Voltaire`s Candide

Candide, or Optimism
Chronology and Biography
• November 21, 1694 Born Francois-Marie
•1704-11 Educated in Paris at the Jesuit College
Louis-le-Grand where he acquired a solid
grounding in Latin literature, religious education
and a passion for the theatre.
• 1713 held a position in the French embassy in
• 1716 Returns to Paris and is exiled to Sullysu-Loire for writing a poetic satire against the
Regent Philippe duc d’Orléans
• 1717-18 Imprisoned in the Bastille for several
months, on account of further scurrilities
against the Regent.
• 1718 Banished for 6 months to Châtenay.
Adopts the pseudonym of ‘Voltaire.’
• 1726 – 8 Exiled in England for a spell of
forced contemplation following a quarrel with
an aristocrat
• Presented at court to George I. Meets
Alexander Pope and corresponds with Jonathan
Swift and admires his Gulliver’s Travels
• Return to Paris in October 1728
• 1755 Settles on the outskirts of Geneva. The
Jesuit Order is expelled from Paraguay and the
Lisbon earthquake happens.
• 1756 poem on the Lisbon quake is published
• 1758 writes Candide and acquires Château de
Ferney and its estate, near Geneva, where he
will remain for the rest of his life
• 1759 Candide is published and the Jesuit Order
is expelled from Portugal
• 1778 Visits Paris after 28 years for the
production of his last tragedy and died there on
May 30th
• 1789 Fall of the Bastille
Historical Context
•Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake on the
Catholic All Saint’s Day, November 1, 1755
•The six-minute quake killed 15,000 people,
injured at least the same and destroyed 30
churches as well as thousands of houses.
• So many pious dying while at church gave rise
to superstitious speculation.
•1500 Pilgrim homes were destroyed on
November 19
• Explanations were offered in religious terms
•So outraged was Voltaire at such stupidity,
that he responded in verse.
• Rousseau responded claiming that humans
are at fault for leaving the natural world,
committing original sin, and living in cities.
•Rousseau embraces Leibnitz in his view that
everything must be the best in all possible
worlds or one must give into suicidal
The Optimism of Pangloss
• God is perfect; God created the world; a
perfect being would create a perfect world,
therefore the world is perfect
• It is therefore the best of all possible worlds
• A perfect being would create everything that
could be created, therefore everything that
could exist does exist.
• Everything is connected to everything else,
therefore everything must be for the best
The Deism of Voltaire
• Believed that God made the universe, but
then left it to run on its own
• Voltaire thought there were rational grounds
for believing that the universe was created and
governed by “a necessary eternal supreme
intelligent being…”
• Human Condition – The grand theme of the
novel is the human condition. Candide
wonders, what is the best way to approach
• Religion – Both in the story, and for Voltaire
religion is something between a man and God
– not something that lends itself to power
dynamics, priests, churches, and inquisitions.
•Happiness – Whenever it appears,
happiness is unmasked (usually by Martin) as
a cover for anger, grief, and discontent.
•War – The art of war is not a noble art in the
novel. Instead, it is a barbaric system
governed by its own rules and using its own
Voltaire used the entire world for the stage of
his novel. It allowed him to place ideal
societies and backward societies in obscure
parts of the world. It further allowed him to
exaggerate facts about those places.
Another element is his use of the Eden trope.
Many writers since the writer of the biblical
book Genesis have used the idea of gardens as
paradises (or hells) that one finds oneself in
and, for some reason, banished from. Candide
journeys through a series of such gardens.
Each garden has a geographic location and a
lesson to be learned.
Voltaire chose satire as a way to challenge the
cult of optimism that reigned during that time.
He is a comic satirist. He simply loved humans
too much to be tragic. But because he loved
them, he tried to help them as much as
An episodic, often autobiographical novel about
a rogue or picaro (a person of low social status)
wandering around and living off his wits. The
wandering hero provides the author with the
opportunity to connect widely different pieces
of plot, since the hero can wander into any
situation. Picaresque novels tend to be satiric
and filled with petty details.
Candide is a picaresque novel. Candide is
forced by fate to ramble about the world
collecting people and losing them, gaining
riches and losing it all. His travels bring him
into contact with the workings of the world, but
this only makes him more skeptical.
Critical Response
• The rulers of Geneva expressed their view of
Candide by burning it.
• The idea that some found it so objectionable
was good publicity.
•Smugglers made sure that anyone anywhere
in Europe could get a copy of the small work
on the black market.
• Voltaire’s reception? People either fervently
loved him, or wanted to burn him.

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