Dan Sandman

#21 Candide

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 19/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#21 CandideCandide begins his journey in a German castle, closeted off from reality by his optimistic philosophy tutor Dr. Pangloss. One day, he innocently kisses the beautiful Cunégonde’s hand, strays his own hands into other areas, and is kicked up the backside by Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk. So then, as so many stories do, the trouble all begins with two young people falling in love…

First published in 1759, Candide sold twice more than Gulliver’s Travels within the first month. Like Swift, Voltaire sends his hero on an unlikely adventure with many twists and turns. Like Cervantes, he has a trusty servant accompany his hero along the way. On this hilarious journey of incredible misfortune, Candide is flogged, taken in by the Spanish inquisition and has the riches of Elderado fleeced from him aboard a merchant ship. And yet, despite the sheer scale of catastrophe that befalls young Candide, he continues to draw hope that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’.

The question is, will he remain optimistic until the end of the tale? The answer is no. And so, what we have is a universal message about faith versus reason; optimism versus cynicism; youth versus experience; and romantic love versus companionship. Candide is foolish to trust everyone he meets along the way, believing them to be trustworthy, without making any reasonable judgement about their character beforehand. As he is scarred by his foolishness, he begins to develop into a more reasonable person, behaving in a way which is less trusting of other people.

Written during the Enlightenment, otherwise known as age of reason, Candide is both a moral and philosophical tale about the power of substance over superstition. At a time of great scientific discovery, a period that is often seen as a turning point from religious thinking to scientific thinking, this deceptively simple tale can be enjoyed on several levels. On the surface, it is a wonderfully funny boy’s adventure about a young man going off on an unlikely journey. Nothing is taken seriously, deaths occur in a sentence, and the children’s-story-like prose doesn’t appear to struggle with the depths of the human psyche. However, like all the greatest fictions, when its depths are delved into, Candide becomes a wonderfully informed discussion opener for any number of essential topics: war, love, death (to name a few). Give this classic to a ten year old boy or an elderly woman and they’ll each have something to say about it.

It was banned though, probably because of its flippant treatment of such delicate matters as murder, rape and slavery. I would argue that making fun of serious matters is a good way to challenge any preconceptions or prejudices we may have about them; other disagree. Without a liberal attitude, growing from the age of reason, there could be no stand-up comedy, no rock n’ roll and no critique of religious matters. Such a world would be full of solemn prayer, pious attitudes towards sex and (to be flippant myself) absolutely no fun whatsoever. It would also be a world where public shaming or public executions occur whenever an artist challenges the status quo. When censorship goes too far, suddenly, jazz music, Jewish poetry and black comedy are being stamped upon by the jackboots of fascists, as they burn the works of Voltaire outside the gates of the Reichstag. By the butt of a gun, in a world without liberal humanism, violent troops of young fools fight for some tyrant’s idea of a religious ideal: unthinking and under orders. With great wit and wisdom, Voltaire reveals the sheer absurdity of such human history and teaches us to see such serious matters in the true light of day. And most importantly, with a good sense of humour and a decent dose of irony.

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