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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.4 (2002) 635-637

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Book Review

"From the German of Doctor Ralph":
Two New Translations of Voltaire's Candide

Ronald Schechter,
The College of William and Mary

Daniel Gordon, trans. and ed. Candide by Voltaire (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999). Pp. 160. $14.20 paper.
David Wootton, trans. and ed. Candide and Related Texts (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000). Pp. 190. $5.95 paper.

Instructors will be pleased to learn that they have two new choices among the editions of Voltaire's Candide now in print. David Wootton's version exhibits the clarity and accuracy that one would expect from the intellectual historian and seasoned translator who previously rendered Machiavelli's The Prince and Thomas More's Utopia into English. Daniel Gordon, also an intellectual historian, provides a similarly faithful and nuanced translation, and though Candide is his début effort, Gordon's talent as a translator is unmistakable. Both editions successfully convey Voltaire's lapidary irony and gallows humor, and each takes translation risks that add to our understanding of the famous conte philosophique. Wootton daringly breaks with tradition by translating jardin not as "garden" but as "land" and he translates the most famous line in the book, il faut cultiver notre jardin, as "we must work our land." He supports this decision by observing that jardin in the eighteenth century could indicate a "small farm" such as the one that Candide and his companions owned at the end of the story. Gordon, for his part, puts the sex back into Candide, where it belongs. Whereas previous translators have prudishly effaced the sexual innuendo that characterized the original, Gordon restores the sexually charged language to a work that Voltaire wrote in order to scandalize. Thus, for example, it is easy in other editions (including Wootton's) to overlook the lechery of the Baroness, but not in Gordon's, where the noblewoman "bestowed favors on visitors with a discretion that made her even more eminent" (4). Gordon also notices the homosexual relations between Candide and the Perigordian Abbé, a reading with which Wootton, citing Gordon, concurs. Finally, both translators are sensitive to Voltaire's particular use of the word raisonner, rightfully choosing not to translate it as "reason," since this would give the impression that the author disapproved of reasoning—Martin the wise Manichean famously exhorts Candide, "Travaillons sans raisonner"—whereas Voltaire merely objected to an extreme form of rationalism, epitomized in Candide's tutor Pangloss, that gave no credence to experience. Thus Gordon uses the verb "theorize" and Wootton opts for "philosophize."

Both editions are directed at students and each accordingly features an extensive introduction, many helpful editor's footnotes, a chronology of events in Voltaire's lifetime and supplementary documents designed to place Candide in its historical context. The Wootton version is more voluminous in its editorial matter. The novella itself takes up less than half the volume, which also includes a selection from Leibniz, nearly 200 lines of Pope's Essay On Man, Voltaire's entire "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster," Rousseau's letter to Voltaire in defense of optimism, and a number of other selections from Voltaire's oeuvre. Gordon's contextual readings are comparatively sparse, consisting of five of Voltaire's letters and two documents in which contemporaries offer their views on Candide, though it also contains six well-chosen illustrations, including an evocative painting of [End Page 635] Madame du Châtelet and a moving print of the mutilated African slave whom Candide encounters in Surinam and who explains to the naïve visitor, "C'est à ce prix que vous manger du sucre en Europe." Nevertheless, this appears to be a case in which less is more, since students are likely to be intimidated by the amount as well as the difficulty of the supplementary documentation in the Wootton edition, whereas Gordon's brief selections invite thorough reading and even re-reading while still allowing students to assimilate Candide itself.

In any student edition the introduction is crucial. Here the two choices...


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