Monday, March 10, 2014

Candide, by Voltaire, Chapters I-VIII

Voltaire by Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Voltaire, born Francois-Marie Arouet, (1694 - 1778) was a French satirist / philosopher / historian, among other things, during the Enlightenment period (see literary chart).  

He should be considered, by America's standards, a First Amendment kind-of-guy because he supported freedom of religion and expression (although freedom of expression is not a First Amendment right because, technically, it is freedom of speech; but I suppose Voltaire would accept that, just as well).  

He despised religious intolerance, specific to the Catholic Church's practices of the mid-1700's, I am assuming.  He was also a Deist, in which he believed in a rational observation of God the Creator within nature, as opposed to believing in God through faith alone.  

Having said that, I am reading Candide for this month's read-along with Fariba @ Exploring Classics, who has a great summation of the first eight chapters.  I am not going to add summaries, but I will answer these great questions from Fariba's blog:  

1. Do you think Pangloss is a predatory figure or merely naive like Candide? In other words, is Pangloss deliberately trying to lead others astray or does he actually believe in the philosophy of optimism?

I think Pangloss truly believed in what he was selling, though I do not think he intentionally meant to lead others erroneously from reality.  He thought he was right, though he could not justify the calamities he or others had faced.

2. How do you feel about Voltaire’s writing style? Do you find this book funny or disturbing?

Philosophy and philosophical issues have always made my head spin.  Incessant examination about obscure issues becomes too heavy after awhile.  But this novella is acceptable because it moves quickly.  In fact, if you are not paying attention, you will miss a connection.  

As far as the satirical nature of the book, it is ok.  Some of it is obvious, and some of it requires knowledge of the times and players of the French Enlightenment, much of which I am not familiar.  

Oh, and many of the topics are disturbing, yes; war, earthquakes, hangings, quarterings, rape, disembowelments, whippings, spankings, etc.  Yuck.  

3. Who is your favorite character thus far?

I cannot connect to any of these characters, yet, because it feels so informal.  I feel like I really cannot get to know anyone.  And how true it is in real life, too, because it takes me so long to feel close to anyone new that I meet.  So this book may never produce a favorite character for me.  

Coming next week: Chapters IX-XVI

9 comments:

  1. I agree with you. It seems like an over the top silly book, but if I had a better understanding of his times I would be more likely to understand his full frustration through satire.

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    1. Apparently, there are particular individuals whom Voltaire is directing his satire; but if you do not know who or why, it goes over your head.

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  2. I like your point about Pangloss not intentionally meaning to mislead others. That is important to know. I think it would have made for an interesting book if Voltaire had another character or certain situations change Pangloss' mind. I assume that later Candide will change his beliefs, but so far Voltaire has made him so silly that the fact that he changes his worldview, won't mean much to me as a reader.

    Thanks for researching Voltaire's religious views; from what I've read in Candide so far, I was wondering what he actually believed. It's not so easy to determine from the text.

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    1. I suspect that Voltaire is not much different than the great thinkers of that time period, who were frustrated with organized (powerful) religion, and wanted to steer away from that. However, they moved away from faith and looked more toward science and reason for answers, which is what Deism was.

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  3. I always got the impression that Voltaire was anti-religious, but I could be wrong.

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    1. I have not researched this, but I think Deism was a rejection of the organization of religion, ie. the Catholic Church, in Europe, and it became popular with the ideas of scientific thought and observation. Men knew there had to be a Creator, but they wanted to use reason because they lost trust in the Church, which taught "faith." And this all came about in the 16 - 1700's, during Voltaire's time.

      So, he may have been skeptical of organized religion, like so many were, but maybe he still believed nature proved that there was a Higher Being. But I have no idea b/c I have not even thought of researching his religious views. It would be helpful.

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    2. Good points. Did you read any Leibniz in preparation for Candide?

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    3. I never even heard of Leibniz before Candide, which is another example of why it would be worthwhile to know Leibniz and his philosophy beforehand.

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  4. Good post. I like your explanation of Voltaire's Deist religion. I agree that it is difficult to relate to any of the characters since they are presented to us as caricatures.

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