Sunday, 23 December 2012

Candide by Voltaire

Trust me to confuse Peter James with P D James, Simon Kernick with Ian Rankin and Virgil with Voltaire. What I was hoping to read was an epic poem, a daunting task with probably a reward (some philosophical thoughts, beautiful lines, great story etc) in the end. What I end up reading is a small delightful rewarding tale with gems of wisdom and a immense serving of humour. A kind of tale that I could probably dip in now and then. Published in 1759 Candide by Voltaire presents the case against Optimism. Now to the tale.

Candide grows up in the household of a Baron in Westphalia under the guidance of Pangloss, who earnestly believes that all is for the best and

“the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles.”

When Candide is caught kissing Cunegonde, Baron's daughter, and is thrown out of the house. Candide is forced to join the Bulgarian Army and faces various hardships and punishments. But he still believes that all is for the best. Candide is briefly reunited with his mentor Pangloss, who still believes that all is for the best. He journeys all over Europe and finally decides to cross the Ocean and go to the New World 'which is the best of all possible worlds'.

When Candide's companion bemoans all the misfortunes they have faced. A old woman who becomes their companion narrates her story, the hardships she faced and her unwillingness to end all the pain.

“A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one's existence? In brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?”

The New World is no different. Candide faces one hardship after another making him question if all is really for the best.

“What is this optimism?" said Cacambo.

"Alas!" said Candide, "it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

He visits El Dorado , the land of the plenty, but is not content to stay there for ever. He continues on the journey and meets Martin another philosopher with whom he has many discourses. In the end they decide that there is only one way to make life bearable.

"Let us work, then, without disputing; for it is the only way to make life bearable."

Yes! Without much ado "let us cultivate our garden.”

This book is available as a free ebook from various websites including Gutenberg.

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