Candide: Plot, Major Characters, and Adaptations
Candide, or Optimism
(Candide, ou L’optimisme, 1759)
Voltaire's "philosophical tale" (conte philosophique) follows the adventures and misadventures of its open-hearted, innocent, and extremely gullible title character, who has been instructed in Leibnizian optimism by his master, Dr. Pangloss, whose credo that this is "the best of all possible worlds" has been humorously but effectively shredded by story's end.
A cleric from the district of Périgord in southwestern France whom Candide and Martin meet when they first arrive in Paris. This "ever alert, officious, forward, fawning, and complaisant" busybody takes it upon himself to show Candide the town.
Formerly a singing-boy, sacristan, sailor, monk, peddler, soldier, and servant, this clever, resourceful, and "very honest fellow" becomes Candide's faithful valet and eventually settles with his master and the rest of the company on the little farm just outside of Constantinople.
Naive title character in Voltaire’s riotous satire. After a series of disastrous adventures have sorely tried his belief in the optimistic doctrines of his teacher Dr. Pangloss, Candide settles down with Pangloss, his beloved Cunegonde, and other companions of his wanderings, certain of one essential truth, that man must cultivate his garden.
Beautiful and pragmatic daughter of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh of Westphalia and beloved of Candide. When she and Candide are found together, Candide is expelled from her father’s castle, and spends much of the tale searching for her. Meanwhile, Cunegonde undergoes severe trials of her own.
Professor of “metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” and tutor to Candide, he steadfastly espouses the doctrine that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” despite repeated confrontations with natural disasters and human depravity. His “optimism” is modeled on the philosophy of German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), as popularized by Alexander Pope (“Whatever is, is right,” from An Essay on Man, 1732–34).
A kindly man who — unlike his hardhearted neighbors — takes pity on Candide in Holland, treating the starving young man with "extreme generosity."
A poor but honest man of letters whose life experiences ("robbed by his wife, beaten by his son, and abandoned by his daughter") have given him a rather jaundiced view of human nature. He travels to Europe from Surinam with Candide, who enjoys discussing philosophical matters with the elderly philosopher, who describes himself as a Manichaean.
Chambermaid to the mother of Cunegonde, the Baroness of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, Paquette contracts a social disease (which she passes on to Dr. Pangloss) and is expelled from the castle. After a series of misfortunes, she becomes the companion of Friar Giroflée, a most unhappy monk who was forced at the age of fifteen to "put on this detestable habit" to "increase the fortune of a cursed older brother."
The son of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh of Westphalia and Cunegonde's brother. Handsome and haughty, he is extremely proud of his family's aristocratic lineage and twice refuses to allow Candide to marry his sister.
Formerly a great beauty, she is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina. Brought up in a palace, she is betrothed at a young age to a handsome prince, who unfortunately is poisoned by a former mistress before his marriage. This is only the first of an almost unbelievable string of disasters to befall the woman who will nurse Candide back to health, reunite him — albeit temporarily — with Cunegonde, and become one of his trusted traveling companions.