Candide and Related Texts

Candide and Related Texts

Candide and Related Texts

Candide and Related Texts

Synopsis

This lively new translation of Voltaire's satiric masterpiece is accompanied by a short selection of writings of each of the most prominent optimists to whom Voltaire was responding -- Leibniz, Bolingbroke, Shaftesbury, Pope, Wolff, Rousseau, and Malebranche -- and thus offers a better perspective of the intellectual context in which Candide was written, and of its place in Enlightenment though, than does any other edition.

Excerpt

What can one expect from a man [Voltaire] who is almost always at
odds with himself, and whose heart is always being led astray by his
head…. Of all the people in existence the one he understands the
least is himself…. He laid claim to more happiness than he had a
right to expect…. The flattery and praise of his admirers com
pleted what his excessive pretensions had begun, and having thought
he was the master of his admirers he became their slave, with his
happiness depending on their approval. This false foundation
covered over an immense void … and what’s the result? The fear of
death—for the prospect of death makes one tremble—doesn’t pre
vent one from complaining about life; and, not knowing who to
blame, one ends up blaming Providence, when one’s only quarrel is
with oneself.

—Théodore Tronchin, Voltaire’s doctor, to Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, 1 September 1756

FROM AROUET TO VOLTAIRE

Candide was published early in 1759: Voltaire (1694–1778), who had suffered a lifetime of ill-health, was sixty-four. No one, least of all Voltaire, would have guessed that he would live almost another twenty years, and that much of his very best work and his years of greatest influence lay ahead of him. We should read Candide as an old man’s attempt to tell us what he has learned from life.

Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet, the son of a successful lawyer and banker, though he would later claim his true father was a nobleman, officer, and poet, and would change his name to Voltaire at the age of twenty-three, thus cutting his ties with his family. From his earliest years Voltaire’s ambition was to be a famous playwright and epic poet, and he achieved enormous success early on with his tragedy, Oedipus (1718), and his epic poem, La Henriade, about Henry IV of France (1728). In 1731 he published his first major history, The History of Charles XII, conquering a third field of literature. It was as epic poet, as playwright, and as historian that Voltaire expected to be remembered. He regarded the novel as an insignificant literary form, and Candide in any case is a mere novella or conte, a short story or tale. At the same time he pursued an extraordinarily successful career as a financial investor and moneylender, a career that— far more than his earnings from publishing—meant that by 1759 he was extremely wealthy.

1. D6985.

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