Monday, 15 September 2014

Candide by Voltaire


In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners. 

The names are a little awkward, but I think they help to establish the tone of the novel. In any case, they are no weirder or more frightening than many of the names in the Harry Potter series. The line itself introduces characters but declines to introduce conflict so it fails by itself.

The rest of the first paragraph:

His countenance was a true picture of his soul. He combined a true judgment with simplicity of spirit, which was the reason, I apprehend, of his being called Candide. The old servants of the family suspected him to have been the son of the Baron's sister, by a good, honest gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady would never marry because he had been able to prove only seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his genealogical tree having been lost through the injuries of time.

This is only mildly funny, in that Candide's parents couldn't marry because they could not prove the nobility back to the times of Christ. But the tone is by now established, and tone is Voltaire's strength.

First thing said:

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end." 

With this dialogue we get a glimpse of what Voltaire is known for: witty complex concepts, as is seen with the next sentence:

"Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings."

The opening line is of the preamble variety but then again that was the style back then. However, the narrative quickly shifts into Voltaire's style that borders on a sort of realism based on absurdism, which will pull in many a reader.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Candide is graded as the 79th best.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

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