Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories

Author: Voltaire

Pages: 352
Description: Well, I already reviewed Candide the first time I read it. Here is my paper comparing Voltaire with Bernard Shaw (I know! I know–it’s a wee bit overstretching it…)

Candida vs. Candide: Correlating Elements
In the Works by Voltaire and Shaw

When Bernard Shaw decided to write his Candida—a very strong name for a very strong individual (indeed, he knew that this type of name would require much effort in part of the gifted playwright to back it up, to support it, to be worthy of so strong and evocative a title)—he knowingly took up the responsibility of fulfilling his audience’s great expectations. And how many of Shaw’s fans actually read literature? It must be an established truth that then—one hundred years ago—as it is now, both theater enthusiasts and readers of fiction overlap; someone taking up Candida for the first time (or having the privilege of experiencing it live on the stage) will undoubtedly make the connection between Bernard Shaw’s drama, subtitled “A Mystery,” and Voltaire’s masterwork, 1759’s Candide, or Optimism.

Merely having any work of art baring the name of its heroine is often considered magnificent—a true auteur’s touch. The protagonist in a play or a novel becomes monolithic—the person’s entity is represented on different levels; it could even be said that the work is the embodiment, the demonstration, of a real corpus. The work itself represents one human soul—its complexities and poetry are on full display. One must not search long before great works of literature appear before the discerning, modern reader—novels like Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Elizabeth Bowen’s Eva Trout, Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello—all these are emblematic bodies of work which construct a character worthy of remaining a literary figure for all time. And in drama? There’s Evita, of course, and a slew of opera favorites such as Lucia di Lammermoor and Aida. But Candide and Candida represent one type of character—a sincere and thoughtful protagonist whose problems arise from the surrounding environment and not from any forms of self-doubt or guilt. Both figures are headstrong, intrepid—it is the madness of the world in which they reside that troubles them, that allows for the typical absurd-man-in-an-absurd-world archetype to be established in the work of fiction and reinterpreted. Both candid characters undergo superficial change, for inside they remain constant and true to themselves.

But the differences between them are (at first glance) staggering, and a quick recapitulation of what these are may be useful in finding exactly where the true main threads which unites both lie. Certainly, the two could be called almost-contradictory. A play is meant to be seen, a novel to be read, and the experiences offered by both are entirely unique. Candide perambulates the entire globe, from one location to another, downtrodden; all the while surveying all the kinds of injustices committed, with a distant, naïve, but hopeful demeanor; Candida, on the other hand, is restricted to her home in “1894 in the north east quarter of London” (3). For Voltaire, Candide marks his towering achievement (it is his Dorian Grey, his One Hundred Years of Solitude, his Pygmalion); while Candida remains “a favorite play with many who profess not to care for Shaw” (Williamson 115). As a result, Candide feels epic, despite its concise and easy-to-read prose, and Candida is very intimate—a portrayal of a single life, and not the explicit depiction of hordes and multitudes. And this play with scales and dimensions (a more precise example of this is to found in Voltaire’s short classic, 1752’s Micromegas), obviously, is not the sole deviation Shaw’s play takes from the French literary classic.

Even the build-up of suspense—a must in most successful works of fiction—occurs very differently. As a play, Candida is a perfect vehicle to convey dramatic irony: the audience always knows more than the characters on the stage. But Voltaire does something quite radical: he actually eradicates most sense of suspense (since Candide’s adventures are the bulk of the story, the ingredient of unexpectedness is absolutely present, however, in the suddenness of events that transpire). The reader is in awe as, instead of covering up a fact (if just for several pages), Voltaire discloses what the drama is to relate in the actual titles of the chapters themselves. This convention, not completely dissimilar to that of other novels of the time, properly establishes exactly what is to be depicted following that small description. For instance, Chapter III of Candide ends when “he met a beggar,” and soon the mystery quickly dissipates when Chapter IV, entitled “How Candide Met His Old Philosophy Teacher, Doctor Pangloss, and What Happened” tells us who the mystery person is before delving into the text itself—very efficient storytelling which does not quite betray its narrative effect (22). On the other hand, Shaw is mysterious even in his stage direction. A Shavian trick is to introduce characters not by their proper names, but in mere brushstrokes. In this way, Candida is not introduced at first as herself, but merely as a WOMAN’S VOICE uttering the following command, characteristic of the woman of the house: “Say yes, James” (13).

Candida tackles the subject of marriage , that societal institution which has plagued humanity forever—depicting what true modern love is all about (in other words, that comfort should be picked over adventure ). Both partners in the Morell marriage know exactly what the expectations are: what to expect from their spouse and what is expected of them. Morell treats his wife, it seems, the way she wishes to be treated (fulfilling effectively her role as nurturer). Basically, Morell is the man of the house (he knows his household and the members therein), and even Candida comes out, siding with this undeniable truth. She tells Marchbanks: “Stop! (He obeys.) Didn’t you hear James say he wished you to stay? James is master here. Don’t you know that (48)?” The marriage is strong since both partners understand their purpose in the union.

