Voltaire - Candide, ou l'Optimismeby Voltaire
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Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher's immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that contrary to the teachings of his distringuished tutor Dr. Pangloss all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire's most celebrated work.
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Read an Excerpt
How Candide escaped from among the Bulgars,
and what became of him
Nothing was as beautiful, smart, dazzling, or well ordered as the two armies. The trumpets, fifes, oboes, drums, and cannons created a harmony such as never existed in Hell. First of all, the cannons struck down almost six thousand men on each side. Then the muskets removed from the best of worlds between nine and ten thousand rogues infecting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of several thousand men. The total might well have come to some thirty thousand souls. Candide, trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could during this heroic butchery.
Finally, while the two kings had the Te Deum sung, each in his camp, Candide decided to go elsewhere to reason over effects and causes. Climbing over heaps of dead and dying men, he arrived at a neighboring village that lay in ashes: it was an Avar village that the Bulgars had burnt down in accordance with the principles of international law. Old men covered in wounds watched their butchered wives die clasping their infants to their bleeding breasts. Girls who had been disemboweled after having sated the natural needs of some of the heroes were breathing their last. Others, covered in burns, were begging to be put out of their misery. Brains were splattered on the ground alongside severed arms and legs.
Candide fled as fast as he could to another village. This one belonged to the Bulgars, and the Avar heroes had treated it the same way. Stepping over palpitating limbs and climbing over ruins, Candide, carrying a few provisions in his bag, finally managed to get out of the theater of war, never forgetting Mademoiselle Cunégonde. His provisions ran out when he reached Holland, but having heard that everyone in that country was rich and Christian, he did not doubt that he would be treated as well as he had been at the castle of His Lordship the Baron before he was driven from it on account of Mademoiselle Cunégonde’s beautiful eyes.
He asked for alms from several grave personages, all of whom replied that if he continued plying this trade he would be locked up in a house of correction, where he would be taught how to work for a living.
Then he approached a man who had just addressed a big crowd for a whole hour on the topic of charity.
The orator eyed him suspiciously and asked, "What are you doing here? Did you come for the Good Cause?"
"There is no effect without a cause," Candide replied modestly. "Everything is necessarily interconnected and arranged for the best. I had to be driven out of the presence of Mademoiselle Cunégonde, run the gauntlet, and beg for bread until I can earn my own. All this could not be otherwise."
"My friend," the orator said, "do you believe that the Pope is the Antichrist?"
"I have never yet heard that he is," Candide replied. "But whether he is the Antichrist or not, I need bread."
"You don’t deserve any," the orator said. "Go away, you rogue, you wretch! Don’t come near me again as long as you live!"
The orator’s wife poked her head out the window and, seeing the man who doubted that the Pope was the Antichrist, poured out on his head a chamber pot full of ...
Merciful Heaven! To what excess ladies will carry the zeal of religion!
A man who had not been baptized, a good Anabaptist by the name of Jacques, saw the cruel and disgraceful manner in which one of his brothers, a featherless, two-legged being with a soul, was being treated.* He took him to his place, washed him, gave him bread and beer, made him a gift of two florins, and even wanted to teach him to work in his factory, which manufactured Persian fabrics in Holland. Candide almost prostrated himself before him, exclaiming, "Doctor Pangloss had told me that everything is for the best in this world. I am infinitely more moved by your extreme generosity than by the severity of that man in the black cloak and his wife."
The following day, Candide was out walking when he came across a beggar covered in pustules. He had lifeless eyes, a nose that was rotting away, a mouth that was twisted, black teeth, and a rasping voice. He coughed violently, spitting out a tooth every time.
* The Anabaptists were an extreme Protestant sect that did not believe in infant baptismin their view only adult baptism was valid. They believed in absolute social and religious equality. "A featherless, two-legged being" is a humorous reference to Plato’s definition of man.
Meet the Author
Eileen M. Angelini (Ph.D. Brown University) is Professor of French at Canisius College and Fulbright Scholar. She has won multiple research grants from the U.S., French, and Canadian governments. She is a frequent presenter at national and regional conferences and the author of publications on literary analysis and on pedagogy. Her pedagogical publications focus on second language acquisition, the professions, and cross-cultural communication. Dr. Angelini is a Question Leader for the AP French Language and Culture Examination, a Senior Reviewer for the AP Audit, and a College Board Consultant.
Myrna Bell Rochester (Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles) has taught at UCLA and at Stanford University. She is the co-author of college textbooks and educational materials, including several annotated texts in French literature for Focus.
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