Novel Conversations is a podcast summarizing the world’s greatest works of classic literature: in 35 minutes you get the whole story from cover to cover. (If SparkNotes had an audio best friend, it would be us!) In each episode, Frank Lavallo hosts two readers, and the three of them give their reactions to the story and read their favorite passages along the way. Each episode features Endnotes by Ted Schwartz, a segment with interesting facts about the author.More episodes
S5 Ep 3
Host: Frank Lavallo
Readers: Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik
Year of Publication: 1759
Plot: Candide, a simple man, is thrust into a world of chaos as he experiences the horrors of war, poverty, the maliciousness of man, and the hypocrisy of the church. His tutor, Doctor Pangloss, attempts to teach him philosophical optimism, that “... All is for the best.” Candide begins to doubt the veracity of Pangloss’ theories and soon finds the best of both worlds.
Frank: Hello and welcome. I'm Frank Lavallo and this is Novel Conversations. Each week on Novel Conversations I talk to two readers about one book; and together we summarize the story for you, the listeners. We introduce you to the characters, we tell you what happens to them, and we read from the book along the way. So, if you love hearing a good story, you're in the right place.
This week's Novel Conversations is about the novel, Candide by Voltaire. With that said, let me introduce my guest readers today. I'm joined by Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik (insert introduction). Elizabeth, Phil, welcome to Novel Conversations.
Elizabeth & Phil: Thank you.
Frank: Before we get started, I'd like to read a summary of Candide and then talk to you a little bit about the book. Published in 1759, Candide is a story of a young, goodhearted but hopelessly naive young man named Candide. Educated by the great philosopher, Pangloss, and taught that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that everything happens for a reason, Candide and his friends experience a ludicrous variety of tortures, tragedies, and reversals of fortune; all disasters designed by Voltaire to test and expose the great philosophical idea of his time, that all is for the best, and the best of all possible worlds. All right. Let’s get into the story and talk about our first character, obviously the title character from the novel, Candide.
Phil: Well, he is a very innocent character, perhaps quite naïve.
Frank: Naive is the word that always comes to my mind, right?
Phil: Yeah. At least at the beginning, he's been very sheltered and then he goes out and experiences the world.
Frank: He is the illegitimate nephew of a German Baron; and he's living in this Baron's house being educated with the Baron's own children.
Frank: And all three of these children are taught by a supposed great German philosopher Dr. Pangloss.
Elizabeth: Dr. Pangloss believes that this is the best possible world, and everything happens for the best. So, he's paralyzed by inactivity because he doesn't ever want to do anything better because it's all for the best.
Frank: He's an incurable optimist.
Phil: And he loves to talk. Pangloss actually means all tongue, so that's pretty much all that he does.
Elizabeth: And even in times of crisis, he doesn't help or offer anything useful. All he does this philosophize about how this all happened for the best.
Frank: We'll actually get to the scene, but at one time, a man drowns in the Bay of Lisbon and he goes through a whole philosophical dissertation on why the bay was there to drown him. Just so this guy could drown in it.
Elizabeth: Right. And syphilis. And how syphilis is so wonderful because it links back to Christopher Columbus and we wouldn't have enjoyed chocolate if Christopher Columbus hadn't brought syphilis back to the new world. Yeah, I can appreciate chocolate.
Phil: It's very satirical.
Frank: All right. Now before we send Candide off on his journey, let's talk a little bit more about Candide. The name has come down to us as candid, but candid, to me is a little bit more forceful than I found Candide to be.
Phil: Yeah, he's such a blank slate that he doesn't have any opinions of his own really and even seems to adopt what is in his environment, without question.
Elizabeth: Like a sponge.
Frank: It seems like the last person to talk to him, is the person that he's going to parrot, until someone else talks to him.
Phil: Yeah good point. Although, because he was raised with Pangloss…
Elizabeth: He's loyal to that…
Phil: That he's been indoctrinated with that philosophy. So, he has to go through an awful lot to finally question that philosophy.
Frank: As I said he's living at the Baron's house with his cousins. He develops feelings for the daughter, Cunegonde.
