“As  Stupid as Life”:  A Reading of Candide

A plenary lecture to “Literature and the Arts in Western Culture.”

Stanford University March 11 1985

I first came across Candide when I was seventeen, the age of its protagonist  at the beginning of   the story.  I can remember that simple title staring out at me from the spine of a thin volume  on  the  musty shelves of Baron 1 s, the used bookstore that I frequented with my sidekick Weiskopf  on  Friday  afternoons–after  our  last  High  School  class  and before we took the subway downtown to hear music at Jazz on the Wagon,  the one place in Greenwich  Village you  could get  into without I.D.

I had heard the name Candide before; it was known in the grapevine as one of those books–intellectual, bohemian and intimate–that our parents wouldn 1 t approve of, books with titles like You Can’t Go Home Again, On the  Road,  Howl  and  The  Catcher  in  the  Rye.   I  slipped  the  book  down from the shelf, noticed the “privately printedinscription, the mannered art-nouveau illustrations of thin bare-breasted girls, the sixty cent price, and I took it to the register.

From the opening sentence,  I was entranced.   Here was another Holden Caulfield, still a sincere, naive and gentle child, cruelly punishe9 for simply following  his  natural  desires,  abruptly  booted from a secure nest in what was just beginning to feel like Paradise, and set adrift in a human jungle of repression, hypocrisy, violence and greed.  I could relate to that heavy tale–especially since it moved along so lightly, with a little sex and a lot of laughs on almost every page.  I too felt adrift in a world of wandering  hands  and  kicks in the backside, of atmospheric H-bomb tests and classroom  shelter drills, of Anne Frank and  Joe McCarthy.

I finished reading the book at two in the morning on the Staten Island ferry, where we would ride back and forth across New York harbor when the jazz club was too crowded. Thereafter, Candide became another one of those few voices which confirmed my adolescent sense that I lived in a pretty screwed up place-despite the assurances of Doris Day, Dwight Eisenhower and Dr. Norman Vi.11cent Peale that middle-class America was indeed the best of all possible worlds.

I found out later that the way Candide spoke to me at that stage of my life and the way it seemed to be allied with a number of other books were not accident.   They all belong to the same literary genre, called the Bildungsroman. This genre focusses on the process by which a young person comes of age, undergoing a reversal of identity from child to adult through an initiation and a quest.   Buildung means development or education; roman means story. One way to understand this process is to see it as a movement between Innocence and Experience, between what William Blake called tthe Two Contrary States of the Human Soul . The Bildungsroman’s characters generally start out in a condition of blissful and carefree ignorance and then proceed to act and be acted upon in such a way as to lose that innocence and gain knowledge, strength and guilt. It’s a balanced tradeoff, and most Buildungsroman end on an ambiguous note–has the process been one of fall or of progress, is it tragic or comic?   Rather than being happy or sad, the main character and the reader are left at the conclusion with an undetermined free choice.

The Buildungsroman goes as far back as the Telemachus story in the Odyssey, and there are medieval versions of it like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But it becomes a really important literary genre in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in works like Tom Jones, Moll Flanders, Pergrine Pickle, Rasselas, Great Expectations, and Wordsworth’s epic verse version, The Prelude.  The concept of coming into maturity was an important underlying theme for writers of all ages at this time.  Peter Gay opens his book by citing Emmanual Kant’s definition of The Enlightenment as a period of “growing up,” and Gay himself summarizes the Enlightenment as “man’s claim to be recognized as an adult, responsible being.”    In their terms, this means renouncing the state of subservience to higher powers–political, social, artistic and theological. The philosophes are no longer children–of God, the fashion, the state. Their motto “Dare to Know,”   is iconoclastic, defiant and uncertain. They look backward with misgiving to a time of perished innocence, but forward with a combination of resignation and hope.  “Since God is silent,” Gay concludes his book, “man is his own master; he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.”

If this sounds like the end of Paradise  Lost–“through Eden they make their solitary way”–so does the end of almost every Bildungsroman, for the genre itself projects the story of the Fortunate Fall on to the life history of the individual person.

Classifying Candide as a Bildungsroman provides some clues about how to analyze the work both in terms of content and form, and that’s what I propose to do here.

The essential content of the book–that is, its subject–is contained in its title:


(Our edition misleadingly omits last two words). The word, Candide, here actually has two meanings. First it refers to the individual by that name:

a. the person whose life story we learn about, and second, it refers to the abstract qualities of simplicity and gentleness by which he is described at the outset, and which I will summarize as b. innocence.

