As part of my level two Open University course, I had to study the novel Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire. It is a book that is vitally relevant today in our world pervaded by- as Candide would say- “the mania for insisting that all is well when all is by no means.”
Candide tells the hilarious adventures of he naïve Candide, who doggedly believes that “all is for the best” even when faced with injustice, suffering, and despair.
From appearances I was pretty certain that this book would be of no interest to me, but it wasn’t as boring and dry as my first impressions bestowed on me.
Candide, or Optimism tells the story of a man named Candide, who falls in love with their beautiful but very materialistic Cunégonde. Her father does not approve of her affair with Candide and throws him out, and so his adventure or life begins with a mix of good and bad fortunes along the way.
Candide’ tutor Doctor Pangloss teaches Candide that the world they’re living in is “the best of all possible worlds,” but what makes this book an 18th century comedic travel piece is the false optimism throughout. Candide deals with a number of misfortunes, but Voltaire seems to be mocking Candide and of his optimism because the world is full of misfortunate occurrences.
However, Candide remains optimism right from the start. If anything he is almost childlike, and oblivious to the bad in the world. We see this particularly when Cunégonde isn’t excited to be travelling to the New World, because she knows it will be no different to where she is now. She goes into depth of how as a woman she has been manipulated, abused, and sexually humiliated despite her being from a well-to-do family.
I really enjoyed how Voltaire’s philosophy really shone through in this novel, but I enjoyed how he made it humours and yet mocking at the same time.
Candide, or Optimism is written in short chapters and titled by the events within the chapter. This made the book quick and easy to read, and importantly it didn’t drag on and on which was what I was expecting.
What I didn’t like so much at times was the language, but that fault is only mine of not understanding. Secondly there wasn’t a huge and intriguing plot, and I’m supposing this is because it is a travel piece and so the characters are moving from place to place so not an awful lot can happen within a few pages. Some of the humour I didn’t understand either but hey I’m no 18th century joker, so again the fault is mine.
I really enjoyed this 18th century novel, and if anything it’s encouraged me to explore classics that are outside of the mainstream vortex.