Candide – Book Review

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology. He could prove admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and in this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses. -From Candide, page 12-

Voltaire published Candide – a classic satire which skewers politics, religious fanaticism, war, and colonialism – in 1759 to almost immediate success, despite being quickly condemned by French and Swiss authorities and banned by the Catholic church. The book sold phenomenally well “underground” and is considered one of the greatest satires of all time.

Voltaire created the naive, young Candide as a way to poke fun at religion and politics, while at the same time questioning the philosophy of Leibniz who was the eternal optimist, believing that all happened for the best and we lived in the best of all worlds. Faced with cataclysmic events (such as the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon which killed thousands), Voltaire questions the idea of a benevolent God who could allow such tragedy.

In the novel, Candide faces ludicrous and horrible situations…including floggings, beatings, betrayal, imprisonment, and separation from his beloved Cunegonde. Throughout his travels, Candide meets officials, Jesuits, and philosophers…and discovers a Utopian community…which all gives Voltaire ample opportunity to to attack corruption and hypocrisy in religion, government, philosophy and science. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Candide questions the leader of the Country of El Dorado (Utopia). The scene that follows puts Voltaire’s cutting humor on display:

Candide was interested in seeing some of their priests and had Cacambo ask the old man where they were; at which he, smiling, said: “My friends, we are all priests. The king and all the heads of the families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.” What!” says Cacambo, “you have no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion as themselves?” -From Candide, page 71-

Voltaire’s classic is as relevant today as it was nearly 250 years ago. Truly a book which will stimulate important discussion, this one is highly recommended.

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