Elizabeth: What happens is that she sees Pangloss and her chambermaid fooling around in the bushes so she gets curious and goes to find Candide. And then they aren't interrupted by the Baron.
Phil: Right. Candide kisses Cunegonde and the Baron catches them, and therefore Candide is expelled. So, there is this crush and this romance that develops; so ironically he sees his mentor in this immoral little affair going on; and then that leads to everything falls apart right from the start, really.
Frank: Well let's talk about how things fall apart. He's expelled from the house. And what happens to him next?
Elizabeth: Right after they kick him in the backside out of the castle, he is picked up by the Bulgarians…
Frank: The Bulger's
Elizabeth: The Bulger's.
Elizabeth: They see him and realize he's the perfect size to fit into one of their uniforms or armor. So, they basically put him to war.
Frank: Well he's shanghaied and conscripted into their army, but he goes along with this.
Elizabeth: Well he’s sure it's for the best.
Phil: And they tell him he's gonna be a hero. So, he thinks all this might be a good thing and then the narrator says, they immediately put irons on his legs and take him to the regiment. So, not a very auspicious beginning.
Elizabeth: But then he goes for a walk and then he's mistaken for a deserter; and then has to pick between these two horrible punishments.
Frank: What are the two horrible punishments?
Phil: He either walks a gauntlet of 4000 strokes of the ramrod or to basically be shot to death. So, he tries to reason out of both of those which doesn't work.
Elizabeth: So, he chooses to run the gauntlet and then his skin is being flayed off of him and then some nice doctor heals him; just in enough time for him to go to another war.
Phil: Yeah. He’s off to another war, which he doesn't want any part of. So, he's already being pushed and prodded by different forces.
Frank: Pushed, prodded, punished.
Frank: Clearly, these events have to be exaggerated in order for Voltaire's satire to work.
Frank: All right, so after Candide was flayed and punished by the Bulgers, for this attempted desertion, he actually goes off with the army to a battle. There's a couple of really good paragraphs did you want to read those Phil?
“Nothing could be so beautiful so smart so brilliant so well drilled as the two armies trumpets fives oboes drums cannons formed a harmonies such as was never heard even in hell. First the cannons felled about 6000 men on each side then the musket tree removed from the best of worlds some nine or ten thousand scoundrels who infected its surface. The bayonet also was the sufficient reason for the death of some thousands of men. The whole might well amount to about thirty thousand souls. Candide, trembling like a philosopher, did himself the best he could during this heroic butchery.”
Frank: And just in one paragraph, Voltaire offers this an entire satire, of war.
Phil: And that's followed up in the next paragraph, talking about villages that were burned in accordance with the rules of international law. So again, mockery there.
Frank: All right. So now he's had enough of war. He's had enough of the butchery that he's witnessed. He decides to flee, and he actually runs into another character we haven't introduced yet. An Anabaptist by the name of Jacque. He's a Dutch Anabaptist.
Elizabeth: Right. I guess he would be a Protestant, equivalent today. He helps Candide and he believes that humans are not made to kill each other. And so, he's one of the hopeful characters that Voltaire offers; although he ultimately does die.
Phil: Jacque does die helping someone else.
Frank: Well actually that's where we get Pangloss explaining to Candide… Well of course the Bay of Lisbon was there only so the Anabaptist could drown while trying to save the sailor.
Frank: Everything has a reason.
Frank: It's also at this time that Candide runs into his old tutor Dr. Pangloss. But Dr. Pangloss is hardly recognizable, as Elizabeth was quick to point out at the beginning of our show. He is suffering from syphilis (laughter) and now has lost several of his body parts including the tip of his nose.
Elizabeth: One of his limbs…
Frank: But he has a story to tell Candide about what happened after Candide had left the Baron's house in Germany.
Elizabeth: The baron has been killed. The castle or the garden has been ravaged and Cunegonde, has been raped and disemboweled, which apparently happens often.
Frank: Well, actually I think as far as Dr. Pangloss knows, everyone's been killed.
Elizabeth: Everyone's been killed.
