Places: Candide

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme, 1759 (English translation, 1759)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCastle of Thunder-ten-tronckh

Castle Candideof Thunder-ten-tronckh. Castle in Westphalia of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, Candide’s presumed father, in which Candide is born and from which he is eventually expelled. Voltaire’s ironic description of the castle sets the tone for the entire text. According to Candide’s mentor, the Optimist philosopher Pangloss, the castle is the best of all castles in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire immediately undercuts this notion by “supporting” it with carefully chosen ironic details. For example, the castle is a fine one because it has windows and a door, and a piece of tapestry in the great hall. A fine castle would have many windows and doors, and tapestries everywhere to insulate its occupants from the cold stone walls. Voltaire’s narrator goes further, describing the castle’s 350-pound baroness of Thunder-ten-tronckh, a pack of ordinary dogs that doubles as the baron’s hunting pack, and household servants who double as huntsmen. If the castle truly were the best of all possible castles, its baroness should personify grace and beauty, it would have dogs used for hunting only, and would have servants dedicated to training and managing the hunting dogs. The greatest irony lies in Pangloss’s insistence that stones were made for building castles, so man has castles. Castles were built for defense; in an ideal world, there would be no need for defense.

El Dorado

El Dorado. South American utopia that Candide and his servant, Cacambo, discover by accident during their flight from Jesuit missionaries in Paraguay. Unlike other locales in the novel, El Dorado truly is the best of all possible worlds, the very antithesis of corrupt European civilization. Gold, which the people of El Dorado call “yellow mud,” is everywhere, and precious stones litter the ground, but the inhabitants care nothing for these riches. Travelers in El Dorado–even outsiders like Candide and Cacambo–are welcomed and entertained sumptuously at government expense. The people do little but praise God, as if with one voice, and the king of El Dorado is the very model of the modern enlightened monarch. No one wants to leave this paradise–except the two irrational European visitors, who want nothing more than to exploit its wealth.


*Lisbon. Capital city of Portugal, in which thirty thousand people were killed by an earthquake on All Saints’ Day in 1755. Lisbon’s earthquake forced Optimists to re-examine their beliefs, in part because it occurred on a religious holiday and candles used in the celebrations caused countless fires. How could a benevolent God permit such a tragedy in the best of all possible worlds? In the novel, Lisbon symbolizes all that is wrong with Pangloss’s beloved Optimism. The most generous man in the novel, Jacques the Anabaptist, drowns in the harbor, while the brutish sailor he rescues survives unscathed.

Candide and Pangloss help the people of Lisbon extinguish fires and care for the injured while the rescued sailor, who epitomizes the evil in human nature, robs the dead, gets drunk, and fornicates with a prostitute amid the stench of the burning city and the moans of the dying. To prevent more earthquakes, the leaders of the Inquisition (also leaders of the university and therefore some of the best educated men in Europe) try to appease God by burning to death supposed heretics, none of whom is actually guilty. After rain–perhaps a sign from God the Inquisitors choose to ignore–extinguishes the fires, Pangloss is hanged for nothing more than discussing free will over dinner, and the naïve Candide is flogged merely for listening to Pangloss. Later that same day, another earthquake strikes, revealing the vanity of this “civilized” human sacrifice. For Voltaire, this great capital represents greed, cruelty, and superstition, the real bases of European “civilization.”

Land of the Oreillons

Land of the Oreillons. Region bordering Paraguay that Voltaire uses to build an attack on his bitter rival, Jean Jacques Rousseau, an Enlightenment philosopher who believed that people were inherently good but were inevitably corrupted by society and its institutions. In a pure state of nature, Rousseau argued, mankind would be governed only by its goodness. The land of the Oreillons has no recognizable social structure or institutions, and Voltaire describes it as the pure state of nature envisioned by Rousseau. Its people, however, far from being good, practice bestiality and cannibalism.


*Surinam. Dutch colony north of Brazil in which Candide encounters a slave who has endured the hell of the Caribbean sugar plantations, arguably the worst place in the world in which to be a slave. The slave has had all of his limbs amputated as punishment for his various escape attempts and now can do nothing but lie in the dust, waiting for his master. Despite his uselessness, he is still kept as a slave. Candide’s brief visit to Surinam exposes the European sugar consumers’ responsibility for the cruelty of Caribbean slavery.

Turk’s farm

Turk’s farm. Twenty-acre farm in Turkey run by an old man who ignores the outside world and lives contentedly on what he and his family can produce on their own land. This farm illustrates the primary theme of the novel: rather than try to reform or to explain away the evils of the world, Voltaire suggests, people should cultivate their own gardens, that is, improve conditions in their own immediate spheres. The Turk’s farm is a model, self-sufficient society in microcosm, wherein each member satisfies a need and each member’s needs are satisfied. Candide buys a similar farm nearby on which he and his friends form their own “family,” and he ends his travels.

BibliographyAldridge, Alfred Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. A thoughtful study that describes Voltaire’s extraordinarily diverse literary career. Compares Voltaire’s 1759 “philosophical tale” Candide with Jonathan Swift’s masterful satire Gulliver’s Travels.Besterman, Theodore. Voltaire. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. An admirable and reliable biography of Voltaire that focuses on his development as a writer. In the discussion of Candide, Besterman explains the moral and emotional transformation of the protagonist from an immature and selfish adolescent into a sensitive, responsible adult.Mason, Haydn. Voltaire: A Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. The chapter on Candide describes the philosophical and ethical motivation for Voltaire’s criticism of excessive optimism.Pearson, Roger. The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire’s “Contes philosophiques.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An insightful literary study of Voltaire’s use of satire, irony, and understatement in his many philosophical tales. The lengthy chapter on Candide includes an explanation for the appropriateness of viewing Candide as a tale on moral education and on the search for human honesty.Richter, Peyton, and Ilona Ricardo. Voltaire. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Excellent general study on Voltaire’s life and career. Describes several different levels of satire in Candide and Voltaire’s other major philosophical tales, including Zadig (1748) and Micromégas (1752). Also includes a well-annotated bibliography of significant critical studies on his work.
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