Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Yuna
Term Paper, AP European History Class, March 2008

Table of Contents

I. Background
I.1 Author's Biography
I.2 Leibnizian Optimism
I.3 Historical Background
I.3.1 Lisbon Earthquake 1755
I.3.2 Seven Years' War
I.3.3 The Execution of Admiral Byng 1757
II. Candide, or Optimism
II.1 Style
II.2 Candide and the Enlightenment
III. Consequences
III.1 Short-Term Consequences
III.2 Long-Term Cnsequences
IV. Conclusion
V. Notes
VI. Bbliography

I. Background

I.1 Author's Biography
            Francois-Marie Arouet, pen name Voltaire, was born in Paris in 1694. His father not being a caring one, he was influenced by his godfather, who was a free thinker. He attended a Jesuit college of Lyc?e Louis-le-Grand. Amongst his early works, Oedipe, a strong tragedy started his career as a famous writer, Voltaire.
            His life was a series of bitter and personal controversies. His criticism towards governmental and ecclesiastical authorities caused him banishment and exile. He was even once imprisoned in the Bastille for almost a year. While extremely popular with the Parisian public, his contemporaries, and even royalty, Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille for writing a satire about the Regent of France. Of his exile experiences, the most significant for him and his writing was the one that took him to England for almost two years in 1726. In England, he met significant writers of the time, such as Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), author of Gulliver's Travels. In fact, Gulliver's Travels is the closest literary influence of Candide's. The most personal influence, however, came from philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) and scientist Isaac Newton (1643-1727). He became deeply affected by the personal freedom and intellectual achievements shown by English scholars. By the influence of liberal tide, Voltaire became a defender of civil liberties, including freedom of religion. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them.
            Voltaire, although started his career in early days, did not discover until he was in his fifties the literary form best suited for him: novels and stories. Before Candide, he wrote Vision de Babouc (1748) and Memnon (1749) to criticize the optimism of philosopher Leibniz (1646-1716). After the two very similar pieces to Candide, Voltaire wrote Candide when he was sixty four. Though old in age, Candide proved another hyperactive stage of his life. In 1759, Voltaire purchased estates of Ferney and Tournay, which appears in Candide as Candide's garden.
            After he wrote his most well known masterpiece, Candide, he spent rest of his life writing correspondence with many of the most famous people of Europe. He launched great public campaigns against judicial abuse and carried on political activities. He initially started political activities after watching Jean Calas, a protestant businessman, being falsely condemned of murdering his own son. He started to work to clear Calas' name, and this was the beginning of his opposition to judicial abuse. Later on, by personal letters he wrote, he to continued vigorously uphold the cause of tolerance and "crush the infamy" by attacking religious intolerance and superstition.

I.2 Leibnizian Optimism
            Candide, a morale tale regarding the possibility of human happiness, is a parody of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz' Theodicee (1710). Leibniz concluded that the world was basically good, in fact the best possible, since a perfect existence, God, created it. He also claimed that temporary evil is only due to man's inadequacies. Candide explicitly criticize the idea of Leibnizian Optimism by showing a na?vet? young man who has been indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism but becomes disillusioned after witnessing and experiencing many great hardships.
            His criticism toward Leibnizian Optimism is also connected to his disdain against religion and theologians, governments and armies, philosophies and philosophers. Voltaire exemplifies many different types of evil in the world, but especially the theological problem of its existence is the main focus of the work.
            The main figure of Voltaire's attack is the tutor Pangloss, a self-proclaimed follower of Leibniz and a teacher of his doctrine. Ridicule of Pangloss' theories exemplifies ridicule of Leibniz himself. However, Candide does not ridicule Voltaire's contemporary Alexander Pope (1688-1744), a later Optimist. Pope's optimistic principle is "all is right," but Leibniz' that states that this is the "best of all possible worlds." The differences of the two statements are subtle, but Candide criticizes Leibniz only. Some critics suppose that Voltaire actually respected Alexander Pope. They also conjecture that instead of Candide, Voltair''s Poeme may have been written for Pope. This work is known to be extremely similar to Candide in subject but very different from it in style, containing more serious philosophical argument than Candide.