Frank: Killed by the Bulger's. Doctor Pangloss has gotten syphilis from the maid, we saw him with in the bush at the beginning of the story, but he does tell Candide that everyone is dead.
Phil: Right. (Elizabeth) Right. But he still has not abandoned his optimistic philosophy at all.
Frank: There must have been a good reason for everyone to be dead.
Elizabeth: We just don't understand the evil. But it is for some good.
Frank: God has a plan. We're just too stupid to know it. (laughter) Now Candide is going to go off with Dr. Pangloss and continue their adventures.
Phil: Well, then they experience an earthquake which is more mayhem, more death, more devastation.
Frank: This is the earthquake in Lisbon – which, we should mention for our listeners – was an actual event that happened.
Elizabeth: Actually happened, Right.
Phil: It was a horrible loss of life and it impacted Voltaire quite a bit. The difference here being, I guess, that usually he satirizes human evil. This one has to do more with just a natural catastrophe. But it still flies in the face of the Pangloss philosophy of: How could this be for the best?
Elizabeth: Right, How can an all good God let this horrible thing happen?
Frank: And that's Candide’s question.
Phil: Right. It seems like Candide is more of the opinion that God created the world but is not actively involved day to day. Whereas Pangloss is saying, well if a good God created the earth and all is for the best, then all is good.
Frank: So if there's a good God…
Elizabeth: This must be for good. We just don't know why.
Phil: And that theory, evil is really working in the service of a larger good, we just can't perceive it.
Frank: If we knew the whole plan, we'd understand where this evil comes in, (Phil: Right), to the eventual good. But since we can't know the plan, we just see it as evil.
Elizabeth: We might want to actually prevent the evil, but in Pangloss’s mind, we don't want to prevent it because it's part of the plan.
Frank: Yeah. Well we have the earthquake in Lisbon. Candide is trapped. Dr. Pangloss presumably goes to his rescue, but then really provides no help at all.
Elizabeth: He's asking for help, when all Pangloss can do is philosophize about earthquakes.
Phil: The actual quote is…
“Candide lost consciousness and Pangloss brought him a little water from a neighboring fountain”… (laughs)…
Elizabeth: But he had to pretty much unconscious before that…
Phil: Yeah, this is after had been begging Pangloss for it.
Frank: Now after the earthquake, in Lisbon, it's decided by the priests that they are being punished; and that they need a sacrifice to appease the gods to prevent further disasters; and Candide and Dr. Pangloss walk right into, basically an inquisition, called a “Odda de fa.”
Elizabeth: Act of Faith. Basically just burning people alive. I think, right? Isn't that the act.
Phil: Yeah. As a sacrifice. Right. Again, it's mocked as the way to ward off more earthquakes. Of course, they do it and then there's more earthquakes.
Frank: With Candide and Dr. Pangloss being strangers to Lisbon, they are immediately pounced upon as potential sacrifices to appease God, and prevent as you said, further earthquakes. However, being burned at the stake is not going to work… It's raining.
Elizabeth: Right, so they hang Pangloss.
Phil: Right. But correctly.
Elizabeth: But not effectively, we don’t know that yet. We don’t’ know that yet, he's been hung. And Candide, he's in trouble just for listening. (Phil: Right.) He gets beaten again. Right. He's always being beaten.
Frank: And it's at this time with Candide flayed again within an inch of his life, that we meet another important character in our novel, The Old Woman – we are never actually given her name – we are just introduced to her as the old woman. She comes in to save Candide, takes him away from the scene, and begins to minister to his wounds. And then we get her story.
Phil: Right. And turns out she is the servant of Cunegonde, who is low and behold, still alive. The old woman takes Candide to her, and they reunite and there’s kind of a funny passage.
“What is it you? said Candide. You're alive. I find you again here in Portugal. Then you were not raped? Your belly was not slit open? As the philosopher Pangloss had assured me.”
“Oh yes,” said the fair Cunegonde, “But people do not always die of those two accidents.” (laughter)
So they are reunited and ready for more of their journey.
Frank: And it's at this point when Cunegonde is complaining about her life up to this point and the Old Woman says “Oh, please you think you've suffered. You don't know anything about suffering.” And she proceeds to give us her story.
