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Alice Boone, Curator, Candide at 250: Scandal and Success

Pour encourager les autres is another phrase which has traveled out of Candide into popular discourse. Its irony stings in this passage, as Voltaire is referring to the real-life court-martial and execution of Admiral John Byng, who could not hold onto the island of Minorca for the British in a 1756 battle during the Seven Years War. Byng found his ships overmatched by French, and had retreated to secure more might, but he was relieved of his duty before such plans could be put into effect.

Byng wrote an account of the battle, which was published with some redactions in the London Gazette in 1756; the full version can be found online here. The italicized portions of the account were redacted in the original publication, and you can see that these are important for understanding the Admiral’s position:

…“I sent cruisers to look out for the INTREPID and CHESTERFIELD, who joined me next day. And having, from a state and condition of the squadron brought me in, found, that the CAPTAIN, INTREPID, and DEFIANCE (which latter has lost her captain), were much damaged in their masts, so that they were in danger of not being able to secure their masts properly at sea; and also, that the squadron in general were very sickly, many killed and wounded, and nowhere to put a third of their number if I made an hospital of the forty-gun ship, which was not easy at sea; I thought it proper in this situation to call a council of war, before I went again to look for the enemy. I desired the attendance of General Stuart, Lord Effingham, and Lord Robert Bertie, and Colonel Cornwallis, that I might collect their opinions upon the present situation of Minorca and Gibraltar, and make sure of protecting the latter, since it was found impracticable either to succour or relieve the former with the force we had. So, though we may justly claim the victory, yet we are much inferior to the weight of their ships, though the numbers are equal; and they have the advantage of sending to Minorca their wounded, and getting reinforcements of seamen from their transports, and soldiers from their camp; all which undoubtedly has been done in this time that we have been lying to refit, and often in sight of Minorca; and their ships have more than once appeared in a line from our mast-heads.

“I send their Lordships the resolutions of the council of war, in which there was not the least contention or doubt arose. I hope, indeed, we shall find stores to refit us at Gibraltar; and, if I have any reinforcement, will not lose a moment of time to seek the enemy again, and once more give them battle, though they have a great advantage in being clean ships that go three feet to our one, and therefore have their choice how they will engage us, or if they will at all; and will never let us close them, as their sole view is the disabling our ships, in which they have but too well succeeded, though we obliged them to bear up.”
The shooting of Admiral Byng o... Digital ID: 814525. New York Public Library” alt=”The shooting of Admiral Byng” />

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Wow, I had to look up “atrabilious” in the dictionary—to be affected with black bile. It’s a direct translation from the French, but more contemporary translators pick “gloomy” and “melancholy.” Maybe I like Martin’s large, esoteric vocabulary, though!

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It has been suggested that the sheep are guanacos, the red-brown llama-like animals native to the Andes.

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I was struck by Richard A. Brooks’ study on the sources Voltaire used for this South American section of Candide that exotic locales could be somewhat interchangeable in eighteenth-century popular fiction, given the success of contes chinois, contes mongols, contes tartars, and contes indiens among readers. Voltaire had turned to South America before, in his 1736 play Alzire, ou Les Americains. His preface to the play reveals some of the same impulses he would turn into satire twenty years later (from William F. Fleming’s translation):

“In every part of my writings I have endeavored to enforce that humanity which ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of a thinking being: the reader will always find in them (if I may venture to say so much of my own works) a desire to promote the happiness of all men, and an abhorrence of injustice and oppression: it is this, and this alone, which hath hitherto saved them from that obscurity to which their many imperfections would otherwise long since have condemned them.”

Inspired by seeing Alzire, the French writer Madame de Graffigny wrote Lettres d’une Peruvienne, a captivity story of a young Peruvian maiden captured by the Spaniards who narrates letters to her lover. In her introduction to the 1747 book, she cites her influence from Voltaire and Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes—the latter so much so that she mixes up Oriental and Incan references sometimes in the text, much to her English translator’s puzzlement. I was struck by the similarity of language in the Peruvian maiden’s reaction to Spanish guns and the women’s reaction in this passage from Candide. Is this scene conventional? It’s certainly very theatrical, so it may have been a scene that was familiar in stories and plays that could serve as a set piece for writers to adapt:

“Since the moment of horror wherein these impious savages bore me away from the worship of the Sun, from myself, from thy love; retained in strait captivity, deprived of all communication, ignorant of the language of these fierce men, I experience only the effects of misfortune, without being able to discover the cause of it. Plung’d into an abyss of obscurity, my days resemble the most dreadful nights.