The third subject of the book is c. optimism, which signifies the emotional attitude with which people respond to life in general, and also the specific ethical philosophy articulated by Enlightenment thinkers, like Pope and Leibnitz, which elevates that attitude into a doctrine.

The form, or structural design of Candide is divided into three major sections, or movements, followed by a short, crucial epilogue at the end: the first encompasses chapters 1-12, the second, chapters 13-19, the third, chapters 20-30, and the epilogue, pages 117-118.  Each of these movements is presided over by a mentor or tutor of the young man. In the first movement it is Pangloss, the foolish philosopher, in the second, Cacambo, the resourceful rogue, in the third, Martin, the melancholy Manichean.   Each movement also involves a geographic voyage from one place to another: first from Westphalia to the New World, via Europe; second from Buenos Aires to Surinam, via Eldorado; and third from Surinam to Constantinople, via Europe. Now, these geographic voyages and tutors also link up with stages of an inner journey by each of the books subjects specified in the title. For Candide, the person, (and also his friends) the first movement is a fall from the earthly paradise behind the screen in the baron’s castle, through abuse, insult and catastrophe to a kind of Hell on earth; the second movement, starting in Buenos Aires and passing through El Dorado, is a climb to an earthly crown, at the end of which he expects to become the richest man in Europe. The third movement is again a reduction to poverty, boredom, exile and sexual disgust upon his disappointing reunion with Cunegonde.

For Candide, the concept of Innocence, the first movement is an experience of awakening or disillusionment about the world, which, it turns out, is a very threatening place rat er than a paradise.  The second movement is an experience of awakening or disillusionment about the self, which in the innocent new world of America reveals its own fallen and rapacious nature. The third movement is an experience of awakening to the fallen nature of the self in a fallen world, an experience in which all evil is fully revealed and no more illusions remain.

For Optimism, the first movement is from the judgement that this is the best, to this is the worst of all possible worlds, though hope still remains within it. This is the import of the old lady’s speech that I’ll quote later, and it is also the movement from Leibnitz and Pope to the pessimism Voltaire expresses in “The Lisbon Earthquake,” an event which is central to this section of the book. The second movement grows from this glimmer of hope to the attitude mixing optimism and pessimism, which says that though this is not the best world possible, I like it better that way as long as I’m at the top of the heap. The third movement is a descent into pessimism without hope, a sense that this is the worst of all possible worlds, and there is no escape from it  to a new world because we make it so within ourselves.

The final phase of this structure takes up only the last two pages of the book, which are the most important ones, and which everything else leads up to. Its tutor is actually two figures–the “best philosopher in Turkey” who shuts the door in Candide’s face and the “kingly old man,”    a peasant who offers him coffee and pistachios.   The voyage here involves going nowhere, because there’s nowhere else to go but the back yard.  In terms of Candide’s personal development, this final phase means actually coming of age, discovering himself. In terms of Innocence, it signals the rebirth of a higher innocence–a sense of guiltlessness and potentiality that includes rather than precedes awareness and experience.   In terms of optimism, this last phase embodies an attitude of high motivation, of  “lets get on with it,”  of  il  faut  cultiver  notre jardin. In light of what’s come before, such emotional optimism also suggests a return to metaphysical optimism but one that’s closer to Milton’s than Leibnitz’ or Pope’s.   This optimism doesn’t deny but affirms the existence of evil and falsehood–because it leaves us to make improvements, in ourselves and in our environment, and thereby renders this world better than the best of all possible worlds.

What gives these four movements in the book coherence is a series of reversals of direction, which connect in the age-old symbol of  The Wheel of Fortune. (You remember Professor Howard’s slides.) The first reversal is from hanky-panky in heaven to the boot which leads downward to the low point of the old lady’s speech summarizing her own woes and those of Candide and Cunegonede:

I’ve grown old in poverty and shame, with only half a behind, always remembering that I’m a pope’s daughter.  I 1 ve wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but I still love life. That ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most pernicious inclinations.  What could be more stupid than to persist in carrying a burden that we constantly want to cast off, to hold our existence in horror, yet cling to it nonetheless, to fondle the serpent that devours us, until it has eaten our heart? ( 49 )

Implicit in this splendid passage is already the beginning of a movement upward which ends in Candide’s elation upon deciding to leave El Dorado: “…we’ll be richer than all the kings of Europe put together, we’ll have no more Inquisitors to fear and we can easily rescue the lady Cunegonde.” But two sentences later, the wheel is already shifting direction:  “the two unfortunate men decided to be fortunate no longer.”