Elizabeth: She is the daughter of a Pope who was raised as a Princess and engaged to a Prince. One night, the Prince’s mistress (the Marquees), poisons him with chocolate because she's mad he's marrying the Old Woman; and then the Old Woman and her mother flee; And somehow, she gets kidnapped by pirates who subjected her cannibalism and end up eating one of her buttocks.
Phil: Very well put.
Elizabeth: (chuckles) So she kind of beats everyone's story for now.
Phil: But at the end of her story, she talks about how in spite of all that, she decided not to be suicidal and that she still loved life.
Elizabeth: Well, I don’t know if she loved it; But she decided it was worth living.
Frank: She wasn't gonna throw it away.
Phil: Yeah. Elizabeth: Right.
Frank: So, after we hear some of the old woman's story, this is where Cungonde wants to tell Candide what's gone on in her life up to this point. And we get the story of her being kept by two lovers… a Jewish Merchant, keeping her on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
Elizabeth: (chuckles) They get joint custody of her.
Frank: That's right; And the Grand Inquisitor of the Inquisition, has her on the other days. But neither one of them has her on Sunday because they can't decide which day is actually the Sabbath, (chuckles) between the Jew and the Christian.
Phil: All the religions get their share of abuse.
Frank: And of course, this infuriates Candide. He believes himself to be in love with Cunegonde and he just won't put up with this. As a matter of fact, while they're having this conversation, the Jewish Merchant comes calling, and in his infuriation Candide runs him through with a sword and says, ‘Oh my God this is the first person I've ever killed.’ But sure enough, it's not gonna be the last person he ever killed. Several minutes later, apparently got his days wrong, The Grand Inquisitor shows up. Also wants some time with Cunegonde. Candide responds again, runs him through with his blade.
Phil: I think I may have been around midnight, actually.
Elizabeth: Changing of the guard. (chuckles)
Frank: Changing of the guard. That's very good.
Frank: And now of course, obviously he's killed two people, they can't stand Lisbon any longer. So, Candide, Cunegonde, and the Old Woman all decide they've got to leave. In fact, they decide to flee to the New World to South America, and it's while they're on this journey, that they realized Candide is being pursued for the murders of the Jewish Merchant and the Grand Inquisitor and they decide to split up. He can no longer stay with Cunegonde and the Old Woman because he's only putting them into danger. He's actually going to leave them in the care of a Spanish gentleman that we're introduced to, Don Fernando, and he's going to take another boat and head deeper into South America.
Frank: And, Elizabeth we should really mention that this whole novel is short journeys.
Elizabeth: Right. One of the interesting things about it is that it's more of a travelogue; you get just snippets of little adventure. So, it really is easy reading.
Frank: And while we can't touch on every journey and adventure that Candide and his crew have, I do want to now talk about their journey to Eldorado; and actually I say their journey because Candide has just picked up another traveling companion.
Phil: Yeah. He now has picked up a servant named Cacacombo, who is very loyal to him.
Frank: In one way or another they end up on a runaway boat, they get caught up on a river, the river takes them through a cave, they spend 24 hours traveling a river through this cave; then they come out into the daylight and they find the beautiful city of Eldorado.
Phil: A utopia, really. It's a place that has no prisons, no police. Everyone agrees with each other. There are no priests.
Elizabeth: There’s no currency. The roads are paved with gold…
Phil: Which Candide can't believe.
Elizabeth: Money doesn't mean anything.
Frank: We can assume there's no lawyers in this country. (chuckles)
Phil: That's true, but has an interesting effect on Candide, who up to this point, was always very innocent; but the narrator reveals that he becomes kind of greedy, when he sees all of these coins and he thinks about what he could do with it all. They go to a hotel, I believe, and he goes to pay and the owner kind of laughed at him and says we don't pay for things here, everything is free.
Elizabeth: And there's that funny passage about the priest…
Phil: Yes, he says… “What? You have no monks to teach, to dispute, to govern, to intrigue and to have people burned who are not of their opinion? We would have to be crazy,” said the old man of Eldorado. “We are all of the same opinion and we do not understand what you mean with your monks.”
