Sunday, May 17, 2009

60. Candide – Voltaire

May 2007
History: Published in 1759. A number of deadly historical events inspired Voltaire to write Candide, most notably the Seven Years' War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The earthquake had an especially large effect on the contemporary doctrine of optimism, a philosophical system which implies that such events should not occur. Optimism says all is for the best because God is a benevolent deity. Voltaire actively rejected Leibnizian optimism after the natural disaster, convinced that if this were the best possible world, it should surely be better than it is. Immediately after the earthquake, unreliable rumours circulated around Europe, sometimes overestimating the severity of the event.
Plot: All is well in the Baron's castle, until Cunégonde accidentally sees Pangloss sexually engaged with Paquette in some bushes. Encouraged by this show of affection, Cunégonde drops her handkerchief next to Candide which entices him to kiss her. For this infraction, Candide is evicted from the castle, at which point he is captured by Bulgar recruiters and coerced into military service. For attempted desertion, Candide is flogged and nearly executed, before being forced to engage in a large battle between the Bulgars and the Abares (French). Candide successfully escapes the army and makes his way to Holland where he is given aid by Jacques, an Anabaptist, who strengthens Candide's faith in optimism. Soon after, Candide finds his master Pangloss, now a beggar with syphilis. Pangloss reveals he was infected with this disease by Paquette and shocks Candide by relating how Castle Thunder-ten-Tronckh was destroyed by Bulgars, and that Cunégonde and her whole family were killed. Pangloss is cured of his illness by Jacques, losing one eye and one ear in the process, and the three set sail to Lisbon. However, at the end of their journey, they are overtaken by a vicious storm which destroys the boat. The only survivors are Pangloss, Candide, and a "brutish sailor". Shortly after these three set foot in Lisbon, the city is hit by an earthquake, tsunami and fire which kill tens of thousands.
In the wake of the destruction, Candide and Pangloss are arrested by the Portuguese Inquisition for their uncommon philosophy, and set to be punished in an "auto-da-fé", a ceremony designed to eliminate heretics, appease God and prevent another disaster. Candide is flogged again and sees Pangloss hanged, but another earthquake follows. Candide is then approached by an old woman who leads Candide to a house where Lady Cunégonde waits, alive, to relate her story: after Bulgars raided the baron's castle, killed her family, and attacked her, Cunégonde was rescued by a captain who, in turn, sold her to a Jewish merchant and banker, Don Issachar. When Candide finds Cunégonde, her ownership is shared by this Don Issachar and a Grand Inquisitor, each possessing the girl on alternate days of the week. Having heard this story, Candide kills both the Jew and the Inquisitor, then escapes with Cunégonde and the old woman to Cádiz.
Cunégonde falls into self-pity, complaining of all the misfortunes that have befallen her. The old woman reciprocates by revealing her own tragic life, which has included having a buttock cut off in order to feed some starving men.
Leaving Cádiz, the trio embarks for the port at Buenos Aires. There, Governor Don Fernando de Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampurdos y Sousa, asks to marry Cunégonde. Just then, an alcaide (a Portugese fortress commander) arrives in Buenos Aires pursuing Candide for killing the Grand Inquisitor. Candide escapes to Paraguay by following the advice of his practical and heretofore unmentioned manservant Cacambo. At a border post on the way to Paraguay, Cacambo and Candide speak to the commandant, who turns out to be Cunégonde's brother (who is not named). This brother explains how he was saved by Jesuits and came to be there. The character of this brother is likely based on Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, with whom Voltaire corresponded. When Candide proclaims he intends to marry Cunégonde, the brother is enraged and strikes Candide with the flat of his sword. Candide then apparently kills him, steals his robe and flees with Cacambo.
Candide and Cacambo wander into El Dorado, a geographically isolated utopia where the streets are covered with precious stones, there exist no priests, and all of the king's jokes are funny. Candide and Cacambo stay a month in El Dorado, but Candide is still in pain without Cunégonde, and expresses to the king his wish to leave. The king points out that this is a foolish idea, but generously helps them do so. The pair continue their journey, now accompanied by one hundred red pack sheep carrying provisions and incredible sums of money, which are slowly lost and stolen. Candide and Cacambo find a slave on the road to Surinam who is missing an arm and leg. Candide and Cacambo, taking pity on the slave, help him to reach Surinam. This reflects Voltaire's hatred of slavery, a revolutionary concept in his time. Candide and Cacambo reach Suriname, where they split up: Cacambo travels to Buenos Aires to retrieve Lady Cunégonde, and Candide travels to Venice to await his arrival, finding a ship to take him to Bordeaux. Feeling in need of companionship he interviews a number of local men who have been through various ill-fortunes and settles on a man named Martin.
This companion, Martin, discusses Pangloss's philosophy with Candide and reveals that he himself is a Manichean scholar from Amsterdam. The character of Martin is based on the real-life pessimist Pierre Bayle, who is a chief opponent of Leibniz. For the remainder of the voyage, Martin and Candide argue about philosophy, Candide still being an optimist at heart since it is all he knows. Just before docking in England they witness the execution of a British naval officer on the charge of not killing enough of the enemy. Horrified, Candide refuses to even set foot on British soil.
In Venice, Candide and Martin meet Paquette, the chambermaid who infected Pangloss with his syphilis. She is now a prostitute, and is spending her time with a monk, Brother Giroflée. Although both appear happy on the surface, they reveal their despair: Paquette has led a miserable existence as a sexual object, and the monk detests the religious order in which he was indoctrinated.
Candide and Martin even visit the wealthy nobleman Signor Pococurante (meaning "taking little care" in Italian) in his palace. This man is surrounded by beautiful girls, wonderful paintings, books and music which greatly impress Candide. Pococurante, however, is unimpressed with it all: he finds no pleasure in anything, for he sees only faults. In the twenty-seventh chapter, Candide, Martin, and Cacambo are on board a ship to Constantinople, on which Cacambo relates Cunégonde's status: she is washing dishes for a prince of Transylvania, and has become ugly. On the way to rescue her, Candide finds Pangloss and Lady Cunégonde's brother rowing in the galley. Candide buys their freedom and further passage at steep prices. The travellers arrive in Transylvania where they rejoin Cunégonde and the old woman. Cunégonde has indeed become hideously ugly but Candide nevertheless buys their freedom and marries Cunégonde to spite her brother. Paquette and Brother Giroflée, too, are reconciled with Candide on a farm which he just bought, his only property remaining.
Returning to their farm, Candide, Pangloss, and Martin meet a Turk whose philosophy is to devote his life only to simple work and not concern himself with external affairs. He and his four children work a small farm to keep "free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity". Candide, Pangloss, Martin, Cunégonde, Paquette, the old woman, and Brother Giroflée all set to work (on this "louable dessein", or "commendable plan", as the narrator calls it), each to one specific task. Candide ignores Pangloss's insistence that all turned out for the best by necessity, and he is resolved only that "we must cultivate our garden".
Review: "Candide" moves forward with the frenetic pace of a comic book adventure. With his twisted brand of humor, Voltaire subjects Candide to tortures that are at once cruel and hilarious. Voltaire also uses his novella to make snide remarks about his personal enemies.
Opening Line: “In the country of Westphalia, in the castle of the most noble Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, lived a youth whom Nature had endowed with a most sweet disposition.”
Closing Line: “Excellently observed,” answered Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
Quotes: "'[I]s there not pleasure in criticizing, in finding faults where other men think they see beauty?' 'That is to say,' answered Martin, 'that there is pleasure in not being pleased.'"
Rating: Mediocre.

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