This is a set book for my studies this year and also a book for my Around the world in 80 books challenge. Written in the Eighteenth Century by the French writer Francois-Marie Aroet, known as Voltaire. (Spoilers follow)
Candide, is a breezy, drag you along by the hair kind of read, full to the brim of energetic life. It is darkly humorous, sharply witty, absurd, as well as horrifying in places. Clever without a doubt, but not really the kind of thing I would generally read out of choice.
As a young man, Candide departs on his travels from the German town of Westphalia having previously been indoctrinated with the philosophy of optimism – that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. Yet, as he soon finds out on his travels, the author has created a world in which there is all manner of suffering.
While the subject matter is often shocking, Voltaire’s simple flowing prose style is a joy to read. I have to admire a book that dares to try to influence us in this way, to shake us roughly by the shoulders and say ‘wake up’, despite the exhausting ordeal a reader has to go through.
At the end of his journey it is ‘labour’ that is the saving grace for Candide and his friends. Each of the characters find their own particular role to play on their small farm using their particular talents such as pastry-chef, embroiderer, launderer, carpenter. Through his disillusionment and maturing, Candide discovers that through honest work a person can avoid the evils of boredom, vice and poverty. His final words that we ‘must cultivate our garden’ is free to interpretation. We might do well to pay attention to our own business, to do what needs to be done in our own little corner of the world, and/or to literally get out there and ‘cultivate our garden’ – maybe not to reject optimism outright, but that a more practical approach to living may be our best option.