843: Candide by Voltaire

by Gerard


843.5: Voltaire. Candide, or Optimism. Translated by John Butt. New York: Penguin. 144 pp. ISBN 0-14-044004-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 840: Literatures of French and related languages
  • 843: French fiction
  • 843.5: 1715-1789

If you’re looking for one of the most satirical, rollicking, odd, philosophical, and whimsical novels in history, then you needn’t go any further than Voltaire’s Candide. Voltaire’s canonical 1759 work examines the conflict between optimism and realism, between Old World and New World experiences, and between upper class and lower class conditions. But even these dichotomies are too simple for this work. The title character’s adventures begin when he kisses Cunegonde, a relative of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh and is expelled from the estate with his mentor Pangloss. And then the real fun starts.

Candide’s adventures through the great earthquake of Lisbon, the New World, and Asia Minor to be reunited with Cunegonde reflects just how sheltered he was raised. Pangloss, ever the optimist, explains that even though there is pain and suffering and loss in the world, we are living in the “best of all possible worlds.” Candide never stops being about things: it’s about first impressions, love, loss, culture, philosophy, foreign relations, religions, etc. Voltaire clearly has a lot to say, but luckily, this novella is just long enough to pack them all in without being too overbearing. Candide finally gives up on optimism, but the funny thing is, he never says what his new philosophy will be. That’s left for the reader to figure out. Much like Animal Farm and 1984, society as a whole is Voltaire’s fodder—he laughs at us all. And we all could use a good laugh. A delightful and witty book.