“Far from being affected with my complaints, my ravishers are not touch’d even with my tears; equally deaf to my language and to the cries of my despair.

“What people are so savage, as to be unmov’d at the signs of anguish? What dreary desert could produce such human beings, insensible to the voice of groaning nature? O the barbarians, savage masters of the thunder [guns and cannons], and of the power to exterminate; cruelty is the sole guide of their actions.”

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The Journal de Trévoux was a journal published by the Jesuits. Voltaire was a frequent antagonist of the journal, and so he makes his hero worry about his own reputation!

The Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL) has put up an online edition of the Journal so that readers can get a sense of the Enlightenment debates that transpired in its pages.

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This chapter, which in some ways is about the dangers of mistaken cultural translations, has some fascinating translation issues associated with it. For starters, who are what this translator calls the “savages”? Voltaire adapted many details in this chapter and the other South American episodes from Garcilaso de la Vega’s Historia General del Perú (1609). Voltaire’s Orellions are “Orejones” in that text; Robert M. Adams, who translated and wrote notes for the Norton Critical Edition of Candide, adapts that detail even further in his 1966 translation when he calls them “Biglugs” to account for the original Spanish “big ears.”

Richard A. Brooks has written extensively on the subject of Voltaire’s interest in the Historia General del Perú and the <Comentarios reales de las incas; however, these historical details got remixed and conflated in exotic tales of the eighteenth century. Thus Voltaire was drawing on the popularity of contes chinois, contes mongols, contes tartars, and contes indiens in the period; Montesquieu’s 1721 satire Lettres Persanes (Persian Letters) was a model for Voltaire, as were <a href="|Rb13232516″ rel=”nofollow”>other satirical imaginary voyages which commented on French mores by translating the culture to an outsider's (sometimes bewildered, sometimes arch) perspective. This is translation as satire, so Candide's claim, "I understand a little of the jargon of these people," underscores the irony of his other misunderstandings.

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This is a really good point. I was looking at Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs, a universal history of Europe, Africa, the Americas started in the 1740s and published as a three-volume set of 196 chapters in 1756, where he’s trying out some of these critiques in a different form.

In the chapter on the conquest of Peru from the second volume (I’m using the English translation from 1754-57), Voltaire relies on the work of Bartolome de las Casas, the Bishop of Chiapas, who wrote A Short History of the Destruction of the Incas in 1552. For its strong criticism of the Spanish conquistadores, that book was contested as a source for the history of colonization, and Voltaire registers his own skepticism at the same time that he devotes considerable space to detailing the abuses of the native peoples and the importation of African slaves for labor. His critique of religion appears in the first paragraph, in a devastatingly ironic tone to describe the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century:

“As soon as the Inca’s army, and the small body of Castilians came within sight, the latter wanted to have some appearance of religion on their side. A monk named Valverda, who had been made bishop of that country, though it did not belong to them, advances towards the Inca with an interpreter, and a Bible in his hand, and tells him, that he must believe the contents of that book. He then preaches a long sermon to him concerning the several mysteries of Christianity. Historians are not agreed in regard to the reception this sermon met with; but they are unanimous, that it concluded with a battle. …

“The Peruvians worked at those mines for the Spaniards, as the real proprietors. Those slaves were soon assisted by negroes, who were purchased in Africa, and transported to Peru like brute beasts designed for human service. And indeed neither those negroes, nor the inhabitants of the new world, were treated as human creatures. Las Casas, the Dominican, and Bishop of Chiapa, … seized with indignation at the cruelty of his countrymen, and moved to compassion at the extreme misery of such multitudes of people, had the courage to complain thereof to Charles V as well as to his son Philip II; and his memoirs are still preserved. He represents the generality of the Americans as a mild sort of people, and of weak constitutions; a circumstance which naturally fits them for subjection. He says, that the Spaniards viewed this weakness of constitution in no other light than as an opportunity to destroy them; that in Cuba, in Jamaica, and in the neighboring islands, they massacred above 1,200,000 men, just as huntsmen clear a forest of deer. I have been present, says he, in the isle of St Domingo, and in Jamaica, when they have covered the country in gibbets, and hanged those unhappy wretches thirteen in a row, in hour, as they said, of the thirteen apostles. I have seen them give the infants to be devoured by their dogs.

