Friday, March 5, 2021

Voltaire - Candide

Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher's immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that -- contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss -- all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire's most celebrated work. 

Comment: I have no idea of how long this book was in my shelf but if there is one thing to be said about classics is that it is very rare the case that, liking it or not, that isn't synonym of "timeless" and, for me, that is precisely how I could summarize my impression of Candide.

This is a satirical and ironic work where the author "mocks" the notion of optimism for there are too many things that go wrong, not always because of the individual's choices, and people should be more clever in what they believe in. Thus, the author wrote this small book as a joke on all those incongruent rules and society's expectations, as well as on the philosophy of optimism by letting the protagonist Candide jump from adventure to adventure, each one more ridiculous than the other...

This being a classic work, there are countless other works analyzing, studying, explaining, trying to present some sort of reason for why the author wrote it the way he did. Yes, I can see the clues of the satire in the text but, deep down, I prefer to believe that Voltaire was just having fun writing something so silly and amusing.

For me, that is what this text offers the reader: the escapism of an adventure through the continents as Candide tries to see things through the prism of optimism, even when he is about to be burned in a fire trial. It is also true one can notice the little digs the author aimed at any political and social belief of the time, as well as on those philosophers he didn't agree with and who he felt should be called to attention. However, from the perspective of someone not versed in most philosophies, this was simply entertaining.

I did laugh out loud a few times while reading, such is the level of ridiculousness one can find in this small book. It actually reminded me of a sketch any comedian might present nowadays on any subject, and such is the level of satire too, that one is left thinking on it and, of course, that has to be the point but there's no rule saying the audience can't laugh along with it and, as a matter of fact, isn't it the big goal, to allow people to think without sounding like it's preaching?

Cover of my Portuguese edition
One can argue that this being so short and lacking some better structure makes the work lose some momentum and I do agree up to some point, but the experience of spending some time having fun while thinking makes it worthwhile.

The little plot there is here is so silly that I won't waste any time tying to explain it but let it be said that it makes one travel around the world with the cleverest of intentions while going though what seems to be easy and unimportant. What a mistake, for the author has thought about what to write very seriously and that is the big conclusion one can get from this classic: it's not the story that should make the reader feel something is understandable or not (many have disliked it because they feel it's not serious) but the fact if one reads between the lines, all the author's intelligence in picking this character and this adventure is right there, as clear as crystal.

Grade: 8/10

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