VOLTAIRE (François-Marie Arouet), Candide and Other Stories. Translated by Roger Pearson. Oxford and New York: The World’s Classics (Oxford University Press), 1990.
Original citation: Candide, ou l’Optimisme. Traduit de l’allemand de Mr le docteur Ralph. [Cramer: Geneva, Switzerland], 1759; first condemned in Italian: Candido, o l’Ottimismo del signor Dottor Ralph tradotto in italiano. [Geneva], 1759.
Condemned: May 24, 1762.
§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;
§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;
§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;
§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.
‘Let’s get down to work and stop all this philosophizing,’ said Martin. ‘It’s the only way to make this life bearable.’ (99)
Confession time: Despite many years of literature courses at various levels, I had never read anything by the world-renowned Voltaire until I got around to reviewing Candide for this site. If you had asked me a few months ago what I assumed Voltaire’s work to be like, I might have shrugged and said, “I don’t know. French?” I had literally no idea. As an aspiring “man of letters,” I should probably be ashamed of myself.
Much to my delight, however, Candide, or Optimism happens to be an extremely entertaining and highly relevant book, even more than two hundred and fifty years after it was first published simultaneously in Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Within its first month of issue in 1759, at least 20,000 copies had been sold.
It’s also no wonder why Candide was placed on the Index, for Voltaire’s best-known novel is a rip-roaring satirical tale in which nothing is sacred. Translator Roger Pearson calls the story “a satire on systems” (xix): Religion (most notably the Catholic variety but others as well), politics, power, philosophy, science, and human nature in general are all fair game as the eponymous Candide encounters trials and tribulations throughout the known world, armed only with his zany old professor Pangloss’ go-to mantra that “all is well.” Hence the book’s subtitle: Optimism. What happens when such an ingenuous, upright German youth of dubious parentage is faced with barbarian invasion, shipwreck, the Inquisition, brutal 18th-century naval warfare, and — gasp — women? You’ll have to risk damnation and read it to find out.