Candide: Notes

Candide: Notes

Candide: Notes

Candide: Notes


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background.


  • Life and Background of the Author
  • Critical Commentaries
  • Critical Essays
  • Essay Topics and Review Questions
  • Selected Bibliography

  • Excerpt

    The story begins in Westphalia at the castle of the high and mighty Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, his three-hundred-fifty-pound wife, their beautiful young daughter Cunégonde, and an unnamed son. Living happily at the castle is Candide, whose name points to his character--that of one who is simple of mind and (adds Voltaire ironically) sound of judgement. Prominent in the baron’s menage is the tutor, Doctor Pangloss, a man revered as a profound and learned philosopher, Pangloss firmly believed and taught that everything in the world was necessarily for the best end: it was all a matter of recognizing the sufficient reason and accepting the logic of cause and effect. Thus, for him and his disciples, this is indeed “the best of all possible worlds.” If Candide had had his wish, he would have first chosen to be the powerful baron, second the lovely Cunégonde, and third the wise Pangloss.

    The significant incident in this first chapter involves Pangloss’ illicit relations with a still unnamed chambermaid. Cunégonde herself witnessed with great interest the act, which took place in a little wood on her father’s estate. So intrigued was she with this lesson in “experimental physics” and the demonstration of sufficient reason involving cause and effect that she was determined to experiment herself with the cooperation of Candide. The opportunity presented itself when the two found themselves behind a screen, but the baron discovered them. Cunégonde received a slap on the face, but poor Candide was literally kicked out of the castle. He was now an exile from his best of all possible worlds in Westphalia.


    It has been held that the pompous Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh is one of the representations of Frederick the Great, with whom Voltaire had such close relations for so long a time. Later, as we shall see, it is the baron’s son who appears to be identified as the Prussian ruler. Here the original identification is justified in view of the fact that the son is said to be very much like his father. The latter is depicted as one who is inordinately vain and all-powerful. He is always addressed as “My Lord”; all those who serve him laugh appreciably at his stories.

    Among the more ingenious theories is that Candide to some extent represents Voltaire here, as he does elsewhere in the tale from time to time. The Frenchman is said to have suspected that he was illegitimate, and he began life sufficiently optimistic and satisfied with the world. It has further been suggested that the fair Cunégonde is none other than Mme. de Châtelet herself. And it has been said that the Cunégonde-Candide affair represents the common passion of Frederick’s sister for Baron Trenck.

    The name of the oracle of the baron’s castle, Pangloss, derives from the Greek and means “all tongues.” It may be added that nigology, part of the title of Pangloss’ impressive subject matter, may very well derive from the French nigaud, which means “booby.” Thus Voltaire’s mockery and satire make an early appearance in Candide. It is surely going too far to say that Pangloss is a caricature of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, the great German philosopher and mathematician, for whom Voltaire had expressed admiration . . .

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