Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Book review - Candide by Voltaire (translated by Theo Cuffe)

Candide (1758) is a wonderful dialectic adventure story, with a strong philosophical bent and excellent characters to boot. When I started the book, I questioned what the hell I was reading - the pace is ultra frenetic with action so dense that a Hollywood action movie wouldn't be able to keep pace, and the events are beyond far-fetched. However, after a few short chapters I had adapted and was firmly hooked into Voltaire's crazy world.

Candide works perfectly well without requiring a knowledge of political and philosophical context. At under a hundred pages in length, this really is a classic that should be read by all.



- He (Pangloss) could prove to wonderful effect that there was no effect without cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, his Lordship the Baron's castle was the finest of castles and her Ladyship the best of possible baronesses.
'It is demonstrable,' he would say, 'that things cannot be other than as they are: for, since everything is made to serve an end, everything is necessarily for the best of ends. Observe how noses were formed to support spectacles, therefore we have spectacles. Legs are clearly devised for the wearing of breeches, therefore we wear breeches.

- The king laughed. 'I cannot begin to understand the passion you Europeans have for our yellow mud; but take all you want, and much good may it do you.'

- This sequence of events completed Candide's despair; in truth he had endured misfortunes a thousand times more painful, but the cold-bloodedness of the magistrate, and of the captain who had robbed him, raised his spleen, and plunged him into the blackest melancholy. The wickedness of man now revealed itself to him in all its ugliness; his mind fed exclusively on gloomy thoughts.

- The immense riches seized by this scoundrel were engulfed along with him, and nothing saved but a single sheep. 'You see,' said Candide to Martin, 'crime is sometimes punished; that blackguard of a Dutch owner got the fate he deserved .'

- 'Yes,' said Martin, 'but did the passengers on board have to perish too?' God punished the thief, the devil drowned the rest.

- '... I have seen so many extraordinary things that nothing seems extraordinary to me any more' (Martin)

- 'I hope,' said Martin, 'that one day she may make you very happy, but I doubt it very much.' - 'You are very hard,' said Candide. - 'Because I know what life is,' said Martin.
'But look at those gondoliers,' said Candide; 'do they not sing all day long?'

- 'Yes, but you don't see them at home with their wives and squealing children,' said Martin. 'The Doge has his troubles, and the gondoliers have theirs. It is true that, all things considered, the lot of a gondolier is preferable to that of a Doge, but I think the difference is so slight as not to be worth arguing over.'

- 'Now tell us this, my dear Pangloss,' said Candide. 'While you were being hanged, and dissected, and beaten, and made to row in a galley, did you continue to believe that all was for the best?'

- 'I hold firmly to my original views, ' replied Pangloss. 'I am a philosopher after all: it would not do for me to recant, given that Liebniz is incapable of error, and that pre-established harmony is moreover the finest thing in the world ...'

- Pangloss conceded that he had suffered horribly, all his life, but having once maintained that everything was going splendidly he would continue to do so, while believing nothing of the kind.

- During this conversation, news was spread abroad that two viziers of the bench and the mufti had just been strangled at Constantinople, and several of their friends empaled. This catastrophe made a great noise for some hours. Pangloss, Candide, and Martin, as they were returning to the little farm, met with a good-looking old man, who was taking the air at his door, under an alcove formed of the boughs of orange-trees. Pangloss, who was as inquisitive as he was disputative, asked him what was the name of the mufti who was lately strangled. “I cannot tell,” answered the good old man; “I never knew the name of any mufti, or vizier breathing. I am entirely ignorant of the event you speak of; I presume that in general such as are concerned in public affairs sometimes come to a miserable end; and that they deserve it: but I never inquire what is doing at Constantinople; I am contented with sending thither the produce of my garden, which I cultivate with my own hands.” After saying these words, he invited the strangers to come into his house. His two daughters and two sons presented them with divers sorts of sherbet of their own making; besides caymac, heightened with the peels of candied citrons, oranges, lemons, pineapples, pistachio nuts, and Mocha coffee unadulterated with the bad coffee of Batavia or the American islands. After which the two daughters of this good Mussulman perfumed the beards of Candide, Pangloss, and Martin.

“You must certainly have a vast estate,” said Candide to the Turk; who replied, “I have no more than twenty acres of ground, the whole of which I cultivate myself with the help of my children; and our labor keeps off from us three great evils—idleness, vice, and want.”

Candide, as he was returning home, made profound reflections on the Turk’s discourse. “This good old man,” said he to Pangloss and Martin, “appears to me to have chosen for himself a lot much preferable to that of the six kings with whom we had the honor to sup.” “Human grandeur,” said Pangloss, “is very dangerous, if we believe the testimonies of almost all philosophers; for we find Eglon, king of Moab, was assassinated by Aod; Absalom was hanged by the hair of his head, and run through with three darts; King Nadab, son of Jeroboam, was slain by Baaza; King Ela by Zimri; Okosias by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the kings Jehooiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity ... “Neither need you tell me,” said Candide, “that we must take care of our garden.” “You are in the right,” said Pangloss; “for when man was put into the garden of Eden, it was with an intent to dress it: and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Work then without disputing,” said Martin; “it is the only way to render life supportable.”

The little society, one and all, entered into this laudable design; and set themselves to exert their different talents. The little piece of ground yielded them a plentiful crop. Cunegund indeed was very ugly, but she became an excellent hand at pastrywork; Pacquette embroidered; the old woman had the care of the linen. There was none, down to Brother GiroflĂ©e, but did some service; he was a very good carpenter, and became an honest man. Pangloss used now and then to say to Candide, “There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not travelled over America on foot; had you not run the baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.” “Excellently observed,” answered Candide; 'but we must cultivate our garden.'

(Last quote copied from Candide on-line, with 'but we must cultivate our garden' changed to match the version I read)


masteroftheuniverse said...

candide has to be my favorite book in the world. His chase of Cunegonde should be classified as one of the most romsntic scenes in literature. Pangloss is mereky a sidebar. Candide truly grows in the book and becomes an adult. When he reunited with his true love, he didn't abandon her and took to her deformities with the love of a teenager. Candide was a first rate man,with many of adventures to tell.

Riz said...

I guess we see best that which we relate to. I was very happy that Candide didn't leave Cunegund, but what really grabbed me was the curious Pangloss and Martin, who is an anti-Pangloss. I'm not sure where my thinking fits in Candide's world of pessimism/optimism...much food for thought..enough to go round and round forever...so perhaps it is better that we go and cultivate the land instead, or in this case, that I go to sleep!

masteroftheuniverse said...


I found Candide to be one of the most entertaining books I've ever read. The first time I read it, I was about 13 and didn't get all the subtle nuances. Hell, I'm 52 and still learn new lessons every time I revisit that book.

Last year, I reviewed a book, an autobiography, "My Life and Loves" by Frank Harris. Although many market lessons are in the book, the tale he weaves is simply amazing. Have you read it?

If not, let me know and I'll send you a copy.....I probably give 10 copies of that book away every year. I'm the Johnny Appleseed(American Character) of Frank Harris.