It seems that I haven’t known or understood Voltaire enough to appreciate his most acclaimed work. This reading put me straight since I’ve revisited this with a fair knowledge of Voltaire’s life and philosophy.
When I first read this, I found it nonsensical. I didn’t know that the whole work was a satirical attack on Leibniz’s optimism. Leibniz’s philosophy was that we live in the best of possible worlds and that everything happens for the best. Voltaire was highly critical of this theory and argued that if everything happens for the best, then good as well as evil deeds will have to be justified. If so, then there will be no physical or moral progress in the world. Candide was his attempt to ridicule that theory of Leibniz and to counter it with his own that “we must cultivate our own garden”. So, what was nonsensical to me at first made perfect sense to me now. And it was quite right for the story to be nonsensical since it was satirizing a far-fetched theory. 🙂
In addition to Voltaire’s criticism of Leibnizian theory, one can also see his pen working against many quarters. The European governments, kings, the wealthy nobility, the rich merchants, the philosophers, the literary men suffer through his critical eye. Voltaire’s views thus expressed through the story were both interesting and amusing. And the story of Candide, with his adventures and mishaps, greatly entertained me.
One of the criticisms I had when I first read Candide was that Voltaire’s language was unrefined. But having read a fair amount of 18th-century literature, I’ve come to realize that it was quite the norm at the time. Also, having read this time in French, I found the language was a little less offensive than the English translation that I’ve read before. And I agree with those who told me that the translation might have contributed to my disliking the book.
I’m glad I revisited this. It’s a book I’ve misunderstood through my limited knowledge of the purpose of its author. I’m truly pleased that this time around I was able to understand, appreciate and enjoy it.