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Candide | Study Guide


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Candide | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Published in 1759 by the French writer and philosopher Voltaire, Candide is a satirical novella about a young man's journey through the world and his philosophical awakening from thoughtless optimism to realistic practicality. Voltaire uses satire to skewer the social and religious precepts of his day.

On its publication, Candide was widely banned but enormously popular. It has influenced modern-day satirists and dystopian writers, such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Samuel Beckett, and is one of the most often taught French novels. British poet and literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith named it as one of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, right next to Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language.

1. Voltaire published 17 editions of Candide simultaneously to avoid piracy and censorship.

In 1759 Voltaire sent the manuscript for Candide to his publisher in Geneva, Switzerland. However, he knew that the text was likely to be pirated or stolen and that it would also probably be censored because of its political and religious criticism. To ensure that his work would be published as he wrote it, he also sent out versions of the manuscript to publishers in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. By the end of the year, there were 17 editions of the book in print.

2. A horrific earthquake helped inspire Candide.

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 created fires and a tsunami and killed more than 30,000 people. Lisbon, at the time, was a city of devout Catholics and a center of the Inquisition. The fact that the earthquake hit there led to philosophical questions about faith and divine justice as in Candide, where the main character constantly questions how to reconcile terrible events with the concept of a benevolent God. The earthquake actually plays a role in the book: the Inquisition blames Candide and his teacher for the disaster.

3. Voltaire did not want Candide illustrated, but some editions were.

When Voltaire's publisher planned to put out an illustrated edition of Candide, the author wrote:

I believe that these illustrations will prove quite useless. These baubles have never been allowed in the works of Cicero, Virgil, and Horace.

Nevertheless, illustrated versions of the work have been popular since the late 1780s, including recent ones illustrated by celebrated artist Paul Klee and illustrator Quentin Blake.

4. Candide was banned in the United States.

In 1929 U.S. Customs confiscated copies of Candide that were sent to Harvard University. Educators responded with outrage, and the ban was lifted when the book was found not to be obscene. Fourteen years later the U.S. Post Office forced retailer Concord Books to black out the title of the book in its catalog on the grounds that mailing the catalog with the title would be the same as mailing obscene literature.

5. Voltaire bankrupted the French lottery.

In 1729 Voltaire met a mathematician who pointed out that the French lottery, designed to raise money for the debt-ridden government, was flawed. If someone bought up all the tickets, the total cost would be far less than the prize money. Voltaire set up a syndicate to do just that, and it ended up winning today's equivalent of about $40 million. Voltaire couldn't resist mocking the government for allowing this to happen. Voltaire's actions shut down the lottery ... but a little too late.

6. Voltaire understood the power of a name.

The word candide in French means "innocent" or "pure." Pangloss, the name of Candide's long-winded and all-knowing teacher, means "all tongues" or, in the vernacular, "windbag." The meaning of Cunégonde's name is less clear. One historical figure with that name was known as the "virgin spouse" and was made a saint, so naming his often sexually abused character after the saint was probably an ironic choice on Voltaire's part.

7. Voltaire was a man of memorable words.

The best-known line from Candide is its last, when Candide says to Pangloss, "We must cultivate our garden." By this he means that one must cultivate one's own life, but many take it further, to mean that one must cultivate relationships with all humankind. Voltaire is also known for saying, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him." And on his deathbed, when asked to renounce Satan, Voltaire reputedly said, "My good man, this is no time for making enemies."

8. Voltaire lived near the French border so he could escape easily.

After the publication of Lettres Philosophiques in 1734, Voltaire lived for several years at Cirey, on the French-Swiss border. The volume criticized French religion and politics, and Voltaire had to be able to leave the country quickly if the authorities came after him. He spent many of the following years in exile, frequently in Switzerland. After writing Candide, he settled in Ferney on the French-Swiss border so he could escape to either country if necessary.

9. Composer Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for an operetta based on Candide.

In 1956 an operetta based on Candide opened in New York. While composer Leonard Bernstein called it "America's valentine to Europe," some reviewers were not pleased. The New York Herald Tribune stated, "Three of the most talented people our theater possesses—Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, Tyrone Guthrie—have joined hands to transform Voltaire's Candide into a really spectacular disaster." A 1973 revival was better received.

10. In 1760 a sequel to Candide by a different author was published.

Candide was so popular that other writers jumped on Voltaire's bandwagon. In 1760 a sequel, Candide, Second Partie, came out. Originally attributed to a writer named Thorell de Campignuelles, critics later decided it had been written by Henri-Joseph Du Laurens.

This sequel, which took Candide to Persia and the Ottoman Empire, was often published in editions with the original, so many readers thought it, too, was by Voltaire.

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