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362Philosophy and Literature But this work should also prove delightful to the most erudite Thoreau specialists. Quite apart from the pleasure of seeing afresh Thoreau's humor and integrity, we have the pleasure ofreading about them from a critic perfecdy attuned to Thoreau, who approaches thinking and writing in the same spirit. Bickman's lucid readings impressively attend to Thoreau's rich language— etymological puns being one example—but he, too, writes richly allusive prose. We thus enjoy reimmersing ourselves in Thoreau's search for ways to search for trudi. True to his subject, Bickman denies us the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow we have ridden: "Waiden cannot be reduced to a single oudook or set of propositions about the world. Its meanings reside, rather, in the rich, fluid, often unsettling experience of reading it, not in detachable statements suitable for sticking on buttons or bumpers." But he has given us an enjoyable, rewarding ride. University of California, Los AngelesRichard Kaplan "Candide": Optimism Demolished, by Haydn Mason; xvi & 111 pp. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, $21.95 cloth, $7.95 paper. Twayne's Masterwork Studies offer critical readings of "the classics" by renowned "experts" for the use of students and teachers from the secondary through the university level. A dubious industry at best, such collections are seldom to be recommended; but for this particular assignment, Twayne's scholarly scouting could not have been sounder: author ofan intellectual biography, two booklength critical studies, and numerous articles on Voltaire and his oeuvre, Mason is in my opinion the finest interpreter of Voltaire writing in English. Mason's study consists of seven chapters, of which the first four concern themselves with the background and fortunes of Voltaire's masterpiece, while the last three (which together comprise three-fourths of the book) present a detailed reading of the conte from the viewpoints of its ideological, narrative, and stylistic aspects. The "background" chapters are, generally speaking, fairly standard stuff tracing the development of Voltaire's disenchantment widi philosophical optimism and die wary critical reception of his tale. Mason points out diat owing to its slight form, its flippancy, and its occasional obscenity, Candide needed well over a century to attain anything like the status of an accepted "classic," and this belated recognition can be largely credited to the ardent admiration of Flaubert. In the second chapter, Mason adumbrates the qualities which he Reviews363 believes enabled Candide's eventual establishment as a masterpiece: "What Voltaire provides is a whole worldview, unique and self-consistent, and ... as relevant today as it was in 1759"—namely, "that human existence as he saw it was irredeemably comic. . . . Human beings are not only greedy, treacherous, and unpredictable, but also delightfully foolish . . . prone to finding 'lessons' in disasters because any system of order . . . seems better than none" (pp. 911 ). Chapter 5 inaugurates Mason's own interpretation of the conte with an examination ofits "Philosophy and Meaning." After exposing the common shortcomings ofboth Pangloss's and Martin's philosophies, he remarks that "Candide is not, in reality, a philosophical novel" (p. 34), and that philosophy—at least "ofthe metaphysical kind"—serves, like storytelling, but to "fill up empty hours" in the conte (p. 36). The pages that follow are perhaps the most important in the book, as Mason addresses the controversies surrounding the conclusion of Candide and the Eldorado interlude. In particular, he challenges the revisionist reading advanced by Roy Wolper and Theodore Braun to the effect that Candide remains a satiric butt even in the famous last words of the conte. Mason defdy shows how such an interpretation rests on a misreading (or non-reading) of various details in the final chapter, such as Candide's attitude toward the Baron, and the place of boredom on the farm (pp. 44—52). As for Eldorado, Mason argues that it is indeed a model for imitation, but more in spirit than in precise details: "Candide offers no comforting answers, on either the political or the religious front" (p. 57). Accordingly, the next chapter, the longest in the book, deals with the lessons and consolations to be derived from personal relationships in the tale. Mason's book has its failings, perhaps...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 362-363
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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