Voltaire continues to relate the Bishop’s story: Thousands of those Americans were employed by the Spaniards as beasts of burden; and when no longer able to walk, they were knocked on the head. In short, the same ocular witness [the Bishop] affirms, that in the islands, and on the Terra Firma, this handful of Europeans murdered above 12,000,000 of Americans. In order to justify yourselves, continues this writer, you pretend, that those wretches had been guilty of human sacrifices; that, for instance, in the temple of Mexico they had sacrificed 20,000 men; I take heaven and earth to witness, that the Mexicans exercising the barbarous right of war, never sacrificed 150 prisoners in their temples.

Voltaire’s note on his source’s story is interesting for the way he accounts for elements of exaggeration for the purpose of strong comparison and highlighted compassion. Voltaire writes, “From the whole that has been said, it may probably be inferred, that the Spaniards greatly exaggerated the depravity of the Mexicans; and that the Bishop of Chiapa was sometimes too liberal of his invectives against his countrymen.”

How do we see Voltaire’s mixture of skepticism and compassion present in these stories of Candide?

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When my English class read The Odyssey, we had to write “missing chapters” of the story—-I think mine was a longer jaunt in the underworld. (This conceit is rendered brilliantly in The Lost Book of the Odyssey, which purports to be fragmentary pieces of the manuscript found in an archaeological dig.) This paragraph seems like a great moment to find the “lost chapters” of Candide: what are the other passengers’ stories of misfortune? What have we learned about how the characters tell stories, and what other directions could one take in recounting misfortune? Would we learn more about the Seven Years War, the slave trade, colonial exploration and trade?

Voltaire has set up the assignment for future sequelists (and teachers!) in making the joke on the title page that Candide was translated from a German manuscript by “Dr. Ralph”; starting in 1761, the joke was extended with the note that the story had been augmented with further materials found in his pocket after Dr. Ralph’s death at Minden in 1761. Some of Candide’s sequels purport to be “found” manuscripts themselves, as though the characters carried on lives outside of the text.

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Pangloss’s principle of sufficient reason vs. the old woman’s notion of misfortune as the principle of sufficient excuse—this is quite a contest of philosophies! Both philosophies depend on different forms of narrative to make their cases: Pangloss’s recursive stories which generate tautologies and the old woman’s piling on of tragic event after tragic event. The conte philosophique is, then, a mixed genre through which we can see different modes of storytelling and explanation in philosophical writing. It’s not just the ideas themselves, but how they’re written out (and re-mixed with elements of other genres such as satire) that give the story its texture. What are some other narrative modes of philosophy that we see in the book?

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Here is the crime procedural part of Candide, the twists and turns of a Law & Order episode reduced to a single paragraph. This is one of my favorite “what might have been?” moments—what if Candide and Cunegonde went on the lam and the story turned into a pursuit novel? As there’s no real narrator of the story, a detective of sorts could pop up to track Candide the gentle hero turned murderer. This is something beyond speculation, of course, as the structure wouldn’t necessarily tolerate an extended plotline such as pursuit, but it’s an interesting way to consider how narrative possibilities are opened and closed at different parts of the story. Large sections of the travels have to be condensed to a paragraph, where other stories take up multiple chapters of exacting detail, as in the old woman’s story. Voltaire has more targets in mind for the next chapters—-the Jesuits in Paraguay—-and, actually, the pursuit novel plot continues in the next chapters as Candide gets into more trouble befitting a man on the run.

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Here Cacambo gives a short history of the Jesuits in South America, who established missions, or reducciones, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Guarani region. Through a deal with the Spanish crown established in 1609, the Jesuits controlled areas of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay for more than 150 years. When the Spanish ceded part of the land to Portugal through the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, the Guarani Indians revolted and fought both governments to maintain their stake in the land.

