Of Voltaire's work, we have so far read Candide and Plato's Dream.
Reflections by Angury
I liked Plato's Dream. Although the ending does stand out with the idea of an omniscient being who created imperfect creatures, my favourite part was Demogorgon's reply about the cruelties of Earth: " "It is easy to find fault," he said; "but do you imagine it is so easy to form an animal, who, having the gift of reason and free will, shall not sometimes abuse his liberty? Do you think that, in rearing 10,000 plants, it is so easy to prevent some few from having noxious qualities? Do you suppose that, with a certain quantity of water, sand, and mud, you could make a globe without sea or desert?" "
Reflections by Krollo
Voltaire was clearly trying to strike a nerve with the Church here. In an age of widespread fundamentalism, criticising Christianity was the short path to becoming a social pariah, or worse. Nevertheless, he manages to convey a major theological argument - why does evil exist if God is omniscient? His answer - doing everything perfect is near impossible. The last sentence is very chilling, bringing to mind the story of Confucius and the butterfly. Did anyone else think it was solipsistic, or was it just me?
Reflections by Angury
It has made me realise that I read books in a certain way - I am so used to reading stories and looking at the vocabulary and style of writing etc, that I actually found Candide quite bland at the beginning. It was only a few chapters in that I started to question the meaning behind the characters and what they symbolised. I guess I'm just not used to reading such books.
I also read this on my kindle, and it was interesting being able to see sentences that others had highlighted; a lot of them had obvious meanings behind them, but there were some which made you stop and question what stood out in that particular sentence for the people who highlighted it.
I definitely agree with the message at the end of the book; I have found practical work to be a cure for a lot of things. Keeping yourself busy is a doorway out of the mind.
My favourite character was definitely Martin. As a pessimist myself, I agreed a lot with what he was saying. Everything that Martin said came from his own experiences as well and not just some blind faith. People often say that you become more cynical as you grow older, which is a pity in a way. I guess it's why people often want to go back to the "innocence" of childhood. But I have always believed that by being cynical you are being realistic.
I particularly liked what the novel was saying about how superficial money and beauty can be in one's life. I was a bit cheesed off at the beginning of the novel at the way each female was characterised by her beauty and nothing else. I was a bit unsure where the story was going because the characters were so simple, but I was happy with the way Cunegonde's storyline ended. At least it showed that there is more to life than looking pretty.
I think to get more out of this novel I would have needed to do more background reading, particularly regarding Voltaire's background and the Enlightenment. This is the first piece of work that I have read by Voltaire; it was interesting trying to dissect the book in a different way to what I'm used to - especially looking at the characters as caricatures of certain ways of thinking. I generally prefer characters who have a lot of depth to them, and a story filled with metaphors and intricate details, so this book was a learning experience for me. It made me think in a different way which can only be a good thing.