Take a visual journey through Voltaire's Candide

Do-It-Yourself Candide



Illustration by Rockwell Kent from: Voltaire. Candide. New York: Random House, 1928. NYPL, Rare Book Division. By Permission of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, The Rockwell Kent Gallery & Collection.

A call for visual artists and writers! Contribute your modern-day riffs on Voltaire's classic. Drawings, photographs, videos, poetic reimaginings, textual commentaries ... Everything is for the best in this best of all possible collaborations. Share your interpretations now. We will be posting galleries of contributions soon. Make your own journey! Write us @: candide@nypl.org.

Our First Contributions

Ce qui advint de Cunégonde, 2010
Ink on Arches paper, upholstery string
27 x 12 inches (approx.)

In my drawing-sculpture, Ce qui advint de Cugonde (loosely translatable as "What became of Cunegonde" — a tip of the hat to one of Voltaire's chapter headings, in part), I explore what happens when the overarching idea of Voltaire's book is given abstract form. When reading Candide last year for the first time, and in French, I was struck by the humor of the phrasing; nothing could be funnier than absurd adventures coupled with an intentionally ironic, rambling style. Perhaps due to an adequate but not spectacular grasp of the language, I was left with the sensation of Candide being little more than the most beautiful, run-on, catastrophic sentence I'd ever read in my life. The looping, drooping, form of my drawing was thus inspired; it grew out of writing out by hand all thirty French chapter titles into one run-on sentence, continually linked together like the never-ending disastrous episodes that Candide is subject to. Reading the drawing as a single sentence, one gets a thoroughly condensed but accurate sense of the plot and Voltaire's sense of humor. The drawing is bound with severed, hair-like strands — suggestive of Cunegonde's beauty, power, youth, health, and the loss of all of these, as well as the bondage that Candide finds himself nevertheless stuck in at the end of the tale. That the form may also suggest a broken necklace or a falling weight adds yet another layer of meaning, and all the more so in light of Candide's reflections upon life and this world, somewhat unimaginably, being the best of all possible worlds.


The Monkey Scene, 2010