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Candide, or Optimism

Do you think that we live in the best of all possible worlds? I don’t. And neither did Voltaire.

Although written in the 18th century, his novel Candide, or Optimism (DB31736) is still relevant as if it was written today. It is a satire on the current state of the world and the problem of free will.

The tale of Candide begins in the castle of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia, with Baron’s daughter, Lady Cunégonde, his nephew, Candide and a tutor, Pangloss. Candide is a simple, naïve, young man, “who’s face is a reflection of his soul”. After kissing Cunegonde, he is evicted from the castle and then captured by Bulgars and forced to fight in their army. In the meantime, Pangloss (who represents Leibnitz’s philosophy of the best of all possible worlds) becomes a beggar with syphilis. He meets Candide again, and two of them continue their journey through many unfortunate events.

Their story is presented through the contrast of comedy and tragedy, and at no time does the reader feel compassion for the main heroes.

Voltaire teaches us how to clear our mind of ideas and beliefs that others have fed us and make our own opinions about life and the way we live it, as well as taking responsibility for our actions and consequences.

The book ends with the universal garden motive. “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”, in other words, “We must cultivate our own garden” in order to develop and refine our personal qualities. And only through that constant work will humanity be able to emerge from self-imposed infancy into enlightenment.

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