Candide, portraying an entire world and entire populations which inhabit its belligerent, uneasy surface, also has enough time to comment on the union between two people (which means, basically, that marriage, to Voltaire, is as important and as life-altering as massacres, rape, famine, and death). Pangloss , mentor to Candide, is the first example of what Voltaire made of the topic: It is love that is the cause of Pangloss’ distress, and similarly to Candide he suffers for it. He slowly dies from venereal disease —so is this, then, a pro-marriage postulation? It certainly could be a sly nod to the enterprise. Alas, Cunégonde is lost to Candide sporadically throughout the tale; he keeps losing her, then regaining her (the theme of fate and the rare character trait of optimism are henceforth shown). She tells him about the bad treatment she’s had to endure, not to exclude the strange relationships that were forged in light of Candide’s absence. Again, fidelity seems to take the forefront—winning clearly over polygamy . Voltaire does not tell us about marriage in as explicit terms as Shaw, though it is very evident that his ideas on marriage have made a niche all their own in the all-encompassing epic.

Candide’s socialist inclinations are precisely why, I venture to guess, the classic is no longer being read or studied at school. The messages relayed may be found dangerous by the modern status quo. Morell hints at the social obligation of caring for his fellow man, though this is but a hint of Shaw’s actual political proclivities. Basically, if an important man like Morell is happy, then all those belonging to his surroundings will benefit from his moods and mindsets. In the picaresque fantasy, Candide and his pals find Eldorado: “The travelers did not fail to pick up the gold, the rubies, and the emeralds. ‘Where are we?’ exclaimed Candide. ‘Kings’ children must be well brought up in this country, since they teach them to despise golden jewels’” (52). When Voltaire writes of Eldorado, a perpetual paradise on earth (which does not exist!), he writes what the perfect, idyllic world would be: “No doubt you have none of this country’s money, but it is not necessary to have any in order to dine here. All the hostelries established for the convenience of commerce are paid for by the government,” says a resident of the utopia (52).

The interpersonal relationships in Candide and Candida are essential to the plot. Despite Candide’s immense stage—practically the entire globe is traversed —it is the relationships forged between the protagonist and recurring (and resurrecting) supporting characters which follows Voltaire’s everlasting themes of the everlasting nature of constant comforts, and free will versus fate. Likewise, in Candida, our protagonist is surrounded by demi-dunces—it is in the dialogue that the entire plot resides—and it is her interaction with these players (five in total, just as Candide ends his journey with five characters faithfully by his side : James Morell, Eugene Marchbanks, Mr. Burgess, Reverend Alexander Mill and Proserpine “Prossy” Garnett ) and the constant generation of ideas and beliefs is what moves the play to its fated conclusion. “[The struggle is] between Morell, who symbolizes Christian Socialist idealism, and is clear-sighted, bold, sure of himself, a man who takes short views; and Eugene, who symbolizes poetic idealism, and is lofty-spirited, a lover of beauty, but vague and confused in his mind” (Nickson 141).

Character types: the dramatist must know these as intimately as he knows the language. Candide has to change because his surroundings demand it—he tries to survive and as a result kills two men . But he never does go against himself—his core remains the same. Shaw, however, in this instance of domestic claustrophobia—a full house where occupants are forced to interact (and not just escape, as Candide is so fond of doing)—orchestrates perfectly what the characters say, and what their overall role in the drama is.

So, while Voltaire has an absolute blast playing with several character stereotypes, Shaw switches the roles of his characters enough to make the drama dramatic enough. Candida , just like her male counterpart (decades and decades older, of course), remains constant. What occurs around her, just as what surrounds Candide, is what the audience notices; her reactions to all this stimuli is what propels the play forward. And so, after some closer deliberation, it becomes clear that it is not Candida who Candide most resembles. In fact, he is doppelganger to the young poet Marchbanks, who embodies both optimism (laced with romance, of course) and naiveté. Candide is “a young man whom nature had endowed with the gentlest of characters. His face bespoke his soul. His judgment was rather sound and his mind of the simplest; this is the reason, I think, why he was named Candide. Therefore, we see that Marchbanks is the Candide in Candida—what he learns from the experience is what the audience/reader learn with him; it is commonly thought that Marchbanks is the actual protagonist of Candida. They are both green, ripe, and inexperienced. But whereas Marchbanks uses excuses and poetic flights of fancy and ultimately uses his youth as a safety shield, as some proud badge, Candide is moved into action—he kills men to escape his own demise; he is truthful and consistently reacts in both deed and word to the chaos of the outer world. He even becomes, in another exquisite twist from Voltaire, quite successful in the war field: “Candide, having served with the Bulgarians, performed the Bulgarian drill before the general of the little army with so much grace, celerity, skill, pride, and agility, that they gave him an infantry company to command” (34). Marchbanks is clearly a dud: he is open-minded, though, but still acts like a child in dire need of experience. Candide’s world is so different from Candida’s and Shaw’s—his situation is more “desperation” and less “costume drama.” But Shaw makes Marchbanks from the same clay that Voltaire himself used to form his up-and-coming main man. The archetype is so successful because the reader/audience member places himself in the actual (fictional) shoes of that youngster, who, as in true life, is simultaneously living and trying to make sense of that life.

