Lecture Notes
Voltaire

(Main Source: Voltaire's Candide in Maynard Mack, Howard Hugo, Patricia Meyer Spacks et al., ed., translation by Robert M. Adams, Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (New York, WW Norton & Co., 1995).


Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778); French philosopher and writer, leader of the Enlightenment; characterized by his liberal ideas and his opposition to tyranny and bigotry; had an interest in cases of injustice especially those resulting from religious prejudice; use of wit, satire, critical capacities

Voltaire was the son of minor treasury official in Paris; educated by the Jesuits; studied law then turned to writing; adopted name "Voltaire" by 1718; twice imprisoned (1717-1718, 1726) spent eleven months at the Bastille for writing satires of the aristocracy, was also exiled to England (1726-29), returned to France 1729; became rich by 1726 through speculation with the Compagnie des Indes; fled Paris and settled at Cirey in Champagne with Madame du Chatelet, patroness and mistress (1734-49); conducted scientific research; systematic study of religions and culture; accepted invitation from Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia to go to Berlin in 1750, spent time at his Potsdam court (1750-53); settled in Switzerland in 1754, Chateau Les Delices outside Geneva, later at nearby Ferney in France; growing international reputation as writer and social critic; triumphant journey to Paris and death in 1778

wrote in various genres: classical tragedies, epic poem La Henriade; his lampoons of the Regency and his liberal religious opinions caused offense; also wrote histories Charles XII (of Sweden)(1731), use of novelistic technique, believed in history as driven by personal lives and not by divine intervention; Le Siecle de Louis XIV (1751); Lettres philosophiques (1734), against religious and political systems; tales Micromegas (1752); Zadig (1747) pattern of Oriental narrative, experiential education, lessons about life's contingencies; Philosophical Dictionary (1764), witty and penetrating definitions, attempt to master experience through intellect; "Le sens commun n'est pas si commun" ('common sense is not so common'); Candide (1758), mocking of artificial order of fiction and philosophical optimism of Leibniz (1646-1716), concerned with problem of human complacency, intolerabilty of war, evil of every individual death, catalogues of vice and folly,


Candide (1758): Discussion Issues (Source: Fidel Fajardo-Acosta)

Criticism of the idea of the inevitability of vice, passivity; hope for satisfaction in life, activist stance, critique of static idealist ideology; nevertheless order is visible beneath the disorder, call to shake off idealist fantasies, face the ugliness of reality and then recover a sense of hope and awe at the underlying order (mechanical and moral) of the universe. Human action however is seen as essential in allowing the world to realize its positive potentials; nothing happens by itself without work and purposeful human effort.

Adventures as education of Candide, Bildungsroman; initial naivete, ignorance, blindness to the reality of the world; journey begins with exile from 'Eden'/paradise brought about by desire for Cunegonde; Cunegonde as symbolic device, the forbidden fruit/apple of Eden ("ruddy-cheeked girl, fresh, plump, and desirable" 522; Candide as "ejected from the earthly paradise" 523). Cunegonde as a symbol embodying the nature of the aristocratic life, standing thus for a false good, external beauty, money, power, aristocratic status, the idle and parasitic life of the nobility. Candide drawn to such a life


Jean-Marc Nattier, The Marquise d'Antin, Canvas (1738), Jacquemart-André Museum

Fortunate fall motif, enlightenment resulting from misadventures; transformation of the characters from their initial "fallen" position; marriage to Cunegonde symbolic of eradication of social class boundaries, possibility of love across social classes, equality of all human beings, erasing of differences, illuminating of identity of all human beings, love beyond external beauty

Mechanics of separation and reunion: action and consequence system where Candide's failure to gain moral enlightenment and act accordingly leads to continued separation and misery; reunion with Cunegonde, Jew and Inquisitor, Candide kills for Cunegonde, killings connected to further separation; new world but problems (in the self) follow Candide wherever he goes; 'killing' of Cunegonde's brother and further distancing from goal of reunion with the beloved; girls and monkeys, ethnocentrism of Candide, lack of education; "this hemisphere is no better than the other"; loss of direction and nearly everything else.

Religions: Holland, Protestant minister, hypocritical, self-serving, preaches charity which he does not practice, nature of religion in the cradle of capitalism; contrast with Jacques the Anabaptist (belief in baptism as adult, no weapons, no force, no political office), enlightened businessman, helps and teaches Candide his trade, healing of Pangloss, death of Jacques sacrificing his life for another (healing the sick. feeding the poor and giving up his life to save others, Jacques is Christ-figure; Jesuits in Paraguay, worldly aims, issues of power and conquest, spiritual and material colonialism/imperialism. Issue of 'resurrections' (influence of Hindu reincarnation beliefs) return to evil world of the imperfect and the unenlightened, continuation of narrative fueled by need for further education, Jacques hence does not need to return (his place in Eldorado is assured).

Eldorado. Trust in Providence, arrival to Eldorado; utopian human community; the best of all possible worlds, equality, generosity, concern for the welfare of all, "taught to despise gold" "exempt from the rapacity of the nations of Europe" no law courts, no prayer, no ceremonies; Candide still lusts for Cunegonde and dreams of being rich and powerful in Europe with the jewels of Eldorado; loss of paradise, another fall from happy state brought about by lust, pride, and greed.

Predatory evil of the world. Bulgarians and Abares, absurdity of war, butchery, rape, robbery, identity of all sides, equal in atrocities A=B. Surinam, sugar industry, mutilation/exploitation of black slaves; piracy, Candide robbed by Dutch captain, Vanderdendur; "the malevolence of men revealed itself to his mind in all its ugliness"; Martin the Manichee, man of letters, story of misadventure, evil of the world; Vanderdendur punished, ship sunken; sojourn in France, infidelity of Candide with prostitute, gamblers, swindlers, France as hell; madness of the English, cold-blooded killers; Venice, Paquette, Pococurante "disgusted with everything he possesses"; Pangloss and the Baron as galley slaves; money all gone

Remedies. Constantinople, external ugliness of Cunegonde, but test and discovery of true love. Work as remedy of evil, farm, friends; "we must cultivate our own gardens," return to Eden so to speak, enlightenment reached, best of all possible worlds.