Frank: And yet, now that Candide has found his best of all possible worlds, he's found his utopia. He's not happy here. He's not going to stay, is he?
Elizabeth: Well, I think greed gets the better of him and he starts to realize, well if all these things don't matter to the people of Eldorado, then we can just take them and be really rich in our world.
Phil: One of the other reasons he gives, is that he misses Cunegonde, and he wants to keep searching for her.
Elizabeth: And it doesn't really want to be like everyone else, which is odd for Candide.
Phil: He says to Cacambo, ‘If we stay here we shall only be like the others. Whereas, if we return to our own world we shall be richer than all the kings put together.’
Frank: So, he decides to load up some sheep - basically that's the pack animal for Eldorado - with the pebbles that he finds laying around on the ground; the pebbles of diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and he's going to leave Eldorado. Even though he's now found his best of all possible worlds.
Phil: That's true.
Frank: But things are not going to go well for Candide yet, are they? (Phil: No) What happens to Candide and his fortune?
Phil: He encounters a series of scam artists that find ways of tricking him out of his money, which is not difficult to do given his innocence and naivete.
Frank: And it's when they leave Eldorado that Candide and Cacambo come up with the plan that Cacambo is gonna go back and ransom Cungonde and the Old Woman away from Don Fernando and they'll all meet in Venice. But Phil Candide does not want to travel alone so he decides he's going to find himself another traveling companion. And this is where we meet the last main character of our novel, Martin.
Phil: Yeah. Candide actually holds a little contest. He wants to find the man who is the most disgusted with his lot and the most unfortunate in the province. And he picks this scholar named Martin who had been robbed by his wife, beaten by his son, and abandoned by his daughter, et cetera et cetera.
Frank: Martin is the antithesis of Pangloss. Pangloss is the eternal optimist. Martin is really an eternal pessimist.
Phil: Yeah, there's one section that sums him up. He says, ‘I think that God has abandoned this globe to some Maleficent being. So he’s pretty dark.
Frank: All right. So, with his new traveling companion, Martin, Candied after a couple of misadventures both in England and in France, end up in Venice. However, after about two or three months of waiting the only person that shows up is Cacambo; and he's got another tale of woe to tell.
Elizabeth: Apparently now, again Cunegonde is a slave to somebody in Turkey. So now they have to go to Turkey to save her.
Phil: And he still has some money left that he will eventually use to purchase her freedom.
Frank: And it's on their trip to Turkey that Candide runs into a couple of old friends right.
Phil: Right, Pangloss resurfaces.
Frank: This is the presumably, hung Pangloss.
Phil: Candide asks him, Are you still of the same opinion after all that has gone on? And he says, ‘I am still of my first opinion. For after all, I am a Philosopher. It is not fitting for me to recant for life cannot be wrong, and besides pre-establish harmony is the finest thing in the world.’
Frank: All right, so eventually our weary travelers, Candide, Martin and Pangloss, as well as Cunegonde’s brother - now a member of the chain gang on this Turkish boat – Candide rescues them all; and they all end up in Turkey, where he's going to finally be reunited with Cunegonde.
Phil: And he tells the brother that I want to marry your sister and he has the audacity to say you're not noble enough to marry my sister even after all that Candide has done for the Baron.
Frank: But Elizabeth, Candide decides he is going to marry her. But in the four or five months that Candide been in Venice, Cunegonde has undergone some radical transformation, hasn't she?
Elizabeth: Apparently being a sex slave does nothing for one's beauty, because she's now this ugly person.
Frank: Hideous to everyone…
Elizabeth: Yes to everyone.
Frank: Including Candide.
Elizabeth: But he still feels he has the obligation of marrying her…
Frank:… and he does. And it's here, with the little money that he has left, that Candide buys a little farm for everyone to live on. Cunegonde and Candide, the Old Woman, Cacambo, Martin. We don't have the Baron's son anymore. He's been sent off to the chain gangs and he doesn't approve of the marriage. And it's actually at this point right at the end of our novel we finally meet who I consider the most practical and realistic philosopher, the farmer.
