The Demise of the Female in Voltaire's Candide

A stark parallel can be drawn between the two central female characters of Voltaire’s satirical philosophic thrust, Candide. It is through the tragic strife and oppression of first the Old Woman and then Cunegonde that we see two sagas woven of such similar threads that their resemblance cannot be denied. Perhaps intentionally, the fate of the unfortunate Old Woman foreshadows the dismal destiny that awaits Candide’s beloved Cunegonde.

Mystery shrouds our initial encounter with the Old Woman, whose name Voltaire omits from the text, adding to the curiosity of her character. In time she is given a voice, an opportunity which she seizes with the utmost candor. She is irked by the ignorance of Candide and Cunegonde as they bemoan the great misfortunes that have befallen them: “You pity yourselves,” she says, “but you have had no such misfortunes as mine.” (Ch 10, pg 332) Here she begins to relate her own calamitous experience; apparently, she has been repeatedly victimized by humiliation, rape, betrayal, mutilation, and the misery of her degraded lot in life. Exposing herself as the daughter of Pope Urban the Tenth and the Princess of Palestrina, the Old Woman proceeds to trump the title and standing of the baroness Cunegonde, who...

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