Voltaire's Candide: Historically- and Socially-Founded Characters

Voltaire, as an eighteenth century French philosopher and writer, lived in a far different society than the average American college student is accustomed to today. Though Voltaire was a champion of civil liberties, he spent most of his life in a France plagued with heavy censorship. While some of his works were applauded at the time, many others caused public outrage, even landing him in prison several times. Although the philosophical issues approached in Candide were timely and appropriate in eighteenth century France, the genius of Voltaire lies in the timelessness of his characters and the conclusions they force one to draw.

Voltaire's novel Candide is a parody in several senses of the word. First, it acts to parody the genre of the novel as a whole. Still a relatively new literary form at the time, the novel was subject to occasional criticism by romantic traditionalists. While Voltaire himself was fairly progressive, he spared no opportunity to poke fun of any available convention. In any case, the idea of genre parody was not created or even popularized solely by Voltaire. As Nelly Severin notes, "parody of literary genres was so frequently practiced by French writers throughout the eighteenth century that it can on...

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