I.3 Historical Background

I.3.1 The Lisbon Earthquake 1755
            The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, a massive earthquake which occurred on December 1st, had a strong influence on many intellectuals of the day, including Voltaire. The devastating earthquake in Lisbon killed fifty thousand people in 1755. Incensed that the Optimists were comforting the earthquake victims by assuring them that this event had happened for "the best," Voltaire wrote Poeme sur le disastre de Lisbonne (1756), in which he expressed sympathy for the earthquake victims and lashed out at the Optimists. Often put into the form "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles" (All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds), Optimism, led by Leibniz, attempted to explain away evil deeds on earth as mere malfunction of human beings.
            Voltaire did not believe in this philosophy, holding that if the word he were experiencing the best possible world, it should be way better than it is: void of disasters like The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. He described the Lisbon Earthquake in Candide and his Poeme to make his point appealing. He often expressed the catastrophe as one of the most horrible disasters "in the best of possible worlds."
            The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake holds great significance in that it was the biggest motive of both his philosophy and the book Candide itself.

I.3.2 The Seven Years' War, 1756-1763
            With the Lisbon Earthquake, Seven Years War is also referenced frequently in the book and cited as the reason for its composition. The Seven Years War began in 1756, the year after the Lisbon earthquake, and was still raging in Europe and in the New World when Voltaire wrote Candide. Voltaire thought it was a hideous crime. In the Battle of Prague alone (May 6th 1757), the Austrians alone lost 12,000 men and 4,500 prisoners. There also was a comparable number of casualties on the Prussian side: over 1400 casualties. Not only the armies, but inevitably also the civilian population in the theater of war suffered greatly.
            From chapter two to four, ten, to twelve, and twenty-three, Voltaire refers to the War between Prussia and the alliance between France, Russia, Austria, Saxony, and Sweden. The Bulgarians in Candide are Frederic the Great's Prussian army, and the Abares are the French. Depiction of the Bulgarian army may have been Voltaire's way of mocking Frederic the Great's Prussian army, known to be strict and meticulously ordered.

I.3.3 The Execution of Admiral Byng, 1757
            Byng was blamed for not having done his utmost during the initial stages of the Seven Years War. He had failed to pursue the larger French fleet in order to protect his own. The court martial acquitted him of cowardice and disaffection, and convicted him for not doing his best on the war. The court martial, with no legal discretion, gave Byng the death sentence. The severity of the penalty was increased with the suspicion that the Admiralty sought to cover themselves by blaming on the admiral. Some contemporaries, such as Voltaire, defended Byng and criticized the unjust nature of the government.
            The cynicism of Voltaire reflected in Candide towards the regime severed with this incident. Moreover, the persecution itself served as an inspiration of chapter 23 of Candide.

II. Candide, or Optimism

II.1 Style
            The narrative technique used by Voltaire in Candide originates itself in the Milesian tales, short, erotic narratives first collected in the second century B.C.. Basically, however, the structure of Candide is defined as a picaresque narrative. Through mimicry of the preceding centuries' picaresque novel, Voltaire attempts to highlight the irony he saw in the European society of his time. A number of identifying characters thus appears in Voltaire's work: Candide is the drifting rogue of low social class; Cunegonde is the object of Candide's love; Pangloss is the knowledgeable mentor to the main character; Cacambo is the valet. Of course, however, Candide is not a rogue, Cunegonde becomes ugly and Pangloss is painted to be a fool. By discribing the characters unrealistic, two-dimensional, mechanized, and even marionette-like, he duplicates picaresque novels in a critical sense; they are simplistic and stereotypical
            Related works with similar structure and style are Oriental narrative, especially the Arabian Nights. But the one work that generally is recognized as having given the type of narrative is Don Quixote.
            As related to his literary voice, Voltaire had a natural tendency toward euphemism. Examples of this rhetorical device are numerous in Candide. Doctor Pangloss is an example who always employs euphemism as he voiced the cliches of Optimism to prove that even great evil leads to good. In matters relating to Church and State, the euphemistic cliche also served Voltaire's purpose. For example, the account of the Inquisition contains of various euphemistic comments.
            Candide is also known for its humor and irony. As Voltaire himself described it, the purpose of Candide was to "bring amusement to a small number of men of wit." However, he doesn't bring just wit in his style. Candide ironically contrast great tragedy and comedy by juxtaposing them. He does not invent nor exaggerate evils of the world. He only depicts horrible events in painstaking detail so often that it becomes humorous. Some also contend that Voltaire achieves a literary excellence by combining his sharp wit with a fun parody of the classic adventure-romance plot (picaresque).

