wharfs. The engraving is also noteworthy in showing highly distrubed water in the harbor, which sank many ships. Passengers in the left foreground show signs of panic. Housed in the Earthquake Engineering Online ArchiveJan Kozak collection: KZ128. 6
The story of a voyage is one of the most persistent in literature, going back to ancient texts such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. Candides physical voyage takes him from Europe to South America and back again, with many stops in between. Voltaire uses the voyage tale to show the disjunction between Pangloss and Candides cloistered view of the world and the world itself. Candide goes out into the world with the idea that Panglosss naive optimistic theories, developed in isolated context of the chateau, will hold true for the rest of the world.
The image is a map showing Parime Laucus, the lake where Sir Walter Raleigh places Eldorado, here marked on the west coast of the lake. Map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625). 7
anti-SemitismUtopianatural disasterswarforeign lands (particularly the Americas)
Satire and Incongruity
Voltaire uses these devices of incongruity throughout the novel to show the encroachment of the real world into Pangloss and Candides optimistic philosophy. The brief exchange between Candide and Pangloss about Panglosss syphilis is an excellent introduction into Voltaires satirical techniques. The passage (36061) uses many of Voltaires techniques, such as incongruously contrasting high-minded philosophical musings and obscenity. This begins with Panglosss academic description of the genealogy of the disease, tracing it back to Christopher Columbus. Pangloss then goes on to argue that the existence of such a horrible disease is not evidence against his belief that this is the best of all possible worlds, since if Columbus had not brought this disease back from the New World, Europe also would not have had chocolate or cochineal. 8
The garden at the castle of the baron is frequently interpreted as an Edenlike paradise, with Candide and Cungondes expulsion paralleling Adam and Eves. It is only in this Eden that Panglosss optimistic philosophy makes sense, as Candide frequently encounters evil after being expelled and has his optimistic philosophy challenged. Eldorado is another type of Edenlike garden, and the Eldorado episode notably presents a brief respite from the parade of evils and misfortunes that make up most of the book. Cyclically, the novel ends with Candide and Cungonde making their own garden and Candide refuting Panglosss philosophy by arguing that each man should tend his own garden. Gardens can be read as an example of human industry and self-reliance, disconnected from society, which is the only way to escape the evil and misfortunes of the world.
The image is a photograph of Voltaires estate at Ferney. 9
What are the dangers of optimism or, conversely, of skepticism? How do you see these two theories operating in Candide?Discussion Questions
Is utopia desirable, or do humans need conflict and challenge in order to find purpose and fulfillment in their lives? Where do you see evidence of this in Candide?Discussion Questions
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