Monday, 17 August 2015

Review: 'Candide' by Voltaire

CandideIt's time for me to review another novel from my 100 Classics List, a great incentive from the Classics Club to get people like moi to finally read the classic novels we've been lusting after. Today's novel is Candide by Voltaire, a novel I've been both intimidated and excited by. But I'm extremely glad I gave it a chance.

Original pub. date: 1759

Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world. 
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.
Voltaire is an amazing narrator. From the beginning of Candide he is a constant presence, lurking in the back of the narrative and popping up frequently with subtle, and not so very subtle, barbs at his main characters. What the great thing is about Voltaire's style is that it is unapologetically his own. While reading Candide one gets the feelings that Voltaire wrote it for himself as much as for anyone else. Perhaps this sentiment is best expressed in Voltaire's own words:
'Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.'
Candide is not necessarily admirable, but it is highly enjoyable. Voltaire's comparisons and metaphors are ridiculous and incredibly over the top, but they're so much fun. Voltaire drags his characters all over the world and puts them in the worst situations, yet Candide never loses its light and fun tone.

Candide seemingly has a lot in common with Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, also written and published in 1759, which I reviewed earlier this year. Both works focus on young men leaving their Edenic homes in order to explore the world and test their beliefs. However, aside from this basic plot structure there are crucial differences in what Voltaire and Johnson were attempting with Candide and Rasselas. Voltaire's work was meant as a satire, mercilessly ripping into Gottfried Leibniz' philosophical conclusion that this word must be the best of all possible ones, no matter how we may perceive it. Johnson's Rasselas on the other hand is a genuine effort on Johnson's part to explore whether humans can ever achieve true happiness. This affects the tone of the works but also the impact they have on their reader. Candide is fun and ridiculous, whereas Rasselas is serious and only at times ridiculous.

There are some parts of Candide which drag. Voltaire is clearly making a point and especially during the second third of the book this becomes quite repetitive. Candide's search for enlightenment, love and everything else is fun in the way that good reality shows can be. His journey is a string of disasters which, at times, leads to touching truths but mainly to hilarity and a fascinating array of side-characters. Hence it's to its advantage that Candide is quite short and reads easily and quickly. Candide shouldn't necessarily be read for its story but for its tone and idea. It's ridiculously quoatable and had me laughing out loud quite some times.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed Candide. Voltaire makes it easy to read philosophical satire, which is quite a feat. His characters are funny, their adventures ridiculous and the writing highly enjoyable. It might take some determination to get into, but once Candide's got you it'll keep you.

No comments:

Post a Comment