Sunday, May 24, 2009

All is mere illusion and calamity

Candide is one of those books that I bought because, frankly, I felt that my bookshelves were lacking in some hard core classics. Books that I might never actually read but tell myself that someday I will. And the cover is cute. So, I was trolling the shelves the other day, looking for the next big thing and I picked this guy up. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't what I got.

The premise of the book is that Candide is brought up living with a Baron and is taught by his tutor Dr. Pangloss that this world is the best possible of all worlds. Everything is how it should be and it's all hunky-dory. Cue every bad thing you could imagine happening to happen. Candide tried to make sense of all the tragedy around him while trying to reunite with his main squeeze, Cunegonde.

I adored this book. I thought it was funny and witty and smart. Every time someone (usually Candide) would say how great things were or how their fortune had turned for the better I was itching to know what catastrophe would happen next. I haven't felt the burning need to write a research paper on a book for a while; where was this book when I was in college? The secondary characters had lines I could see coming out of my own mouth. Martin especially. I could see him rolling his eyes as his sarcasm bounced off of the ever cheerful Candide.

Interesting note - this book has the first recorded use of the word Optimism. The word is only used twice in the whole book.

Voltaire does a great job commentating on the purpose of philosophy. The introduction of this edition goes into Voltaire's use of the word "but" to make this clear. The characters can go on and on about their viewpoints on human suffering, but they still have to deal with the real things going on in the world around him.

One thing that bothered me about the book (and this spoils the end) was the fate of Cunegonde. Everyone who we thinks has died come back through some miracle coincidence (save the Barron and his wife) and we catch up with Cunegonde twice during Candide's travels. The second time she is continually mentioned as being extremely ugly. They all keep harping on how horrible she looks now. Candide, ever the honorable man, does still marry her, but has to literally step back when he sees how ugly she is. I just wasn't really sure why this was necessary to the story. But I'm nitpicking here.

These are a few quotes that stuck out to me, although I underlined a whole lot of this book.

"He could prove to wonderful effect that there was no effect without cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship the Baron's castle was the finest of castles and Her Ladyship the best of all possible baronesses. " page 4

"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what must the others be like?" page 16

"My dear young lady,' replied Candide, 'when you are in love, and jealous, and have been flogged by the Inquisition, there's no knowing what you may do." page 22

"Private griefs are crueler even than public miseries." page 56

"The man of taste explained very clearly how a play can be of some interest but of almost no merit. He showed in few words how it was not enough to contrive one or two of those situations that are to be found in any novel and which always captivate the audience; that one needs to be original without being far-fetched, frequently sublime but always natural; to know the human heart but also how to give it a voice; to be a poet without one's characters seeming to speak like poets; and to have perfect command of the language, using it with purity and harmony, and without ever sacrificing sense to rhyme." page 64

"the honest ones admitted that the book dropped from their hands every time, but said one had to have it in one's library, as a monument of antiquity, like those rusty coins which cannot be put into circulation." page 76 in regards to Homer - who I also have and I am pretty sure I've never really read the whole thing

"Fools admire everything in an esteemed author. I read for myself alone; I only like what I have a use for." page 77

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