Voltaire, Candide (1759): introduction and pages 1-17

How should we read a book like this?  What can it teach us about voyaging, and self-discovery?

What did I do first?

Voltaire, Candide, illustrated by Rockwell Kent, New York : Random House, 1929 Special Collections/Archives   846.4 V93Jca 1929         LIB USE ONLY   Descript 5 p.l., 9-111 [1] p., 3 l. : ill. ; 27.2 cm. Note Zigrosser, Rockwellkentiana, p. 61. Second edition.  Bound in purple cloth; stamped in gold. [RK (1882-1971) was a famous American painter, book illustrator, and proponent of radical causes, and the first edition of this book (1928) was the first book published by Random House, a major C20 American publishing firm.]

Voltaire, Candide, or, Optimism. Translated from the French by Richard Aldington, with an introduction by Paul Morand and twenty illustrations in colour by Sylvain Sauvage London, The Nonesuch press [1939]  Special Collections/Archives   PQ2082.C3 E5 1939         LIB USE ONLY Descript xix, [1], 147, [1] p. : incl. col. front., col. illus., col. plates, ; 26 cm  [RA (1892-1962) was an English Imagist poet who served over 2 years in France during World War I and wrote a famous novel, Death of a Hero (1929—826.6, A36Jol), satirizing English society as the cause of the massive destruction of human life in that war.]


  1. Why fake the source as a translation from a German doctor “Ralph” (not a German name) who supposedly died in a battle in which British troops defeated the French?
  2. The narrator’s voice is so ironic that I can’t tell how much of this is meant to be read completely backwards and how much is just slightly over- or under-stated.  See pp. 1-2 descriptions.
  3. It’s easy to say Pangloss’s “reasoning” is faulty (STUPID), but why is Pangloss’s reasoning faulty?  E.g., “noses were made to bear spectacles, and so we have spectacles.  Legs are evidently devised to be clad in breeches, and breeches we have.”  Etc.  Where can we hear this same reasoning today?  Is it still faulty (STUPID)?
  4. V uses “sufficient reason,” “cause,” and “effect” as euphemisms for sex (3) but European readers knew that when used together they came from the philosophy of Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716) and were the root of a terrible debate about fate and free-will between L’s followers and the disciples of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).  What was the debate about and what are the consequences for following either side?  See Catherine Wilson below.  Is philosophy funny?  Or is sex really about the problem of “doing and forbearing” against our natural drives?
  5. Candide’s “military service” mocks the Seven Years War (1756-63), and (as Pearson’s note observe) “all European Wars before or indeed since” (313).  Fought in Europe, North America, and India, this seems to have been the first of the “World Wars” among the European colonialist powers.  France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Spain were allied against Great Britain, Prussia, and Hanover, and both sides’ colonial state forces fought as well.  In the American colonies, it was called the “French and Indian War.”  When C sees the Abar village “burnt to the ground in accordance with international law” (6), it’s hard not to remember the televised scenes from the Middle East this summer.  Have we learned anything since the C18, or is humanity uneducable?  Or are war and rape (6-7, 9) and syphilis (10) and “twenty-four pounders” (cannon, 11) and earthquakes (12) strictly “necessary” for the good of the universe?
  6. “If this is the best of all possible worlds, then what must the others be like?” (16).  Take the question seriously. What are the alternate ways in which our world could be configured? This is a question many kinds of thinkers have to confront, from science fiction writers like Sterling, to biologists who study the Bay (it wasn’t always like this), to political scientists and historians. What is this world capable of becoming?

Bibliography [also see sources cited in-text above]

Buruma, Ian.  “Voltaire’s Coconuts” [excerpts of chapter 2], Voltaire’s Coconuts (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999), pp. 20-22 and 45-46.  The Voltaire Society of America Available online at: http://humanities.uchicago.edu/homes/VSA/Buruma.html  (Viewed 8/31/06.)

Wilson, Catherine.  “Freedom and the Principle of Sufficient Reason.”  (Section 8 of “Kant and Leibnitz”)  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Available online at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-leibniz/   (Viewed 8/31/06).