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All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
One of the finest satires ever written, Voltaire’s Candide savagely skewers this very “optimistic” approach to life as a shamefully inadequate response to human suffering. The swift and lively tale follows the absurdly melodramatic adventures of the youthful Candide, who is forced into the army, flogged, shipwrecked, betrayed, robbed, separated from his beloved Cunégonde, and tortured by the Inquisition. As Candide experiences and witnesses calamity upon calamity, he begins to discover that—contrary to the teachings of his tutor, Dr. Pangloss—all is perhaps not always for the best. After many trials, travails, and incredible reversals of fortune, Candide and his friends finally retire together to a small farm, where they discover that the secret of happiness is simply “to cultivate one's garden,” a philosophy that rejects excessive optimism and metaphysical speculation in favor of the most basic pragmatism.
Filled with wit, intelligence, and an abundance of dark humor, Candide is relentless and unsparing in its attacks upon corruption and hypocrisy—in religion, government, philosophy, science, and even romance. Ultimately, this celebrated work says that it is possible to challenge blind optimism without losing the will to live and pursue a happy life.
Gita May is Professor of French at Columbia University. She has published extensively on the French Enlightenment, eighteenth-century aesthetics, the novel and autobiography, and women in literature, history, and the arts.
During his stay in England and at Cirey Voltaire's outlook on life was essentially optimistic. In the twenty-fifth and last of his Lettres philosophiques he sternly took Pascal to task for his pessimistic depiction of the human condition, describing him as a "sublime misanthrope"; and in his poem Le Mondain (The Worldly One), published in 1736, he sharply ridiculed the myth of primitive happiness and innocence during the co-called Golden Age, as embodied in the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Conversely, he extolled the Epicurean delights of comfort and luxury brought about by modern civilization. In spite of his controversial reputation, he garnered such high official honors as being elected to the French Academy in 1746. He was still convinced that, on the whole, Newton's eminently rational laws permitted human beings to accommodate themselves and seek their happiness within this orderly universe, set in motion by a supremely powerful but also benevolent being. And as a deist, he generally also subscribed to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's theory that God would not create a universe other than the best of all possible universes, as expounded in his Theodicy (1710).
Voltaire's stay at the court of Frederick II, from 1750 until 1753, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Frederick was basically an autocrat, in spite of his much-publicized image as an enlightened "philosopher king." Voltaire's irrepressible wit and bold irreverence were bound to displease and eventually anger his royal host, and eventually Voltiare had to leave Prussia hurriedly and under humiliating circumstances. After some hesitation as to where to find a safe refuge, he settled down in Geneva in December 1759, when he moved to a property he acquired at nearby Ferney, which would be his retreat for the next nineteen years, until shortly before his death in Paris, on May 30, 1778.
Voltaire's early optimism underwent a profound change under the impact of events in his personal life as well as in reaction to those natural and man-made catastrophes that made him keenly aware of human suffering and misery, not to mention the multiple danger that constantly threaten our very existence, let alone our well-being and chances of achieving happiness. His own disappointments-notably the unexpected loss of Madame du Châtelet, the unrelenting hostility of the court of Louis XV, the disenchantment with Frederick, and the precariousness of his personal situation-were compounded by his intense and immediate empathy; he spontaneously identified with all victims of calamities, war, injustice, prejudice, and intolerance.
The news of the terrible Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755, which claimed tens of thousands of lives, overwhelmed him with dreadful images of women and children buried under the rubble, and inspired his eloquently anguished Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon), published in 1756, in which he clearly signals his rejection of Leibniz's concept of a rational and well-regulated universe. The protracted and devastating Seven Years War (1756-1763), which began when Frederick invaded Saxony and soon expanded the lingering hostilities between France and England into a European conflagration, also deeply affected Voltaire's outlook on the human condition.
Voltaire began writing philosophical contes (tales) relatively late in his career and almost as an afterthought, for he subscribed to the neoclassical canon and hierarchy of literary genres according to which tragedy in verse and epic poetry gave an author his most reliable passport to posterity and immortality. Novels, short stories, and contes were looked upon suspiciously as upstart genres with no credible aesthetic or even moral pedigree.
Voltaire began with the traditional short story or novella, and transformed it into the conte philosophique, or philosophical tale, a fast-moving and highly entertaining story combining multiple adventures and voyages with an underlying philosophical and moral theme, written in a pithy style replete with humor, satire, irony, and sly sexual innuendoes. Indeed, ridicule would be Voltaire's most effective weapon against his main targets: fanaticism, intolerance, war, and cruelty.
