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Tay

Candide

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The cover of my copy hails Candide as ‘caustic and hilarious’. Well I can agree with the caustic but I found nothing funny in the book.

 

Candide travels round Europe and South America, providing Voltaire a vehicle for this satire on science, romance, philosophy, religion and government. Candide had been tutored by a Dr. Pangloss who preached a ‘the best of all possible worlds’ philosophy. But given the misfortunes he witnessed and suffered Candide found it increasingly hard to accept his former tutor’s teachings.

 

This short book is basically a parody of Theodicee by Leibinz in which the German philosopher contests that the ‘world is basically good’, given that it was created by God it is the ‘best possible’.

 

I can understand that on its publication in 1759 this book will have raised an eyebrow or two and set many heads spinning in the drawing rooms of Europe but now it seems fairly tame and obvious. As a story it is repetitive and lacks the imagination of Swift’s Gulliver.

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It' many decades since I read and enjoyed Candide, but I doubt if I'd read it again today for pleasure. It belongs to the Age of Reason and tends to satirise advanced scientific thinking and to pooh-pooh outlandish philosophy. I put it, in my mind with Johnson's Rasselas and Swift's Tale of a Tub. Great, if you are doing the Augustan period in Eng Lit, but not so much fun for us as it obviously was to the thinkers of the period.

 

I remember one joke in the book about a woman who was selected to part with one plump buttock to save the lives of others starvlings in her party. She then had difficulty in riding her donkey (with only one buttock). And of course Professor Pangloss's phrase that he constantly repeated about everything being for the best. Satires on religion and politics tend to pall, in time, I find. The final tag about the best way to conduct our lives is to forget sermonising and philosophy and just cultivate our gardens is pretty feeble, but very French I'd say.

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It's interesting that certain kinds of literature don't have a great deal of validity outside of the period in which they were written, and I think this is true of Candide, and, as you say, nonsuch, of a lot of 18th-century works, including Gulliver's Travels.

 

Then, on the other hand, there is literature which is "not of an age but for all time", as was said about Shakespeare. (Although most of us can probably do without Shakespeare's thereby hangs a tail variety of smutty humour...)

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