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Candide

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Candide being swindled (in Voltaire's Candide,...

Candide being swindled (in Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Candide is Voltaire‘s parody of 1759 which lampoons the philosopher Leibniz‘s view that God created the best of all possible worlds.

In that work the character Dr. Pangloss is a mouthpiece for the Leibnizian view. Pangloss clings to his rosy philosophical outlook despite undergoing horrendous personal sufferings.

Votaire, himself, had his fair share of suffering. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for speaking out against a French nobleman who’d insulted him. And his imprisonment came after he was beaten up by the nobleman’s servants and denied compensation.

In 1726, Voltaire responded to an insult from the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan, whose servants beat him a few days later. Since Voltaire was seeking compensation, and was even willing to fight in a duel, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet, an often arbitrary penal decree signed by the French King (Louis XV, in the time of Voltaire) that was often bought by members of the wealthy nobility to dispose of undesirables. This warrant caused Voltaire to be imprisoned in the Bastille without a trial and without an opportunity to defend himself.[9] Fearing an indefinite prison sentence, Voltaire suggested that he be exiled to England as an alternative punishment, which the French authorities accepted.[10] This incident marked the beginning of Voltaire’s attempts to reform the French judicial system.¹

This no doubt set the scene for Voltaire’s Candide, and many other works which advocated fair play and the betterment of society, to include freedom of speech and religion.

Candide was banned by the authorities for being blasphemous. But Voltaire’s sharp wit and clever insights couldn’t be resisted by Enlightenment thinkers. The book was secretly circulated and extremely popular. Voltaire’s fresh approach influenced many other authors, and Candide is now recognized as a classic of Western literature.

As often happens, if a petty, jealous or fearful authority tries to hold back a great personality, this usually spurs the creative soul on to even greater heights of achievement—which, ironically, supports Leibniz’s position.

The American conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for an operetta based on Voltaire’s work. Also called Candide, it opened on Broadway in 1956 to lacklustre reviews.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltaire

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