In 1759, a vitriolic Frenchman known as Voltaire (1694-1778) wrote Candide. It was written in retaliation against the tenets of the then-eminent German philosopher Leibniz, who claimed that mankind lives in the best of possible worlds. Voltaire tried to dismantle this notion, and thus created his most widely read book. The Bantam Classic edition offers a highly informative forward by Andre Maurois, with caustic wit and hyperbole.
The Tale of Candide
The story begins in Westphalia, from which young, naive and gullible Candid is forced to flee. A disciple of his tutor, Pangloss, Candide explains his misfortunes and those of others, determined to find links between cause-and-effect. Throughout most of the book, the reader is shown the adverse reactions of pre-established harmony (as Leibniz proposed): that even distress is a necessary good for man, and for the order of the world.
Of course, this belief is repeatedly mocked and undercut by trials and tribulations, numerous incidents that bespeak the brutality of man, and the indifference of the world in general. Eventually, Candide is welcomed in a mythical land across the sea, in a place sought after by generations of explorers. However, love prompts Candid to venture on...
Voltaire had his own concept of God; and the author is often called an agnostic. He loathed the Church's abuses of power and the hypocrisy. Candide is Voltaire's way of lashing out against the clergy, but it also led to the defamation of Voltaire by the Church.
Of course, coincidence plays a major role in the book; satire allows for that. A dualism is always present. Optimism is challenged by pessimism, especially with Martin. As Candide asks, "But for what purpose was the earth formed?" And Martin replies, "To drive us mad."
Candide is a timeless burlesque; the yesterdays of conduct and history are reflected in the mirrors of today. The reader must discover how Voltaire answers the question of whether or not humanity truly lives in the best of all possible worlds. The book's ending may not be the best of all possible endings, but it could be far worse...