[Voltaire] Candide

  • Original Title: Candide, ou l’Optimisme
  • Author: Voltaire
  • Translated: John Butt
  • Published: 1759
  • Publisher: Penguin Books, 1947

The original title of the book is “Candide, ou l’Optimisme” and has been translated into “Candide; or, The Optimist,” “Candide; Optimism,” ” Candide; or, All for the Best” or just “Candide.”

The story is about a man called “Candide.” At an early age, he was indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism by his life-long mentor, Professor Pangloss. And the story evolves as Candide had slowly disillusioned (enlightened) from his painful hardships and witnessing miseries in the world.

Leibniz is well-known as his optimistic world view. Each substance (monad) is independent, but as a whole, all substances are in perfect harmony. Therefore, the universe must be the best possible one. From Pangloss, Candide learned he lived in the best world among all possible ones. Everything has cause and effect, and our little hardship is a cause of another bigger goodness.

Even with all those parodies and mocks, the story is not light. The penetrating question is very serious; what justice is and what is good and bad. Moreover, it questions how to accept this world, how to live in it, and how we can find the meaning of life. Candide had experienced many hardships from the earthquake (natural) to the war (human-made). The story keeps reminding me of Job in the Bible, but Candide was not in the realm of God but on the side of reason. Unlike the blind optimism of Professor Pangloss, Candide maintained his naive optimism, which might be the last straw he can hold in his life as a safeguard to the madness or a disguised despair.

Voltaire is an enlightenment thinker who criticized Christianity and advocated freedom and reason. Under reason, life is not so clear as it is under religion. But the world is just before us. It is the time to confront it to make this world as one of the best possible worlds.

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