One of Voltaire's early philosophical tales is Zadig, subtitled La Destinée (Destiny), which appeared in 1747. It is set in the kind of whimsically imaginary and exotic Oriental setting dear to eighteenth-century authors from Montesquieu to Diderot. The uncannily wise, resourceful, and resilient Zadig, whose name derives from the Arabic sadik ("just"), undergoes a number of trials and tribulations, and when faced with disconcerting instances of injustice and suffering, and with the unpredictability and apparent randomness of life in general, anxiously questions and even objects to the notion of a world regulated by a benevolent Providence. But Zadig eventually overcomes adversity and reluctantly submits to the reassuring belief that Providence works in mysterious and unfathomable ways for the ultimately greater good of humanity.
While still in Prussia, Voltaire published Micromégas in 1752. Partially inspired by Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) and by Cyrano de Bergerac's two fantastic romances about visits to the moon and sun-Autre Monde: ou, Les Estats et empires de la lune (1657) and Les Estats et empires du soleil (1662)-it is a science-fiction story of fantastic, humorous interplanetary travel that strongly reflects Newton's cosmology and Locke's empiricism, and that pointedly resorts to fictional and comic devices in order to fuse science and moral philosophy. In a universe of multiple planets inhabited by creatures of various gigantic dimensions, the remarkable scientific knowledge of the miniscule earthlings is duly acknowledged, but at the same time their basic ignorance in matters of ultimate human values, masked by hubris and pedantry, is pointedly ridiculed and excoriated, especially when viewed from the perspective of two extraterrestrial visitors, Micromégas, the giant originating from Sirius, and his smaller but still huge traveling companion, whom he had picked up on the planet Saturn in the course of his celestial peregrinations.
Candide, the hero of the philosophical tale by that name, came into the world in January 1759 unacknowledged by his creator. The work was proposed as a translation "from the German of Doctor Ralph, with the additions found in the Doctor's pocket when he died at Minden, in the Year of Our Lord 1759." It was customary for Voltaire to deny the paternity of his most potentially controversial writings by mischievously attributing them to imaginary or even real persons to maintain a near total silence about the circumstances and composition of his works of prose fiction.
Voltaire was hardly an introspective author, and in this, as in so many other respects, he stands at the opposite pole from Jean Jacques Rousseau, who insisted, in full knowledge of the dangers involved, on publicly proclaiming the authorship of all his writings and who in both his Confessions (1781, 1788) and correspondence provides much detailed information on their genesis, publication, and immediate public response, as well as official reaction.
Another explanation for Voltaire's reticence about his philosophical tales is his understandable if mistaken belief that these were relatively inconsequential productions belonging to the much decried and maligned genre of the novel, and that they would not fare well with future readers, especially when considered alongside his far more ambitious and serious works-his tragedies, epic and philosophical poems, and historical essays. Whatever Voltaire's own motives or thinking about Candide may have been, there is a persistent but erroneous legend that he dashed off by dictation the thirty chapters of the tale in three days. In is of course far more likely that he wrote Candide over a ten-month period in 1758 and completed the manuscript, with final revisions and additions, in the fall of that year.
The slender book first came off the presses of the brothers Cramer, publishers in Geneva, in January 1759. It was promptly disseminated and repeatedly republished in Paris and elsewhere. Even though it was swiftly condemned by both French and Swiss authorities, and copies were seized in printing shops in Paris and Geneva, it sold briskly under the counters. No official effort to suppress Candide could prevent it from becoming one of the most sensational forbidden best-sellers of pre-Revolutionary France and indeed Europe. Within a year, there were at least three English translations and one edition in Italian.
Posted June 7, 2010
Candide was a beautiful story, filled with humor, love, and lots of humor. I think the story is still stimulating even after hundreds of years!
I recently read this for my Classics Book Club and we all took turns reading various passages from our varying translations of the book, which is something we tend to do each month. My only complaint about the story is this: the Morley translation (of the B&N Classics version) was AWFUL!
All of the beautiful, poetic passages that the others in my group read aloud were translated as drivel in my copy (the only one with the B&N version of this book in our group). It seemed as if Mr. Morley literally translated the French to English (such as "the horse brown" instead of "the brown horse") and thus, lost much of the wonderful wordsmithing of Voltaire. I almost cried when it was my turn to read the opening passage because I knew the B&N version was horrible!
Aside from the horrible translation, I would recommend this story to anyone. I wouldn't however, recommend THIS translation of the story. Sorry B&N...
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Posted November 26, 2010
Candide as a story is worth reading in any language, although it is much funnier and much more enjoyable in original French. However, the reason for that may just be that this is a very poor translation. The language is more archaic than in the original, and many subtleties are lost through poor word choice (for example, in this version Martin "hopes" that all is for the best, while in the original he pessimistically "wishes" that everything was indeed AT ITS BEST). Nevertheless, Candide is a witty and brilliant story that can be enjoyed for philosophical enlightenment or simply for a rainy day. I would recommend, though, that if you're going to read it in English, get a different edition. Normally B&N Classics are nice, quality editions, but this is sadly an exception.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2004
I wasn't as taken with this book as many of the reviewers here, but found the book worth reading and interesting since I haven't ever read somethign from this time by a man.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 26, 2009
This book is said to be funny, I found it amusing. I think some people may not understand or be able to stick with Voltaire.
