Candide - Voltaire's Writing Style


In Candide, Voltaire uses many writing techniques which can also 
be found in the works of Cervantes, Alighieri, Rabelais and Moliere. 
The use of the various styles and conventions shows that, despite the 
passage of centuries and the language differences, certain writing 
techniques will always be effective.

 One common literary technique is the author's use of one or more 
of his characters as his 'voice' to speak out the authors views on a 
certain subject. For instance, in Moliere's Tartuffe, the author uses 
the character of Cleante to speak out against religious hypocrites 
(page 1419, lines 99-102):

Nothing that I more cherish and admire
Than honest zeal and true religious fire.
So there is nothing that I find more base
Than specious piety's dishonest face.

In Candide, Voltaire makes use of several characters to voice his 
opinion mocking philosophical optimism. On page 1594, Candide is 
asking a gentleman about whether everything is for the best in the 
physical world as well as the moral universe. The man replies:

...I believe nothing of the sort. I find that everything goes wrong in 
our world; that nobody knows his place in society or his
duty, what he's doing or what he ought to be doing, and that outside 
of mealtimes...the rest of the day is spent in useless
quarrels...-it's one unending warfare.

 By having this character take on such a pessimistic tone, he 
directly contradicts the obviously over-optimistic tone of Candide.
In the conclusion (page 1617) an old turk instructs Candide in the 
futility of needless philosophizing by saying that "...the work
keeps us from three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty." In each 
of these examples, the character chosen by the author comes across as 
a reasonable and respectable person, making the author's point of view 
seem just as reasonable and respectable. 

 Another technique Voltaire uses in Candide is that of taking 
actual people and events and weaving into his work of fiction. He 
often does this to mock or ridicule his political and literary 
adversaries, as shown in the conversation between the abbe' and the 
Parisian supper guests (page 1593). The abbe' mentions two critics who
in Voltaires time have criticized his work. The critics are referred 
to as boring and impudent by the supper guests. In much the same 
manner Alighieri, in The Divine Comedy, has placed many of his enemies 
in various circles of Hell. In one instance (page 797), Dante himself 
pushes one of his political enemies back down into the swampy waters 
of the river Styx. In Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais mentions a 
series of text books which are a part of the sort of educational 
curriculum that he is satirizing. He ridicules their use in that it 
takes Gargantua so long to learn simple tasks such as memorizing the 
alphabet. In each of these cases, the authors are able to speak out 
against people or practices in a way less confrontational than public 
speaking, as well as state their opinion in a form where they cannot 
be immediately contradicted.

 Voltarie has occasion to use the comedic style of exaggeration 
in Candide, such as the Baron's sister refusing to marry Candide's 
father because he can only prove seventy-one quarterings of his family 
tree. Later, Candide is sentenced to receive a flogging for having 
deserted the Bulgar army. He must make thirty-six passes through the 
gauntlet of two thousand troops. More outlandish examples of 
exaggeration can be found in Gargantua and Pantagruel, such as the 
size of Gargantua's mare (as big as six elephants) or the weight of 
his dumbbells (each one is eight hundred and five tons). Beside being 
entertaining to read, these exaggerations serve to point out the 
ridiculousness of an ideal by showing it in a preposterous light.

 The format in which Candide is written closely resembles that of 
Cervante's Don Quixote. In both books, the authors have chosen to name 
each chapter in a descriptive style; the name of the chapter tends to 
be a brief description of the action that is to take place within it. 
Compare chapter three of Don Quixote, "Of the amusing manner in which 
Don Quixote had himself dubbed a knight." with chapter three of 
Candide, "How Candide Escaped from the Bulgars, and What Became of 
Him". Alighieri uses this method in The Divine Comedy as well,
although on a much less descriptive level. Each of the cantos in his 
Divine Comedy has short three or four word descriptions of what 
happens in the canto. Many chapters in Candide end with some sort of 
lead-in to the next chapter, giving the book a certain feel similar to 
today's television serials. This method is used in Don Quixote 
(chapter 8), but in a much more dramatic fashion. Just as Don Quixote 
is about to go into battle with the Biscayan, the action is abruptly 
halted by the narrator who describes how the 'original' author had not 
finished the story, but that a 'second' author had picked up where the 
first left off and the action continues in the next chapter. While 
Cervantes may have been poking fun at this method by useing it in such 
an exaggerated manner, both he and Voltaire use it effectively to keep 
the reader's attention and make him want to read on to find
out what happens next.

 In Candide, the story is written such that the main character 
and usually one or more companions have set out on a great journey 
filled with adventures. It is in this journey that Candide's outlook 
on life is challenged; he is forced to become less optimistic about 
this world being the best of all possible worlds. Similarly, in The 
Divine Comedy, Dante goes on a journey as well; through Hell, 
Purgatory and Heaven with his guide Virgil. Through his travels he is 
shown the error of other men's ways, serving to remind him of his own 
sins and to put him back on the right path in life. In Don Quixote, 
the would-be knight-errant sets out with his sidekick Sancho Panza on 
an adventure too; determined to right wrongs and save damsels in 
distress. Through the harsh realities of life he eventually comes out 
of his insanity and sees that his way of life in his modern world is 
outdated and obsolete. In placing their characters in these adventures 
the authors demonstrate that, through experience with real-world 
situations, these men trying to live by some outdated or far-fetched 
ideal soon learn the error in their reasoning and adapt themselves to 
the author's way of thinking.

 From these examples it can be seen how Voltaire, a writer from 
the Enlightenment period, uses methods from writers centuries before 
him to effectively communicate his point to his contemporary readers. 
The times and issues may be quite different, but the writing style 
works just as well for him as it did all the way back to the twelfth 

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