Candide—a French satire first published in 1759 AD by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment—begins with a young man, Candide, who lives a sheltered life in a Utopian world and becomes indoctrinated with ‘Leibniz Optimism’ by his mentor, Pangloss. The story then describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide’s slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world. Voltaire concludes by rejecting ‘Leibniz Optimism’ outright, and advocates a deeply practical precept, “we must cultivate our garden”, instead of the ‘Leibniz Optimism’— “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”
The novel is characterized by a sarcastic tone and an erratic, fantastical, and fast-moving plot. It parodies many adventure and romance cliches, the struggles of which are caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact. Still, the events discussed are often based on historical happenings, such as the Seven Years’ War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As philosophers of Voltaire’s day contended with the problem of evil, so too does Candide in this short novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers through allegory; most conspicuously, he assaults Leibniz and his optimism.
As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naivete. However, with its sharp wit and insightful portrayal of the human condition, the novel has since inspired many later authors and artists to mimic and adapt it. Today, Candide is recognized as Voltaire’s magnum opus and is often listed as part of the Western canon—it is arguably taught more than any other work of French literature.
Candide is the most widely read of Voltaire’s many works, and it is considered one of the great achievements of Western literature. As the only work of Voltaire which has remained popular up to the present day, Candide is listed in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. It is included in the Encyclopedia Britannica collection Great Books of the Western World.
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