Phil: Right. The farmer is the simple man, you might say, who just does his work. He is asked by Pangloss about what's going on in Constantinople and public affairs. And he basically says I don't worry about all that. I can tell it myself with sending to Constantinople the fruits of the garden that I cultivate. He says I cultivate the garden with my children. Work keeps away three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.
Frank: And it also keeps away idle philosophy.
Frank: And how does Candide finally end our novel. What's his philosophy now?
Elizabeth: Well it's the philosophy of the whole book. Cultivate your garden.
Phil: Cultivate your garden is really the only thing you can do anyway, so it's very practical. And yet it could be interpreted a couple of different ways.
Frank: Well how about you interpret one way for me.
Phil: Well, one way would be an isolationist idea: Don't worry about the rest of the world, just focus in on your palace, your family your garden, whatever it is. And in this case, I guess it's important to say that they weren't just gardening they were actually exercising talents. So, each person ended up doing a specific service, like Cunegonde becomes a pastry cook, Paquette embroiders, the old woman takes her linen and they all do a service. So, it's kind of like, yes you are focusing on your own area, so to speak, but you are also sending your goods out to the world. But there's no philosophizing, no idle talk.
Frank: But isn't this really a justification of Pangloss. They had to go through all these misfortunes. Cunegonde had to be raped and killed but not killed, Pangloss had to be hung but not hung. Candide had to be flayed but then resurrected. They had to go through all these troubles all at this misfortune to end up on their farm tending their own garden so paned glass is right. Everything came out for the best. No?
Phil: Well, there is a strain of, this is the best of all possible worlds, at the end. So that is true. Ironically, that in some ways the real garden becomes better than Eldorado, which was supposedly the utopia.
Elizabeth: But how is his gardening affecting the world? If you are cultivating your garden, what are you doing for the rest of society?
Frank: And what would Pangloss have had them do for rest of society?
Elizabeth: Well nothing.
Phil: I think one also important thing at the end is Pangloss is still talking about ‘Isn't this all great, that all these events linked together and Candy you had to be thrown out of the castle to learn all these things. And Candide finally replies with some authority, ‘That is well said. But we must cultivate our garden.’ Which I think we can interpret as, ‘enough tough talk from you. I know we need to cultivate our garden.’
Frank: Sure, we can all say that the current of events carried us to this situation, but if we weren't working, if we didn't put our backs to the hoe, and actually cultivate our garden, we wouldn't have this benefit now. And it really required an action on our part, not just the inaction of going along with events.
Phil: Right. You can't just say whatever is right without doing anything; you have to go out and experience the world and then try to create your own utopia. Just to play devil's advocate. One other possible interpretation that we talked about briefly, was that Candide may simply be following a new philosopher now. I mean the farmer says, cultivate your garden, Candide kind of obeys him and there he is following someone else again. But I think overall, the fact that he can stand up to Pangloss is a significant progress for him.
Elizabeth: Right, and the difference is, that he diverges from Pangloss finally; whether or not he espouses someone else's opinion…
Phil: Right, he's finally standing up for himself with the help of this farmer, that taught him. So, I think we get enough evidence of development and less innocence on Candide’s part.
Frank: Do you think Voltaire was the farmer? Is he telling us just tend your own garden.
Phil: I think it's tricky because historically, Voltaire was very politically active and the message that you might take away from ‘cultivate your gardener’ don't worry about Constantinople. So, I think he certainly would endorse more than any of the other philosophies probably, the last one. But I kind of like to interpret it as act local, think global, that you're trying to impact the world but you're not doing it through theories; kind of like ‘peace begins at home’ I guess.
Elizabeth: And I'm not sure that's what the book is saying. I think he may forget about the global part. I think he's telling them I'll just act locally and everything will take care of itself, maybe.
Elizabeth: That's the question.
Phil: That's why people keep reading it I guess.