Voltaire describes a state of poverty and subjugation—but it is noteworthy that he uses the same comparative trope to make his case. In this paragraph Cacambo describes how “the Fathers possess all, and the people nothing” and he uses a similar comparison in a paragraph in this chapter: ”An excellent breakfast was provided in vessels of gold; and while the Paraguayans were eating maize out of wooden dishes, in the open fields and exposed to the heat of the sun.” This is a reflection of the wide gap between those in power and those without, but it’s lacking some of the inventiveness or strangeness that of other satirical passages in the book. There are plenty of details of the Commandant’s excessive wealth that he has extracted from the labor of his subjects, but this attention seems to work at the most obvious level of comparison, without an extra layer of irony.

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The dead do not stay dead for long in Candide. I was interested earlier in how Voltaire signals the fantastic reappearance of so many of his characters who are presumed dead: Pangloss and Cunegonde have both reappeared under mysterious circumstances. The Commandant’s reappearance is called a miracle, perhaps a funny way to account for his newfound religious order. His appearance gets considerable attention in an earlier paragraph: “a very handsome young man, with a full face, white skin but high in colour; he had an arched eyebrow, a lively eye, red ears, vermilion lips, a bold air, but such a boldness as neither belonged to a Spaniard nor a Jesuit.” Cacambo has kept his eye on the Commandant’s horse “for fear of a surprise” but the surprise turns out to be something much stranger!

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Compare the Commandant’s rich lifestyle in Paraguay to his small castle in Westphalia, where there were mostly pigs, and perhaps there is an underlying irony to this attention to his conspicuous consumption.

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The suspension of disbelief takes on heightened language here of wonder added to wonder. The clunky English translation (what is listening in their ears? Their souls? A soul could probably flutter and sparkle, but listening doesn’t seem like the right verb.) is in some ways reflective of the weirdness of the scene, like a parody of a New Age philosophy which elides agency and makes everything happen from its own volition. The French deal with transitive verbs differently: “Chaque mot qu’ils prononcèrent dans cette longue conversation accumulait prodige sur prodige. Leur âme tout entière volait sur leur langue, était attentive dans leurs oreilles, et étincelante dans leurs yeux.”

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This is a fascinating alternate version of Cunegonde’s story from chapters 8 and 9: what was a story about subjugation in Cunegonde’s version becomes a story of favors bestowed in her brother’s. But the favors turn back on themselves because they are part of a corrupt system: in what ways do the stories intersect even as they initially veer away from one another?

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How does the language of this scene correspond with Candide’s previous acts of violence?: “In saying this he drew a long poniard which he always carried about him; and not imagining that his adversary had any arms he threw himself upon Candide: but our honest Westphalian had received a handsome sword from the old woman along with the suit of clothes. He drew his rapier, despite his gentleness, and laid the Israelite stone dead upon the cushions at Cunegonde’s feet.” They are quite similar, as Cunegonde’s and her brother’s stories have intersected at the Candide’s sword.

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One could do a couple of things here as a reader: one could judge Candide as a human character who seems to get into violent trouble often but still wants to consider himself good-natured, or one could wonder at the repetitions that Voltaire has engineered in that three of the two men murdered were priests and make some hypotheses about why these repetitions happen, and why they always seem to happen so suddenly, with little appearance of agency on Candide’s part. Candide doesn’t seem to be a real actor in these deeds: the violence is not pre-meditated, nor is it even mentioned until suddenly a weapon appears. Candide is less a character here than a vessel, perhaps.

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More disguises, more dress-up! It may be useful to make a running list of all the disguises worn in the book: Pangloss the beggar, Candide as a Bulgar soldier early on in his blue-coated military costume, Cunegonde’s veil, and now this religious costume. What is the effect of so many costumes worn by the characters?

When the operetta of Candide opened on Broadway in 1957, it was called a spectacle by fans and detractors alike, and it’s easy to see from the source material that the story is full of masquerades colliding with impersonations of caricatures of drama-queens.

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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

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I’ve been making a list of mentions of how Candide’s characters make references to traveling outside of the text, since they will later transcend time and space to comment on the French Revolution, World War I, and the Beat movement. The old woman’s boast of how “poets in our part of the world” remarked on her beauty seems to be one such reference. I noticed another link out to imaginary acclaim in chapter 2, when the King of the Bulgars pardoned Candide “with a clemency which will bring him praise in all the journals, and throughout all ages.” Are there other such references to imaginary acclaim for the characters in this best of all possible referential worlds?

