Book Review: Candide – By Voltaire

Voltaire Candide.pngLetter VVoltaire seems to be one of those figures in philosophy who’s name everybody recognizes and yet one doubts whether they’ve actually read anything by him. Most seem ready to quote him as saying “a witty saying proves nothing” whenever they’ve been bested with a quote; which is at once incorrect, a self-contradiction and a misquotation.

The writers of the movie The Nines are some of these individuals who know Voltaire’s name but don’t seem to have ever read him. This is evidenced in their having the main character reading a copy of Candide, while another character comments on the the desirability of “the best of all possible worlds” (and then the movie ends with the best of all possible worlds). While it’s true that Candide does revolve around the best of all possible worlds, it’s express goal is to argue that this world is not the best one possible.

Voltaire’s Candide, is as said, written in response to an argument in which his opponent is claiming that this world is the best that it can be and can be no different. The Professor Pangloss takes up the role of Voltaire’s opponent in the book, arguing that “‘It is demonstrable,’ said he, ‘that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. ‘” Whenever anything bad happens it is his role to respond “it was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds.”

The formula of the book is very simple, and it would suffice for the reader to simply read the first few chapters and the last – everything in-between is fluff serving to drive home a repetitive argument. Quite simply the story starts out with Pangloss giving his philosophy and then subsequently everything that can go wrong does, lots of murder, rape, and bloodshed designed as a counterargument to Pangloss, concluding with the notion that we must “cultivate our garden.”

I can’t say that I have much to say about the book. It’s short and can easily be read in one setting; if nothing else it’s worth picking up just so one can say they’ve read something by Voltaire. Candide’s shortness is rivaled only by it’s simplicity, which makes one wonder why it is even as long as it is.

Memorable Quotes:

“I was in hopes,” said Pangloss, “that I should reason with you a little about causes and effects, about the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and the pre-established harmony.”

At these words, the Dervish shut the door in their faces.

“I have only twenty acres,” replied the old man; “I and my children cultivate them; our labour preserves us from three great evils–weariness, vice, and want.”

-“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

Specific Criticism

Again, I have little to say about this text. It’s better seen as a philosophical rebuttal than a work of fiction, thus it gets monotonous rather quickly. My only annoyance is that it takes thirty chapters to say what it could have said in three.



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