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Tafelrunde in Sanssouci (Voltaire to the left, purple, next to Casanova, red lapels), Adolph von Menzel, 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voltaire the celebrity, but…

A favourite guest of celebrities
Wit, his chief quality

Voltaire lived in a castle, le château de Ferney and befriended Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, and other royals and dignitaries. For instance, in the above image, he is at Sanssouci  [literally “without worry”], a castle owned by Friedrich der Große who was an admirer of François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire. The artist is Adolph von Menzel (8 December 1815 – 9 February 1905). However, do not expect an example of this decorum in Voltaire’s Candide.

His indomitable wit and his pen were Voltaire’s chief weapons. He rarely went unnoticed. The French call this présence. However, he was forever running to escape the Bastille. 

From lair to lair: “traduit de l’Allemand”

Next to Voltaire, at the round table (Taflerunde) is Casanova, the Chevalier de Seingalt (pronounced Saint-Galle) (2 April 1725 – 4 June 1798), the famous Venitian womanizer, but a person who lived among princes and wrote the history of his life, L’Histoire de ma vie (See Casanova, Wikipedia.)

Voltaire published his Candide under a pseudonym, that of Mr. le Docteur Ralph, and claimed the novella had been translated from German, “traduit de l’Allemand.” The frontispiece (cover) of the first edition of Candide, published in 1759, is the work of Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune. Voltaire was protecting himself.


At Café Procope: at rear, from left to right: Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire (with his arm raised) and Diderot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Background: Lazarillo de Tormes

a picaresque novel
a pícaro
Lazarillo de Tormes (1554)
a Bildungsroman

Voltaire’s Candide is a novella consisting of thirty (30) chapters and published in 1759. It has been described as a picaresque novel. The word picaresque is derived from a Spanish novella entitled La Vida de un pícaro (The Life of a Rogue; short title) or La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades (The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of his Fortunes and Adversities), by Lazarillo de Tormes (1554). In picaresque novels, characters move from place to place.

The novel is also considered a Bildungsroman or a coming of age novel. In this regard, Voltaire’s Candide resembles Henry Fielding‘s Tom Jones (The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling), 1749. Henri Fielding’s Tom Jones is characterized by obliqueness because Tom, a “foundling,”[1] has no lineage, which gives him a degree of anonymity and impunity. As a Bildungsroman, Voltaire’s Candide has also been associated with Laurence Sterne‘s Tristram Shandy (a Bildungsroman), 1759 – 1767 (9 volumes).

As an oblique novel, Candide has affinities with Montesquieu’s  Persian Letters (Lettres persanes) (1721). Montesquieu’s Usbek and Rica, his two Persians, are foreigners and may therefore say anything with impunity. Tom Jones is an “illegitimate” son and a foreigner of sorts. Moreover, Candide invites comparison with Blaise Pascal‘s Lettres provinciales (1656-1567). (See Lettres provinciales, Wikipedia.) Both works feature naïve characters.


Candide, ou l’Optimisme, 1759

key sentences

Candide is Voltaire’s answer to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz‘ optimism. It has a second title: Candide, ou l’Optimisme. Key sentences and concepts are:

Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes. (All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.)
Il faut cultiver son jardin. (One must cultivate one’s garden.)
There is a cause for each effect.

The Cast

Cunégonde (the woman Candide loves)
The Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh (Cunégonde’s father)
Candide (the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister)
Dr Pangloss (Candide’s mentor: who believes this is “the best of all possible worlds”)
Cacambo (Candide’s loyal servant, a zanni of the commedia dell’arte
The Old Lady
Martin (the Old Philosopher)
Paquette (suivante to the Baroness)
Giroflée (a friar)


The Story

We are in Westphalia. Candide, the illegitimate son of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk’s sister, is kicked out of Paradise when he kisses Cunégonde, the Baron’s daughter. (1)

