Sunday, February 25, 2007

Candide by Voltaire

Candide was recommended to me by Liz, another Fifty Booker, a couple of years ago. I knew that it was a work of satire, but beyond that, I had very little knowledge of the book.

Translations are extremely important in works such as this. The bookstore that I normally go to had about four different editions of Candide, so I pulled each one off the shelf and compared them side by side. This edition, translated by Leo Cuffe, was far superior to the others. The primary reason was the detailed endnotes (I wish they had been footnotes, instead) that helped to explain some of the passages whose meaning I no doubt would have missed. At many points the satire can only be fully appreciated with some specific knowledge, for which the endnotes were a valuable resource.

The book follows a young man by the name of Candide (Hey, that's the title of the book!) on his many misadventures. Throughout the book Candide's general outlook on life, that this is the best of all possible worlds, is continually tested. At times Candide is disturbingly graphic. Horrific fates befall many of the characters of the book.

Although it is only about a tenth as long, and was published nearly a century and a half later than Cervantes epic masterpiece, Candide bears many similarities to Don Quixote (a book that I am still working on). Both authors use their works to publicly skewer their enemies and critics, often without much subtlety. Much like Candide, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are repeatedly presented with wild coincidences, such as running into friends they thought were dead, or encountering neighbors even though they are far away from home. This may be a tenet of satirical works of this period, for all I know. I am not that smart. Luckily you don't have to be too awful smart to enjoy this book.

Although at time bordering on naivete, there was something endearing about Candide's optimism. As he and his companions were faced with each calamitous incident, I found myself genuinely hoping that things would work out well for them. Do things work out well for them? Well, you'll just have to read it and decide for yourself.


Christopher said...

Fun facts:

A.) Candide was so controversial that Voltaire never ACTUALLY admitted he wrote it.

B.) When Brent and I were coming up with Harold Sock (shh... don't tell anyone he's not real) I kept thinking about a description of Signor Pococurante in Candide, a man revered for his taste because he thinks everything sucks. Candide says, "What a prodigious genius is this Pococurante! Nothing can please him."

Carlton Farmer said...

Those facts were fun.