“If this is the best of all possible worlds, then what must the others be like?”
Young Candide is tossed on a hilarious tide of misfortune, experiencing the full horror and injustice of this “best of all possible worlds” - the Old and the New - before finally accepting that his old philosophy tutor Dr Pangloss has got it all wrong. There are no grounds for his daft theory of Optimism.
Yet life goes on. We must cultivate our garden, for there is certainly room for improvement. Candide is the most famous of Voltaire’s “philosophical tales”, in which he combined witty improbabilities with the sanest of good sense.
First published in 1759, it was an instant bestseller and has come to be regarded as one of the key texts of the Enlightenment.
In the audio guide below, Professor Roger Pearson of The Queen’s College, Oxford, who translated Candide and Other Stories for Oxford World’s Classics, introduces the book and its author. Follow the links below to listen to the audio clips.
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- Voltaire waged a lifelong campaign against lazy thinking in all its manifestations. Blind adherence to religious dogma in particular incurred his wrath.
Voltaire's intellectual position [4:27]
Candide and the weapon of humour
- All the stories in this volume belong to the genre of “philosophical tales”. In this clip, Roger Pearson explains what the philosophical tale is and how Voltaire used it to puncture the dogmatism of his opponents.
The philosophical tale [2:40]
- Voltaire once said: “I have only ever addressed one prayer to God and it is very short: ‘Please God, make all our enemies ridiculous.’ God has granted my wish.” As Roger Pearson says in the following clip,”the whole of Candide reads like a comic strip, a kind of eighteenth-century Asterix”.
Roger Pearson: Candide reads like a comic strip [5:35]