Monday, 17 December 2012

Book 87 of 2012: Candide, or Optimism

Written by Volatire in the 17th Century, Candide, or Optimism is a satire of a popular philosophical concept of the period known as Optimism. The basis of this theory was that God does everything for a reason and only wants the best for mankind, therefore everything He does is for the good of man, even the bad stuff, because we mere mortals cannot begin to understand how a bad event will fit into the bigger picture. The book was also one of my OU course books for A230 (and I get to write an essay about it, woo hoo!) so there was no getting out of reading it.

It follows the character of Candide who is kicked out of his home by his girlfriend’s father and travels around the world going from one calamity to the other. Along the way he meets up with his former tutor, Pangloss, a proponent of the philosophy of Optimism and gradually run into everyone that they used to know back home, all of whom have been having an equally hard time of it.

I was surprised when I started reading this because I found Oroonoko a real drag and everything about this book suggested that it would be too. It’s about philosophy for a start, one of my least favourite subjects on the planet, it’s from the same sort of period as Oroonoko and deals with similar sorts of subjects. I was expecting this one to feel much the same as Oroonoko. But it was actually kind of good.

It’s amazing how funny Candide has remained today. There were a few moments when I was reading it and found myself thinking ‘am I taking this the wrong way, or is that actually meant to be funny?’ To begin with I thought that I was misunderstanding it, but it is actually that funny. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and is written a little like a fairy story or children’s tale. When you begin it there’s a sense that there’s going to be a moral outcome and it even begins ‘Once upon a time'…’

The notes were useful, though not entirely essential. There was surprisingly little that I struggled to understand, most of the important notes dealt with history and geography that I didn’t know about, so I was grateful for those. I did have the same problem with this book as with Oroonoko in that all the notes are in the back and when you’re reading it’s a little awkward to keep flipping back and forth. The book is divided into chapters, most of which are very short, and I think a different format, like footnotes or end of chapter notes would’ve helped there.

As much as I enjoyed it at the beginning, towards the end it did begin to drag. I get that Voltaire was making a point about how silly it was to say that all bad things happen for a good reason, but everyone just went from one really bad event to another really bad event. Each time another character appeared (or an old one reappeared) you had to go through all the horrible things that had happened to them. Things started to get a little boring for the last quarter of the book.

The philosophy kind of went over my head when I was reading it. I can’t help it, I seem to have this in-built resistance to the subject. I blame the year I had to study it at University when it was done in the most boring way imaginable and we only had three tutors for about ten classes so we were largely left to try and figure things out on our own. We had a very helpful lecturer who when you asked a question would ask it back at you prefixed by ‘what do you think…’ which if you’d known the answer to, you wouldn’t have asked the question. Anyway, enough of my philosophy rage. Once I studied the chapter in the course book, which rather surprisingly dealt quite a lot with the philosophy angle, I think I actually appreciated it a little more. Perhaps because it looked at the historical aspect as well as the philosophical one – I actually found myself explaining it to someone at work one Saturday, which I suppose shows that I’ve taken something in (or that I was seriously sleep deprived after getting up ridiculously early on a Saturday).

It was actually quite a quick read as well. I think that was helped by the really short chapters. You’d think ‘just one more’ and realise that it just finished over the page, so you’d read another and another. I read it in about three days, which took me by surprise as Oroonoko took me longer than that and was a much shorter book. I also found a lot of good quotes in this book. So far I’ve struggled to find quotable passages for my book journal, but this one had loads, which I think shows how much I enjoyed it compared to the other books so far.

‘There goes another one,’ said Cunegone. ‘There will be no pardon now; we are excommunicate, our final hour is at hand. What on earth has got into you, who were born so gentle, to do away with a Jesuit and a prelate in the space of two minutes?’ – ‘My dear young lady,’ replied Candide, ‘when you are in love, and jealous, and have been flogged by the Inquisition, there’s no knowing what you may do.’
Page 22

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let me know what you think. :-)