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Voltaire in Candide

The particular target of Voltaire in Candide is the philosophical idea proposed by Liebniz that, though the world is riddled with suffering and injustice, it is the best of all the possible worlds that God may have created. Liebniz’ ideas acted as the springboard for German idealism, the philosophy that carried Western civilization from the 19th century onwards. It superseded the French Enlightenment which appeared before, and for which Voltaire was the acknowledged champion.

The French Enlightenment was characterized by supreme faith in the human to mould destiny. According to its philosophy, it is up to humanity to create the best of all possible worlds, and not to cede it to the handiwork of God. This is the message that Voltaire expounds through his mocking of the philosophy of Liebniz. Here follows a summary of chapters 7, 8 and 9. After having witnessed the execution of Dr Pangloss the disconsolate Candide is led by an old woman to her abode.

Here he discovers, to his stupefaction, his sweetheart Miss Cunegonde alive and well, she who had been described by Dr Pangloss as raped and killed by the savage Bulgarian soldiers, in the process of wiping out the rest of her family. She tells him how she had survived, then goes on to relate her subsequent travails. A Bulgarian captain had rescued her, kept her for a few months, after which he tired of her and sold her to a Jewish banker named Don Issachar, who traded in Portugal, the scene of their reunion.

Here the Catholic Inquisitor was shoring up Jews for execution, but who spared Don Issachar when he conceded to share the services of Miss Cunegonde. While attending a mass execution she was astounded to recognize Dr Pangloss among the executed, but thrilled to find Candide among those spared after a whipping. The lovers meet in embrace, at which moment Don Issachar enters, who in his rage falls on Candide, but is slain by him. On this scene appears, in turn, the lord inquisitor, and Candide is forced to slay him too.

Leaving the scene of these heinous crimes, they decide to escape to Spain of horseback, taking the old lady with them, and disposing of the two dead bodies on the way (Voltaire, 1947). Every event in the story is used to contrast the reality with the ideal. Both Candide and Miss Cunegonde have been tutored by the philosopher Dr Pangloss and cherish close to their hearts the ideal that all in the world is characterized as being the best of all possibilities. Voltaire describes how the outlook of Candide persists in the face of extreme tribulation.

The purpose is to build up a consistent and unflagging picture of tragedy in the real world, and to juxtapose it to the philosophy of “the best of all possible worlds”. Candide’s original quest was to earn an honest penny before he asked the hand of his sweetheart, the fairest and kindest soul in the world. In his innocence of the world Candide is replete with virtue. But the moment he steps out into the real world it is shown how all his virtues and beautiful ideas are not going to earn him a penny.

Instead it leads him from one misfortune to the next, and people take advantage of his innocence and virtue. In the selected passage there are many contrasts set up against the ideal. The old woman describes the sanctuary, where she brings Candide to, as blessed by the saints, yet it turns out to be the scene of the most heinous crimes of fornication and murder. The kind Bulgarian captain who rescued and took care of Cunegonde is described by his beneficiary as “stupid and [knowing] nothing of philosophy.

” She in intact in her belief that all goodness stems from the knowledge of philosophy. Even after seeing him beset my so much injustice Cunegonde quizzes how Candide, blessed with the lofty teaching of Dr Pangloss, and being “very gentle and sweet-tempered”, is able to murder. Candide himself expresses confusion on this point, pleading that his love for Cunegonde, and his severe tribulation, has caused him to momentarily forget his philosophy.


Voltaire. (1947). Candide. Trans. Butt, J. Chapters VII – IX. London: Penguin Classics.

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