Greetings, lovely readers! It’s time once again for Boozy Books! From last week’s escapade into the Gothic setting and dreary tones of Jane Eyre’s woes, we jump into “the best of all possible worlds”. If you are a lover of the written word and/or 18th century French philosophy you undoubtedly know where we are headed…
Welcome to the classically satirical and outrageously funny world of Voltaire’s Candide: or, The Optimist. You’d think something first published in 1759 would have gone stale by now, but it is a masterpiece which still manages to capture (and caricature) the human condition. Following the adventures of the title character and his unrelenting optimism the story is styled quite similarly to the ever-popular bildungsroman and parodies several historical events as well as literary cliches. The entire story is essentially made up of thinly veiled sarcasm and, lover of sarcasm that I am, I have loved it since the first time I was forced to read it in high school.
We begin with Candide, a young man leading the life to which he is accustomed. Though he is a bastard nephew of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh he lives well, in a castle, near the object of his affections, and tutored regularly by Pangloss, a self-proclaimed optimist who teaches his pupils that they live in “the best of all possible worlds” and that “all is for the best”. Candide truly believes in the philosophy of optimism (because he’s been thoroughly indoctrinated, of course), but as his adventures quickly and unfailingly become misadventures he becomes slowly disillusioned. He is exiled from the Baron’s castle, witnesses brutal and unprovoked deaths, he is forced into military service, he rescues the love of his life (repeatedly), and survives several natural disasters. All the while master Pangloss insists that “all is for the best”…
Candide is a fast-paced and often outlandish tale; deliciously ridiculous. It is also short and sweet, accomplishing a lot of ludicrousness in only 30 chapters while simultaneously establishing characters and plot points quickly and neatly. The situations and people depicted are absurd, full of misplaced hope and horrific, albeit terribly funny, stories (seriously, one character has suffered the loss of one buttock), but it is our ability as readers to acknowledge the truths of humanity that makes this satire really pop.
And now for the pairing. As sweet and unassuming as Candide is, traipsing through the shit of the world with a smile on his face, I can only suggest something light and bubbly. Champagne, of course! And being that Candide was written by one of the most famous French philosophers of all time, it is doubly appropriate. Bonus points if it’s a pink champagne.
So crack open that volume, pop the bubbly, and happy reading!