Voltaire. Candide and Other Stories. Trans. Roger Pearson. (Oxford World's Classics Series, paperback) (N.Y.: Oxford UP, 1990, rpt. 2006) ISBN 0192807269 (paperback, available used in earlier printings) A new edition has been published and is on order at the bookstore, but used copies of the older edition will do the job if you correct the pagination. You also can read it online in an out-of-copyright translation at Literature.org. If you elect this option, please consider printing a copy so that you can annotate it by hand, which encourages better analytical memory of the text.
Religious Satire: Voltaire takes aim at a particular kind of eighteenth-century Christian religious thought called "Deism," which some believers thought could could explain any good or bad thing that happened as the result of God's "Providence" or divine foresight of all future events. They also believed that God could do or be nothing but Good. "This is the best of all possible worlds," Pangloss's trademark expression, is a logical consequence of those two Deist assumptions. Voltaire's satire was designed to force readers to suspect that one or both of those assumptions was untrue, and to confront them with what philosophers sometimes call "the problem of evil." Why do evil things, or catastrophic accidents, happen? How would you explain such things to your own children?
Travel, Tourism, and Being Abroad: Voltaire's travelers, Candide, Cunegonde, and Doctor Pangloss, often act as readers' surrogate observers in distant, unfamiliar places. In effect, they are tourists on a very unconventional trip. As they view what they perceive to be strange and wondrous or terrible novelties in Lisbon or Peru, they also often are observed, themselves, by the local inhabitants to whom the travelers themselves seem strange, wondrous, or terrible. How does Voltaire manipulate readers' sympathies for the observers and the observed, the "tourists" and the "natives"? What are the consequences of voyaging as an outsider rather than entering into the cultural flow of places we visit? What obstacles stand in the way of our attempts to be a part of any culture other than the one we are born into, and how can education help us to overcome them?
Gardens Real and Metaphorical: The novel's final recurring theme, that we should all "cultivate our garden," could be understood literally as a very limiting, provincial way to live. Perhaps such a literal solution might work for someone who has been through as much horrific and bizarre experience as Candide and his companions, but would it satisfy you at this point in your life, or me, at this point in mine? Perhaps this intended to function as a metaphor. What other "gardens" might Voltaire want his readers to cultivate, and what might the "produce" of those gardens be? How might that affect the way we live and work together at Goucher? Can I help you cultivate your garden as part of cultivating my own?
Voltaire and More's Utopia: Voltaire's satire on the land of Eldorado resembles Sir Thomas More's Utopia in one particular short passage in which travelers misunderstand the social significance of jewels and precious metals. Read the passage in question, and compare it with Chapters 17-18 of Candide. How has the shift in point of view altered the message of the satire, and especially how do you interpret Cacambo's and Candide's decision to return to Europe with the Eldoradan riches when they might have stayed there with all the benefits described in those two passages. What kind of choice were they presented, and how might it apply to our own search for knowledge, wealth, and satisfaction?
Venice and V's Satire of Commerce and "Success": The Venice section of Candide contains some lesser-known but still famous satires that begin with the barbed attack on the myth of prostitution. Paquette's description of the life of a prostitute stands as a direct and graphic challenge to the still-currant male myth that prostitutes enjoy sex, care about their "johns," and live lives of carefree erotic abandon. How did Voltaire manage to discover this when so many male authors writing about prostitutes are still captured by the myth? Pococurante, the connoisseur, is a puzzle. Is he a satire on connoisseurship, because he seems to hate almost everything he has collected, or do his opinions reflect (like Paquette's) Voltaire's real opinions of the literature and painting that he disparages? What would he think of Candide? Finally, the dinner with the five kings returns us to the book's more general theme of the instability of all human ambitions and the likelihood that the mighty will fall. We are nearing the end of the book--what does this scene cause you to suspect?