Frank: For me the continuing question is, Why do we think Voltaire wrote the novel, Candide? What was he saying. Let's go back a little bit, we talked about this philosophical idea that was running rampant during the time of Voltaire. This optimism, this unbridled optimism, that all is best in a world. We can't know God's plan, we don't know why there's evil. But if God is perfect, his world must be perfect. So, the evil in it must have some reason. Voltaire totally disagreed with that philosophy.
Phil: Right. Maybe one of the reasons he wrote the book was to say OK. Yes. There is a grand designer of the universe. There is a God, but we can't assume that whatever it is, is right. And its perhaps condescending or just plain wrong to look at evil in the world and just say, Well that must be for some cause we don't know of, and therefore, let's just continue to be happy or continue to overlook what could be changed. I mean especially human evils don't have to happen. There's one quote in there that talks about how we're not born with bayonets, we made them. Why is that? So, I think he's trying to push it in the direction of - cultivate your garden in a positive way, and some of those human evils might be diminished.
Elizabeth: And I think Voltaire's reasoning is similar to modern day philosophers and all of us. Everyone wants to make a difference. If you're telling the masses that everything is for the best. You don't need to do anything. No one's going to make a difference. Everything will remain the status quo.
Phil: Right there's no hope for change (Elizabeth: There's no hope) There's no reason to try to better the world because whatever is there, is already what is best.
Frank: And actually, that's a conversation between pre-determinism and free will.
Phil & Elizabeth: Right. Right.
Frank: Voltaire is saying you can control some of the events in your own life. You can take positive steps to make your life better. God doesn't want you to be unhappy. God didn't put evil here to destroy you. Evil happens. Evil is in nature. God created nature and he's allowed nature's events to occur. If we just sit back and let it happen. Course we're not going to be happy. We need to take those positive steps. I believe that's what Voltaire's arguing for… Tend well your own garden. Worry about the global. But understand that where you can have the most impact is on the radishes that are growing in your garden.
Phil: And that's one of the quotes that has stuck with me because I find it kind of inspiring. Sometimes you can listen to a lot of depressing news stories, let's say, and you almost think what can I do? This is so difficult. And yet, cultivate your garden just kind of brings you back to your own life and says, You know it all starts with you and you can't do anything if you've already given that up.
Frank: Now, let’s hear some of your favorite moments or passages from the novel or perhaps something that we didn't have a chance to touch on. Like we mentioned to the listeners, there's a lot happening in this novel there's lots of misadventures. We obviously couldn't cover them all. So, if there's one particular moment we skipped or one moment that will always stick with you, I'd like to hear that. Tell us what makes this book work reading. Phil?
Phil: Yeah, I really like the humor of the book. The opening chapter just throws you into the tone of the work. And I just quote a couple of spots that the narrator is trying to describe how glorious this castle is which Candide is first raised and he says: “My Lord the Baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia for his castle had a door and windows.” (chuckles) And then later on the same page first chapter to demonstrate Pangloss and how his logic is so flawed. He quotes him, Pangloss says: “It is demonstrated that things cannot be otherwise, for everything being made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. And that noses were made to wear spectacles. And so we have spectacles.”
Frank: And we should say that it's this kind of humor, in these kind of quick short lines, that are throughout the entire novel.
Phil: Yes, and that's what keeps it interesting and keeps the flow.
Frank: Absolutely. And I've got a line or two here where he's talking about the difference between the French and the English. This is at a time in our novel where Candide already has Martin as his traveling companion and they spend a little bit of time in England and France before they get to Venice. This is the quote here:
“You know England,” continued Candide after a pause. “Are they as mad there as they are in France?” “Yes,” said Martin. “But there’s is another kind of folly. You realize of course that these two nations are fighting over a few acres of snow on the borders of Canada and that they spend more money on this glorious war than the whole of Canada is worth to decide whether there are more people who ought to be locked up in one country than in another exceeds my feeble powers. I only know that by and large the people we are going to visit have a most serious and gloomy temperament.” (chuckles)
Frank: Elizabeth do you have something?
Elizabeth: Well I also enjoyed Martin, and I think that we all know a Martin - someone who's just down on everything - and Candide is trying to believe that people are really happy, you know, and Martin is saying Is anyone really happy? And he thinks the answer is no. Candide says, “You are very hard.”
