Chapter 12 – The Adventures of the Old Woman Continued

1 1 “Astonished and delighted to hear my native language, and no less surprised at what this man said, I made answer that there were much greater misfortunes than that of which he complained. I told him in a few words of the horrors which I had endured, and fainted a second time. He carried me to a neighbouring house, put me to bed, gave me food, waited upon me, consoled me, flattered me; he told me that he had never seen any one so beautiful as I, and that he never so much regretted the loss of what it was impossible to recover.
2 “‘I was born at Naples,’ said he, ‘there they geld two or three thousand children every year; some die of the operation, others acquire a voice more beautiful than that of women, and others are raised to offices of state. This operation was performed on me with great success and I was chapel musician to madam, the Princess of Palestrina.’

“‘To my mother!’ cried I.

“‘Your mother!’ cried he, weeping. ‘What! can you be that young princess whom I brought up until the age of six years, and who promised so early to be as beautiful as you?’

“‘It is I, indeed; but my mother lies four hundred yards hence, torn in quarters, under a heap of dead bodies.’

4 “I told him all my adventures, and he made me acquainted with his; telling me that he had been sent to the Emperor of Morocco by a Christian power, to conclude a treaty with that prince, in consequence of which he was to be furnished with military stores and ships to help to demolish the commerce of other Christian Governments.
5 1 “‘My mission is done,’ said this honest eunuch; ‘I go to embark for Ceuta, and will take you to Italy. Ma che sciagura d’essere senza coglioni!

“I thanked him with tears of commiseration; and instead of taking me to Italy he conducted me to Algiers, where he sold me to the Dey. Scarcely was I sold, than the plague which had made the tour of Africa, Asia, and Europe, broke out with great malignancy in Algiers. You have seen earthquakes; but pray, miss, have you ever had the plague?”

“Never,” answered Cunegonde.

“If you had,” said the old woman, “you would acknowledge that it is far more terrible than an earthquake. It is common in Africa, and I caught it. Imagine to yourself the distressed situation of the daughter of a Pope, only fifteen years old, who, in less than three months, had felt the miseries of poverty and slavery, had been ravished almost every day, had beheld her mother drawn in quarters, had experienced famine and war, and was dying of the plague in Algiers. I did not die, however, but my eunuch, and the Dey, and almost the whole seraglio of Algiers perished.

7 “As soon as the first fury of this terrible pestilence was over, a sale was made of the Dey’s slaves; I was purchased by a merchant, and carried to Tunis; this man sold me to another merchant, who sold me again to another at Tripoli; from Tripoli I was sold to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Smyrna, and from Smyrna to Constantinople. At length I became the property of an Aga of the Janissaries, who was soon ordered away to the defence of Azof, then besieged by the Russians.
8 1 “The Aga, who was a very gallant man, took his whole seraglio with him, and lodged us in a small fort on the Palus Méotides, guarded by two black eunuchs and twenty soldiers. The Turks killed prodigious numbers of the Russians, but the latter had their revenge. Azof was destroyed by fire, the inhabitants put to the sword, neither sex nor age was spared; until there remained only our little fort, and the enemy wanted to starve us out. The twenty Janissaries had sworn they would never surrender. The extremities of famine to which they were reduced, obliged them to eat our two eunuchs, for fear of violating their oath. And at the end of a few days they resolved also to devour the women.
9 1

“We had a very pious and humane Iman, who preached an excellent sermon, exhorting them not to kill us all at once.

“‘Only cut off a buttock of each of those ladies,’ said he, ‘and you’ll fare extremely well; if you must go to it again, there will be the same entertainment a few days hence; heaven will accept of so charitable an action, and send you relief.’

“He had great eloquence; he persuaded them; we underwent this terrible operation. The Iman applied the same balsam to us, as he does to children after circumcision; and we all nearly died.

