Candide – Voltaire

excerpt from chapter 6 “How the Portuguese Made a Superb Auto-De-Fe to Prevent Any Future Earthquakes, and How Candide Underwent Public Flagellation”

In consequence thereof they had seized on a Biscayan for marrying his godmother, and on two Portuguese for taking out the bacon of a larded pullet they were eating; after dinner they came and secured Dr. Pangloss, and his pupil Candide, the one for speaking his mind, and the other for seeming to approve what he had said. They were conducted to separate apartments, extremely cool, where they were never incommoded with the sun. Eight days afterwards they were each dressed in a sanbenito, and their heads were adorned with paper mitres. The mitre and sanbenito worn by Candide were painted with flames reversed and with devils that had neither tails nor claws; but Dr. Pangloss’s devils had both tails and claws, and his flames were upright. In these habits they marched in procession, and heard a very pathetic sermon, which was followed by an anthem, accompanied by bagpipes. Candide was flogged to some tune, while the anthem was being sung; the Biscayan and the two men who would not eat bacon were burned, and Pangloss was hanged, which is not a common custom at these solemnities. The same day there was another earthquake, which made most dreadful havoc.

Candide, amazed, terrified, confounded, astonished, all bloody, and trembling from head to foot, said to himself, “If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others? If I had only been whipped, I could have put up with it, as I did among the Bulgarians; but, not withstanding, oh my dear Pangloss! my beloved master! thou greatest of philosophers! that ever I should live to see thee hanged, without knowing for what! O my dear Anabaptist, thou best of men, that it should be thy fate to be drowned in the very harbor! O Miss Cunegund, you mirror of young ladies! that it should be your fate to have your body ripped open!”

Candide by Voltaire is a very good illustration of the rise in the middle class that led to the French Revolution. It was written and published in January 1759 in France. Voltaire often addresses the hypocrisy of religion, corruption and power. Works like his were often satirical and pushed for social reforms. “In Candide, probably the best known of his copious writings, Voltaire nibbled away at the pillars of society and the old regime and left them shaking and rotten for the Revolution to pull down.”1 Many of Voltaire’s works were censored, which is why he often wrote using a pseudonym or anonymously. Still he was imprisoned in the Bastille, almost certainly fueling his writing. 2

In Candide, and many other of his works, Voltaire mocks the two main forces he was trying to reform, the church and the king. “In 18th century France, all power lay in the hands of the King and the Church. The Church taught that all authority to determine what was right and wrong was given to the King by God.” 3 In the above excerpt, Candide and Pangloss are persecuted by the Inquisition, Pangloss for speaking his mind and Candide for listening to him.  This scene reflects on Voltaire’s thoughts on both censorship and the law. Candide hasn’t actually done anything when he is persecuted, and Pangloss has merely spoken his mind. While Voltaire’s work was banned, that only made it even more popular with the bourgeois of France. “Due to its scandalous nature, Candide was published clandestinely and anonymously, and its exact publication date is unknown. However, in mid-January of 1759, Voltaire’s publisher sent 1,000 copies of Candide to Paris, and by late February Voltaire’s identity was revealed. The police were ordered to seize all copies of Candidethat could be found, but the controversy only served to further fuel the book’s popularity – and by the end of the year, at least seventeen editions of the work had been published.” 4

Voltaire also satirizes religion and the joint efforts of the Church and King to maintain their power. “Thus, it was a system of mind control, and as long as the masses believed in the divine right of kings, the King and the Church, and those who held positions in their service (the nobles and upper clergy) maintained their privileged position over the general population.” 5 He often presents religious figures in absurd ways, such as a Franciscan friar who is also a jewel thief and a Catholic Inquisitor with a mistress.

It was works like these that influenced the French to overthrow their government and to storm the Bastille. And I find it very noble that Voltaire risked so much and was often imprisoned in his quest for the social reform of France. I believe it was works like these that caused the spark that began the French Revolution. I chose Candide because I not only appreciate the witty satire, I also appreciate the reason that it was written. I also think that Voltaire had a lot he could have lost in writing it; he was a wealthy man, but he engaged in behaviors that caused him to be imprisoned and could have easily gotten him killed (especially because it would have been perfectly within the jurisdiction of the law to do so).



About sarahstates

My name is Sarah States. I like brightly colored things. And my passions are art making and appreciating, couchsurfing, finding new cures for my ever-present wanderlust, CATAWAMPUS, being a burner and the multitude of things that occupy my time.
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2 Responses to Candide – Voltaire

  1. Hanan says:

    Hey Sarah,
    I created a PDF version of the full text, with footnotes from Wikipedia:

    I hope this helps people enjoy reading Candide.

  2. alexlegris says:

    Hey Sarah I really like how you included so much history in your post, it really helps give context to this piece of work. The part about it being published clandestinely was especially interesting for me.

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