Voltaire Candide: or Optimism

ISBN 13: 9780300106558

Candide: or Optimism

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9780300106558: Candide: or Optimism

In this new translation of Voltaire’s Candide, distinguished translator Burton Raffel captures the French novel’s irreverent spirit and offers a vivid, contemporary version of the 250-year-old text. Raffel casts the novel in an English idiom that--had Voltaire been a twenty-first-century American--he might himself have employed. The translation is immediate and unencumbered, and for the first time makes Voltaire the satirist a wicked pleasure for English-speaking readers.
Candide recounts the fantastically improbable travels, adventures, and misfortunes of the young Candide, his beloved Cunégonde, and his devoutly optimistic tutor, Pangloss. Endowed at the start with good fortune and every prospect for happiness and success, the characters nevertheless encounter every conceivable misfortune. Voltaire’s philosophical tale, in part an ironic attack on the optimistic thinking of such figures as G. W. Leibniz and Alexander Pope, has proved enormously influential over the years. In a general introduction to this volume, historian Johnson Kent Wright places Candide in the contexts of Voltaire’s life and work and the Age of Enlightenment.

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Review:

Political satire doesn't age well, but occasionally a diatribe contains enough art and universal mirth to survive long after its timeliness has passed. Candide is such a book. Penned by that Renaissance man of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Candide is steeped in the political and philosophical controversies of the 1750s. But for the general reader, the novel's driving principle is clear enough: the idea (endemic in Voltaire's day) that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and apparent folly, misery and strife are actually harbingers of a greater good we cannot perceive, is hogwash.

Telling the tale of the good-natured but star-crossed Candide (think Mr. Magoo armed with deadly force), as he travels the world struggling to be reunited with his love, Lady Cunegonde, the novel smashes such ill-conceived optimism to splinters. Candide's tutor, Dr. Pangloss, is steadfast in his philosophical good cheer, in the face of more and more fantastic misfortune; Candide's other companions always supply good sense in the nick of time. Still, as he demolishes optimism, Voltaire pays tribute to human resilience, and in doing so gives the book a pleasant indomitability common to farce. Says one character, a princess turned one-buttocked hag by unkind Fate: "I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most melancholy propensities; for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one's very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?"--Michael Gerber

Book Description:

In this new translation of Voltaire’s best-known work, distinguished translator Burton Raffel captures the irreverent spirit of Candide and renders the novel in clear, vivacious English. Stylistically superior to all predecessors, Raffel’s version now stands as the translation of choice for twenty-first-century readers.

 

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