This is one of those books that so many people must have read in high school, so many people that were not me of course. For I lived in the best of all possible worlds, at the time, wherein I spent my days and nights doing far more enjoyable things than reading a bit of literature and pretending to understand its 18th century significance. Oh those poor wretched souls who did read the novella at the ripe age of experience, likely as wise and trusting as Candide actually—how they must have suffered. But surely the suffering was just right. It was meant to be. Those dark days of essay writing for the more academically oriented students were mere shadows in God’s great portrait. Without dark bits how would the bright parts appear to be so bright? For example a bright part could be me growing longish hair and playing my guitar endlessly, or my friend and I driving around listening to new music rather than going to class. How could those blessed moments have been appreciated in their glossy glory without the red-eyed AP student’s sleepless misery as a right and proper counterpoint? It is clear now that everything is as it should be. There is just the right amount of suffering in the world. It could be no other way.
In all seriousness now, there is no way I would have enjoyed, let alone appreciated, this little book in high school. I mean how can most people of that age know what suffering really is? How can they understand who Leibniz was or what his principle of “sufficient reason” meant, or what his belief in “the best of all possible worlds” was? Sure some bright few may know such things or be able to understand their weight in the correct historical context, but it would be few. Now that I have a bit of a handle on those ideas I find Voltaire’s satire both biting and hilarious. It took me an extra 15+ years to get around to this AP English assignment that I never had, but I’m glad I did. I ‘m also glad I waited until now because had I not, I would have been as foolish as Candide and missed all the points.
Note: I listened/read this one. The audio recording was done by Jack Davenport. He was in a pirate movie a few years ago. His acting/narrating really brought out the satire better than just reading the text alone. I highly recommend it.