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Navrose has made a good point about hypocrisy. Voltaire wrote a note in one of his own copies of Candide about this passage and his invention of a Pope Urban X: “Notice how exceedingly discreet our author is. There has so far been no Pope called Urban X. He hesitates to ascribe a bastard to an actual Pope. What Discretion! What a tender conscience he shows!”

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The Seconde partie of Candide was published in 1761; it was one of several unauthorized sequels that formed part of the book’s media event. The NYPL catalog lists the author of this book as Charles-Claude Florent Thorel de Campigneulles, as he was charged with being the anonymous author during the 1760s. Bibliographers and literary historians have discovered that this attribution was a joke, however, somewhat on par with Voltaire’s joke of attributing Candide to the fictitious Dr. Ralph, who translated the book from the German and who died at Minden in 1761. Thorel de Campigneulles did exist, but his philosophical leanings opposed the parodic conte philosophique of the Seconde partie. The book is now attributed to Henri-Joseph du Laurent. This misattribution indicates how library catalogs are perhaps unprepared to deal with irony stacked on top of irony: if we can wrap our heads around a writer with a pen name making up another author and a “found” manuscript, we cannot quite deal with an extra layer of joke attribution of a parodic sequel to a real person.

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‘Embarrassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed.’ Calvino’s celebration of Klee’s work is a lovely example of a mixed media conversation among writers: the author Voltaire, the artist Klee, and the critic Calvino seem to be discussing how characters work in the story, how action propels the plot forward at frantic pace, how the narrative works. In the academic study Paul Klee’s Pictorial Writing, K. Porter Aichele reads Klee’s illustrations of the story as a broadening of Klee’s artistic sensibilities, a way of testing ideas about media and modernism:

“Klee’s sustained engagement with narrative over his lifetime would seem to be at odds with a professed commitment to the modernist agenda. The legacy of modernism’s bias against story telling was summed up by Walter Benjamin when he observed that ‘there is embarrassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed.’ … In public statements such as “Creative Credo,” Klee declared his allegiance to modernism even as he was perpetuating the stubbornly persistent narrative tradition in his visual practice. That he was neither embarrassed nor apologetic about this apparent paradox could indicate a pragmatic decision to ignore it—-or, more likely, a considered effort to rethink the role of narrative in contemporary art.”

As the old woman’s teaser about her wounds has aroused the curiosity of her listeners, how does her willingness (her lack of embarrassment) propel the story forward? How does it compare to how Nicole Horejsi has described how Cunegonde is able to “relate a story that would otherwise be nonnarratable, and enables her to live her life without the stigma of violation”?

As these spaces for digital marginalia allow others to extend the critical conversation, it’s fascinating to compare how others have interacted with the text. Aichele’s notes on Klee’s own Candide marginalia show a multicolored system:

“There is documentary as well as visual evidence that Klee’s illustrations were the result of calculated effort rather than uninhibited inspiration. A heavily underlined and richly annotated copy of Candide in Klee’s personal library offers valuable insights into his working method. To keep track of his responses over the course of several readings, he marked the text with no fewer than four different graphic instruments (a graphite and a soft blue pencil, as well as two pens, one with a sharp point and black ink, the other with a broad nib and violet ink. In every instance marked those sections he chose to illustrate with an X in the margins, carefully underlining the passages he quoted as the working titles of his drawings, which were subsequently published without titles. Marginal notations in French and German indicate that Klee was attentive to varying both the number of figures and the props that specify settings.”

These details about archival materials are always interesting to me because they suggest a couple of other narratives: about a reader’s marks on a book, about a researcher’s excitement at finding such notes and interpreting them, about a preservation office’s work to keep them legible for future readers… So what do these digital marginalia provide that’s different from these archives of personal, private notation systems? One answer may be in the opportunity for conversation, a way to make those markings public and interactive… In this way we make a loop back to Candide’s and Cunegonde’s interaction with the old woman as she tells her story.

