by Voltaire

Candide follows its titular character through trials and tribulations that take him around the globe in pursuit of Cunégonde, the woman he loves. At a young age, his tutor, Dr. Pangloss, instilled an understanding in Candide of the concept of Optimism, or a universal good in the world, and the young man takes it upon himself to explore the truth in the argument, to find the good counterpoint to all the pain and suffering he goes through and witnesses in his travels.

And this discussion of Optimism is the entire point of Candide. In mid-eighteenth century Europe, it was widely accepted that all manner of calamity was an integral part of God’s plan, and that it would ultimately lead to the greater good. As Voltaire saw it, this argument was central in the justification of indifference and inertia toward those who suffered, whether through natural disasters, disease, famine, or war, and his book really is a scathing satire of this. The prose in Candide is sparse and curt, the effect of which is jarring, but not necessarily to the disservice of the work. The almost flippant way the author describes things like terrible beatings and executions evoke this naive callousness he was criticizing. But then he takes a step forward, and Voltaire very clearly shows suffering and brutality with a sudden, grim observation, reminding us what we’re actually talking about.

This is the backbone that makes Candide effective in its message, but the comedic writing is what makes it an effective satire. Candide and Pangloss are strong devotees to the studies of the universal good, but the absurdities that come out of their mouths often make them out to be callous fools––despite one being continually referred to as Westphalia’s most learned professor. And Voltaire constantly assails readers with great sarcasm, but through brief, precise observations rather than a general pessimism, which appears to be one of the keys to get a laugh out of me. (Great examples include the cell where Pangloss and Candide were held near the start of the text, “where they suffered no inconvenience of the sun;” describing a doctor who gave his wife medicine for a slight cold, “which proved so efficacious that she died within two hours in horrible convulsions;” and, when Candide and his companion decide to leave the wonderful Eldorado: “So these happy men decided to be happy no longer.”)

So, overall, Candide’s enjoyable, effective, and succinct, which are all great things to come from a classic. Definitely check it out if you want to read a good satire.