“Candide: Or, Optimism” by François Voltaire
(First publication: 1759 / This edition: Penguin Books 2011)
Taken during a coffee break with Mom at Rocket x Siwilai cafe
‘But to what end was this world created then?’ said Candide.
‘To make us mad,’ replied Martin. (p.59)
This was an impulse purchase, while on a book-shopping spree with one of my good friends. She got a copy herself too.
I guess it was one of those “I feel like I should know what this book is about because I hear about it so often” purchases. There’s even a bookstore in Bangkok named after this story. And well, the famous French writer-philosopher Voltaire—need I say more?
Now, please take a moment to observe and appreciate the beauty of this Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. (clearer photo at end of post) Okay, the cover illustrations aren’t very “French/classical/Age of Enlightenment/philosophical” but they’re very entertaining. I found out later that the illustrator is actually a famous cartoonist: Chris Ware—most notable for his graphic novels “Jimmy Corrigan” and “Building Stories”. (I Googled.) This edition also includes goodies like a map, information on the names of the characters, an alternative version of a chapter, a thick appendix, and etc. The paper quality is also very nice and the hand-cut pages make the book feel more precious. (I just love it.)
Now. The meaning of the story, the symbolism, the deeper interpretations…..I’m not going to go into all that. Yes, it’s a philosophical satire and it challenges some religious issues—good and evil, good and evil existing simultaneously, perfect vs. imperfect world, free will, etc etc etc….This (*clears throat*ahem*) Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition also includes notes on the text and other background information—so I read that prior to reading the actual story.
However, I didn’t think about all that information at all actually when I was reading the story—the story is already so amusing on its own. The sarcasm is so in your face. It’s pretty gnarly and it’s like Voltaire just threw a bunch of savages together, and then make them force themselves to be optimistic while everything blows up and is chaos around them. The story follows Candide on his wild adventures all over the world; Candide and his “all is for the best” mantra that his tutor, Dr. Pangloss, instilled on him. Every land Candide steps on, he faces disaster after disaster—I’m talking about earthquakes, syphilis, people stabbing each other, tsunami, rape, angry monkeys, and…everything outrageous. Everyone that is important to Candide dies………or maybe not. Anyway, it’s just frustrating (in a funny way) when it feels like Candide should just stop. being. so optimistic. already, but he just bounces back up and goes about his cheery way again. As Candide would say, “All is well, all goes well, all goes as well as it possibly can.” (p.70)
Either just read it as is—just on the surface—or read it while trying to figure out all the philosophical stabs Voltaire is snickering about. You’ll enjoy it however you want to take it. I wouldn’t say it’s a favorite or that it will blow your mind though. I enjoyed the story and would recommend it—just because it’s an important piece of classic and philosophical literature, and Candide (the character) is hilarious and amusing. Voltaire is laughing too.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
If we don’t find anything pleasant, we are sure to find something new. (p.43)
Private griefs are crueller even than public miseries. (p.56)
‘You see’, said Candide to Martin, ‘crime is sometimes punished; that [man] got the fate he deserved.’—’Yes,’ said Martin, ‘but did the passengers on board have to perish too? God punished the thief, the devil drowned the rest.’ (p.57)