(EN) Let’s talk about… Candide by Voltaire (1759)

I want to be honest with you, I really wanted to write a review of Charles Baudelaire’s book “Le Fleurs du mal” but because of strange phenomena in life I ended up with Candide by Voltaire in my hands, which I do not regret. Can anyone say that there is something wrong with this novel by the famous French novelist? On the contrary, I find this story so interesting and strange, both in its execution and in its narrative, that the accident of having confused this book with Baudelaire’s seems to me a wonderful accident that cannot be wasted. Having said that, let’s talk about Voltaire’s Candide, shall we? The first thing I can say about it is that this story is so strange in its execution that I would say it is unique in this respect. It’s that Voltaire doesn’t waste a single second in tedious descriptions of places or people, but goes straight to the action. So much so that Candide can be read, in my opinion, in one go without much effort and without a doubt that the important points of his narrative will remain in the memory after finishing the first reading.

But, what is Candide about? Well, he is a young man, whose origins are never clarified, beyond a series of suspicions about him, who lives in the castle of a powerful baron and whose vicissitudes lead him to travel almost all over the world, following the logic established by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, founder of the thought of sufficient reason (thought that permeates even in the present time). This thought of sufficient reason is the seed that we suppose has inspired Voltaire to build this epic story about a man who struggles against circumstances to realize his dreams, take Cunegunde, the daughter of the barons, as his wife and together forge a life of happiness. But I feel that, to further advance the logic of this story, we need to talk a bit about what this thought is of sufficient reason and why Voltaire has felt the need to satirize (for this is what he has done) about it. The thought of sufficient reason, as the name indicates, is a logical construction, under which, Leibniz indicates that for every event in the world or in reality there are always sufficient reasons, which determine and justify the events. Just as it is said, I feel that Leibniz is talking to us about a kind of justification for causal reasoning (in its most fundamental terms), thereby granting a cause for all causes. This philosophical construction is put to the test in each of Candide’s pages, since Voltaire has managed to build a narrative where the vicissitudes and the “plot twists” have become the cornerstone of the story. In simple terms, the story is about the protagonist, Candide, whose origins, as we said before, we do not know but, because of the little information, and more specifically, because of the people (servants/employees of the count’s house) and the words they dedicate to this subject, we can intuit that he is the son of indiscretion (you understand what I mean, right?). Well, the thing is that Candide, in his desire to get Cunegunde for himself, gets into a gigantic problem that involves summarizing all the European, American and even African idiosyncrasies of the European empire around the world, during the years of the heyday of European culture and conquests, both American and African. Could it be that Voltaire is telling us that all the killing, all the indiscretions committed during this period of time, have been due to or justified in the belief that all the events occurred because there were sufficient causes for them to occur?

I believe that this is so, not only because the reasoning of “sufficient reason” is a constant excuse within the piece, which impels the protagonist to continue in his stubborn search for happiness, under the eave of his companion, the philosopher Pangloss, who justifies every immoral act that occurs in history, but we can also find this impudence (I say this because we should think that the facts occur only because there are sufficient reasons, which takes away from the importance of cognition, the human factor and the moral sense) in the same main character, in his blind and illusory acting, always expecting things to work out by some general law of morality that invites individuals to behave the way he expects them to behave, obviously encountering disappointment after disappointment because of this thought. I had already said that the story brings the main character face to face with the idiosyncrasies of different European kingdoms of the time, from the English to the Spanish and their American counterparts. Each of them receives the characteristic satirical treatment of Voltaire, who had to categorically deny authorship of the novel once it was published (and let’s say that by reading the work we can easily recognize why this was so). Nobody is saved from the mockery in this work, not even Candide himself, who reaches the maximum expression of satire about the end of the story, when he gets everything he wants, but deprived of all the value he was looking for in those things, I mean the achievement of Cunegunde as a couple, after she loses all her beauty and charm. Even more, after Candide loses all his fortune and wealth and comes to the conclusion (how lucid this conclusion is) that it’s better to do anything than to sit still in boredom, as if to say that all the suffering (and let’s say that in Candide’s journey there’s a lot of this) is worth more than what you get after going through all of it, the lethargic comfort of having no goal.

In summary, I have to say that Candide by Voltaire is one of the best stories I have read and I recommend it completely, especially to people who are interested in writing, not specifically because of its political or philosophical content, but because of the amount of vicissitudes and jumps in the plot that keep the tension and invite the reader to continue reading. I know that there are many famous and recognized authors, but I have to say that Voltaire and his work take the prize for originality, execution and the almost endless number of situations that the protagonist has to face, without even talking about the way he faces such situations!

The good stuff:

  • The decalogue of vicissitudes that can be found within the book.
  • The final reflection permeates even in our time.

The bad:

  • Some people may feel that there is no general thread to the story. (I am one of them, but what the hell!)

In short, read it or die!

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