Philosophy, Read-Along, Voltaire

Candide Read-Along Week I

Introduction to this Read-along:

So this is the first post for Reading Candide. You can comment in the comments box below each post or on your own blog. However, if you comment on your own blog please link back to this post and put the link to your reflections in the comments box.


Chapter 1

The Baron de Thunder-ten-tronckh is the Baron of Westphalia. Candide is his sister’s son. Because of his mother’s lack of ancestry, Candide is treated like a servant in the Baron’s castle. However, the Doctor Pangloss taught Candide that the castle is the best castle in the world. Doctor Pangloss, we are told, is an expert in virtually everything and teaches the philosophy that this is the best of all possible worlds. Echoing Leibniz’s philosophy of Optimism, Pangloss believes that everything in the world happens for a reason; even pain and suffering are a part of this great world and should be accepted with joy.

Cunégonde is the Baron’s daughter. One day, she sees Pangloss doing “scientific experiments” on her mother’s servant in the bushes. She returns to the castle and kisses Candide behind a curtain. The Baron sees them kissing and, in his anger, banishes Candide from his castle.

Chapter 2

Candide is enlisted in the Bulgarian army. He undergoes brutal training. One morning, Candide decides to go for a stroll but is caught by the Bulgarians and is beaten 4000 times by 2000 men. He asks to be killed but is saved just in time by the Bulgarian king who understands Candide’s naïveté.

Chapter 3

Candide encounters the horrors of war. The Bulgarian war has caused the decapitation, disembowelment, and rape of countless men and women. He asks a man for bread but is rejected because Candide doesn’t think that the Pope is the Antichrist. Finally, Candide meets an Anabaptist named Jacques. Jacques feeds a very grateful Candide. Suddenly, he sees a man who is covered in awful sores.

Chapter 4

We learn in this chapter that this man is the Doctor Pangloss. Pangloss contracted syphilis from the maid Paquette in the Baron’s castle. He also informs Candide that Cunégonde was raped and killed by the Bulgarians. The Baron died trying to save her. Her mother and brother were also brutally killed. (The mother was chopped into pieces). Pangloss, however, refuses to back down from his claim that this is the best of all possible worlds. He ties Syphillus to the discovery of America. Pangloss is healed of his sickness but loses an eye and an ear in the process. Jacques disagrees with Pangloss’ philosophy. Here is his response:

« Il faut bien…que les homes aient un peu corrompu la nature, car ils ne sont point nés loups, et ils sont devenus loups. Dieu ne leur a donné ni canon de vingt-quatre ni baïonnettes et des canons pour se détruire. »

[“Men must have corrupted nature a little…for they were certainly not born wolves, and yet they’ve become wolves. God gave them neither twenty-four-pounder cannons nor bayonets, and yet they’ve made bayonets and cannons for themselves in order to destroy one another”]

Chapter 5

Pangloss and Candide travel with Jacques to Lisbon. But the worst storm in history hits the Lisbon port. Candide almost falls out of the boat but is saved by the boat helm. Jacques tries to save Candide but is pushed overboard by a sailor. Pangloss prevents Candide from trying to save him because he says that Jacque’s drowning is for the good of all. A giant wave capsizes the entire ship and Candide, the sailor, and Pangloss swim to shore. On land, a huge earthquake destroys three fourths of Lisbon. An inquisitor overhears Pangloss talking about the philosophy of optimism. He rebukes the doctor for having denied original sin and free will.

Chapter 6

To appease the wrath of God and to bring an end to the earthquakes in Lisbon, a group of men are burned at the stake. Candide is severely spanked and Pangloss is hanged.

Chapter 7

An elderly Sister treats Candide’s wounds. She also reconciles him with Cunégonde who never died from the wounds inflicted on her by the Bulgarian.

Chapter 8

Cunégonde tells her story. After being raped and disemboweled by a Bulgarian soldier, she was saved by the Bulgarian captain who then sold her to a Jew named Issacar. She was given a luxurious castle to live in. But, an inquisitor was jealous of Issacar. Issacar and the inquisitor agreed to share Cunégonde between themselves. Cunégonde, however, resisted. She refused to be raped again. After telling Candide her story, she admits that she no longer accepts Pangloss’ philosophy of optimism.

Discussion Questions

1)      Do you think Pangloss is a predatory figure or merely naive like Candide? In other words, is Pangloss deliberately trying to lead others astray or does he actually believe in the philosophy of optimism?

I think that Pangloss truly believes in the philosophy of optimism. He is not immune to hardships.  Even though he contracts Syphillus and faces death he doesn’t deny his philosophy. He definitely has convictions. I don’t know what convinced the Baron and his household that  Pangloss is an expert in everything. When reading about Pangloss, I couldn’t help but think about Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. These are men whom our society has decided are experts in everything. They may be experts in certain aspects of psychology and medicine but they are certainly not experts on everything. And yet, people talk about these doctors as if they are all-knowing.

For the most part, I think that Pangloss is naive like Candide. But I do not know Pangloss’ mindset when he was doing “scientific experiments” with Paquette in the bushes. Did he try to deceive the maid into sleeping with him? Or did he really think he was doing science?

2)      How do you feel about Voltaire’s writing style? Do you find this book funny or disturbing?

I can’t help but laugh while reading Candide. But while his story is funny, it is also quite disturbing. I feel at times that it is quite insensitive of Voltaire to make fun of rape and war. Every day, there are women like Cunégonde who are raped and it is not funny.

3)      Who is your favorite character thus far?

Jacques. He is the most intelligent character thus far.

What do you all think?

6 thoughts on “Candide Read-Along Week I”

  1. I’ve read the first 8 chapters today in like.. 10 minutes, which was quite unexpected. The book is really short!
    I can’t say I’m enjoying it so far. Brutal sarcasm is not really my thing, and some of the scenes are really disturbing. However, the jokes about philosophy are at times funny.
    I think Pangloss is a real believer, because he is not very intelligent. And the absurdity of his beliefs is what is made fun of. I don’t find anyone appealing here, as the characters are not there as people, but rather as writer’s devices to underline this or that idea. They are not supposed to seem real.
    It is a weird novel, but I will not judge it yet, I’ll see what comes next 🙂 And yes, great chapter summaries! Thanks for your work! 🙂

    1. I have a weakness for good sarcasm. I think Candide is very funny. However, at times, I have difficulty knowing what Voltaire actually thinks.

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