10 2 “Scarcely had the Janissaries finished the repast with which we had furnished them, than the Russians came in flat-bottomed boats; not a Janissary escaped. The Russians paid no attention to the condition we were in. There are French surgeons in all parts of the world; one of them who was very clever took us under his care—he cured us; and as long as I live I shall remember that as soon as my wounds were healed he made proposals to me. He bid us all be of good cheer, telling us that the like had happened in many sieges, and that it was according to the laws of war.
11 5 “As soon as my companions could walk, they were obliged to set out for Moscow. I fell to the share of a Boyard who made me his gardener, and gave me twenty lashes a day. But this nobleman having in two years’ time been broke upon the wheel along with thirty more Boyards for some broils at court, I profited by that event; I fled. I traversed all Russia; I was a long time an inn-holder’s servant at Riga, the same at Rostock, at Vismar, at Leipzig, at Cassel, at Utrecht, at Leyden, at the Hague, at Rotterdam. I waxed old in misery and disgrace, having only one-half of my posteriors, and always remembering I was a Pope’s daughter. A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one’s existence? in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?
12 4 “In the different countries which it has been my lot to traverse, and the numerous inns where I have been servant, I have taken notice of a vast number of people who held their own existence in abhorrence, and yet I never knew of more than eight who voluntarily put an end to their misery; three negroes, four Englishmen, and a German professor named Robek. I ended by being servant to the Jew, Don Issachar, who placed me near your presence, my fair lady. I am determined to share your fate, and have been much more affected with your misfortunes than with my own. I would never even have spoken to you of my misfortunes, had you not piqued me a little, and if it were not customary to tell stories on board a ship in order to pass away the time. In short, Miss Cunegonde, I have had experience, I know the world; therefore I advise you to divert yourself, and prevail upon each passenger to tell his story; and if there be one of them all, that has not cursed his life many a time, that has not frequently looked upon himself as the unhappiest of mortals, I give you leave to throw me headforemost into the sea.”

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16 Responses to “Chapter 12 – The Adventures of the Old Woman Continued”

In all of her bitterness, the old woman still clings to the passion she has for life no matter how miserably it has treated her. Voltaire expresses through this character that although we be raped, mutulated, and beaten our spirit can survive. The Old Woman reminds us that we are vulnerable to fate.

Through the old woman we see the bigger picture of inactivity. Voltaire is trying to express his theory one life which is that in life, although there will be struggles; the point is to move on and look forward. To dwell on the pass only creates angry and hatred and for those who cannot take it, the end of life which is nothing more than a waste. To kill one’s self is to relieve of all duties, morals, and principles and in essence to do nothing. With life one can learn from their mistakes and more forward; he solidifies this idea when the old woman says “I’ve wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but I still love life. The ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most pernicious inclinations.” Everyone has their own story because everyone needs to experience tragedies in order to appreciate what they are given.

Matt C says:

It isn’t exactly fate that the old woman speaks of. The old woman is talking more about human nature than anything. She speaks of man’s ability to cling to life no matter what crime or treacherous occurrence befalls them, possibly in hope of a better future.

The statement, “to caress the serpent which devours us” is the most direct allusion to the story of Adam and Eve from the Book of Genesis. The first burden man had received was a result of the serpent’s trickery, “The woman answered, ‘The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.’” Adam and Eve’s fall may have been the worst mishap to occur in all of mankind. Yet even Adam and Eve forged on like all the people the old woman spoke of. And they, “cultivated their own garden.”

Sections 11 and 12 of this chapter create ambivalence on the idea of optimism. As Joseph said in this thread, our spirit can survive, proving life to be worth living. And as Jacqueline said in thread 12, the old woman proves optimism to be wrong, for everybody has been unhappy. What is Voltaire’s purpose of these conflicting feelings? Could this be a foreshadow to the end of the novel? They decide to live life without complete devotion to philosophy. Is this chapter saying that there are going to be different views on optimism, so why bother spending life deciding which is right? We should just live with whatever goods and bads come our way.

To start this discussion off:

Although the old women has had awful luck in her lifetime she still holds hope for a better day tomorrow. Her story insights sympathy for the women of Voltaire’s fictitious world. Is this sympathy really a necessary for the women?

Also, The old women grew up a princess: she had everything provided for her, she was beautiful, and she was only fourteen. However, all this is taken from her. Would her story have been as effective if she hadn’t come from such a position of power? Has this fall from grace and the ensuing climb back affected her views for the world?

In the optimistic world that Voltaire has placed Candide, he use the old woman to balance the views of Pangloss and bring rational and reasonable ideals to the novel. She is a realist who sees things for what they are and she tries to show others, like Cunegonde, the same. Here she does not give pity to Cunegonde but instead asks her to find someone that hasn’t had misery because everyone does and people need to accept it and move on by looking forward to the future. The old woman believes that the past needs to be in the past and that misery should go with it. I find the old woman to be an uplifting character who adds a depth to the novel that other characters lack.

Raj Shah says:

Through the eunuchs and the old lady, Voltaire introduces extreme adversity into the story. Lust, injustice, and selfishness has caused much despair and hatred in humans throughout the world. The circumstances are so horrible, even death would be welcome, but surprisingly, people prefer life to death. Though many humans hate the lives they live, the old lady says she has only viewed 12 suicides.