The Wheel again moves downward until it reaches a nadir on the banks of the Bosporus, where Candide and his friends are “waiting for their fortunes to improve” and the old lady makes another speech comparing their present internally bred torments of boredom with the previous externally imposed mutilations of history and circumstance.

But when they were not arguing, their boredom became so oppressive that one day the old woman was driven to say, “I ‘d like to know which is worse: to be raped a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet in the Bulgar army, to be whipped and hanged in an auto-da-fe, to be dissected, to be a galley slave–in short, to suffer all the miseries we’ve all gone through–or to stay here doing nothing.” (117)

But shortly thereafter, when they agree to cultivate their garden, fortune once again returns her favors and blesses them with g00d harvests and good fellowship.

The whole group entered into this commendable plan, and each began to exercise his own talents. The little farm yielded abundant crops. Cunegonde was very ugly, it is true, but she soon became an excellent pastry cook. Paquette embroidered, and the old woman took care of the linen.  Everyone made himself useful, even Brother Giroflee:  he was a good carpenter, and he even became an honest man. (120)

That’s my scheme; now I’ll go back and see if it illuminates some specifics. In the first section of the book, Candide is merely acted upon, a Lockian tabula rasa whose innocence is pure foolishness and stupidity. His name and behavior resemble that of Simplicissimus, the hero of a seventeenth century Bildungsroman by Hans Grimmelshausen that narrates scenes of carnage and rapine from the Thirty Years’ War through the eyes of an ignorant young peasant who has neither care nor understanding for either side in the battle, and only wants to survive.  In both cases the simplicity of the protagonists not only develops the theme of childishness, but forces the reader to question the adult, educated rationale for the conflict. Here is our hero’s first experience with battle:

Nothing could have been more splendid, brilliant, smart or orderly than the two armies. The trumpets, fifes, oboes, drums and cannons produced a harmony whose equal was never heard in hell. First the cannons laid low about six thousand men on each side, then rifle fire removed from the best of worlds about nine or ten thousand scoundrels who had been infesting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of several thousand men. The total may well have risen to thirty thousand souls.  Candide, trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could during this heroic carnage.

Finally, while the two kings were having Te Deums sung, each in his own camp, Candide decided to go elsewhere to reason about cause and effect.  He made his way over heaps of dead and dying men until he came to a nearby village.    It was in ashes, for it was an Avar village which the Bulgars had burnedin accordance with international law. Old men with wounds all over their bodies were watching the death throes of butchered women who clutched their children to their bloody breasts; girls who had been disemboweled after satisfying the natural needs of several heroes were breathing their last sighs; others, mortally burned, were shrieking for someone to hasten their death.  The ground wasstrewn with brains and severed arms and legs. (22-23)

Like the boy whose ignorance prevents him from seeing the Emperor’s new clothes, like the simple narrator in The Canterbury Tales and like gullible Gulliver, Candide fills the role of what Northrop Frye calls the eiron, the wise fool through whose eyes all ironic satire is conveyed.   The very absence of comment, and the bizarre juxtaposition of military pomp and butchery forces the more sophisticated reader to supply the missing judgement. Incidentally, the judgement here is rendered against Frederick the Great of Prussia, who starts this splendid war. Voltaire named him king of the Bulgars because of his well known propensity for buggery, which Voltaire himself may havebeen subject to when he lived from 1750-1753 in Berlin as the King’s favorite.  Frederick had written a treatise called Anti-Machiavel attacking the divorce of statecraft and morality in The Prince and claiming the mantle of philosophe king.  But in 1756, he infuriated Voltaire by utterly abandoning his earlier principles and invading Saxony from Prussia without provocation in order to enhance his power and prestige.

The same principle of naivete allows Voltaire to expose, criticise and mock religious fanaticism and persecution, political injustice, slavery, the oppression of women, and other abuses throughout the book, but in the first section it continues to develop the theme of the protagonist’s disillusionment and awakening to truth. The ideal of love is tarnished by Pangloss’s syphillis, the ideal of justice by the death of the virtuous Anabaptist, the ideal of nature’s benevolence by the Lisbon earthquake, and finally the ideal of the perfection of the world order as a whole–Pangloss Leibnitzianism–by the massive evidence of “moral and physical evils” supplied by his own experience of reality. This reality keeps him on the run from the moment he leaves Westphalia till the time he and his friends barely escape the Inquisition and board the ship for the new world in Cadiz. There they compare stories of their misfortunes.  All of these misfortunes however are externally imposed and in no way sully their inner purity, and they come to the conclusion that Europe is an intolerable place.