1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 21, 2006
When you are reading the end of the book, there is a list of kings that died horrible deaths. This book says Henry IV of England was one of those kings. Henry IV died of natural causes. Perhaps it was meant to be Henry VI and it is a typo. I'd be interested to see the original Voltaire and what he wrote.
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Posted June 15, 2005
I loved Candide for its blatent criticism of Leibniz, bleeding with sarcasm and disgust from every page. It is just so cool (for the lack of a better term) that Voltaire wrote a novel just to trash an opposing viewpoint. This book actually made me laugh while reading about the inquisition.
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Posted December 5, 2013
Posted July 25, 2013
This book is good, but definately not for young readers. My 13 yr old son was given this for his honors english class for the summer. Do Not let you child read.
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Posted May 10, 2013
Posted May 13, 2012
I had not known much about Voltaire before reading this book. I only knew that he was a figure in enlightenment thinking and Samuel Johnson threw a hissy fit when you mentioned him. The short biography in this B&N version was informative. Candide is kind of an autobiographical satire on the philosophy of Leibniz. No one, from clergy to kings is spared in the lampooning. I was entertained and I learned about philosophy in the process.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 24, 2012
Voltaire is unrelenting in his critique and attack of deterministic optimism and Leibnz cosmology. Each character and each event that transpires only exists to lambast this philosophy. Even better, the final pages leave one wrestling with yourself whether optimism or pessimism is the best philosophy to live life, or questioning the power of pragmatic philosophy. Voltaire perfectly captures problems of theodicy as well as the existence of life itself--both the beauty of existence and the idleness of life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2011
Candid is utterly tragic, and yet magnificent humor is so cleverly entwined. I found myself laughing throughout the novel. It is profound and beautifully disparaging, and I will read this over again and again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2011
Posted September 6, 2010
This is a title that I'd often heard mentioned, but never really picked up anything regarding its subject or author. I'd heard Voltaire mentioned by teachers and in various conversation, but never really looked into his writings. So, when Candide popped up in one of the Barnes & Noble free eBook offerings, I was quite happy to read it and learn a bit about the author. After reading a bit about Voltaire on Wikipedia, I had a good idea of what to expect in reading this book. Overall, it fits the bill of being a satire of religious dogma and Leibniz's optimistic philosophy. This is an aspect that I can appreciate, especially given a lot of the things going on in the world today. Poking at those who rely solely upon tenets and beliefs without actually acting to make anything happen is always welcome. This sort of laziness and reliance solely on mystical magical supreme powers has always made me twitch. Voltaire does create a very fast-paced mock-adventure story that at times is difficult to follow. The fantastical and often unreal situations in which the characters find themselves, coupled with the pace of the story, is as disorienting as it is engaging. I found myself having to slow down reading the book at times as I would get lost in the whirlwind of events. The caricatures Voltaire describes do well to compile all of the disturbing characteristics of the zealots encountered during his time and that we find even today. I can see why the book was banned at the time. It's not often that governments or religious groups can handle being mocked or shown less respect than they deem that they deserve. When those governments or religious groups have been granted or have assumed adequate power over the people, they tend to suppress all that they feel detracts from their stature or power. Fortunately, there are authors from the past and in our current day that will use various literary vehicles to express themselves thereby exposing their views to the public. While we are in no way obliged to accept their views completely, having the opportunity to asses their merit for ourselves is something we should embrace. Candide is short, but dense with detail. Read it with an open mind and abstract what's on the page to what is "out there" in our day and you will see how relevant Voltaire's commentary is today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2010
I loved Candide and could not put it down. It's true, there's nothing especially ground-breaking in this little tale. However, it's still a nice read, thought-provoking in so many ways, and the satire can be ridiculously hilarious at times.
If you want to read it, go for it.
Posted December 27, 2009
A great classic of satirical literature, to be ranked with Tristram Shandy and Catch 22. If you haven't read it, you must, in order to put it into your stockpile of greatness. If you haven't read it for a long time, it will reward your renewed interest. The persevering Candide, the badly used lovely Cunegonde, the preacher of totally undeserving optimism, Professor Pangloss. And that final garden, that final garden.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2009
"Candide" is a very, ah, shall we say amusing novella? It is filled with philosophical wit and a surprising amount of death. Almost all of the characters die in an attack, an auto-de-fa, or from an argument. It is a good book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 14, 2009
Indeed a great literature classic. Many pages could be filled regarding the philosophical reasoning and ideas within the book, but many more could be filled with the words of joy conceived by mind at the time of reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2008
Posted October 5, 2007
Candide is the story of the eponymous hero who starts off his journey believing that this world is 'the best of all possible worlds'. He later realizes that there is much misery and suffering in this world and thus adopts the earthly, practical approach to life represented by his mantra: 'Tend to the garden.' Very funny.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.