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Voltaire, Candide (or Optimism)
Translation: John Butt


Candide lives in the best of all possible worlds, in the best house in the world, with the best people in the world. His mentor, Pangloss, is the greatest philosopher in the world, whilst his master's daughter, Cunegonde, is the loveliest woman in the world.

Pangloss will hear no denial of the 'rightness' of everything but Candide's optimism takes a battering when he is thrown out of his home, and embarks on an adventure in which he will narrowly escape death numerous times.

My Thoughts

This wonderfully clever and witty work was written in 1758, at a time when the prevailing philosophy was a distorted reflection of the doctrine of Leibniz, taken to an extreme where even the direst evil was seen as a necessary, and therefore good, part of our existence.

Voltaire rebelled against this attitude, which he saw for what it was - a corruption of wise philosopy which was originally based on the Christian views of 'necessary evil'. Candide is the means by which Voltaire voiced his dissatisfaction.

The book has the ability to make one laugh at loud at the absurdity of some of the characters, especially Pangloss, whose optimism cannot be dented, even though he becomes diseased, is burnt at the stake and is chained to oars as a galley slave - all of these misfortunes, he maintains, are necessary in a right and just world!

John Butt provides an excellent introduction to the book, describing the philosophies of the time, and offering an insight into the events of Voltaire's time which influenced the prose. My only regret whilst reading the book was that my French is not good enough to read it in its original form, since by all accounts the experience is even better.

I enjoyed Candide immensely - its rapid pace and absurd subject matter caused me much embarrassment as I laughed out loud many times on the train to London! Read it, and you may be surprised at how little people change over the centuries.