Obviously, when people find the world intolerable they need to escape. The old lady mentions that the one form of escape that is most logical, suicide, is the least popular–though a German philosopher named Robeck wrote a treatise advocating its use and then proceeded to follow his own advice.  A more appealing form of escape from a hostile environment is to go elsewhere, to seek a new world; and this has motivated the quest for utopia, both as a literary and an actual phenomenon since the time of Plato. The mixture of bitteress and idealism, pessimism and optimism expressd in More’s Utopia generated waves of immigration to the Western Hemisphere from the sixteenth century onward and among Enlightenment writers generated numerous accounts of the discovery of unfallen conditions of human existence in natural worlds free from the corruption of the human spirit that had taken place in Europe. ‘”We’re going to another world,’ said Candide. ‘It must be the one in which all is well because I must admit that it’s possible to complain about some of the things that go on in our world, from both a physical and moral point of view.'” (41)

However, a primary discovery of many who go adventuring in the search of such new worlds of innocence is that they cannot unload the old­ world baggage they bring with them.  In this second section of the book, Candide discovers the fact that he is not internally suited to live in the best of all possible worlds.  Whether this fact is a result of his inborn human nature or of the experiences he has already undergone is never made clear; in either case what he learns, what he is awakened to, is his own entrapment in the world he seeks to escape.

He starts out in Buenos Aires too pure to tell Don Fernandez Ibarra a lie about his relationship with Cunegonde–even a biblically sanctioned lie.  But by the time he reaches Paraguay, and the Jesuit commander refuses him permission to marry, he runs the old aristocrat through with his sword, and then experiences his first twinge of guilt: “Good God…I’ve killed my former master, my friend, my brother-in-law. I’m the kindest man in the world, yet I’ve already killed three men, and two of them were priests.”(57)  This murder leads directly to chapter sixteen.   He and Cacambo come to an idyllic scene, embodying the innocent beauty of the New World’s State of Nature, and they decide to have a picnic.

The sun was setting. The two lost travelers heard little cries which seemed to come from women. They did not know whether they were cries of pain or of joy, but they leapt to their feet with the anxiety and alarm which everything arouses in an unknown country. The cries came from two naked girls who were running numbly along the edge of the meadow while two monkeys followed them, biting their buttocks.   Candide was moved to pity. He had learned to shoot in the Bulgar army, and he could have shot a hazelnut from a tree without touching the leaves. He picked up his double-barreled Spanish rifle and fired, killing the two monkeys.”God be praised, my dear Cacambo:  I’ve delivered those two poor creatures fom a great danger! If I sinned in killing an Inquisitor and a Jesuit, I’ve atoned for it by saving the lives of two girls. They may be young ladies of noble birth, and the incident may bring us great advantages in this country.” ( 59)

What’s going on here? First of all, Voltaire is mocking the popular pastoral dream of the state of nature being a pardise of free love, where nymphs and satyrs cavort innocently, giving reign to thei r wholesome libidinal instincts. But more important, Candide’s (and the reader’s) reaction to this “natural” frolic reveals his relation to the Edenic ideal.   As soon as he sees it, he destroys it, motivated first by a prudish revulsion against real animalism, second by a need to assuage his own guilt, and third by the desire to achieve some possible political advantage.    This is all too accurate a description of how many European colonizers, and especially missionaries, did in fact respond to the New World they regarded as the Promised Land.

The El Dorado sequence further develops the idea of Candide’s awakening to his own inner unsuitability to perfect environments.  El Dorado is not a state of nature, but an ideal civilization arranged precisely in the way Voltaire and the philosophes thought human society should work. Its sophistication and beauty and its sensible attitude in valuing pleasure and devaluing war and competition are particularly admirable in contrast to the Europe we have seen in the first section of the book. But even more important than its Platonic virtues of justice, wisdom and temperance, than the flourishing of arts and sciences, than the presence of beautiful girls as attendants at baths, than the king’s ability to tell good jokes is the serene attitude that people have to their Deist God: “We don’t pray said the venerable sage…We have nothing to ask of God: He’s given us everything we need.          We constantly thank him.” (67) In fact to get to El Dorado in the first place, the  travellers  must  become  uncharacteristically  but sincerely devout, giving  themselves  over  to  the  operations  of  Grace: “Perhaps God  will take  pity on  us,11 says Cacambo.”  We ‘ll place ourselves in the hands of Providence,” says Candide as they float down the river destination unknown.

