Chapter 3 – How Candide Made His Escape from the Bulgars, and What Afterwards Became of Him

1 5 There was never anything so gallant, so spruce, so brilliant, and so well disposed as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, hautboys, drums, and cannon made music such as Hell itself had never heard. The cannons first of all laid flat about six thousand men on each side; the muskets swept away from this best of worlds nine or ten thousand ruffians who infested its surface. The bayonet was also a sufficient reason for the death of several thousands. The whole might amount to thirty thousand souls. Candide, who trembled like a philosopher, hid himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery.
2 3 At length, while the two kings were causing Te Deum to be sung each in his own camp, Candide resolved to go and reason elsewhere on effects and causes. He passed over heaps of dead and dying, and first reached a neighbouring village; it was in cinders, it was an Abare village which the Bulgars had burnt according to the laws of war. Here, old men covered with wounds, beheld their wives, hugging their children to their bloody breasts, massacred before their faces; there, their daughters, disembowelled and breathing their last after having satisfied the natural wants of Bulgarian heroes; while others, half burnt in the flames, begged to be despatched. The earth was strewed with brains, arms, and legs.
3 Candide fled quickly to another village; it belonged to the Bulgars; and the Abarian heroes had treated it in the same way. Candide, walking always over palpitating limbs or across ruins, arrived at last beyond the seat of war, with a few provisions in his knapsack, and Miss Cunegonde always in his heart. His provisions failed him when he arrived in Holland; but having heard that everybody was rich in that country, and that they were Christians, he did not doubt but he should meet with the same treatment from them as he had met with in the Baron’s castle, before Miss Cunegonde’s bright eyes were the cause of his expulsion thence.
4 2 He asked alms of several grave-looking people, who all answered him, that if he continued to follow this trade they would confine him to the house of correction, where he should be taught to get a living.
5 2

The next he addressed was a man who had been haranguing a large assembly for a whole hour on the subject of charity. But the orator, looking askew, said:

“What are you doing here? Are you for the good cause?”

“There can be no effect without a cause,” modestly answered Candide; “the whole is necessarily concatenated and arranged for the best. It was necessary for me to have been banished from the presence of Miss Cunegonde, to have afterwards run the gauntlet, and now it is necessary I should beg my bread until I learn to earn it; all this cannot be otherwise.”

6 3

“My friend,” said the orator to him, “do you believe the Pope to be Anti-Christ?”

“I have not heard it,” answered Candide; “but whether he be, or whether he be not, I want bread.”

“Thou dost not deserve to eat,” said the other. “Begone, rogue; begone, wretch; do not come near me again.”

The orator’s wife, putting her head out of the window, and spying a man that doubted whether the Pope was Anti-Christ, poured over him a full…. Oh, heavens! to what excess does religious zeal carry the ladies.

7 1 A man who had never been christened, a good Anabaptist, named James, beheld the cruel and ignominious treatment shown to one of his brethren, an unfeathered biped with a rational soul, he took him home, cleaned him, gave him bread and beer, presented him with two florins, and even wished to teach him the manufacture of Persian stuffs which they make in Holland. Candide, almost prostrating himself before him, cried:
8 2 “Master Pangloss has well said that all is for the best in this world, for I am infinitely more touched by your extreme generosity than with the inhumanity of that gentleman in the black coat and his lady.”
9 2 The next day, as he took a walk, he met a beggar all covered with scabs, his eyes diseased, the end of his nose eaten away, his mouth distorted, his teeth black, choking in his throat, tormented with a violent cough, and spitting out a tooth at each effort.

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The Candide 2.0 reading experiment has concluded. Please feel free to roam our garden of comments and annotations.

21 Responses to “Chapter 3 – How Candide Made His Escape from the Bulgars, and What Afterwards Became of Him”

When I set out to do a modern stage adaptation of Candide where he travels through America, one of the first things I did was read Susan Neiman’s fine book Evil in Modern Thought, which is a history of how philosophy deals with the problem of evil. This quote guided my process: “The book begins in the Seven Years’ War, in which people really were butchered for no reason whatsoever. The inquisition really did burn strangers in the name of God…women really are raped as a matter of course in wartime.” And after a long list of 18th Century atrocities, including imperialism and the slave trade: “This is all just to say: Candide is short, compressed and satirical, but it isn’t for that reason false. As a description of reality, it’s remarkably accurate. Any good European could have drawn up a similar list of atrocities by reading a newspaper.”

