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V is for Voltaire. Voltaire’s masterpiece belongs in the hands of every reader pondering our assumptions about human behavior and our place in the world. Voltaire tells of the ludicrous adventures and reversals of fortune of the naïve Candide, who doggedly believes that “all is for the best” even when faced with injustice, suffering, and despair. A satirical challenge to the empty optimism prevalent in Voltaire’s eighteenth-century society is both controversial and entertaining, but also vitally relevant today in our world pervaded by—as Candide would say—“the mania for insisting that all is well when all is by no means well.”
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About the Author
By his mid-thirties his literary activities precipitated a four-year exile in England where he won the praise of Swift and Pope for his political tracts. His publication, three years later in France, of Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733)—an attack on French Church and State—forced him to flee again. For twenty years Voltaire lived chiefly away from Paris. In this, his most prolific period, he wrote such satirical tales as “Zadig” (1747) and “Candide” (1759). His old age at Ferney, outside Geneva, was made bright by his adopted daughter, “Belle et Bonne,” and marked by his intercessions in behalf of victims of political injustice. Sharp-witted and lean in his white wig, impatient with all appropriate rituals, he died in Paris in 1778—the foremost French author of his day.Theo Cuffe is the transator of the Penguin Classics edition of Voltaire’s Micromégas and Other Short Fictions.
Jessica Hische is a letterer, illustrator, typographer, and web designer. She currently serves on the Type Directors Club board of directors, has been named a Forbes Magazine "30 under 30" in art and design as well as an ADC Young Gun and one of Print Magazine’s "New Visual Artists". She has designed for Wes Anderson, McSweeney's, Tiffany & Co, Penguin Books and many others. She resides primarily in San Francisco, occasionally in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from "Candide"
Copyright © 2014 Francois Voltaire.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Winner of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show, organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books
Winner of the 2014 Type Directors Club Communication Design Award
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Reading Group Guide
Beginning with the expulsion of its eponymous hero from “the best of all possible castles” and the loss of his beloved Cunégonde, Candide takes the form of a classic journey story. Candide must endure a series of misfortunes and trials before he can be reunited with his beloved and regain a qualified kind of redemption. It is in the misfortunes that Candide and others suffer in the novel that Voltaire cuts through the pretensions, hypocrisies, and outright idiocies of the Age of Reason.
The philosopher Pangloss, Candide’s tutor, insists that they live in “the best of all possible worlds” and maintains that view through various sophistries, but reality tells a different story. In the course of the novel, Candide travels far and wide across Europe, South America (where he spends a pleasant month in the fabled land of Eldorado), and Asia in search of Cunégonde. Earthquakes, slavery, murder, floggings, hangings, the Spanish Inquisition, and other niceties of the era greet him on his way and serve to weaken his cherished optimism. He also encounters characters who view the world quite differently, most notably Martin, who asserts that he has “scarcely seen a town that did not desire the ruin of the next town, nor a family that did not wish to exterminate some other family” (p. 56). Early in the novel, while pondering the relationship between effects and causes, as he has been taught to do, Candide wanders into a war-ravaged village, where he sees “old men riddled with wounds . . . their wives lay dying, their throats cut, clutching their children . . . young girls in their last agonies, disemboweled after having satisfied the natural urges of various heroes . . .” (p. 8). This juxtaposition of abstract conceptualizing and real brutality underscores the gulf between human beliefs and human behaviors that runs throughout the novel, and the effect is amusing, disturbing, and deflating all at once. Man is capable of clever philosophizing, yes, but savagery, superstition, and ignorance still rule the day. The phrase “natural urges of various heroes” is characteristic of Voltaire’s piercing irony. In Voltaire’s world, as in ours, soldiers are not always heroes, priests are not always godly, and philosophers are not always very helpful in guiding us away from human folly.
Indeed, much of the fun of reading Candide lies in applying Voltaire’s ironic wit to the pretensions and hypocrisies of our own age. What would Voltaire say about our current political and religious leaders? How would he view the intellectual and artistic culture of our time? In this crisp new translation by Theo Cuffe, Voltaire speaks to us more sharply and clearly than ever.
(François-Marie Arouet) was born in 1694 and educated at a Jesuit school in Paris. Determined to pursue a literary career, he won a reputation as a writer of satirical plays, poetry, philosophy, and novels that resulted in spells of imprisonment in the Bastille, some of his books being banned, and eventual exile from France for his attacks on the Regent and criticism of the French government. In addition to Candide, his works include Zadig, Micromégas and Other Short Fictions, Letters on England, and Philosophical Dictionary. Voltaire died in 1778, after a triumphal return to Paris.
ABOUT THEO CUFFE
Theo Cuffe was educated in Dublin and at the Sorbonne. His translations include Voltaire’s Micromégas and Other Short Fictions for Penguin Classics.
ABOUT MICHAEL WOOD
Michael Wood is Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University and the author of The Magician’s Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction, Franz Kafka, and The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles.