Chapter 8 – The History of Cunegonde

1 3 “I was in bed and fast asleep when it pleased God to send the Bulgars to our delightful castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh; they slew my father and brother, and cut my mother in pieces. A tall Bulgar, six feet high, perceiving that I had fainted away at this sight, began to ravish me; this made me recover; I regained my senses, I cried, I struggled, I bit, I scratched, I wanted to tear out the tall Bulgar’s eyes—not knowing that what happened at my father’s house was the usual practice of war. The brute gave me a cut in the left side with his hanger, and the mark is still upon me.”
2 3

“Ah! I hope I shall see it,” said honest Candide.

“You shall,” said Cunegonde, “but let us continue.”

“Do so,” replied Candide.

3 1

Thus she resumed the thread of her story:

“A Bulgar captain came in, saw me all bleeding, and the soldier not in the least disconcerted. The captain flew into a passion at the disrespectful behaviour of the brute, and slew him on my body. He ordered my wounds to be dressed, and took me to his quarters as a prisoner of war. I washed the few shirts that he had, I did his cooking; he thought me very pretty—he avowed it; on the other hand, I must own he had a good shape, and a soft and white skin; but he had little or no mind or philosophy, and you might see plainly that he had never been instructed by Doctor Pangloss. In three months time, having lost all his money, and being grown tired of my company, he sold me to a Jew, named Don Issachar, who traded to Holland and Portugal, and had a strong passion for women. This Jew was much attached to my person, but could not triumph over it; I resisted him better than the Bulgar soldier. A modest woman may be ravished once, but her virtue is strengthened by it. In order to render me more tractable, he brought me to this country house. Hitherto I had imagined that nothing could equal the beauty of Thunder-ten-Tronckh Castle; but I found I was mistaken.

4 “The Grand Inquisitor, seeing me one day at Mass, stared long at me, and sent to tell me that he wished to speak on private matters. I was conducted to his palace, where I acquainted him with the history of my family, and he represented to me how much it was beneath my rank to belong to an Israelite. A proposal was then made to Don Issachar that he should resign me to my lord. Don Issachar, being the court banker, and a man of credit, would hear nothing of it. The Inquisitor threatened him with an auto-da-fé. At last my Jew, intimidated, concluded a bargain, by which the house and myself should belong to both in common; the Jew should have for himself Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and the Inquisitor should have the rest of the week. It is now six months since this agreement was made. Quarrels have not been wanting, for they could not decide whether the night from Saturday to Sunday belonged to the old law or to the new. For my part, I have so far held out against both, and I verily believe that this is the reason why I am still beloved.
5 1 “At length, to avert the scourge of earthquakes, and to intimidate Don Issachar, my Lord Inquisitor was pleased to celebrate an auto-da-fé. He did me the honour to invite me to the ceremony. I had a very good seat, and the ladies were served with refreshments between Mass and the execution. I was in truth seized with horror at the burning of those two Jews, and of the honest Biscayner who had married his godmother; but what was my surprise, my fright, my trouble, when I saw in a san-benito and mitre a figure which resembled that of Pangloss! I rubbed my eyes, I looked at him attentively, I saw him hung; I fainted. Scarcely had I recovered my senses than I saw you stripped, stark naked, and this was the height of my horror, consternation, grief, and despair. I tell you, truthfully, that your skin is yet whiter and of a more perfect colour than that of my Bulgar captain. This spectacle redoubled all the feelings which overwhelmed and devoured me. I screamed out, and would have said, ‘Stop, barbarians!’ but my voice failed me, and my cries would have been useless after you had been severely whipped. How is it possible, said I, that the beloved Candide and the wise Pangloss should both be at Lisbon, the one to receive a hundred lashes, and the other to be hanged by the Grand Inquisitor, of whom I am the well-beloved? Pangloss most cruelly deceived me when he said that everything in the world is for the best.
6 2 “Agitated, lost, sometimes beside myself, and sometimes ready to die of weakness, my mind was filled with the massacre of my father, mother, and brother, with the insolence of the ugly Bulgar soldier, with the stab that he gave me, with my servitude under the Bulgar captain, with my hideous Don Issachar, with my abominable Inquisitor, with the execution of Doctor Pangloss, with the grand Miserere to which they whipped you, and especially with the kiss I gave you behind the screen the day that I had last seen you. I praised God for bringing you back to me after so many trials, and I charged my old woman to take care of you, and to conduct you hither as soon as possible. She has executed her commission perfectly well; I have tasted the inexpressible pleasure of seeing you again, of hearing you, of speaking with you. But you must be hungry, for myself, I am famished; let us have supper.”
7 They both sat down to table, and, when supper was over, they placed themselves once more on the sofa; where they were when Signor Don Issachar arrived. It was the Jewish Sabbath, and Issachar had come to enjoy his rights, and to explain his tender love.

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

11 Responses to “Chapter 8 – The History of Cunegonde”

I spoke to Harolyn Blackwell, who played Cunegonde on Broadway in the 1997 revival of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, about her thoughts on the heroine. We talked about how Cunegonde is a fuller role in the operetta. “There’s a more optimistic look on life for Cunegonde. She goes through all these tribulations…” She began to sing lines from the final song of the show, “Make Our Garden Grow”: “I thought the world was sugarcake…”

“Yes, we both thought that,” Blackwell explained, taking on the voice of Cunegonde as she reminds Candide what they have both learned on their travels. “But this is what life is about. Through that optimism there’s a practical way of living.”

