Candide by Voltaire – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Brought up in the household of a German baron, cheerful protagonist Candide has been instilled with the philosophy of Leibniz, notably – ‘That all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.’
When Candide’s love for the baron’s daughter Cunegonde is discovered, he is unceremoniously removed from the castle. Candide and his companions go on to travel extensively in Europe and South America, where they stumble from one misfortune to the next, a brief respite offered by a stay in Eldorado. The naive, trustworthy and generous Candide’s optimistic resolve is severely tested by this succession of relentless tribulations.
Candide requires the reader to appreciate the context of the era in which it was written. The book came about as a direct result of Voltaire’s anger at the reaction within elements of The Church to The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and what he viewed as the absurd theorising about why bad things happen to good people. Ever the ardent critic, Voltaire used Candide as a canvas to criticise the greed and hypocrisy within the state and church, long before it was fashionable to do so.
The book is an eighteenth-century satirical classic that evaluates optimism; the prevailing philosophical ideology during The Enlightenment. Voltaire adroitly sought to dispel the belief that all is for the best when it is not. The central message of this iconic work is the author’s belief that one must cultivate your own garden and then tend to it, a message that still resonates to this day.