17 December 2010

My thoughts on Voltaire's Candide

Last night I was talking to a fellow reader and book club participant (not this one) and mentioned that our (this book club's) latest selection was Voltaire's Candide. He was really impressed.
"Oh." says I. "Have you read it?"
"Oh yes," says he.
"And how did you like it?" I asked.
"I don't remember," he said. "It's been over 40 years." And adds, "But it is a classic!"

Well yes it is and that is why we read it. We are The Classics Book Club. And therein lies the first order of business. I don't want to read the classic, so I can proclaim "I read the classic." I find this behavior to be unbecoming. However, having said that, I am very happy to say I've read Voltaire's Candide. Because that means I will never ever read it again.

I did float and peck around the internet looking for critical sound bites and found that, according to one source, Voltaire wrote this book knowing that it was witty and funny and only a few smart people like himself would understand just how witty and funny this little tale is. So here here  - I applaud all you smart people.

This book tells the story of an optimistic man who experiences one tragedy after another at breakneck speed. He continues to be optimistic and most everyone who has surely died in the coarse of the story comes back into his life not dead after all. This is not believable, and I was so underwhelmed that I stalled at mid-point.

When The Mister asked me about the story and I told him of the various goings ons, the story all of a sudden started to sound much more interesting. Perhaps I was adding exclamations to this monotone flatness. Maybe the monotone is the witty part.

Anyway, I did Laugh Out Loud a couple of times. I wonder what Voltaire would think of LOL terminology. And I liked the little ditty towards the end about why God doesn't hear your prayers. Do you think the captain of the ship cares about all the ship's rats? Nice analogy.

I found Candide's driving force to be with Cunegonde against all odds to be the stuff great novellas are made of, but when he finally does hook up with her, everyone claims she is ugly, and even Candide claims she is ugly and tells her so to her face. Ironic, okay maybe. Funny, not really. Witty? pbbt.

Will I forget this book if I live another 40 years? 
Is this because it is a fabulous piece of literature?

1 comment:

  1. Okay. I *finally* read it. And, I wrote about it, this time on my blog, too (http://memeopolis.blogspot.com/2011/01/voltaire-fun-time.html), since I had a 2000 study abroad pic and the sweet 1960s paperback copy that I have, to show e'rybody.

    What was hard for me, was that I thought it was critiquing something old - like, I'm never much interested in reading contemporary satire - which was contemporary in times of yore - Swift "A Modest Proposal" is an example. But what struck me was still how modern the ideals of the Enlightenment are - and how amazing it is that there are so many people in the world still, who haven't evolved yet to levels of compassion that inspired writers of the 18th century!

    I agree that reading a classic just so one can say they've read a classic is silly - actually, I think Voltaire rather hits on the folly of reading all the popular intellectual stuff for bragging rights, or just to appear intellectual- like, Milton?! Milton is...ugh! So I was amused greatly by the takedown of "Paradise Lost," and Homer, and Horace, et al.


Thanks for sharing!