Saturday, 24 September 2011

Candide by Voltaire (4/5)

The back says (I downloaded this from and they say): Widely considered to be one of the most significant works of the Western canon, Voltaire's novel tells the tale of its naive protagonist Candide, taught to believe in optimism. Candide undergoes a series of extraordinary hardships, parodying many adventure and romance cliches.

I say: I can't believe I waited so long to read this. The humour and satire in this had me laughing out loud in a lot of places – it was all so ridiculously over the top, I can't help but have fallen in deep, passionate, crazy love with Voltaire.

The story starts off with naïve and honest Candide who is kicked out of the palace for kissing Cunegonde, and then travels the world encountering all the absurdities one could ever think of – and then some. He is beaten, whipped, robbed, imprisoned – you name it, and I’m sure it happened to him at some point. But throughout all of his misfortunes he continues to search for his Cunegonde, with whom he believes his happiness lies, all the while declaring that everything is for the best.

A relentless optimist.

Voltaire is very good at hilariously poking fun of pretty much everything; religion, philosophy, art, society, legends, and even though I’m not familiar with even half of the philosophers mentioned, I did get the gist of it. The edition I downloaded came with much needed footnotes, and I found myself googling all of the people mentioned to make sure I understood what exactly was being satirised. I’m sure a lot of it went over my head, but I’ll be looking at these people in more depth later (and most definitely return to Candide).

As funny as this was, there was a point where I thought Voltaire took it a tad too far, and the humour was lost in all the ridiculousness. I’m all for silly adventures and nonsensical mishaps, but all in moderation. I must say that I’m surprised at how comically Voltaire described some of the misfortunes – I’m talking about the graver ones, like rape, murder, and slavery – and I felt a little bad for laughing out loud, but his wit is just amazing.

So yeah, a 4/5 because it was a little bit too much.

And I shall finish with this beautiful quote:

What is this optimism?” said Cacambo.
Alas!” said Candide, “it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.” – p 33

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