II.2 Candide and the Enlightenment
            Reflected to the background, Candide is considered a representative text of the Enlightenment. But the novel actually mocks some Enlightenment philosophies, such as optimism, and demonstrates that the Enlightenment was not a concrete movement. The political ideology of Enlightenment philosophers is characterized by a spirit of social reform: rebellion against superstition, fear, and prejudice. Candide is in the same stream with Enlightenment from the fact that it conveys Voltaire's lifelong aversion to Christian regimes of power and the arrogance of nobility, but it averts from Enlightenment since it also criticizes certain aspects of the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment.
            However, as stated before, it attacks the school of optimism. The Enlightenment itself is about optimism since it supports absolute progress of human society. Moreover, Voltaire strongly opposes certain Enlightenment ideas about social class. Some Enlightenment thinkers promoted absolute regime of enlightened monarchs as an alternative to a radical reformation of society. They claimed that enlightened rulers could use their power to ensure social justice. From Voltaire's point of view, the name of the Enlightenment seemed be used to legitimize despotism. Moreover, witch-hunts and organized campaigns of religious persecution, other kinds of religious evils in society, opposed to "everything is for the best," continued through Enlightenment periods. Superstition and fear, which Voltaire regarded as unreasonable and evil, were not eliminated though Enlightenment which promoted reason. Voltaire regarded the existence of superstition while promoting reason is as hypocrisy.

III. Consequences

III.1 Short-Term Consequences
            Candide has achieved great success and caused great scandals. The nature of the book made it inevitable to print it secretly. Voltaire did not admit to having written, the book until 1768. He signed the book with a pseudonym: "Monsieur le docteur Ralph" or "Doctor Ralph." However, after its secretive publication, the book was known as Voltaire's and was condemned by authorities and banned numerous times because of its religious blasphemy and political treason.
            By the end of February 1759, The Great Council of Geneva and the administrators of Paris had banned it. The rulers of Geneva expressed their view of Candide by burning it. As shown through Geneva's response, immediate reviews of Candide were often defensive. For example, an anonymous review of the work in the The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, in May of 1759, defended Leibniz. Candide, asserted the reviewer, "is an attempt to ridicule the notion that 'all things are for the best,' by representing the calamity of life, artfully aggravated, in a strange light."
            Regardless of the ban, Candide became a best-seller, selling 20,000?30,000 copies by the end of the year in over twenty editions. Checking the expansion of the book, in 1762, Candide was listed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Catholic Church's list of prohibited books.
            Corresponding to its fame, there were a number of books influenced by Candide. He was so well known to right anti-clerical and anti-royalist writings that he influenced every writer willing to write similar contents. Lanson wrote, "Where Voltaire's influence was immense, obvious, and still persisted is in the fields of journalism, pamphleteering, and all forms of polemical writing. He was the master of militant irony and murderous ridicule." ((1)
            In 1760, one year after Voltaire published Candide, a sequel to his novella was published with the name Candide, ou l'optimisme, seconde partie. This was attributed both to Thorel de Campigneulles (1737-1809) and Henri Joseph du Laurens (1719-1797). The story of Candide continues in this sequel with Candide having new adventures in the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and Denmark.

