Summary: Chapter 24

When Candide fails to find Cunégonde and Cacambo after several months in Venice, he falls into despair. He begins to agree with Martin’s claim that the world is misery. Martin scolds Candide for trusting a valet with a fortune of millions, and repeats his argument that there is “little virtue and little happiness on the earth.”

On the street, Candide sees a pretty young woman and a young monk walking arm-in-arm with happy expressions on their faces. When he approaches them, he discovers that the girl is Paquette and the monk is named Brother Giroflée. Paquette, Pangloss’s old mistress, confirms Pangloss’s story that he caught syphilis from her. A surgeon took pity on Paquette and cured her, and in return she became the surgeon’s mistress. The surgeon’s jealous wife beat Paquette every day, but the surgeon tired of his wife and poisoned her while treating her for a common cold. His wife’s family sued him, so he fled. Paquette was sent to prison but the judge granted her freedom on the condition that she become his mistress. When the judge tired of Paquette he turned her out, and she resorted to prostitution. Brother Giroflée is one of her clients, and Paquette appears happy to please him. Giroflée’s parents have forced him into the monastery to increase his older brother’s fortune. Giroflée hates the monastery because it is rife with petty intrigue. Candide gives the two money to ease their sorrows.

Summary: Chapter 25

Candide visits Count Pococurante in Venice. The wealthy count has a marvelous collection of art and books, but he is unable to enjoy any of it. He finds the paintings of Raphael unpleasant and the works of Homer, Horace, and Milton tiresome. The count once pretended to appreciate these things in front of others, but is now unable to pretend, and scorns those who “admire everything in a well-known author.” The count’s brashness astonishes Candide, who has never been trained to judge for himself, but Martin finds the count’s remarks reasonable. Candide thinks the count must be a genius because nothing pleases him. Martin explains that there is “some pleasure in having no pleasure.”

Summary: Chapter 26

During Venice’s Carnival season, Candide and Martin are dining with six strangers in an inn when they encounter Cacambo, who is now the slave of one of the six strangers. Cacambo explains that Cunégonde is in Constantinople and offers to bring Candide to her. Summoned by his master, he is unable to say any more. Candide and Martin converse with their dinner companions and discover that each is a deposed king from a different corner of Europe. One of them, Theodore of Corsica, is the poorest and least fortunate, and the others each offer him twenty sequins. Candide gives him a diamond worth one hundred times that sum. The kings wonder about his identity and the sources of his generosity.

Analysis: Chapters 24–26

Martin’s reaction to Candide’s despair at not finding Cunégonde reveals the drawback of his pessimism. Instead of attempting to comfort or even distract his friend and benefactor, Martin gloats over Candide’s distress to further confirm his own world-view. Like Pangloss’s unqualified optimism, Martin’s unqualified pessimism keeps him from taking active steps to improve the world.

Still, that pessimism is further confirmed by the story of Giroflée and Paquette, an apparently blissful young couple whose idyllic appearance masks misfortunes much like those every other character has encountered. Martin warns Candide that throwing money at their problems will not erase them, a warning that bears fruit in the remaining chapters. After all, Candide’s wealth has multiplied his problems rather than eliminated them.

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.