Posted in book review

Letters on England by Voltaire

Letters on England by Voltaire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Voltaire’s Letters from England, originally published in 1733, is a solipsistic treatise on political, religious, and cultural observation during his stay from 1726 to 1729 of the benign nation that welcomed the thinker with open arms when he fled from persecution in his native France.

But the book is not a blinded paean to a rival country with a long sophisticated warring history with an intent to retribute his spites to his mother country as an expatriate. Instead, Voltaire takes a stance of a piqued paratactic storyteller in the fashion of Herodotus’s Histories or a trenchant journalist in the school of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In Voltaire’s eyes, that the English are practical folk with a propensity for realism: reflective, respectful of etiquette, cool-headed, and effusively proponent of scientific discoveries are conspicuous in the overview effect of France seen across from the other side of the Channel.

From the manners of English Quakers to Isaac Newton’s (whom he admires as the brilliant sun of Halios) quantum physics and the law of the universe in great detail, the subjects of interest and the depth of knowledge demonstrate that Voltaire is more than a rebellious French enlightenment thinker. He is a true intellectual whose reason is constituted by the consilience of multidisciplinary subjects in depth. The book is a testament to a genius of a particular kind who embodies a man of letters in its truest sense.



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All for the best: a tale of ‘Candide,’ by Voltaire – book review

Candide by Voltaire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Candide is a touchy-feely whimsical story about the absurdities of optimism against realism in a delightfully witty guise of romantic adventure fiction. An entertaining satire that is both intelligent and humorous at best, it is a collective coming-of-age story of a man whose anfractuous life passages enlighten him of the reality of life and the world.

As the novella’s title betokens, the protagonist Candide grows from a naïve young man sheltered in the Edenic castle of privilege and prestige in the protégé of philosopher Pangloss. Pangloss indoctrinates in Candide Leibnizian optimism, which posits that all is best for the best of all possible worlds. Candide’s expulsion from the castle because he was fascinated with his uncle’s beautiful daughter Cunegonde marks his journey toward the truth to the purpose of his suffering and what it means in life. Doctor Pangloss, a parody of collective complacent philosophers, keeps telling him that it is God’s will and that his life change is a manifestation of immanence, an intellectual belief in God’s presence in the world concreted by Spinoza. He preaches a pre-established harmony in the world because it is already the best in its most perfect form. Pangloss is an abstract philosophy and institutional religion incarnate in his glorious scholastic appellation and unyielding intellectual pride that refuses to recognize truth.

The adventure of Candide is similar to that of Gulliver in his travels to unknown worlds in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is a ship’s surgeon full of ideals shaped by established a priori schools of thought until he encounters wondrous creatures in mysterious lands, all exhibiting the best and worst human characters manifested in their appearances. Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to criticize the ills of society’s need for reformation as one of England’s leading literary figures with social consciousness. Swift was also one of whom lent a kind hand to Voltaire when he stayed in England to avoid the growing fury of France’s church authority. Volatile Voltaire was known for capricious terms with his literary peers, but his admiration of Swift’s work and him as a brilliant satirist remained loyal. Voltaire’s Candide is more straightforward and realistic, sans mysteriously curious creatures of a wide arc of imagination. However, both Candide and Gulliver share the same thematic elements of parodying the hypocrisies of religious doctrines, and human nature laid bare in the style of chivalric adventure fiction.

The story is a carnival of characters united by deceptive fallacies, chased by untenable ideals, tangled by insatiable desires, obstructed by variants of life, and succumbed to deceptive pleasures. Nonetheless, one can’t weigh the misfortunes of humans and set a just estimate on their sorrows just as Pangloss deigns to aver, for humanity is imperfect in the imperfect world. Therefore we must strive to make it better for the common good of society as best as we can. Voltaire dreams of a new community with callous palms of laborers conversant with more delicate tissues of resilience, self-respect, and heroism in real life, whose touch thrills the spirit in the most exhilarating way than the idle hands of thinkers and priests. By writing Candide, he creates a society of people who sailed through the vicissitudes of life in the triumph of epistemological a posteriori truth over ontological a priori precepts.

Candide is surprisingly easy to read and wastes no time for boredom. Voltaire himself was a man of no-nonsense whose simple but effective use of words is reminiscent of Hemingway and Stephen Crane, who were titans of literary realism. John Milton’s metaphysical poem Paradise Lost rang hallow in its abstruse display of classical knowledge. Homer and Dante lost their luster in the words that people did not use any longer. An authentic intellectual lives among people and puts his learning into action for the good of people. Candide is an excellent company to console your weary spirit and sorrowful heart if you are tired of eternal optimism and forceful positive thinking that has become a still fashionable mass mantra.



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