III.2 Long-Term Consequences
            Throughout the work, Voltaire attacks the notion that our progress as a society can be left up to destiny, or to God. Behind this cynicism, there is the fundamental truth of reality and hope. Voltaire's anger at to the willingness of men to disregard their capabilities in favor of an uncertain opportunity drove him to create the ridiculous life of Candide, and made him subject to endless misery. In fact, his descriptions of the injustice, irrationality and violence of European society, metropolitan and colonial all together serves as the factors showing the ridiculous facet of old set of beliefs. Although Voltaire shows how impossible it is to reach an ideal society, he suggests that people should work hard and be honest to live life as happily and practically as possible.
            The publication of Candide was followed by a series of initial movements of the American and French revolutions. The revolutions aimed to dismantle the social world of the old regime, subjects of main criticism in the book.
            His nature of writing also influenced the set of revolutions in 1848, France. After 1850, however, as the French Republic was established and bourgeoisie fervor for the revolution waned, so did Voltaire's influence. Lanson summed up Voltaire's influence: "In general, in countries outside of France, to the extent that historical circumstances moved further away from conditions that obtained in France when Voltaire's work first appeared, his influence is not easily discernible except among certain clear-thinking minds at odds with their social groups or in revolt against its demands and prejudices." (2)
            Still, some literary professionals regard Candide as the starting point of WWI. A book judged as a reason for one of the biggest chaos of 20th century, the WWI, "Candide encompasses all ? there is no outside. Those who claim that Candide reflects or comments on the times miss the fact that the times are in the book." (3)

IV. Conclusion
            Every book, even the ones read for time killing, is in the context of history. Learning about the book and the author is learning about the history of that author's and that book's period. Candide, in fact a must-read book, also carries along its time period-Enlightenment, Seven Years War, French and American revolutions - expressed with literary excellence.
            Candide is also honored as a courageous book which addressed civil rights and the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion. It also has its significance since it promotes denunciation of the hypocrisies and injustices of the ancien regime, which involved an unfair balance of power and taxes between the First Estate, the Second Estate, and the Third Estate. The book promoted changes of the old regime mainly through revolutions.
            One of the world's literary masterpieces, Candide and its timeless accusation of suppressive society will always cast society-puncturing questions to the world


(1)      Gustave Lanson, "Voltaire" (1906)
(2)      ibid.
(3)      William Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden."


Note : websites quoted below were visited in March 2008.
1.      Appelbaum, Stanley, ed. Voltaire: Candide. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1991.
2.      Bell, Ian A. "Candide." Reference Guide to World Literature. Second ed. 2 vols. Detroit: St. James P, 1995.
3.      Gay, Peter, trans. "Voltaire: Candide, or Optimism." Great Books of the Western World. Second ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1996.
4.      Mason, Haydn. "Poem on the disaster of Lisbon." Reference Guide to World Literature. Second ed. 2 vols. Detroit: St. James P, 1995.
5.      Mason, Haydn. "Voltaire." Reference Guide to World Literature. Second ed. Detroit: St. James P, 1995.
6.      Article : 1755 Lisbon earthquake, from : Wikipedia. 19 Feb 2008. 1 Mar 2008 .
7.      Arouet, Francois Marie, and James K. Lowers. "CliffsNotes on Candide". Cliffnotes. 1 Mar 2008 ..
8.      Article : Battle of Prague, from : Wikipedia. 12 Mar 2008. 17 Mar 2008 .
9.      Birkenstock, Jane M. "Voltaire." Chateau de Cirey. 28 Mar. 2007. 1 Mar. 2008 .
10.      Candide: Critical Overview. Notes on Novels. 1 Mar. 2008 .
11.      Candide. Penguin Classics Reading Guides. 1 Mar. 2008 .
12.      Fajardo-Acosta, Fidel, and Matthew C. Peckham. "Candide." Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's World Literature Website. 1 Mar. 2008 .>
13.      Napierkowski, Marie Rose. "Candide: Historical Context." Novels for Students. 01 Jan. 2006. 1 Mar. 2008 .
14.      Article : John Byng, from : Wikipedia. 18 Feb 2008. 1 Mar 2008 .
15.      Article : Lycee Louis-le-Grand, from : Wikipedia. 29 Feb 2008. 17 Mar 2008 .
16.      Article : Voltaire, from Wikipedia. 29 Feb 2008. 1 Mar 2008 .
17.      Wright, Johnson K. Candide, Voltaire, and the Enlightenment. (excerpts), Yale UP. 1-13. 1 Mar. 2008 .