Cunegonde’s rape and subjugation become a show-stopping aria, “Glitter and Be Gay” in Bernstein’s operetta. In Voltaire’s telling, Cunegonde takes control of the story as she narrates her story for two chapters. In Bernstein’s operetta, she rules the stage. “I think ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ says it all,” said Blackwell. Here Blackwell became Cunegonde once again: she sang the lyrics of the song as her explanation of the character. Think of these annotations for this chapter as musical annotations…

“Everything around her is disaster,” said Blackwell. “This dire, dire circumstance of her family being killed, she has seen Candide tortured…

Forced to bend my soul,
To a sordid role.

“Maybe I can have the jewels, the champagne, that extensive wardrobe,” Blackwell explains Cunegonde’s attempt to make sense of the situation. “Perhaps it is ignoble to complain. She goes back and forth!” This is the virtuosic part of the song, when Cunegonde tries to convince herself of how she’ll “show her noble stuff, by being bright and cheerful.”

Pearls and ruby rings
Ah, how can worldly things
Take the place of honor lost?
Can they dry my tears?
Can they blind my eyes to shame?

“The lyrics are great,” Blackwell says as she’s remembering the lines and acting out Cunegonde’s story. “They really do say it all.” I ask if the aria’s virtuosity is the musical equivalent of all those baubles, where any actress can glitter and be gay. “Yes, exactly! That’s it. It’s an endurance piece.”

I also love this interpretation of “Glitter and Be Gay” from Robert Carsen’s production of Candide which has toured Europe over the past several years.

The song becomes associated with Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (and Madonna’s “Material Girl” music video). The reference could not be reversed: neither of those iconic actresses could take on the high notes in “Glitter and Be Gay.” Marilyn was famous for her breathy coo; Madonna was once famously compared to “Minnie Mouse on helium.” I would really, really like to hear Mariah Carey’s take on “Glitter and Be Gay,” though, given her past history… she has sung some thematically similar version of this song on Butterfly and The Emancipation of Mimi.

The matter-of-factness with which Voltaire describes Cunegonde’s rape is chilling: although she doesn’t realize it at the time, rape is “the usual practice of war.” This is one of the many interesting moments in the text where fiction approaches reality. Although Cunegonde’s narrative is rather fantastic, rape itself is only surprising in its banality, especially in the context of warfare. As we will learn moving forward, almost all of the main female characters are subject to sexual violence of some kind.

As a longtime reader of classical and neoclassical texts, I find Cunegonde’s relation here fascinating. Her insistence that “A modest woman may be ravished once, but her virtue is strengthened by it” flies in the face of literary representations of rape from antiquity through the eighteenth century. The classical standard, of course, is the chaste Lucretia, the Roman matron raped by Sextus Tarquinius, the corrupt son of the last king of Rome, who desired to violate Lucretia because of her reputation for virtue. Lucretia then committed suicide in order to preserve her modesty. Frequently, the raped woman is an insupportable anomaly, especially when women’s sexual value is determined by their virginity or marital chastity.

But Cunegonde insists that her virtue stems from her modesty, a personal rather than physical quality, a distinction that clearly separates the violation of her “self” from the violation of her “body.” This fairly unusual move has important consequences: it both allows Cunegonde to relate a story that would otherwise be nonnarratable, and enables her to live her life without the stigma of violation. That Cunegonde is raped and doesn’t die undermines familiar narratives in which the modest, raped heroine perishes in order to maintain the fiction of bodily sexual virtue.

Rinku Skaria says:

The horror and terrifying circumstances that Cunegonde was in seem a bit absurd. The inferiority of women to men is visibly evident in the previous lines. She is treated as an object that can be sold and traded. The situation becomes even stranger and to a sense comical when Candide’s responds to the description of the wound on her thigh, “I hope I shall see it.” This line not only adds comical relief, but also represents his primitive stage of his reeducation toward evil and equality.

It is almost incredible that a person that has suffered as many indignities and losses as Cunegonde would find something as innocent as a kiss as reason enough to cling to life. Her reunion with Candide is like an opiate, which eases the pain of her dreadful experiences. The mention of something as mundane as hunger exemplifies her continuous physical and spiritual will to endure.

Bree Vore says:

I have found this as an interesting and reoccurring theme throughout the novel. I think that this is a main topic Voltaire is satirizing. The specific instance fiction does not meet reality through the process in which Cunegonde strictly reacts to the situation. The characters through the entire novel seem to not be aware of the actions that they have done or have been done to them. Another instance of this is in Chapter 15 when Candide killed his former master and says “I’m the kindest man in the world, yet I have already killed three men”. After stating this he flees and the book moves forward. Voltaire uses this non-luminary device to add a sense of humor to the novel

Chris Bruce says:

Voltaire’s blunt presentation of this chilling scene, which was all too common in war, satirizes the propensity of humans to rationalize violent acts as “usual”.

With this you see Candide’s ignorance and naiveté. After Cunegonde’s outbreak of the horrors that has taken place once Candide was exiled, Candide chooses a rather frivolous way of responding. most people would have apologized for what has happened or feel remorse but it seems as though Candide doesn’t grasp the severity of what has happened; it’s almost as if he feels that since she is alive, all is well. This contrast gives a powerful stance on the injustice of the role of the woman, which you see more of with the story of the old woman, for men cannot understand the situations a woman will find herself in especially in times of war.