So in the search for relevant modern wars that are insane and confusing for a modern audience, why not try the Balkans? With minor modifications, this passage, as Candide walks through various destroyed villages, could easily apply to the Bosnian conflict (just read the above, exchanging Bulgars and Abarians for Serbian and Bosnian).

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Sorry to interrupt. My name is Candide, and I’m homeless.”

Voltaire has a lot of fun with the principle of sufficient reason, the idea that there is meaning in the universe and that all things happen for a reason (oh, the causes and effects!). Most of the sufferers in Candide say that the world is confusing, violent, and inexplicable, even as priests, monks and philosophers maintain that it all makes perfect sense. Yet this drive to find meaning is actually very active, and powered the philosophy in our adaptation.

These small hypocrisies and minor betrayals are no less relevant, as here, when the man preaching charity refuses to give any and his wife dumps sh*t on Candide’s head. Incorporating this kind of ironic moment into the natural flow of the action was one of the challenges of adaptation – every moment in the book seems to include an example of someone saying one thing while doing the opposite in a particularly delicious way.

This is the first genuinely good person that Candide meets on his journey. He’s like the extra crewmen on Star Trek – you just know this will end badly. The genuinely good people in Candide are not rewarded for their kindness.

Even physical love, a thing that should ideally be unrelentingly good, carries its own curse.

I haven’t seen any of the Star Treks in TV series, film, or novelization forms, but I love this connection to Candide: some characters appear only to disappear in this story because their development matters little to the plot. I read Candide as a pastiche of eighteenth-century stock characters and episodes, and Star Trek works much the same way. So we need some way of reading the stories not in terms of psychological depth but in terms of how they interact in the fast-moving, wide-ranging, highly referential action.

When the most recent Star Trek movie came out, David Hajdu wrote an article for The New York Times about how the original series taught viewers how to understand pop culture pastiche, as the Enterprise traveled to planets based on “common studio back lot locales and sets such as Early 1900 Street, Oriental Village, Cowtown, Border Fort, Victorian Drawing Room, Forest and Streamside,” as Gene Roddenberry wrote in his pitch for the show (quoted in Hajdu’s article).

Hajdu explains how he was mystified by the gangster-movie episode of the show: “Fortunately, my big sister, then already in high school, was on hand to explain the wondrous narrative physics of the episode. I was watching a puzzle made from three things, she said: one, the “Star Trek” I understood; two, a period crime movie our father liked, called “The Roaring Twenties”; and three, the clownish “Soupy Sales Show.”

“I realized years later that I had heard the future in my sister’s cheeky teasing out of the pop-culture influences in one wonderfully, unashamedly preposterous episode of “Star Trek.” Today, my 22-year-old daughter talks that way about everything.

“Ultimately, then, “Star Trek” was prescient not for its futurism, with the Enterprise crew using communicators that look like flip-phones, but for exploring a universe absorbed with pop-culture history.”

In some ways, I think Hajdu’s final quoted sentence is too modest for assessing what Star Trek does well–and for seeing how audiences use their knowledge of cliches, conventions, and narrative arcs to enjoy popular fiction. The “narrative puzzle” of interlocking pieces of narratives, not merely the references or influences, is the genius of the Star Trek referentiality.

I think it’s a useful way to read Candide’s accumulating the tropes of popular forms of writing in the eighteenth century to such a volume as to satirize them: romance, travelogue, philosophical tale, novel, satire. There is a brilliant puzzle of how these forms interact in these short chapters, whether in the interpolated tales they tell which take up whole chapters or in these brief encounters. (And how would it help us understand the action of, say, Jacobean revenge tragedies? What would we miss from reading them in this mode?)

Television syndication, Universal Studios tours and branding, Television Without Pity and other Internet recaps, Comic Con and other special interest conventions have all given us a weirder set of tools for understanding narrative puzzles in literary fiction. We would do well, perhaps, to see what they highlight–and what they obscure–about reading in a new media environment so that we can see what else one can do. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters have their charms (and one can see some new things in them), but how do we expand our reading strategies with a super-referential, puzzle-obsessed way of understanding structure and form?

