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Candide 1

Candide: seminar 1


1. Close reading.

 Read the first chapter of Candide. Think about the following:

  • The structure and direction of the chapter
  • The use of humour
  • Intertextual references: does the chapter allude to other texts / styles of writing?
  • The use of vocabulary
  • What impact did the chapter have on you?


2. Wider discussion: chapters 1 – 6

  • What is satire and how does it work (look up the term)? In what ways does Voltaire create social, philosophical and religious satire in the opening chapters? How understandable is this 18th century satire to the 21st century reader? Be prepared to give precise examples.
  • Contrast the fairy tale opening with the more realistic elements that follow and examine the alternation of comedy and drama in these opening chapters.
  • Think particularly about the different narrative strategies and styles Voltaire employs here. Some questions you might ask yourself:
      • do we hear a particular narratorial voice or does the narrator remain in the background?
      • Is there any narratorial comment on the events and characters portrayed? If so, what form does this take?
  • Examine the representation of the characters and their function in the text. Think about the following points:
    • Are the characters believable?
    • Does the reader readily identify with the characters? Why (not)?
    • Does the text challenge the reader's expectations? If so, how?


3. Focus on El Dorado, chapters 17 and 18

Examine the representation of the society in El Dorado and the significance of these 2 chapters in the work as a whole.

  • Is this the portrayal of an ideal society or a satire?
  • Why does Candide choose to leave?
  • Compare this episode with Montaigne’s treatment of the Other in Des Cannibales.

Do some research in the library on this episode. Be prepared to talk about how it has been treated in a secondary critical work. See the Candide web page for more details about where to look.