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Some lead-off questions for discussion: What details strike you about the old woman’s narration of her story in chapters 11 and 12 if you were thinking of it as an oral history about traumatic events? How does the old woman’s history of her experiences play with conventions of self-definition, exaggeration, reversal, sentimentality? How do these features combine and contrast with one another in the narrative: when does sentimentality pair well with exaggeration? How does she build up to her reversals of fortune?

How would you contrast this story to a testimony in real life? In recent years, we have seen the memoir genre grow in popularity, and with it comes an interest in highly titillating stories as well as an even greater interest in how these stories get exaggerated or even made up. The old woman’s story is fiction, of course, but it also contains some signals about the way that any narrative introduces some amount of artifice to a story. To insist on some Platonic ideal of truth all the time is to deny this aspect of how we relate to stories we’ve already heard (there are conventions to most stories) and to the ways we’re used to making sense of events. Oral history is about telling one’s own story, but it is also about the relationship of that story to others, and we can see some of those conventions for relation in these two chapters.

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Of course doubling the suffering is the only way one follow Cunegonde’s story. Nicole Horejsi pointed out in chapter 8 that the women of Candide will all have stories of violence to tell and I wonder how this element of competition (is it comic, tragic, or both?) changes the way we think about how the women’s stories work. Cunegonde’s suffering has already been doubled as she has been shared between two men. When she introduces the possibility of exaggeration, or at the very least some level of narrative un-reality to having two mothers cut to pieces before one’s very eyes, she takes the story toward something that’s more like a testimony of group suffering. In drawing attention to how no single woman could endure all these hardships, she presents the possibility of speaking for a whole group–in the form of a highly personal story of one’s origins. We have gone from a “non-narratable” kind of story about rape to one that can be crafted and retold–and compared. This is not a sentimental mode (although there will be such stories later in the book), so what do we make of the comparison?

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On to the next story! Italo Calvino noted this automatic storytelling in his essay “Candide: An Essay in Velocity,” the introduction to a 1974 Italian edition featuring reprints of Paul Klee’s 1920 drawings (the essay was reprinted in Calvino’s <a href=”|Rb10994772|”>The Uses of Literature [1987, translated by Patrick Creagh]). Calvino delights in how Klee’s “wiry figures, animated by an eel-like mobility, flex and writhe in a dance of whiplash nimbleness” and compares the drawings to music and film as a signal of how the story cannot be contained in just one medium. Voltaire’s characters take on a life of their own through some propulsive plot-seeking, not psychological depth. Calvino writes,

“In Candide today it is not the ‘philosophical tale’ that most enchants us, or the satire, or the emergence of amoral or a vision of the world: it is the sheer pace of the thing. With lightness and rapidity a whole series of disasters, tortures, and massacres scampers across the page, bounds from chapter to chapter, is ramified and multiplied, without afflicting the reader’s emotions with any effect but that of an exhilarating and primordial vitality. … Voltaire’s great discovery as a humorist was destined to become one of the sure-fire effects of comic films—-the high-speed accumulation of disasters. And there is no lack of sudden accelerations of pace that carry the sense of the absurd to the point of paroxysm, as when the series of disasters already told so swiftly ‘in full’ is repeated in résumé at breakneck speed. What Voltaire predicts with his lightning ‘shots’ is a great world-embracing movie, Around the World in Eighty Pages…

Calvino’s description of multiplication and ramification seems exactly right, given the old woman’s multiplication of her wounds in the previous paragraph. If this pacing is cinematic, why don’t we see more attempts to film it? Bernstein’s operetta was called a spectacle in its positive and negative reviews when it premiered in 1956/7: how does this velocity work on the stage, with a relatively limited set for such breakneck movement?

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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.

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The old woman will provide multiple chapters worth of explanation in a few chapters’ time, so her reticence here is an interesting introduction. Pangloss’s optimistic explanations are repetitive to the point of absurdity, and Candide heightens the effect by repeating them. The old woman’s refuses to explain or answer questions, and so Candide must mimic her, too.