Candide and Candida both end exactly as they should; rather, each conclusion is reached at with an outstanding predictability—each storyteller has prepared his audience enough to reach the point where no other ending would do. Candide ends a few lines after this “postscript:”

”His wife (Cunégonde), becoming uglier every day, became shrewish and intolerable; the old woman was an invalid and even more bad humored than Cunégonde. Cacambo, who worked in the garden and who went and sold vegetables at Constantinople, was worn out with work and cursed his destiny. Pangloss was in despair at not shining at some university in Germany. As for Martin, he was firmly persuaded that a man is equally badly off anywhere; he took things patiently” (98). And because everything that came before it was completely horrifying—most vistas horribly blood-soaked and pandemonium running amok—we know that a lesson will be learned at the end (see footnote 13); that this was, all along, a fairy tale for adults in the vein of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince; and that the outcome won’t be idyllic. In the same vein, when Candida gives herself to the “weaker of the two,” she is doing exactly what had been expected all along (50). “They embrace,” Candida ends. “But they do not know the secret in the poets heart” (52). Again, there is some residual feeling left over, just as the reader is not given his “…and they lived happily ever after” by the crafty Voltaire. Do we care that Candida and Morell are back in each other’s arms, as if nothing has occurred? Crisis was averted—so whatever happens next to the proven couple is not truly of our immediate interest. Do we care that Candide and Co. are still striving to get by, looking all an absolute fright attempting to do so? They are finally, at long last, together; so the answer, too, is no.

A very substantial point of comparison lies with the progenitors of each distinct piece—our final element of correlation. When Voltaire penned his masterpiece, he was well-experienced and incredibly apt. George Bernard Shaw wrote 63 plays total, all of them after he was thirty (he wrote Candida in 1894, when he was 38). Voltaire, being the bohemian nonconformist that he was, lived to be 84 and Shaw died at the robust age of 94—their environments being so opposite, it is a wonder how, similarly, they outlived the natural life expectancy of their time to accomplish all they did. Indeed, both began their work only after having made several observations and established some theories of life. And transcending the natural barriers of age, it is also a commonly held fact that they were both, in their own way, über-reactionary: the purpose of their writing was to inform on the social circumstances of their age. For Voltaire, censorship was the main devil; Shaw, on the other hand, was often discontent with the global condition at large, but of Europe’s in general and England’s in particular. Both writers hold the same motor of rebellion and the overwhelming, perpetual desire for changes in an ever-constricted society. This is what moved them both—they share similar inspirations. “Voltaire was always a man of action,” says Frame. “Highly volatile, sensitive, ambitious, emotional, irascible and generous, vindictive and compassionate, he found his greatest satisfaction and release in work. But work, to satisfy him, must act on others” (xi). Shaw embodies this, too. And just as Shaw, Voltaire was so loose-tonged that “he once complained to Rosseau [that he] wrote for the sake of writing, while he himself wrote in the interest of action” (xi). Both writers were adamant socialists. To validate love, Voltaire adds the socialist angle to his book (says Candide: “I have saved your sister from the arms of a Jew and an Inquisitor; she has obligations toward me, she wants to marry me; Dr. Pangloss always told me that men are equal, and certainly I shall marry her” [48]); Shaw values love in a different way—it is the perfect mix between what you make of your role in society and how you actually feel about your significant other.

What is optimism? Candide defines it as “the mania of maintaining that all is well when we are miserable” (61)! We have, on the other hand, also “A Mystery”: What is at the core of human relationships? Candida’s charisma is so strong that her husband “mysteriously” puts her up on the auction block, only to prove that age-old adage of “When you love something, you set it free…” Candide’s brand of optimism also works to his advantage—in the end. Both works relay something about the sacrament of marriage (for Candida: that like a well-oiled machine the duo must work together, complimenting differences the entire way; for Candide: that it means nothing much—he urges you to simply remain by your girl’s side, despite any outward appearances, and to help out your fellow man) and gives us hints pointing toward the overall goodness of socialism. Character types and character relationships are also similar. Both finales are totally satisfying. And, the last uniting strand: both writers wrote for the same reason. They both wanted to move the world to action; they wanted to take on the evil of the zeitgeist, and rattle the entire world!
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