Off the Shelf - "Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories"

by Marcus Pan

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Candide, Zadig and Selected StoriesVoltaire spent much of his life railing against the various forms of hypocrisy, whether it be within church, government or society. He was born in 1694 in France, and at the age of twenty three, Francois-Marie Arouet, took the name of de Voltaire for his writings - much to the chagrin of his parents who expected him to go into law. Instead he became devoted to the many forms of literature, and especially the tragedies and philosophical meanderings of the Jesuits and Jansenists of the period. While Shakespeare wrote tragedies to entertain and for the enjoyment of people, Voltaire wrote as a form of editorial. He critically slammed and poked at those, many times by name or using anagrams of names, that he found to be incorrect in views, standpoints and ideals. As such, he became something of a martyr.

Even after twenty four years of exile from his home city of Paris, and regardless of his return upon which he was cheered in the streets and watched his tragedy Irene performed and crowned before him, upon his death weeks later he was denied burial there and whisked away to Champagne at the age of 83. He served two episodes in France's Bastille and spent much of his time in other countries besides that where he was born because of the fear of imprisonment and constant exiles.

Much of his work is forgotten today, as he was very prolific in verse tragedies. But his most well known are his prose work, of which this collection has a wide variety of such, even looking at his very short pieces like Micromegas and Plato's Dream. The first of these is one of my favorites, one of the first science fiction style pieces that looked at infinitesimal sizes from a wonderfully philosophical standpoint. His strongest capabilities was in the form of conversations, detailing monologues and dialogues with a theological flair. Of these, the discussions within Count Chesterfield's Ears and Chaplain Goudman is one of the best, and is used to close these selections.

I found the placement of Candide to open this collection, detailing the travels of a young man of the same name, who's very naiveté and ignorance lead him into all sorts of trouble. Now maybe I'm an evil dick, but I find that anyone, who after going through some of the stuff that Candide went through, who still talks about how everything is "right with the world," is an utter idiot and deserves all the horrors that are thrown upon him. This opens the book up well, as the other stories deal with much of the same as well as being blatantly sarcastic towards dignitaries of Voltaire's day. He attacks and virtually levels with his wit and spite, and with the closed mindedness of the 1700's where you can be burned at the stake simply for thinking beyond the religious and government orders of the time his bravery comes unmatched.

Meanwhile the closing of the book, with Count Chesterfield's Ears and Chaplain Goudman, is refreshingly spiteful. Railing against the personification of Candide as the world's most ignorant and naive young man, the conversation had between Monsieur Sidrac, Count Chesterfield and Monsieur Goudman, ends with Sidrac proving a truly important point that, at its core, states a universal truth…at least to the cynical assholes like myself. And that is simply - everything is shit.

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