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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they coveted anything and enjoyed nothing: ‘The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant’, by Guy de Maupassant – review

The Complete Short Stories Of Guy de MaupassantThe Complete Short Stories Of Guy de Maupassant by Guy de Maupassant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Attempts to describe ordinary life without an empathetic heart and sympathetic ear are often led to cliched political or social screeds marred by a partisan ideology that fails to chime the bells of the hearts of universal readers across a great divide of territorial, cultural, and biological planes that we want to cross over. In this regard, Guy de Maupassant, a great 19th Century French writer stands alone, showing us what life means to ordinary folk at the heart of its vicissitudes with an honest, profound observation of the performers of acts as an usher to the theatre of human drama.

The short stories are vignettes of collective contemporary lives of ordinary French folk from the middle class Parisian civil servants to the Normandy peasants that are all connected in one way or another in the wheel of fortune spun on the whims and caprice of Lady Fortune. Titles and ranks lose their forces in this game of cruel lottery, and the characters are fallen apart from their most cherished yearnings, treasured wishes, deluded hopes, and forced beliefs. Humanity, in general, lays bare its essence in the face of tragedy, and it is this aspect of human nature that Maupassant laments and pities as a detached observer of each act of the drama. “Two Friends” shows how life can be altered by the current political affairs of the time, while “Monsieur Parent” portrays a man consumed by solipsistic passions kept in a voluntary estrangement. The hypocrisy of religious sanctimoniousness aided by the idiosyncratic custom in the guise of regional tradition in “The Christening” is accused of a crime against humanity. The bullying of meekness and joviality in “Toine” manifests Shakespeare’s adage that the unkindest beast is kinder than mankind. And there is the awakening of greed and sloth in “The False Gems” as Lady Fortune beckons with a fortuitous lure that even you will be tempted into. The panoply of emotions, varied incidents, and inner conflicts are blatantly displayed in their revelation but are nuanced in their language.

Maupassant is a genius in this regard that he elevates the perspective on the seemingly ordinary outlook on life into the intricate psychology of the human mind with the feeling of the sublime as though seen from the position of a god or an angel not permitted to interfere with mortal life. Through the characters, Maupassant shows us what makes them behave the way they do lest we should criticize their follies and foibles a priori. He is in a way a pre-existentialist by which the experience of their characters precedes their existence. That is, if you know them, you will understand them. Maupassant through the literary looking glassed-selves of the characters tells us to read their own stories breathed in a pulsation of unfulfilled longings, disallowed happiness, and shattered dreams to find sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility toward them.

This book is not for a rapid reading at one sitting. Rather you should read this anthology of short stories chapters by chapters, words by words, day after day like you are reading psalms that speak to your heart amid the vicissitudes of life that try your trust in yourself and others. For that’s what Maupassant wants you to as life is seldom fathomable to ascertain how far it will have to be lived and how much it can be appreciated based upon your own appreciation of the meaning of life in daily life.

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