Sunday, November 28, 2010

Candide - Voltaire

candide voltaire
c. 1759
78 pages
completed 11/28/2010

read for: HSTEU302 (modern european history 1648-1815), penguin classics, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In the land of Westphalia, in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters.

Candide, the bastard nephew of a baron on Westphalia, grows up studying under the tutelage of Dr. Pangloss. Pangloss is a firm believer in the theories of Leibniz, a German philosopher who poses a theory of optimism, that the world we live in is the best possible world. After engaging in sexual relations with the baron's daughter, Candide is driven from his home. This leads Candide on a journey across Europe, the Americas, and eventually the Ottoman Empire where a series of misfortunes causes Candide to seriously question the teachings of Pangloss and the theories of Leibniz.

I think this book could easily not be enjoyed without knowing the context in which it was written. I remember trying to read this before, but I didn't really know what it was trying to say since I didn't know what was going on historically in Europe at the time. I didn't even make it halfway though, which is sad considering the books is ONLY 78 PAGES LONG. Since I'm now reading it in my European history class, I was able to go through it pretty quick and appreciate it for what it really was, Voltaire's rebuttal to Leibniz's philosophy of optimism. Voltaire used this satire in order to write a social commentary on the state of the world at the time and the amount of suffering people go through on a daily basis at the hands of others as well as nature itself.

Without knowing the historical context, this book can be both pretty boring and horrific (for a comedy, there's a lot of rape and execution going on). Even knowing and appreciating the historical aspect of the book didn't make it a great read for me. While I enjoy history and was glad that I was able to know exactly what Voltaire was referring to in some of his more veiled metaphors, I don't really do philosophy. I don't really care if Voltaire thinks the amount of suffering within the world proves that there's no way this is the best possible world. But I read it, and I'm glad I did (seeing as I had to write a paper on it).


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