Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, October 8, 2012

Candide by Voltaire

Candide by Voltaire (1759)

Voltaire (1694 to 1778, Paris, France) was a towering figure of the age of reason and the French Enlightenment.   He was a very famous person, not just a writer with a huge body of work.  He wrote in a time when an intellectual took it as their goal to know everything and for his time he came as close to anyone I can imagine.   The only one of his works that is still read, in the English only world at least, is his ultra-famous travel novella, Candide or Optimism.  

I think I first read Candide when I was about 13 or so, too many decades ago.   I think it is the perfect age to first read Candide.   I have read it several times since then and once listened to a tape of it on a long car ride.  I just finished it again yesterday.   I sometimes think to  the scene in the journals of James Boswell where Boswell went to visit Voltaire.    Boswell basically forced himself in and Voltaire did all he could to get the conversation over with as soon as possible.

I recently read Don Quixote and Candide is clearly in its debt.   I really am not inclined to tell the plot of this book.   Every commentary says it is a satirical attack on the philosophical notion, often attributed to Leibniz, that we live in the best of all possible worlds.   This is true but it trivializes the meaning and wonder of Candide.  

I decided not to attempt a blog post on Candide other than to say it is must reading for everyone on a life time plan to read the classics.   It is also fun.  I mean who would think a great classic of the French Enlightenment would have a hilarious chapter about  women in tears when their monkey lovers are shot?

There is a very good article by Julian Barnes that explains the historical background of Candide, the process of its translation into English and gives an account some point to ponder as we read it.

You can read Barnes' essay here

You can easily find and download this work in English or French.

Mel u
The Reading Life


@parridhlantern said...

In a post I once wrote about Voltaire as "possibly the greatest stand up comedian, that never was, the 17th centuries Lenny Bruce, Dave Allen & Alexei Sayle, rolled into one vicious satirical comic master…….Ladies and gentlemen may I introduce you to, Francois-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), ok so he went under the stage name of Voltaire and is best known nowadays for Candide, a fantastic tale of human folly and parody". But even this was understating his worth Candide & His philosophical dictionary are amongst my all time favourite reads.

Mel u said...

Parrish lantern. I recall reading many years ago his letters to the English. I bought it in the London airport. I recalled being so impressed that a bookstore in an airport would stock this book. I have also read a couple short fables. Thanks as always for your comments

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Thanks for the Barnes article; I read this in college and appreciated its brevity (hey, I had a lot of assigned reading!) but it was also fun to read in its own right.

Unknown said...

I am a big fan of Voltaire. Someone should have done him for Banned Books Week. Voltaire was banned long before it was cool. ;=) I tried to Candide on audio this summer and just couldn't do it. Audio books are not for me. But reading Candide is a laugh-out-loud experience. I think it's brilliant.

James said...

Thanks for the Barnes article and encouragement to revisit Candide. I was reminded this morning during a discussion of Sterne's Tristram Shandy that Candide was the hot item in 1760 when Sterne published the first book of his Rabelaisian novel.
Early on he asks his patron to take up his novel if "thou art not too busy with Candid and Miss Cunegund's affairs,".