March 6, 2016

Gardens are the sources of nutrition and welfare for human beings. As literary themes, they appear throughout the history. Their cultivation determines the fate and life of characters. Cultivated gardens are a symbol of hero’s prospect and fortune, and neglected ones put them into despair. Well-maintained plants always bring positive feelings either in books or in real life. People appreciate the hard-work that is hidden behind the beauty of a garden. Especially for Voltaire, working in his garden, after the loss of his wife, had a personal impact; as it restored his peace of mind, returned old friendships, and enabled him to become even more creative (Bottiglia, 1951, p. 719). His work gave him strength for new creations and ceased the misery of being alone and idle.

In Voltaire’s book Candide, the main character with the same name, in his onerous transformation from optimism to the pessimistic realism, also passes through several gardens. The transition of Candide’s imaginary ideas about a rosy life to a realistic simplicity is an adventure laden with philosophical connotations. I will discuss Leibniz’s idea of optimism, represented in the book by Pangloss, against the pessimism of Martin. Both of these characters influenced Candide who maintained optimistic ideas throughout the book to realise, by the end, that life is not as well as it could be.

Two sides of the story

The story has two opposing philosophies appearing throughout the book, i.e., optimism and pessimism. Philosophy of optimism, originated by Leibniz, resonates in the whole story. Optimism embodies positivity and hope, whose followers conceptualise the world as the best possible place to live. God, according to optimists, had planned everything, including our lives, in the best possible manner, and whatever happens on earth happens within his plan for the best. These ideas are highly exercised by Pangloss and Candide in Voltaire’s story. Engrossed in the world of ideas and abstracted from life, optimists cannot discern the reality of existence. It took a long time for the young Westphilian to understand that his life is not as great as it could be. A different way of understanding life, present in the text, is pessimism. Pessimists embrace the world and try to gain lessons from it. They do not accept fate as it comes but try to change it and make their lives better. This stance is showcased by a Manichaeistic Martin, a Dutch scholar, who underwent terrible set of events but did not hope for a better tomorrow.

Even though these two contrasting views are present in the book, they do not clash with each other. They take equal parts in the storyline and have influence on the main character. The outcome of this parallelism is visible in the very end of the story where Candide understands that only hard work rewards. The idleness of the young man is nothing but a torture to himself, living a life of a future dream does not bring any fortune. We may argue that being positive is a good feature, as indeed it is; however, blind belief in an ideology which does not contribute anything to the person, at best, is naïvety, at worst, ignorance. It is important for a person to see the surrounding world and gain wisdom from the experiences one endures. Ceaseless happiness does not exist and money certainly does not find it. Nonetheless, wisdom of life can surely help one to make right decisions. In the case of Candide, he was hopeless, he could rarely make his own mind. Candide always felt as a young boy from Westphalia where everyone listens to the wisdom of philosopher Pangloss; therefore, he always needed advice from others, either the Old Lady, Cacambo, or Martin. He was used to being guided and never made a decision on his own until the very end of the story.

Gardens of two ‘barons’

Candide’s Turkish garden is a parallel of Thunder-ten-tronckh castle and a symbol of his failure. Candide, in his long transition from optimism to realism, passes through many gardens. From the ‘Eden on Earth’ his long journey took him to a small farmland in Turkey, which was akin to the life Candide always dreamed of. As Bottiglia pointed out in his work, there are seven gardens in the story (Bottiglia, 1951, p. 727). Each of them are different, for instance, Eldorado as a garden was a beautiful kingdom where many would not hesitate to live. However, our foolish hero dreams of his beloved Cunégonde and leaves Eldorado after taking gold that he spends as recklessly as he lives; as he thought money brings happiness, which, in reality, does not.

I would like to focus on two ‘gardens’, the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh and Candide’s farmland in Turkey. The first is a real utopia, a dream of many and especially of Candide’s who would imagine himself in the place of the Baron. In this castle hard-work is unknown to people, the life they lead does not require much of their input. People do not work but only enjoy life. Everyone respects the Baron as the master and contemplates about his greatness. Omnipresent idleness amongst people allows them to indulge into pleasures of life, science, and food. The garden is only a source of pleasure where people can contemplate and do not need to labour for their prosperity. Whereas Candide’s Turkish garden, based on the garden of the Old Turk, is more of a ‘society’, not merely a source of happiness. Everyone is equal and do not spare time for simple pleasures and other interests. The garden does not play role of a joyous place, there is no servants to cultivate it. Candide may have purchased the land but everyone is treated equally; therefore, the owners themselves also need to work. Long contemplations and empty talks about things that do not indeed happen would not bring amelioration. Therefore, none of the farmers practise these beside Pangloss who locked himself in the hope of optimism. In such garden, hard-work is more appreciated, and it is necessary that everyone finds his place, in order for the ‘society’ to exist. Leibniz’s thought is abandoned as it no longer has its followers amongst hard-workers who cultivate their land. The slog puts one’s mind away from idle thoughts and interests in abstract things which do not suit a life of a simple villager.

