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Although many versions have been given even of Voltaire's fundamental ideas, there is in my opinion little reason for doubt. A long, intimate and sympathetic familiarity with his life and works has convinced me that two ideas dominate Voltaire, two ideas which form so intimate a part of his make-up that they call for the attention of the psychologist as much as the historian, two ideas which are at the base of all he thought and felt and did. These two things are a passion for justice and a belief in reason.
Theodore Besterman, Voltaire, 1976
It ranks as one of the masterpieces of European literature, not primarily because of style but because of its realistic portrayal of the human condition. The character of the protagonist arouses our sympathy. We commiserate with his misfortunes at the same time that we derive amusement from his naivete. Apart from certain elements of the ludicrous and grotesque and humorous exaggeration incumbent upon the techniques of satire, Candide presents an essentially true picture of life. It addresses itself, moreover, to the basic philosophical questions of concern to all men: are we free to make our own choices or are we the puppets of destiny? and is the evil that we all perceive and experience the most pervasive force in the universe or can it be made subservient to a contrary force of beneficence?
A. Owen Aldridge, Voltaire and the Century of Light, 1975
Candide... written at white heat after Emilie's death, disillusionment with Frederick, and the Lisbon earthquake, demonstrates that our life is either suffering or boredom, philosophical optimism is the acme of folly, the concept of Providence is wishful thinking, and our sole salvation lies in fruitful work cultivating our garden.
Donald M. Frame, Introduction to Voltaire: Candide, Zadig, and Selected Stories, 1981
Perhaps it is the vision of Eldorado that saves Candide (and Voltaire) from complete despair. For a brief time the hero is allowed to dwell in a never-never land, a composite of all the utopian dreams of the Enlightenment.
Howard E. Hugo, "Masterpieces of Neoclassicism," in Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, vol 2, 1980
ON THE CONCLUSION TO CANDIDE
As for interpretations which dwell on "selfish indifference" and "the doctrine of minding one's own business," they are refuted by Voltaire's own words. Candide's garden is co- operatively cultivated by "the entire little community." Pomeau contends that Pangloss constitutes an exception: "He alone escapes the final reformation of the little community. Still addicted to metaphysico-nigology, still 'arguing without working,' he remains imperturbably Pangloss, the man who is nothing but talk." The text of the tale, however, makes Pangloss a member of "the entire little community," and therefore one of its active workers. Moreover, it represents him as relapsing only "sometimes" into otiose speculation. Like his companions, then, he becomes socially useful in accordance with deistic doctrine. But social utility is not confined to the "little community." The garden is not "an Iland, intire of it selfe." The sale of produce establishes a connection with the big city- a connection wherein it is the small model group which influences the world, and not the other way around. But if the garden is to be understood symbolically as well as literally, then its yield must be such as to affect not only the bodies but also the minds of men.
William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1968
Here, in that concluding sentence of the tale, Voltaire has fused the lessons of ancient philosophy into a prescription: Men are thrown into the world to suffer and to dominate their suffering. Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats; life is a desert, but we can transform our corner into a garden. Talk is entertaining, but it is useful only when it directs us to our duties and possibilities, since action is irresponsible without a clear conception of duty and unrealistic without a fair appreciation of our possibilities. It is the task of philosophy to discover,... what is within our power and what is beyond it. Candide is thus a morality tale in the most concrete sense possible; it teaches, by example, the supremacy of realistic moral thinking.
Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism, 1966
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