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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