Banned Book Highlight: “Candide” by Voltaire

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Title page for "Candide" by Voltaire. (Photo courtesy of Digital Collections at the University of Maryland on flickr)

“Candide” is a French tale of reasonable note with a long history of upsetting religious figures. Voltaire, who authored the text, was so astonished by the outrage surrounding the book that he did not initially claim it as his own for quite some time.

Those who know the story can recall the catchphrase developed out of it: “Let us eat the Jesuit… let us eat him up,” which is likely where much of the outrage originated from.

The literary work, which has been mostly forgotten in the present, begs the question of whether or not the Roman Catholic Church was successful in its ban of the text.

After all, few people today recognize the story’s significance.

“Candide” is the story of a young man living his life of ease in Westphalia within the Castle of Baron Thunder-Ten-Tronckh. Candide, beset with allure for Lady Cunégonde, is banished from the castle into the troubled world after a passionate encounter he has with the Lady.

Through his voyages with the philosopher Pangloss and every person he befriends along the way, Candide is present for many of the major events of the mid-1700s and even ventures to fantastical locations such as El Dorado and the other corners of the unexplored globe.

To give you a greater understanding of why this book was banned first by the religious and political figures of Voltaire’s native France and eventually the United States, we should define what these individuals objected to.

The story is filled with thinly veiled sexual encounters and some editions of “Candide” had illustrations of what was happening within the scene.

The book also references the Inquisition and paints those called to divinity in the lord partaking in impure behaviors, such as a pope who has children, a homosexual Jesuit and an inquisitor with a mistress.

Voltaire, born François-Marie Arouet, was taught by Jesuits and had been dissatisfied with French society. He often took to satirizing prominent French figures and was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1717 and was forced to flee Paris after his 1734 published work, which endorsed the English governance system.

As he lived in the countryside with Émilie du Châtelet, Voltaire was inspired to pursue a career of literary success that would take him as far as Berlin and eventually, Geneva where the concept for “Candide” was born.

Originally, Voltaire’s “Candide” was banned by the Greater Council of Geneva and Paris outright upon its publication. Nevertheless, 30,000 copies were sold and many believe the book helped define the era.

Personally, I read this book in middle school, where the story of “Candide” was taught as a coming of age story against a backdrop that stood in contrast to other similar tales. It was likened to Homer’s “Odyssey,” which also subtly utilized world events to play on the audiences’ common knowledge of such events.

When I reread the book in high school out of choice, I picked it up and finished it in one sitting. In my rediscovery of the book, I found subtle details I had not picked up on in the past as is often the case. There is real meaning to the story, beyond the sexual innuendos, violence and mankind’s depravity.

Within its pages the book tells a story that is both common and not. Instead of living in a world with the expectation that everything has a meaning and we are given a preordained destiny, it teaches of self-responsibility and instructs the cultivation of our own gardens so to speak — to take up your own life and improve it through your own actions.

William Bernard is a sophomore in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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