Challenge Criteria: A Book That Was Banned At Some Point, A Book You Should Have Read in School
I had to bend the rules on this one a little bit, as I read everything that I was supposed to read in school, but I got much lazier when I started college. Candide, by Voltaire, is a book that I know I “studied” in college, so I thought it would be a good one to fit into this category.
While I was googling lists of banned books, I noticed that Catch-22 has been banned, but much like the +600 pages challenge, I thought it might be excessive to use one single book for four challenges.
As an intellectual exercise, however, I might see how many categories I can tick off with as few books as possible at the end of the year.
In any case, Candide was seized by US customs for obscenity, and appears on the Wikipedia list of books banned by governments, so it definitely fits in here.
As a student, studying French at undergraduate level, I was far from diligent. I knew that I had studied it at some point, but I actually had to check with a friend what year it had been (second year) so that I could then figure out what module it was.
Incidentally, the friend didn’t do French – I just knew that we had done Candide the same year that the history students studied it – so I was able to narrow it down.
The reason, it turns out, that I don’t recall Candide at all, is because it was the module Contes et Conteurs (Fairytales and Fairytellers), the other half of which we studied Perrault and his classic fairy tales. This was far more up my avenue than Candide, or Optimism, and its tragi-comic moral tale of a trip halfway around the world. But nonetheless, since I should have read it at the time, I plunged in, and started reading.
The um, blurb of the version of Candide that I read is in French, so I’ve copied an English version as well.
Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that ‘all is for the best’. But when his love for the Baron’s rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world.
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them – earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder – sorely testing the young hero’s optimism
Candide nous conte les mésaventures d’un voyageur philosophe qui affronte les horreurs de la guerre et les sanglants caprices de la Nature ; qui connaît les désillusions de l’amour et découvre les turpitudes de ses semblables, faisant à l’occasion l’expérience de leurs dangereuses fantaisies. Pourtant si l’homme est un bien méchant animal et si l’existence n’est qu’une cascade de catastrophes, est-ce une raison pour que le héros perde sa sérénité et le récit de son allégresse ? Sous la forme d’une ironique fiction, Candide propose une réflexion souriante sur l’omniprésence de la déraison qui puise sa force aux sources vives d’une expérience humaine, celle de l’auteur. Candide, on l’a dit, ce sont les « Confessions » de Voltaire, et c’est en cela qu’il nous émeut.
Mais ce « roman d’apprentissage » est aussi – et peut-être surtout – un festival merveilleusement ordonné de drôlerie et de fantaisie sarcastique, ruisselant d’un immense savoir maîtrisé qui ne dédaigne jamais de porter le rire jusqu’au sublime. C’est en cela qu’il nous éblouit et qu’il nous charme.
Candide is similar in a few ways to Catch-22 actually, in that it’s a satirical novel which parodies the horrors of war, and doesn’t seem to have a plot in so much as it’s just a series of diverting stories of random characters.
For some reason, though, I had a lot more affection for Candide than I did for Catch-22. Perhaps it was the more fairytale nature of it, or the fact that my French has gotten so rusty that I actually only really understood about half of what I was reading, or even the fact that I didn’t have to struggle through half as long a slog as I did with Catch-22 (at only 122 pages, Candide is really a novella, rather than a novel), but I was much more affectionate towards Candide and his ridiculous adventures than I was Yossarian and his experience of war.
I’m still not saying I loved it – Satire is apparently not the genre for me, and reading in French is something I’m sorely out of practice with, so this was quite the struggle at times.
Nonetheless, I had Candide finished in half the time of Catch-22, completing the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge for me this year, and rounding it out with a solid: