Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

1.11.03

Voltaire's Candide: An Autobiography?

A review in Le Figaro Littéraire, which has now disappeared from the Internet, drew my attention to a new edition of Voltaire's classic story Candide, ou l'optimisme (there is also an English translation available online) by Frédéric Deloffre [Paris: Gallimard, Coll. Folio classique (no. 3889), July 2003]. (I also found a review of the book from July on EspacesTemps reviews, Candide, c'est moi.) On the surface, this may not seem all that interesting, but Deloffre has a reputation for shaking up our thinking, even about well-known and often-critiqued books. He has advanced a new theory about the autobiographical background of Voltaire's most famous story, in which Candide is Voltaire, Cunégonde is Madame de Bentinck, Pangloss is Heinrich Meister, the king of the Bulgarians is Frederick the Great of Prussia, and "Make your garden grow" is a reference to the paradise Voltaire found at his château in Ferney. This is one of those books I expected to go for the rest of my life without being confronted with a truly new thought about it. Deloffre's work should be a warning to all of us not to be content with what scholarship there already is, even about the best-known works.

No comments: