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Literature / Candide

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The Baron, seeing this cause and this effect, threw Candide out of the castle with many a kick to the rear.

O che sciagὺra d'essere scenza coglioni! ("O, what a misfortune to be without testicles!")

Perhaps the most famous work of Voltaire, Candide is a biting satire of the then-popular view that we live in the best of all possible worlds. So you can guess what happens from that.

Candide is the story of Candide, the (possible) bastard nephew of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, and his attempts to marry Cunégonde, the Baron's daughter. After attempting to "explore cause and effect" with her, the Baron kicks Candide out of his castle. What follows could only be explained by the fact that Voltaire had an interesting sense of humor and a rather strong philosophical disagreement with one Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.

After being drafted into the Bulgar army based solely on his height, Candide meets his philosophy professor Dr. Pangloss, who has been stricken with syphilis that he got from a woman working for the Baron,note  is shipwrecked at Lisbon, kills two priests and a Jew, meets a woman who is missing half a buttock due to cannibalism, goes to the legendary city El Dorado where gold is the same as dirt, meets someone who assures Candide that the chief occupations of every city, in order of importance, are "love-making, malicious gossip and talking nonsense," goes to Constantinople, and gardens. Along the way he meets many other figures from his previous life, including Cunégonde, who have all gotten into increasingly ridiculous predicaments and escaped them anyway, to join forces with him later.


For those who don't speak Italian, the above quote means "Oh, what a misfortune to be without testicles!" And yes, it is in the book, though the last word may or may not be censored into a single 'C' and ellipsis.

This novel provides examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: An operetta by Leonard Bernstein. It's Lighter and Softer.
  • Answering Echo: In the Bernstein operetta, the Inquisition delivers its judgments this way.
    Three Inquisitors: Are our methods legal or illegal?
    Basses: Legal!
    Three Inquisitors: Are we judges of the law, or laymen?
    Basses: Amen.
    Three Inquisitors: Shall we hang them or forget them?
    Basses: Get them!
  • Black Comedy/Kafka Komedy: The whole story is the main characters suffering one cartoonishly horrible misfortune after another.
  • Break the Cutie: Candide is chased from the castle where he had lived his entire life, sees several people die, and observes the misery in the world, all of which wear away more and more at his sense of optimism.
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  • Caged Bird Metaphor: Invoked by Cunégonde in the opera adaptation (though she goes on to admit that she does appreciate some aspects of her sheltered life):
    Harsh necessity
    Brought be to this gilded cage.
    Born to higher things,
    Here I droop my wings,
    Singing of a sorrow nothing can assuage.
  • Call to Agriculture: In the end, Candide and his friends retire to subsistence living; the moral of the book is basically Candide's last line, "we must cultivate our garden." The operetta ends with the gorgeous choral number "Make Our Garden Grow".
  • Casting Couch: Heavily implied as having helped Cunégonde's brother to progress in the Jesuit order.
  • Church Police: Candide and Pangloss fall into the hands of the Inquisition of Portugal, due to Pangloss' optimistic philosophy getting them branded as heretics. They are put to the torture and Pangloss is hanged, but an earthquake allows Candide to escape. Afterward, he learns that his Love Interest, Lady Cunégonde, is still alive, but has fallen into the hands of a corrupt Jewish merchant and the even more corrupt Grand Inquisitor, who have both treated her horribly. Candide kills both her captors, but has to flee when an alcalde (Spanish fortress commander) comes after him for killing the Grand Inquisitor.
  • City of Gold: El Dorado.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Parodied; characters frequently run into people they've met before in other parts of the world.
  • Crapsack World: Though the story's point is "It's not the best of all possible worlds, but at least it's not the worst."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Old Woman was Made a Slave and raped by pirates, lost her mother, landed in several harems, contracted the plague, had her left buttock eaten by starved janissaries, was captured by the Russians and, finally, ended up working for Don Issachar. It doesn't help that she's the daughter of Pope Urban X by an Italian princess.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Don Fernando de Ibaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampurdos, y Suza, who is described as carrying his nose so high, raising his voice mercilessly, and so on, that everyone who greeted him was tempted to hit him. In the next paragraph, he is also described as stroking his mustache and smiling malevolently.
  • Dirty Old Monk: Brother Giroflée goes to the Red Light District.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Cunégonde in Paris.
  • The Ditz: Candide himself.
  • Dumb Is Good: Candide is a generally good person, if a bit naive.
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The Old Woman is only ever identified as such.
  • Gallows Humor: Pangloss gets syphilis. It's Played for Laughs. In Bernstein's operetta he gets a whole song about it.
  • Hands Off My Fluffy!: The heroes rescue some women running from apes and it turns out the apes were their husbands.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Glitter and be Gay" from the musical version.
  • Hidden Elf Village: El Dorado.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: The Old Woman.
  • Kissing Cousins: Being her father's nephew, Candide is Cunégonde's cousin, and wants to marry her.
  • Literal Asskicking: The way Candide is kicked out of the castle.
  • Living MacGuffin: Cunégonde.
  • Made a Slave: Happens with the Old Woman, Cunégonde, and and her brother.
  • Mood Whiplash: One chapter ends with a tearful reunion between Candide and the baron's son, thought to be dead. The headline for the very next chapter then reads: "How Candide killed the baron's son."
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Pangloss survives hanging because, he surmises, the Inquisitor lacked experience as a hangman.note 
  • Meaningful Name: Several. Candide is one letter away from "candid", Pangloss means "all tongue" in Greek, and Pococurante is Italian for "caring little." Cunégonde is sometimes interpreted as being a near-homophone for the french "cul grand" meaning "big ass".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Pangloss is a rather biting parody of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who had claimed this is the best of all possible worlds.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: The old lady questions whether being stuck on a farm with nothing to do is actually worse than the various comically over the top ordeals they've gone through.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Jacques tries to save a sailor from drowning, only to fall overboard himself and drown. The sailor walks off without so much as a "thank you."
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The janissaries besieged by the Russians in Azow eat their servants and the Old Woman's left buttock to keep their promise to hold to the last.
  • Opposed Mentors: A classic example in which the title character falls under the influence of Pangloss and Martin, who are at opposite ends of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism.
  • Overly Long Spanish Name: Don Fernando d'Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza, who "carried himself with a haughtiness suitable to a person who bore so many names."
  • The Philosopher: Pangloss and Martin.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Candide.
  • The Pollyanna: Candide is perhaps the early prototype. In spite of constant tragedy, he does his best to maintain Pangloss's philosophy of "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds". He does find himself wavering to maintain this over time, and in the end abandons it completely. "Pangloss" is actually a synonym for "Pollyanna" in most thesauruses. Pangloss himself says by the end of the book that he (unsurprisingly) no longer believes this, but it would be improper for a philosopher to change his opinion.
  • Rape as Backstory: Cunégonde and the Old Woman have this.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The castle where Candide lived is sacked in the course of war. Cunégonde is raped during this event, and is believed for a time to have been killed.
  • Refuge in Audacity: To put it simply, Voltaire probably wrote one of the most epic Crack Fics even before the name was coined!
  • Refuge in Vulgarity: With the amount of gore, sexual impropriety, and scatological comedy in the work, one gets the impression that Voltaire was intentionally trying to scandalize his audience. Which he most likely was.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Inverted with extreme prejudice.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Despite what Pangloss says, this story abides in cynicism. Martin happily occupies the cynicism end. The Musical, slightly less so.
  • Straw Critic: The politician who is so well-read that he is incapable of enjoying anything.
  • Strawman Political: Pangloss, duh.
  • Take That!:
    • Pangloss is an obvious parody of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (yes, that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz). The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" is lifted directly from his work.
    • By chronological proximity it is also aimed at Leibniz's student Christian Wolff, who was massively popular in Europe for a long time for writing books on The Theme Park Version of Leibniz's rather abstract philosophy.
    • The whole work is a massive Take That to Rousseau himself, with whom Voltaire was on bad terms at the time.
    • There are several petty shots at Voltaire's personal enemies throughout the book.
    • Bertrand Russell notes in "A History of Western Philosophy" that Leibniz's published, optimistic philosophy was intended as pandering to attract noble and rich patrons (with great success); his sincere and less-optimistic philosophy remaining hidden in a drawer until after his death.
  • Trauma Conga Line: All the main characters go through this.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Occurs frequently to major characters, Played for Laughs.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Cunégonde's brother still refuses to let Candide marry his sister even after Candide frees him from slavery.
  • War Is Hell: The narrator describes sarcastically a battle between the Bulgarians and the Abarians and deconstructs War Is Glorious, noting how both commit atrocities, while only speaking about those of the other side.
  • Wham Line: Chapter 7 revealing that Cunégonde is still alive.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The central theme, which is brutally demolished over the course of the book.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The children of El Dorado play with gemstones; they're common there and have no other use. It's a classic example, but curiously, it's Played With: the citizens of El Dorado understand the value gold and gems have to Europeans, but their culture puts no stock in material wealth.

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