Candide leaves and is made prisoner by Bulgarian soldiers who flog him and are about to execute him when the Bulgar King arrives and saves Candide whom, he says, is not worth hanging. (2)

In Holland, Candide meets an Anabaptist who looks after him, provides him with a shelter and becomes his teacher. (3) Dr Pangloss, Candide’s mentor at the Baron’s, appears unexpectedly. He caught smallpox and is pockmarked. He tells Candide that everyone has been killed, including Cunégonde. (4)

They leave for Lisbon but are shipwrecked during an earthquake and a tsunami (the 1755 Lisbon earthquake). A sailor lets the Anabaptist drown. Candide is wounded but he and Dr Pangloss survive. (5)

In Lisbon, Dr Pangloss is hanged by the Inquisition and Candide, spanked. (6) Cunégonde watches the auto-da-fé (act-of-faith) and recognizes Candide. An old woman is sent to fetch Candide. (7) Cunégonde is owned by a Jew and an Inquisitor, (8) but staves off their advances, she says. Candide kills both men. (9)

They flee to Buenos Aires. (10) The old woman, the daughter of a pope and a princess, tells how she lost one of her buttocks. (11-12). In Buenos Aires, the Governor falls in love with Cunégonde. (13) Candide and Cacambo continue to flee the Inquisition and arrive in Paraguay where they find Cunégonde’s brother, a Colonel, who has not died. (14) The Colonel will not let Cunégonde marry Candide who belongs to an inferior class. Candide kills him. (15)

Candide and Cacambo carry on but are captured by Oreillons and nearly eaten. They are spared because they are enemies of the Jesuits. A river propels them into El Dorado or Paradise. In El Dorado, there is no religion, just Deism, but they leave. Sheep, laden with treasures, guide them above mountains. They think they will be able to take Cunégonde back. (17 – 18) On their way to Suriname, they lose their sheep and much of their riches (jewels, etc.). However, Cacambo is sent to buy Cunégonde back while Candide and Martin, a poor philosopher, sail for Venice (19).

During the trip across the sea, Martin tells his philosophy. It is diametrically opposed to that of Dr Pangloss. (20 -21) They stop in Paris where Candide falls prey to various crooks, cheat on Cunégonde and gets in trouble. He has to flee. (22)  As they, Candide and Martin, pass England, they see an admiral who is being executed because he lost a battle. (23)

In Venice, they find no sign of Cunégonde and the old woman, but meet Paquette, the baroness’ suivante, and Giroflée, a friar. (24) They also visit with a man who claims to be happy, the Pococurante.(25) It’s Carnival time in Venice. While they are having dinner with six dethroned and impoverished monarchs, Cacambo surfaces. (26)

Cunégonde is a slave in Constantinople and has grown ugly. Among the galley slaves in the boat taking them to Constantinople, Candide, Martin and Cacambo recognize Pangloss and the son of the Baron. They have not died. They are bought back. (27) Pangloss tells how the Inquisitors failed to kill him. Similarly, the young Baron was unskillfully killed by Candide and is still alive. (28) Candide buys Cunégonde back and is repulsed.

He will marry her nevertheless, despite the young Baron’s objections. (29) They buy a piece of land and start cultivating their garden. Paquette and friar Giroflée also  reappear.  All will cultivate the garden. (30)

Sources and Resources

Candide (Wikipedia)
Candide (summary) EN
Candide (incomplete text) Internet Archives EN
Candide (incomplete text) Gutenberg [EBook #19942] EN
Candide (complete text) literature.org EN
Candide (complete text) Internet Archives FR
Candide (complete text) Ebooks gratuits FR
Candide Google Books
Candide (résumé) FR
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1 July 1646 – 14 November 1716), Wikipedia

[1] French cinematographer François Truffaut produced L’Enfant sauvage, about a feral child (The Wild Child).

Leonard Berstein conducts his Candide Overture (1956)


© Micheline Walker
12 March 2015