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This is an interstitial chapter, a link between Candide’s adventures after leaving Westphalia and Cunegonde’s recounting of what happened to her during that same time. It’s one of the few “slow build” chapters, in that its direction is not clear until the end of the chapter, when the mysterious old woman unveils Cunegonde. Let’s keep track of the other instances in the text in which a character reappears (rather than appears suddenly or disappears abruptly)–and there will be several more. Are there stylistic features which give some hint of the surprise recognition? For example, when Candide meets his former tutor in beggar’s clothes in chapter 4, Pangloss is a “spectre” (le fantôme in the original French). The old woman seems similarly unknowable here–she is kind but offers no explanations for her actions initially. Their reappearances require some suspension of disbelief, some smiling at the magical circumstances that have caused them to come back from seeming death. Are these magic moments matched with hints of mystery in other instances in the story?

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“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.”

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“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.

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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…

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Henri Joseph du Laurent, the author of the sequel to Candide published in 1761, parodies this passage when he has Candide encounter a bevy of veiled beauties in his Oriental travels. The hero is taken to an exotic pleasure den, where they dance for him and he finds “secret charms” he had never imagined. “At a certain signal, their veils dropt,” goes the story, and Candide can barely contain himself. When the music and the dancing stop, “the silence brings Candide to himself. The frenzy of love takes possession of his soul. He gazes with inexpressible avidity. He kisses their white hands, and ventures to touch their still whiter necks.”

What had been a touching moment of unveiling and ineffable feeling in Candide becomes a pastiche of Oriental exoticism, and poor Cunegonde (grown ugly at the end of Candide for all that she has endured) suffers in the comparison.

“Our philosopher contemplates with attention one of a more delicate shape and majestic deportment than the rest; but throws his handkerchief to a young nymph whose languishing eyes seemed particularly to court his affection, and whose beauty was improved by her blushes. The eunuch instantly opened the door of an aparment which was consecrated to the mysteries of love. The lovers entered, and now the eunuch said to his master, You are going to be happy. Oh, replied Candide, I hope I am.

“The ceiling and walls of this delightful chamber were covered with mirrors, and in the middle stood a couch of black satin: here he seated the fair Circassian, and began to undress her with inconceivable alertness. The good creature did not interrupt him, except to express her affection by her kisses. O, my Lord, said she, like a true Mahometan, how happy you have made your slave! How you honour her by your transports! These few words charmed our philosopher. He was lost in ecstasy, and every thing he beheld was entirely new to him. What difference between Cunegonde grown ugly, and violated by the Bulgar heroes, and a young Circassian of eighteen, who was never ravished! This was the first time that poor Candide had tasted pleasure. The objects which he devoured were repeated in the glass. Which way soever he turned his eyes, he saw the black satin contrasted with the whitest skin in the universe. He beheld—-but I am obliged to comply with the false delicacy of our language. Let it suffice to say, that our philosopher was completely happy.”

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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?

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French cartoonist Georges Wolinski interprets this war scene as encompassing several centuries of violence: Mickey Mouse lies on top of a pile of bodies. It may be useful to compare Wolinski’s career as a satirist to Voltaire’s: since the 1960s, Wolinski has contributed work to Hara-Kiri, Charlie Hebdo, L’Enragé, Libération, Paris-Match, and other publications. Hara-Kiri’s sexually explicit and gross-out covers, not to mention its satirical attacks on the government, church, and other institutions, made it the target of French government censors in the 1960s. The satire magazine Charlie Hebdo’s title comes from Charles de Gaulle–and Charlie Brown, reflecting its breadth of cultural references from which to draw its critiques. (That magazine reappeared as source of boundary-pushing social commentary in 2006 when its publisher Philippe Val reprinted the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, along with its own cartoons in response to the controversy.)

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The Abares are a Scythian tribe meant to stand in for the French, as the Bulgars stand in for the Prussians in this setting in the Seven Years War.

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Candide, flâneur: Terry Southern used Candide as the loose structure/inspiration for his 1958 sex farce sendup, Candy, co-authored with Mason Hoffenberg. In his book about the Candy controversy, The Candy Men, Southern’s son Nile describes the tenuous connection to Voltaire’s story. For the first edition, Southern chose an epigram that combined the first sentence of this chapter with the first sentence of this paragraph, turning Candide into a wandering hero of his times: “Candide, chassé du paradis terrestre, marcha longtemps sans savoir où. Candide, tout stupéfait, ne démêlait pas encore trop bien comment il était un héros.”

