Context: Listened to this all the way back from taking my dad 2 hours to Heathrow Airport in driving rain and heavy traffic.
Way back in the 18th century, novels were very different from the form they take today. I’m glad too. There aren’t many novels like Candide that I can really stomach. I find them pointlessly irritating for the most part and Candide was no exception. Woolf must have been heavily influenced by it to write Orlando.
But the more I think about it, the more I realise that the reason I don’t appreciate literature that is basically satirical in nature is my fault, not the writer’s. Any satirist has to have an excellent grasp of the social scene they comment on and, on top of that, the skill to portray their version of it in a way that indirectly communicates their ideas. That’s got to demand respect whether it’s the 1700s or the 1970s.
And what I really need to do to appreciate Candide is to get educated about the 18th century social scene. If I don’t enjoy it, it’s simply an illustration of my ignorance – nothing more.
Okay, I’ll admit that not every satirical novelist is a genius, but those that I’ve appreciated (Modest Proposal, Don Quixote) have been because I understood more of the background for their work. Clearly, I’ve got some work to do if I want to appreciate literature from another era.
There lived in Westphalia, at the country seat of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, a young lad blessed by Nature with the most agreeable manners.
“‘Tis well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our gardens.”
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