Candide

Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXI-XXV

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As they draw closer to the shore of France on their voyage, Martin pans France as a country where the "ruling passion is love, the next is slander, and the last is to talk nonsense." He describes Paris as "confused multitude, where everyone seeks for pleasure without being able to find it." Their discourse takes a philosophical turn. Candide asks the philosopher for what reason the world was formed. "To make us mad" is the response. Was mankind always so brutal to one another, guilty of "lies, fraud, treachery, ingratitude, inconstancy, envy, ambition, and cruelty"? If animals have not evolved in their nature, why should humans be expected to do so? The difference between animals and men is free will.

Candide stops in Bordeaux to replenish his supply of cash by selling off a few of the recovered jewels. He heads toward Paris where he falls ill and meets the Abbé of Périgord, who brings Candide and Martin to a playhouse. The performance moves Candide to tears, but draws the acerbic ire of a critic, who excoriates Candide for falling prey to such false sentimentality. The Abbé of Périgord offers to introduce Candide to the lead actress, Miss Clairon, who reminds him of Miss Cunégonde. Candide, Martin and the Abbé of Périgord head to her house in Saint-Honoré, a suburb of Paris, where they come upon a table of guests busy at a game of cards. Candide joins them and loves several thousand pieces without the slightest blink of an eye. Among the guests is the Marchioness of Parolignac, who trashes the latest romance written by Gauchat, Doctor of Divinity. A man of letters outlines what he considers to be the inviolable rules of good literature: "to dazzle the spectator the thoughts should be new, without being farfetched; frequently sublime, but always natural; the author should have a thorough knowledge of the human heart and make it speak properly; he should be a complete poet, without showing an affectation of it in any of the characters of his piece; he should be a perfect master of his language, speak it with all its purity, and with the utmost harmony, and yet so as not to make the sense a slave to the rhyme." Dazzled by his brilliance, Candide declares him the "second Pangloss."

After dinner, Marchioness of Parolignac shows Candide into her dressing room, and attempts to seduce him. Candide obliges her by tying her garter and transferring the two diamond rings from his finger to hers, then leaves. He confesses his infidelity to Miss Cunégonde to the Abbé of Périgord, who assuages his sense of guilt. The next morning, he receives a missive from Miss Cunégonde, who has arrived at Bordeaux with Cacambo and the Old Woman. She has been released from the custody of the Governor and accordingly dispossessed of everything. Candide rushes to see her, but is told that she cannot bear light or speak. A maid uncovers Miss Cunégonde's hand from beneath a bedsheet. Candide bathes it in tears and diamonds. At that moment, an officer enters the room and drags Candide and Martin to a local prison. Martin realizes that they have been swindled. Candide, wishing to avoid legal entanglements, bribes an officer to escort him out of prison and to Dieppe, where he catches a ferryboat to Portsmouth.

On the boat ride over, Candide and Martin in turn ridicule the English. As they near the shoreline, Candide is horrified to witness an English admiral being put to death on the deck of a ship, even more so when he learns that there is no legitimate reason for the execution. Horrified, he asks the captain of the ship to carry him directly to Venice.

Upon his arrival in Venice, Candide looks in vain for Cacambo. Martin chastises Candide for his naïveté, postulating that Cacambo probably made off with the jewels himself or, if he succeeded in getting Miss Cunégonde back, kept her for himself. He claims that "there is very little virtue or happiness in this world." Candide disputes Martin's claim by pointing out a seemingly happy couple passing in the street. They invite the couple to dinner and make a bet between themselves about the couple's happiness. The woman turns out to be Paquette, who recounts her own tale of mistreatment at the hands of a Franciscan priest, a doctor, and later a judge. Candide then turns to the man, Friar Giroflee, who lives a profoundly miserable existence in a monastery. Martin appears to have won the wager, but Candide clings to his faith that he will once again see Miss Cunégonde.

They next visit Senator Pococurante, a wealthy man who dislikes everything he possesses. Candide immediately flatters the Raphael canvas hanging on the walls of his lavish villa, only to be met with the Senator's crude indifference. When they sit down to dinner, Pococurante dismisses opera as a mediocre art form. Candide takes great offense at his systematic trashing of such literary geniuses as Homer, whose work is little but the "continual repetition of battles"; Virgil, whose characters are "flat and disagreeable"; and finally Milton, "who writes a tedious commentary in ten books of rambling verse." Candide, despairing over the continued absence of Cacambo and Miss Cunégonde, keep hoping that he will be reunited with his beloved.

Analysis:

Martin quotes Plato as saying that "those are not the best stomachs that reject, without distinction, all sorts of aliments." Voltaire's metaphorical use of the stomach as an organ of taste points to the importance of aesthetic theory in his understanding of the human condition. If one of the key differences between men and animals is free will, then another criterion of distinction might be the appreciation of beauty. Freud believed that the one of the main functions of art was to provide temporary relief from the suffering and displeasure of the world. In the universe Voltaire describes, art seems only to engender more discontent; it has lost its ability to provoke an uplifting emotional response from its viewers. Instead, we witness a theater critic attacking Candide's reaction to Miss Clairon's performance as overly sincere and sentimental. These critical tendencies are carried to an extreme in Senator Pococurante, who paradoxically takes "pleasure in having no pleasure."

Critics have long considered Candide to be primarily a philosophical attack, but it is clear from this section that one of Voltaire's central aims is nothing less than the restoration of our capacity to appreciate good art and literature. Hence the guest at Miss Clairon's dinner party outlines a veritable treatise on character and plot development reminiscent of the rules in Aristotle's Poetics. Candide's indignation at Senator Pococurante's criticism of the great literary geniuses serves to defend and solidify the reputation of these authors (though Voltaire's own sensibilities did not necessarily coincide with his examples of literary greatness in this passage). Far from using the book as a platform for his own polemic, however, Voltaire prefers the more self-effacing technique of expressing himself via anonymous characters, such as the "Old Woman" (the only main character to lack a proper name) and the generic "man of letters."