Monday, November 21, 2011

Natanya Reviews Candide, ou l'Optimisme

Title/Author: Candide, ou l'Optimisme by Voltaire
Year Published: 1759
Where I got it: Library
Why I read it: For my French class

From Amazon (slightly modified):
Penned by that Renaissance man of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Candide is steeped in the political and philosophical controversies of the 1750s. But for the general reader, the novel's driving principle is clear enough: the idea (endemic in Voltaire's day) that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and apparent folly, misery and strife are actually harbingers of a greater good we cannot perceive, is hogwash.

Telling the tale of the good-natured but star-crossed Candide as he travels the world struggling to be reunited with his love, Lady Cunegonde, the novel smashes such ill-conceived optimism to splinters. Candide's tutor, Dr. Pangloss, is steadfast in his philosophical good cheer, in the face of more and more fantastic misfortune; Candide's other companions always supply good sense in the nick of time. Still, as he demolishes optimism, Voltaire pays tribute to human resilience, and in doing so gives the book a pleasant indomitability common to farce.

I haven’t read many reviewable books this semester. Educational? Sure. I-want-to-shred-this-up-and-throw-it-in-the-gorges difficult? Certainly. But reviewable? Not so much. This is due to the combination of early modern French literature and literary theory classes that have taken over most of my reading time this semester. While I’m sure the last thing you want to read in your free time is a summary (which I don’t even think I could write) of Derrida’s arguments in Of Grammatology, a few of my French lit books have been pretty good, among them Candide.

Candide is, certainly, filled with politics and philosophy, but don’t let that scare you away. It is quick-paced, funny, and often completely absurd, and I thoroughly enjoyed it—and actually read it in entirety, which says a lot given my poor track record this semester with my class readings. Most of what happens in the novel is completely illogical, but that’s the point, and it didn’t seem forced. Voltaire parodies practically everything, and while most people now (including myself) may not be familiar with the particulars, for some reason that didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I would say, however, that you should make sure to get an edition of the novel that has a good set of notes in the back that explain some of the background information; while I usually don’t read the notes in the backs of my school books, in this case reading them really did improve my understanding of and interest in the novel.

I loved the numerous different settings in the novel—unlike all of the 17th century theatrical tragedies that I’ve spent my semester reading, Voltaire was not afraid to have his characters jump from place to place (even when these places were not located on the characters’ route), and this kept me from getting bored and allowed Voltaire to convey and satirize many different cultures. I enjoyed watching Candide react to the different people he met and pick up people along his way, like Martin the pessimistic philosopher. Perhaps one of the most illogical aspects of the novel was the extent to which Candide found people from his past all over the world—Voltaire seemed to really want to make sure that Candide could both travel the world and still interact with the same characters, which was a bit bizarre, particularly when this involved supposedly dead people being found alive.

So if you’re looking for logic, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a highly sarcastic, humorous, and quick adventure, I’d definitely encourage you to check out this 18th century satire.

4 stars

2 comments :

  1. He's my favourite french philosopher ! I love him ! Candide is my fav book and i love La princesse Babylone ! A great book too ^^

    ReplyDelete

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