Candide

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Candide Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Voltaire's Candide. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet was born in 1694 to an elite family well placed in the French royal bureaucracy. Though his father wanted him to find a position of power in public life, Voltaire defied him by becoming a writer. Establishing himself in literary circles, he debuted in 1718 with the publication of the tragedy Oedipe. Voltaire's writing got him into trouble many times in his life. For one long period starting in 1726, he exiled himself to England to escape from prosecution for defamation. There, he stayed at the estate of Lord Bolingbroke, in whose circle he met the writers Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, and others. Voltaire's time in England introduced him to Newtonian science and other radical intellectual ideas of the time. When he returned to France, he dedicated himself to fighting “hydras and superstition,” with his philosophical and satirical writings. This earned him many enemies, especially in the government as well as in the religious establishment, which was dominated by the Jesuits. By the time of his death in 1778, France had embraced Voltaire as a national hero. The French Revolution, still to come, was the ultimate culmination of the Enlightenment thinking of which Voltaire was a part. Since then, his popularity has only grown: Candide is still the most widely taught work of French literature in the world.
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Historical Context of Candide
One of the greatest historical influences on Candide was the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, a catastrophic natural disaster that caused many Europeans to doubt their faith. Another was the Seven Years War, the first real “world war,” in history. The fact that war exists throughout the world in Candide has a lot to do with this real-world war, the first of its kind. Voltaire was part of a group of thinkers and writers, called the philosophes or encyclopedistes, who can be described as the vanguard of the Enlightenment. The philosophes wanted to advance science and secular thinking, and were generally opposed to the power and influence of the Catholic Church. Voltaire was one of the contributors to Denis Diderot's famous Encyclopedia, often seen as the epitome of Enlightenment thinking.
Other Books Related to Candide
The Bible, especially the Book of Genesis, is one model for Candide's plot. Like Adam and Eve, Candide and Cunégonde are exiled from an earthly paradise and forced, by the end, to work hard just to survive. Candide has a far closer relationship with contemporary books of literature and philosophy. As a philosophical novel, it is a response to Gottfried Leibniz's writings, especially Monadology (1714), from which the phrase and idea of the “best of all possible worlds,” is taken. As a satire, it is influenced by Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). Swift, along with Alexander Pope and John Gay, were among the circle of writers who influenced Voltaire during his stay at the estate of Lord Bolingbroke. Prior to writing Candide, Voltaire wrote many pamphlets and polemics, as well as his Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, (1756) which deals with similar philosophical issues.
Key Facts about Candide
  • Full Title: Candide: or, Optimism
  • When Written: 1758-1759
  • Where Written: Ferney, France
  • When Published: 1759
  • Literary Period: Lumières / Age of Enlightenment
  • Genre: Satirical Novel / Philosophical Novel / Coming-of-Age Novel / Picaresque
  • Setting: Germany, Portugal, Spain, Buenos Aires, Paraguay, France, Venice, and Constantinople.
  • Climax: Candide, Cunégonde, and the other characters are reunited in Turkey, where they plan to live out the rest of their lives cultivating their garden.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient
Extra Credit for Candide

Public Intellectual. Because of the close relationship between his political, philosophical, and literary activities, as well as his tremendous influence, Voltaire is often seen as one of the world's first and greatest public intellectuals.

“Let us eat the Jesuit. Let us eat him up!” This phrase, from the chapter with the Oreillons, became part of popular speech in France after Candide's publication—just one indicator of the book's incredible popularity.