The simplicity of life and wisdom of the Turkish elderly are a turning point for Candide who realises that he will not live a dream he wanted. He understood he will never be a baron, nor a king. He lost his wealth and from his travels, he knows that being a king is not the best of all possible things. However, the transformation would not occur without the help of his friend Martin who always had a realistic view for the world, the way Candide could not see. The important fact is that Candide realises that his life will not be as he wished. He sees that the money he once had, is now gone, the beauty of his wife diminished and the only way to live and forget about the pain of his failure is work. Indeed, he admits that by words ‘I also know …that we must cultivate our garden’ (Voltaire, 2006, p.88). The literal meaning of these words may be simple but their metaphor is what created the society now he needs to face. By cultivation of the garden, Candide was able to support the house and ease the struggle of Cacambo who, in the beginning, worked alone.

The young captain, by working in the land, no longer had to think about the past he had and about things which may happen. The wisdom of the Old Turk helped him realise that optimism is not a sound worldview. He realises that his life is not the best of all possible lives he could lead. If it was the best, he would probably be wealthy, married to a beautiful wife, and had a palace or simply stayed in Eldorado or had never been kicked out of Westphalia in the first place. Alas, none of these happened. He comprehends that he has nothing left, he ends his journey as he had started, and none of his optimistic dreams came true. Therefore, he decides to leave the optimism of Pangloss, and applies a life-style of a farmer from Turkey (Mason, 1992, p. 43). He knows that it is his only option. Still, in his failure, Candide creates his own version of Thunder-ten-tronckh, much different from the Baron’s. In his own garden everyone is equal, everyone works for common good. With the aforementioned words, the old system where Cacambo was the sole labourer of the farm diminishes along with Candide’s optimistic ideology, the entire farm besides Pangloss enters a new phase. It is a new beginning, where everyone is equal, none of them lavishes the time, and their interests end with the boundaries of their garden. No-one thinks anymore about wealth, beauty and their life struggles since all of these brings boredom which is worse than idleness. Vanity and purposeless do not find place in minds of the ‘society’ as life is no longer a dream.


Bottiglia, W. F.. (1951). Candide’s Garden. PMLA, 66(5), 718–733.

Mason, H. (1992). Candide: Optimism demolished. New York: Twayne

Voltaire. (2006). Candide and other stories (New ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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About The Author

Dominik Durlik is the creative director of Uisio. He is an art connoisseur who reviews the modern developments in arts and culture. His desire to explore new horizons resulted in a life-long pursuit as he traveled extensively around the world. He is currently concerned with the growing inequality and decreasing living conditions. Besides involving in charity efforts, he looks for ways to increase the awareness on the dehumanizing affects of inequality.

4 Responses

  1. Avis Tremen

    I have read Candide several times during my college years, but I have never seen the story through the angle Mr Durlik presented. I will read the book again after many years. I have not had chance to cultivate a garden in my life; neither an allegoric garden of society nor an actual one of beauty. I feel it was such a loss. I see the happiness of my friends who formed a small society around a big house with a garden in the countryside. They are happier than I now. Although I have also seen the failure of dreams to form little societies to cultivate gardens. Some people get bored, personal disputes surface, and all the things too human divide people. This, I need to admit, is the end of cultivation of many gardens that I have experienced. Even brothers do not want to see each other after a certain moment. Therefore, I would like to tell that Mr Durlik’s interpretation of Turkish garden as the conclusion of all the adventures that little Candide had is a very apt one. Because without experiencing the adventures and failures, one cannot grasp the importance of the cultivation of ‘gardens’. One has to go through some piercingly painful steps to appreciate simplicity. That may be the reason why we do not understand the value of things simple until we see the complex nature of soothing simplicity. I like this essay very much, and thank you Mr Durlik for your inspiring writing. Although it is late for me to start cultivating a garden, I hope that is not the case with your young readers.

  2. A. Emerson

    After a year, Mr. Durlik returned with an incredible essay. In the meanwhile, I have visited some museums, even the ones in the Netherlands. I always heard about Voltaire but never had the chance to read. After this essay, I will definitely read Candide. I had the fortune to grow up in countryside, so I know how valuable simplicity could be when metaphysics is put aside. Alas, countrymen are also so passionate about religion in my country, which makes the gardens there a type of an archaic society that I always wanted to escape. I was so happy to move to New York, but now, after some years, I miss the simplicity there.

    I hope the next essay won’t come after a year. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Andrews Gregor

    Candide’s final garden reminds me of a socialist dream of a commune. Equality, no servants, ease of life, simplicity… The final garden also demonstrates that if societal change could not be achieved, we can always achieve personal revolutions. Candide first wanted to be a king, a ruler of people to change or effect the society as whole. But in the end, after many unfortunate adventures, he instead created a micro-society of his own in Turkey. I think making small scale changes in lives is also very important, and it is through small scale revolutions that we will be able to change the world one day.

  4. James Reath

    This excellently written essay has a very significant point about Candide, and it catches the spirit of 18th century French philosophy. From Voltaire to Rousseau, we always see the rejection of philosophy and sciences for the sake of simplicity and natural attitude. Rousseau, as well, thought that sciences corrupt human soul and divide us from nature. He also talked of the return to nature. And the same theme, I learn from this wonderful essay that, was present in Voltaire’s works. I always wanted to make a similar decision to Candide’s, to abandon my studies and ‘cultivate my own garden’, but after attaining my PhD degree, it was so late; I was already sucked in by the academia. My dreams are alive for my retirement. I would like it very much to read more from Dominik Durlik.



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