Voltaire speaks of two more disasters beyond human control, famine and plague. In this excerpt, it is said that the soldiers turned to cannibalism and ate human flesh. This proves Pangloss’s optimistic views once again.

Jose Lopez says:

With the Old Woman we are able to sense of Voltaire’s realism and stoicism. Obviously the woman has been through a lot, from her days as a princess to her recounting of her life, through this we see that what our protagonists have faced has little importance or significance when compared to the suffering of other people in the world. It also solidifies Cunegonde and Candide’s baptism by fire. All they knew before they were either “kicked out” or forcedly taken away from their most precious of all castles was that of peace and happiness. Throughout the story they question their previous optimistic philosophy and harden themselves towards a more realist/deist view that the world is neither all bad nor all good. The old woman is the person that first shows them that path, and after their encounter they are advised to tell her tale as well as share and ask others on their journey about theirs.

Grace Kim says:

The Old Woman seems to be another character Voltaire employs to emphasize the belief of optimism, especially when she claims that “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life.” At the same time, going along with Joseph Galluzzo’s comment about how through the Old Woman’s example of suffering, we are vulnerable to fate, that correlates with the belief of determinism.

In addition, there is a religious allusion, when the Old Woman asks, “in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?”, which refers to the fall of mankind. Eve was tempted to take the apple from the tree with Satan’s influence, and God punished Satan into the form of the serpent. This religious allusion correlates again with the belief of determinism–how sin, suffering, and every aspect of our life is left to the hands of fate.

Voltaire employs the belief of optimism and determinism in extreme to reveal the faults of each belief when taken in extreme situations.

In this paragraph you see one of the many instances of dishonesty that plagues Candide and his group of friends. Here is a man whom the Old Women refers to as an “honest eunuch” yet he turns around and sells her into a world of slavery. How does this instance of dishonesty compare to the instances in later chapters, as Candide and Martin are trying to make their way back to Cunegonde?

Matt Pharris says:

Voltaire is often called the “Father of the French Revolution.” That is, Candide was partially intended for Voltaire’s fellow citizens so that they might be inspired to rise up against oppression. Voltaire achieves this through various biographies of several characters, most notably the Old Woman. This paragraph emphasizes the Old Woman’s strength of character, showing how she overcame the temptations of suicide. Voltaire hopes his readers will recognize this strength and therefore be inspired to change the world.

One good person mentioned in the book is the French surgeon that takes care of the old woman and the others. As soon as he treats the women, he is done taking any active part in changing the world around him for the better. He is seen bidding the women good cheer and telling them that what happened to them happens according to laws. He is not seen acknowledging that these laws are unfair, yet his actions tell that he certainly does not agree with them. As one of the positive characters in the book he does not display any willingness to act upon the wrong that he sees and this further contributed to the inaction of characters in this novel.

I love NYPL’s digital image collection of military costumes because it’s a record of remarkable single-mindedness. Its illustrations can give a picture of the old woman’s travels through the Seven Years’ War and beyond.

Russia, 1740-57. Digital ID: 439091. New York Public Library

Hessen-Cassel Dragonders. 1787 Digital ID: 93342. New York Public Library

Dragonder. 1757 Digital ID: 92960. New York Public Library

Shelley says:

It’s funny: right after each lady loses half her rear end, the Russians show up in “flat-bottomed” boats!

Jahneen B says:

Cannibalism is an act that is seen as barbaric. It is ironic that eating a portion of the women is seen as “charitable,” when in any other situation any act of cannibalism would be seen as immoral. The act of eating human flesh also stems from freewill. The Janissaries had the option to pick their fate by either: surrendering to their opponents, starving to death, or cannibalism. No human would choose such a painful way as starvation to die, and it is because humans possess freewill that the Janissaries are able to avoid starvation. This also illustrates the potential each human possesses to perform such horrors not only collectively, but also individually. Humans are in a “state of nature” when their bodies and minds are tested beyond constraints. And, as a reult we rely on our most primitive and barbaric instincts, to behave like what modern society would see as animalistic. When the situation comes down to a struggle for basic human needs a more “primitive” state of mind takes over in order to preserve life.

The adventures of the old woman.
I find this chapter of ‘Candide’ to be the most influential although a bit depressing. Cungonde learns of the misfortune of the old woman. It turns out that she is the daughter of a Pope and a princess. She has endured many hardships and has had many near death experiences. The old woman symbolizes religious hypocrisy and shows Cungonde a lesson by telling her story: no matter how bad things are they could be worse. No matter how much she may have wanted to die her will to survive surpassed her will to die. The old woman is the anchor of the team with all her experiences. She is the one counseling Candide and Cungonde.