Julian Barnes on Voltaire's Candide
Julian Barnes writes "A Candid View of Candide" for The Guardian (1 July 2011), in which he pays tribute to Voltaire's Candide. Barnes's essay introduces the new Folio Society edition of the book, available via the Folio Society Website.
All this makes Voltaire's Candide even more of an extraordinary case. It was written between July and December 1758 and published simultaneously in Geneva, Paris and Amsterdam in January 1759. That year no fewer than three English translations appeared, shortly followed by the early version that is now most often read, by Tobias Smollett. This formed part of a 25-volume edition of Voltaire's works "translated from the French with Notes by Dr Smollett and others" and published between 1761 and 1765. Even the British acknowledged Voltaire as Europe's most famous public intellectual, and his Candide as a prime example of literature as news. This philosophical tale may be described as an attack on Leibnitzian optimism – and, more broadly, on all prepackaged systems of thought and belief – a satire on churches and churchmen, and a pessimistic rumination on human nature and the problem of free will. But it was no fable inhabiting some make-believe or symbolic location; rather, it was a report on the current state of the world, deliberately set among the headlines of the day.