Kate says:

I have written a few plays, directed them, and read many many more. And if we allow a somewhat loose definition of irony, the theater is full of it, thrives on it. One of the main ways actors keep plays fresh and revelatory is by saying one thing and meaning something utterly different. For instance, using a line that literally expresses love to betray contempt, fear, domination or, well, something quite different from affection. A major part of the exhilaration of being an audience member, I think, is detecting that what is being said is not REALLY what is being said, and perceiving that words do not, in fact, communicate their literal meaning, but rather mask or distract from the heart of the action happening on stage.

Chris Morrow says:

Even violent satire of war can always run aground onto the Truffaut problem.

Not only do we humans (at least those of us lots of testosterone) naturally find war awesome, hence making anti-war storytelling difficult, we find violence funny (“bayonet was also a sufficient reason”), although tastes differ on whether it’s funnier as slapstick or as Voltaire-style dryness.

Somehow, I think there’s something preferable about the second thing, something that actually helps lead to a reduction in violence, but I can’t put my finger on it.

- Chris Morrow (

Chris Morrow says:

While maybe this is because of the translation, I love how we can’t tell which side of that question the couple supports; that is, whether they’re Catholics or Protestants (since it’s Holland, it’s probably the latter). The mere fact that Candide lacks an opinion on the subject is enough to condemn him, period.

- Chris Morrow (

Chris Morrow says:

“How do we know to trust you?”

“Hello? I said my name was Candide.”

- Chris Morrow (

Chris, I think what you’re trying to describe is how the brevity of Volatire’s dry satire makes his description of violence “preferable”. Had Voltaire spent 20 pages, rather than a paragraph, describing the bayonet’s sufficient reason for death and the “heroic carnage” of it all, then we would probably deem him a sociopath. Rather, by condensing this description into one paragraph ridden with litotes and melosis, Voltaire’s message is not only humorous but a profound condemnation of meaningless violence.

Also the phrase is perfectly true: the bayonets WERE sufficient reasons for these peoples deaths, and this fact IS a strong philosophic counterargument against Panglossian optimism. The successful application of scientific logic (cause and effect) to human society in no way guarantees that we will build ‘the best possible’ of all societies. (Besides, I take the acrimonious humour of his formulation to be deeply humane, rather than cynical or splatter-farcical)

compare, for instance, Emir Kusturica’s UNDERGROUND

Also: Throughout the book Voltaire insists on depicting rapes as an integral aspect of warfare. General debate has only quite recently (was it in the the 90’s?) caught up with Voltaire’s unblinkered viewpoint.

It’s interesting that Candide doesn’t notice that its his beloved Pangloss and pays no attention to him and when he find out it is Pangloss he comes rushing to his help. I find it interesting because Candide wants some charity and pity shown towards him when he’s looking for food, but is unable to provide it to someone in a similar situation rather he offers the assistance of another.

Another author who has a lot of fun with sufficient reason is Douglas Adams, who is a contemporary British author. I think there is some irony here as we all know Voltaire is french and the french and english have been at war for as long as wars have existed.

More seriously though, Voltaire is trying to address an apparent lack of reason within the world. During his lifetime he lived through constant strife and when Candide was written the Seven Years War was still going on. War represent the ultimate lack of reason, so of course Voltaire would comment on this.

I find it ironic that just moments before this religious man was preaching to a crowd about charity yet shows no compassion towards Candide in his time of need. Is it fair for a holy man to preach one thing and then not act upon it? His he a hypocrite? Candide technically didn’t even answer his Anti-Christ question with a definite answer so how can the orator and his wife treat him in such a horrible way. This situation should show Candide that we do not live in the best of all worlds but he is too naive to change his views from what Pangloss had told him.

James appears to be one of the more humane characters of the novel, yet he is also well aware of the many faults of society at the time. He is a realist who offers help to those in need and takes action in trying to make his world “the best of all possible worlds,” instead of philosophizing ways in which it could be better.

Concerning timeless ‘heroic butchery’ and sweeping away “from this best of worlds nine or ten thousand ruffians who infested its surface” reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut (another anti-war satirist) and his bumper-sticker I have on my office wall that reads: “YOUR PLANET’S IMMUNE SYSTEM IS TRYING TO GET RID OF YOU”