Leaving El Dorado is another question; it requires the services of a whole corps of mechanical engineers and three thousand learned scientists. And we ask ourselves why, after a month in this veritable Disney World, they decide unequivocally to depart and return to  the bloodbaths  of Europe.   “If we stay here, we’ll only be like everyone else, but if we go back to our world with no more than twelve sheep laden with stones from El Dorado, we’ll be richer than all the kings of  Europe  put together, we’ll have no more Inquisitors to fear, and we can easily rescue the Lady Cunegonde.” (70)

Just as Candide has responded to  the  idyllic state of nature in Paraguay  with prudery and guilt, so here  he responds to the perfection of Utopia  with  ambition  and  greed,  his  comment  in fact echoing Satan’s “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Finding the best of all possible worlds brings out the worst in him. Or  is it the worst?  His loss of inner innocence here marks a gain in growth  of inner experience.  He  is making  his  first free choice.  Rather than being kicked out of paradise, as in Chapter one, here he  is deciding  to parachute back into the world.

As  Candide,  along  with  his  valet  and  his  heavily  laden  sheep  is  elatedly lifted  over  the  ten  thousand  foot  mountains  on  his  way  out  of  El  Dorado, he passes his zenith on the wheel of fortune and begins his descent. Immediately, he starts to lose his rust-prone wealth, and his first encounter is with a tragically mangled Negro slave whose sufferings, he is told, are “the price of the sugar they eat in Europe.”From now on, the evil that Candide encounters will be that for which he shares some responsibility. (Voltaire, who, incidentally, was one of the richest men in Europe, made a huge fortune largely on the basis of investments in shipping.)  “A trick worthy of the old world”–that is some sharp business practise perpetrated upon him by the merchant Venrendadur-­ divests him of his last two sheep and plunges him into a depression worse than that caused by the torture and rapine of the first section. Cacambo is dismissed and he adopts as his companion the philosopher of pessimism, Martin.

This drab man, an impoverished scholar abandoned by his wife, beaten by his son and frustrated in his search for academic employment, sets the tone for the dreariest, most depressing section of the book.   Having earlier passed through catastrophic ordeals and eye-opening adventures, Candide now embarks on a pilgrimage of Ennui.  The worldly ambitions with which he left El Dorado are relentlessly crushed–as much by the emptiness of success as by the humiliation of failure.  A sequence of great expectations, both pure and compromised, lead only to a growing balance of disappointments. He becomes enfatuated and then disenchanted: with business and commerce, with English politics, with French theatre and cafe society, with casual sex, with the apparently lighthearted love between the prostitute and the priest, and with the humanist culture and introspective scepticism of Pococurante, whose name and personality signifies “little caring”–at once the Stoic ideal of Apatheia, and the deadly sin of Accidie, or boredom.  Richly ensconced in the perpetually fading glory of Venice, Pococurante depicts an extreme of experience, of disillusionment, of worldly wisdom come to its own dead end; he claims to have learned everything there is to know only to draw the fashionable conclusion that it all adds up to nothing.

Candide still retains enough innocence to be impressed with this nonsense and with the succeeding formulaic (though historically factual) tales of the fall of the six kings. His misfortune and his awakening are not complete until his last two ideals, those of love and of friendship, have been thoroughly demolished. This happens in the final chapter, when the great reunion longed for since Buenos Aires turns out to be something of a fiasco: “When Candide, the tender lover, saw his fair Cunegonde’s weatherbeaten face, bloodshot eyes, withered breasts, wrinkled cheeks and red, scaly arms, he recoiled three paces in horror, but then he stepped forward out of politeness.   She embraced him and her brother.”(115) To me this is the most painful and funny moment in a book crammed with such moments. It’s also one of the most humane moments in a book that often seems cruel. For it shows us how, as a fruit of his own experience, Candide is becoming not a philosophe or a humanist, but a mensch.

There is no more triumph in the restoration of lost companions.  The Baron is soon shipped back to Rome for being the turkey he always was; Pangloss, Mr. All-tongue, admits that he’s been a fraud from the word go and, like his fellow philosopher, Martin, mourns the loss of university tenure, while Cacambo and the old lady rot with a boredom that issues in the despairing speech I quoted earlier.