“That's because I have lived,” says Martin.
“But look at those gondoliers,” said Candide, “Aren’t they always singing?”
“You don't see them at home with their wives and their brats of children,” said Martin. (chuckles)
So, I think he's really funny.
Frank: That's Martin our eternal pessimist.
Phil: As a stay at home dad, I kind of responded to that one as well. (chuckles)
Frank: You can understand that? (chuckles)
Elizabeth: Although our children are not brats. (chuckles)
Frank and Phil: Of course not! (chuckles)
Frank: I have another couple of lines here that I'd like to read, this is Voltaire skewering critics and journalists: “Who was that ill-mannered creature?” said Candide, who spoke so harshly of the play at which I wept so freely and of the actors who gave me such pleasure. “Oh he's an evil minded fellow,” said the Abbey, who earns his living by damming every play and every book, “He hates a successful writer just as eunuchs hate successful lovers. He's one of those snakes of literature who feed on dirt and venom. He's a pamphletier.”
“What do you mean by a pamphleteer?” asked candied.
“A journalist.” He said.
Phil: Yeah. No one really escapes. (chuckles)
Frank: Absolutely not. And we should say that satire really skewers everyone: scientists, politicians religious figures…
Frank: Absolutely, Philosophers.
Phil: One final pass is that I liked was in the last chapter - and this is before the group reaches their - Cultivate your garden philosophy. They're struggling again with the meaning of life question and they come across a famous dervish who is considered the best philosopher in Turkey. They went to consult him, Pangloss, of course as their spokesman and Pangloss asked them, “Why do you think such a strange animal as man was created?” and the dervish says, “What are you meddling in. Is that your business?” But Candide says, “There's a horrible amount of evil on earth,” and the dervish says, “What does it matter whether there is evil or good. When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, is he bothered about whether the mice in the ship are comfortable or not?”
“Then what should we do?” said Pangloss.
“Hold your tongue,” Said the Dervish. Of course, Pangloss can't do that. He continues to talk, and at these words, the dervish shut the door in their faces.
Frank: Elizabeth, I understand you particularly like the dervish character as well.
Elizabeth: Yeah, because it's actually the point where he's going off about everything it's for the best and predetermined harmony and as he's talking about predetermined harmony that's when I get slammed in their faces.
Phil: Pangloss even says, ‘I was thinking that you and I would reason a bit together about effects and causes blah blah blah…’
Elizabeth: And the guy just slammed the doors and says get out of here… (chuckles)
Phil: As if these are unwanted solicitors.
Frank: Very good. Before we reach our last segment here, I've got one or two more lines here I want to read. I'm actually in the middle of reading some Homer, and in fact, Voltaire brings in some Homer here as well. Let me read a couple lines here.
“There was a time when people convinced me that I enjoyed reading Homer; but that eternal succession of identical combats, those Gods were always so busy to no effect. That Helen of his, who gives rise to the war yet plays so little part in a story. That Troy, so endlessly besieged without being taken. It bores me to distraction. I have sometimes asked learned men if they found this book as tedious as I do. Those who were sincere, I'll confess, that it dropped from their hands, but that they felt obliged to keep it in their library. Like a relic of the past or like Rusty coins with no current use.”
(chuckles) And I gotta admit that sometimes, I do wonder about those endless battles; and Helen of Troy, really is the impetus for the novel and she hardly ever makes an appearance in the story at all. All right you know what, we’re gonna stop our discussion here. I want to thank our readers for coming in today and having a novel conversation with me. Phil O'Keefe and Elizabeth Angelo, both of you, thank you very much for coming in. Thank you for joining us.
Phil & Elizabeth: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Frank: You've been listening to Novel Conversations.
Novel Conversations a production of The Front Porch People.
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Novel Conversations was produced by Julie Fink and engineered by Sean Rule-Hoffman, Eric Koltnow and Dave Douglas. And a special thanks to our Executive Producer, Joan Andrews. I'm your host, Frank Lavallo, until next time, I hope you find yourself in a Novel Conversation.
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