Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Candide by Voltaire

By the end of February 1759, the Grand Council of Geneva and the administrators of Paris had banned Candide.[2] Candide nevertheless succeeded in selling twenty thousand to thirty thousand copies by the end of the year in over twenty editions, making it a best seller. The Duke de La Vallière speculated near the end of January 1759 that Candide might have been the fastest-selling book ever.[82] In 1762, Candidewas listed in theIndex Librorum Prohibitorum, the Roman Catholic Church's list of prohibited books.[2].
Sometimes, when i read a book, I start craving another book. Case in point: Barbara Ehrenreich comes off as a curmudgeon in her most recent book Brightsided, in which she takes on the recent trend of irrational optimism as preached by megachurch leaders and self-help books like The Secret. She's not saying to be angry and disagreeable all the time (although let's face it: she comes off that way), she's just making the case for reason- something her book has in common with a classic French work by the philosophe Voltaire.

In his book, a woman gets her butt cheek cut off. Also, there are a lot of references to sex. (Pourquois pas? Voltaire was French).

Maybe it's because he had a sense of humor. Maybe it's because it is fiction. But when Voltaire decided to take on irrational optimism (represented by philosopher Gottfried Leibniz's in his day) he did it way better .

Candide is short, fast-paced. It relates one event after another and along the way, deals with the problem of evil, the church and the government, which might explain why they were so pissed off about the book.

Essentially, the protagonist goes through a series of truly awful events and at every turn, his master,Pangloss, a parody of Leibnizian philosophers, maintains that it's okay, because this is the best of all possible words. The name of this character has become synonymous with irrational optimism. Panglossianism is still with us today and after 250 years, this book is still funny, still has a sharp witty edge.

It is similar to Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift in that it is satirical, was controversial and came out of the Enlightenment. So Brightsided made me crave Candide and Candide made me want to read Gulliber's Travels. This is how my binges get started...


Séamus Duggan said...

Have you read Nathanael West's A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin. It is very similar to Candide - it's target being the boundless optimism of Horatio Alger's version of The American Dream. Not West's best book (Miss Lonelyhearts) but short, funny and pointed.

Séamus Duggan said...

Nathanael West's A Cool Million is an interesting take on Candide with Horatio Alger's optimistic take on The American Dream as it's target.