Having reached bottom, it’s time for the wheel once again to turn upward. The little band seek relief by asking the advice of “the best philosopher in Turkey,” who answers their question,” What must we do?”  with a curt, “Be silent,” and then shuts the door in their faces. That closed door amplifies .the silence of the universe, of the Deist God, of the God of Job and of King Lear.

But on their return trip home, seemingly by accident, the friends encounter an open door, and by it a kingly-looking old man, enjoying the fresh air. He is as hospitable and talkative as the dervish was abrupt, but his words convey a similarly opaque message.

I assume that, in general, those who take part in public affairs sometimes perish miserably, and that they deserve it; but I never pay any attention to what goes on in Constantinople. I content myself with sending the fruits of my garden there to be sold. I have only twenty acres of land, which my children and I cultivate.  Our work keeps us free of three great evils: boredom, vice and poverty. (119)

This is the famous moral of what Voltaire called his philosophic tale: il faut cultiver notre jardin:           we must cultivate our garden. It’s a familiar moral, and we’ve heard it before from the weathered lips of many humble old people: the chorus in Oedipus, the old King on the Heath, the speaker of Wyatt’s translation of Seneca.

Stand whoso list upon the slipper top

Of court’s estates, and let me here rejoice

And use me quiet without let or stop,

Unknown in court that hath such brackish joys.

In hidden place so let my days forth pass

That, when my years be done withouten noise,

I may die aged after the common trace.

For him death grip’th right hard by the crop

That is much known of other, and of himself, alas,

Doth die unknown, dazed, with dreadful face.

It’s a moral that advises us to limit our aspirations for love, wealth and power; that declares it’s not what you possess but what you create that counts, and that concludes that work is the only cure for pain, the only source of right livelihood, the only way to achieve happiness. Such a motto has little to qffer to the striking miner, the starving Ethiopian, the debt-ridden
u.s. farmer, the type-A executive.  But it does say something healing to the decadent aristocrat, the romantic dreamer, the searcher for God and the good life, the depressed student, scholar, artist and lover. The “gospel of work” Thomas Carlyle called it in the late nineteenth century; and indeed it’s become very much the motto of our. bourgeois civilization. It’s a consolatory motto, distilled from the experience of the terror of the world, the weakness of the self and what Samuel Johnson (echoing Ecclesiastes) called “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” It’s an expression of the wisdom of old age that in some way makes up for the 1osses of growing up.

The philosophy of “il faut cultiver notre jardin” did Voltaire himself alot of good at the low in his fortunes when he wrote Candide. His mistress and intellectual companion of fifteen years, Madame de Chatelet had recently died while giving birth to another man’s child; his three year stay at Frederick the Great’s court had ended in a disastrous fight; he had been refused an audience with the King of France and had been made persona non grata in Paris as a result of his imprudent publications, and he realized at age sixty five that he had to find a place to live
in exile. This he did in 1757 on the outskirts of Geneva, where he bought an estate with twenty acres of gardens and with a view across the lake remarkably like that–he says in a 1etter–one has on the shores of the Bosporus. He signs his correspondance,” Voltaire, jardiniere,” and plays the role of gardener with the band of friends he draws with him into exile. It’s obvious, however, that the
gospel of work is one he has learned much earlier; according to contemporaries he put in an average work day of eighteen hours. In the course of his life, he produced a body of literary work that totals more than 135 volumes, in addition to building a great fortune, and, as the excellent in troduction to your edition explains, discharging theduties of the absolute ruler of his own private principality in the twenty years which followed the writing of Candide.

Gustave Flaubert, the nineteenth century novelist, made a wonderful comment about the ending of Candide. He said, “The claws of the lion are marked on that quiet conclusion, as stupid as life itself.”That comment reminds me of the old lady’s remark about life I quoted· earlier: “What could be more stupid than to persist in carrying a burden that we…constantly want to cast off?” Flaubert and Voltaire both knew how difficult this stupidity of life is for an intelligent and sensitive person to learn. It’s difficult for Candide, even though his very name means stupid; its difficult for the characters of any Bildungsroman; and it was difficult for me, at age seventeen-when this novel of education came my way and helped out.

Candide is the kind of artifact one would like to see packed in titanium and fired off in a space craft–today, just in case tomorrow is too late. For I think this book might explain, to whoever was interested, how the human inhabitants of earth could destroy one another and their planet. But it also would serve as a sample of the value of what had been 1ost.

Leave a Reply