page 2 of 2
The count, who seems to have everything, is still unhappy. He has wealth, education, art, and literature at his command, but none of it truly pleases him. Candide, who had the pleasure of utopia in Eldorado, returned to the imperfect world because he wanted to find Cunégonde and enjoy resources such as those the count has but fails to enjoy. Through the count, who only takes pleasure in constant criticism of everything, Voltaire perhaps means to suggest that human beings are incapable of satisfaction.
In some ways, the count embodies Enlightenment attitudes. The thinkers of that era had access to a greater wealth of art and learning than those of most previous eras of European civilization. The work of the Renaissance artist Raphael and the Greek and Roman authors on the count’s bookshelf were important staples of the culture of that period. Yet Enlightenment thinkers were famous for biting criticism. The count voices support for the practice of seeking knowledge and experience before making judgments. He scorns people who judge a writer by his reputation rather than by his work. The emphasis on gaining knowledge through experience is strongly characteristic of Voltaire’s own thinking. Thus, it is probable that Voltaire is in some ways sympathetic to the count’s critical point of view. The count’s discernment certainly seems preferable to Candide’s mindless reverence for the authors he has been taught to regard as good. At the same time, the count’s character illustrates Voltaire’s skepticism at the idea that anything, even great art, can make human beings happy.
The six strangers, who claim to be dethroned kings, serve as an extended mockery of the arrogance of the aristocracy. Although they believe they are naturally endowed with the right to power, they continually lose power through wars and political upheaval. Candide feels sorry for the strangers, but Martin correctly states in Chapter 27 that their sufferings are nothing to shed tears over. The strangers still have valets and slaves at their disposal. One of them even owns Cacambo, Candide’s good friend.
The account of the dethroned kings also illustrates the changes that were taking place in Voltaire’s society. The growth of capitalism meant that the European nobility was losing influence to commoners who made or acquired wealth of their own accord. The kings wonder at the fact that Candide, a private citizen, has far more money than they do. Voltaire, who was not of noble birth but had a vast fortune, himself lent or gave money to impoverished royals. In this context, the overweening pride of the aristocracy seems not merely unjust but completely unjustified.
Take a Study Break!