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Candide | Study Guide


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Chapter 12

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 12 of Voltaire's novella Candide.

Candide | Chapter 12 | Summary



It turns out the Italian, who is a eunuch, sang at the princess's mother's chapel, and he had taken care of the young princess until she was six years old. He cares for her until she is strong again, but instead of taking her home as promised, he sells her to the governor of Algiers. She contracts the plague and survives only to be sold six more times. At one point she and several other women are forced to undergo operations to have one buttock each removed to feed starving soldiers.

Sold to a Russian who takes her to Moscow, she eventually escapes, crossing the entire country by selling her body in taverns along the way. Growing old and ugly, she is nonetheless "still in love with life." She ends her tale by challenging Cunégonde to ask each of the ship's passengers about their own stories, certain the young woman will discover that everyone, at some point in their lives, thinks they are the unhappiest person in the world.


The old woman's story is a harsh dose of reality for the self-centered Candide and Cunégonde, and its moral is clear: trust no one. Even people who seem like friends will sell you out for a few dollars. On the bright side, those who have wronged you usually die. Voltaire once again shows the disconnect between philosophical optimism and morality. Just because things may happen for the best doesn't mean they're morally correct.

Voltaire thinks that a lot of morally questionable things are going on in 18th-century Europe and Africa, and he doesn't sugarcoat anything. People, particularly women and sometimes even Christians, are indeed sold as slaves. Some of the battles and places Voltaire discusses are real, but he also builds on fictional history to make people sound barbaric. These ideas are woven into the story.

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