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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


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

[Candide Contents]


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[Candide Contents]



Aldridge, A. Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.) Biography of Voltaire, including a chapter on Candide.

Bair, Lowell, trans. Candide by Voltaire. (New York: Bantam Books, 1959.) Contains an "Appreciation" by Andre Maurois.

Besterman, Theodore. Voltaire. 3d ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976.) Detailed analysis of Voltaire's life and works by a leading Voltaire scholar.

Bottiglia, William F. Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.) Collection of essays by leading Voltaire scholars on many aspects of his life and work.

Cassirer, Ernst. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Translated by Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.) Classic study of the subject.

Crocker, Lester, ed. The Age of Enlightenment. (London: Macmillan, 1969.) Anthology of Enlightenment writers, with an informative general introduction to the period.

Durant, Will and Ariel. The Age of Voltaire. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.) History of Western European civilization from 1715 to 1756, with an emphasis on the conflict between philosophy and religion.

Frame, Donald, Introduction to Voltaire: Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories. Translated by Donald Frame. (New York: New American Library, 1981.)

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. 2d ed. (New York: Vintage Books: 1969.) Vol. 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism, includes a chapter on Candide; Vol. 2, The Science of Freedom.

_____. Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist. (New York: Vintage Books, 1965.) Broad-based study of the development of Voltaire's political thought.

Hugo, Howard E., "Masterpieces of Neoclassicism," in Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Vol. 2. Literature of Western Culture Since the Renaissance, 1980.

Mason, Haydn. Voltaire: A Biography. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.) Contains a detailed chapter on the sources of Candide.

Orieux, Jean. Voltaire. Translated by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane. (Garden City: Doubleday, 1979.) Includes a detailed chronological table relating Voltaire's life to contemporary events.


    1718 Oedipe, a play
    1720 Artemire, a play
    1723 La Henriade, epic poem
    1724 Mariamne, a play
    1727 Essay on Epick Poetry, in English originally
    1730 Brutus, a play
    1731 History of Charles XII
    1732 Zaire, a play
    1733 Philosophical Letters (or Letters Concerning the English Nation), in English originally
    1738 Elements of the Philosophy of Newton
    1742 Mahomet, a play
    1743 Merope, a play
    1747 Zadig, a philosophical tale
    1751 The Century of Louis XIV, history
    1752 Micromegas, philosophical tale
    1755 Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon
    1756 Essay on the Manners and the Spirit of Nations
    1763 Treatise on Tolerance
    1764 Philosophical Dictionary
    1767 Ingenuous, philosophical tale
    1768 The Princess of Babylon, a novel
    1770 Questions on the Encyclopedia
    1778 Irene, a play

[Study Guide to Philosophical Dictionary]


ECC [Candide Contents] [The Study Home Page]

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