Southern’s publisher, Maurice Girodias, got around British censors — who had banned the book for obscenity — by changing the title to Lollipop and tweaking a few details. Details small and large had been changed; there was a pseudonymous author (Maxwell Kenton) and the dedication had been misspelled slightly. The Voltaire quotation was misattributed to Rimbaud, as though the flâneur’s soul had transmigrated to its most famous practitioner. Later editions had an epigram from Voltaire’s L’Ingenu: “Elle ne savait pas combien elle était verteuse dans le crime qu’elle se reprochait.” Candy is certainly an ingénue. Southern’s papers are located in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at NYPL.

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In his 1998 translation of Candide for the Bedford Series for History and Culture, Daniel Gordon corrects a frequent translation error in giving Candide’s height: the pied du roi in the Ancien Regime was .324 meters, and thus Candide is actually between 5’10” and 5’11”. Gordon notes that René Pomeau had corrected this error in his critical edition from 1959, but the error is still transmitted in many contemporary translations.

The error is especially ironic given Voltaire’s satire on methods of measurement in his conte philosophique Micromegas (1752): “Certain algebraists, persons ever useful to the public, will at once reach for their pen and find that since Mr Micromegas, inhabitant of the land of Sirius, measure twenty-four thousand paces from head to toe, which is the equivalent of one hundred and twenty thousand French feet, and since we, the citizens of the earth, measure barely five, and since our globe has a circumference of nine thousand leagues, will find, I say, that it necessarily follows that the globe which produced him must be exactly twenty-one million, six hundred thousand times greater in circumference than our little Earth. In nature nothing could be simpler or more commonplace.” (I am using Roger Pearson’s translation of Micromegas by Oxford University Press, 1990, 2006)

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The anonymous translator of this 1918 edition has translated Bulgarians too literally, and incorrectly: “Bulgars” is a pun on buggery, and Voltaire refers to the blue-coated Prussian army. NYPL’s Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Costume Illustration is a digital gallery of uniforms and regimental regalia dating from the Bronze Age through the nineteenth century. It is an amazing collection to browse through, not least because it is a testament to a single collector’s interest in amassing 762 scrapbooks of plates from books and magazines, watercolor illustrations, and pencil drawings. The Prussian army is well represented, as in this hand-colored drawing of soldier and this action scene, obviously a print cut from a book, which could illustrate Candide’s regimental training.

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Voltaire punned on Bulgar and buggery–a schoolboy joke about Frederick the Great–when he named the Prussian army the Bulgars. This pun did not make it past some early translators, including the anonymous translator of this 1918 edition, who translates them as Bulgarian soldiers (Candide goes to fight the Abars, or the French army, at the end of the chapter, and that reference is noted correctly in a translator’s footnote). We have taken the editorial prerogative to replace the translator’s Bulgarians with Bulgars–a correction that seems to reflect some of the absurdity of Candide’s linguistic adaptability on his globe-trotting that will follow. The Bulgar/Bulgarian mistranslation appears in American composer George Antheil’s unfinished score for a musical version of Candide, currently on display in the Wachenheim exhibition. Antheil’s manuscript trails off before Candide can leave Bulgaria, although there is a striking martial chant about the best of all possible worlds to be sung by the soldiers, be they Prussian or Bulgarian or something else.

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  1. Ade1a (2)
  2. Alice Boone, Curator, Candide at 250: Scandal and Success (40)
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  19. Eric Palmer, Allegheny College, editor of the Broadview Editions 'Candide' (3)
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  27. James Basker, Richard Gilder Professor of Literary History, Barnard College (5)
  28. James Morrow, author The Last Witchfinder, The Philosopher's Apprentice (23)
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  30. Joe Haldeman (1)
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  50. Nicholas Cronk, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford (4)
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  52. Nicole Horejsi, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University (11)
  53. Nile Southern (1)
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  57. Samantha Morse (3)
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  59. Sean Murray, Intrigued Student (1)
  60. Shelley (1)
  61. Stanton Wood, playwright, Candide Americana (13)
  62. Tom Gilbert (5)
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  65. Victor Uszerowicz (1)
  66. Wataru Hoeltermann, Student at MDC (1)
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