A bizarre array of events dwell within the pages of this novel. While Voltaire is one of my top wordsmiths for quotations (and check out that hair!), Candide was initially exquisite and later bafflingly, maddeningly monotonous.
Rather than bore you with the details, allow me to share some of my favourite passages from the early chapters.
From the metaphisico-theologo-cosmolonigologist Master Pangloss:
“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; should say that everything is best.”
It’s pretty clear why Pangloss is probably Voltaire’s best-remembered character (I present this as fact mostly based on his prominence in Jeopardy clues).
Candide is happy-go-lucky, blithely bound to the world and held by absurd passions; never feeling wronged and always moving forward, to the point that he, like Pangloss, sticks to his guns as though unaware that he has the ability to make his own decisions. The story tumbles along in Candide’s wake, never resolving anything except the incorrectly-assumed deaths of many of his closest relations.
Similarly, Candide’s relationship with the Baroness’ daughter, Miss Cunegund, is never as sweet and magical as their first encounters.
The miss dropped her handkerchief, the young man picked it up. She innocently took hold of his hand, and he as innocently kissed hers with a warmth, a sensibility, a grace-all very particular; their lips met; their eyes sparkled; their knees trembled; their hands strayed. The Baron chanced to come by; he beheld the cause and effect, and, without hesitation, saluted Candide with some notable kicks in the breech and drove him out of doors. The lovely Miss Cunegund fainted away, and, as soon as she came to herself, the Baroness boxed her ears. Thus a general consternation was spread over this most magnificent and most agreeable of all possible castles.
Though it begins with so much promise, the extent of Candide’s timelessness wears off after the first couple of chapters. A delightful beginning to a disappointing middle and not the best of all possible endings.
C’est la vie!
Book #2: ★★★★★
Next book: One Day by David Nicholls