Voltaires philosophical and literary works are now believed to be prominent examples of French literature of Enlightenment. The author subjected to heavy criticism shortcomings of the then Western-European society as, religious fanaticism, despotism, military aggressiveness, feuds that engulfed Europe, etc (Rolland, 155). However, it is hardly possible to say that the philosopher held only pessimistic views on life; his novella “Candide:” eloquently proves it, especially the main character, Candide. Even though Voltaire ironically refers to him, one cannot deny that he possesses some positive qualities, his positive outlook, which helps him survive.
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Before discussing some of the minor characters in this story, it should be borne in mind that each of them can be analyzed in connection with Candide who may accept or reject their beliefs or principles. Among such supplementary characters, we can single out Lord Pococurante. To a certain degree, even his name is symbolic; the word “pococurante” is of Italian origin and it can be translated into English as indifferent. He perfectly corresponds to his name. At the very beginning of the fifteenth chapter, Voltaire makes the reader feel that Lord Pococurante is tired of everything. He says, “I make them lie with me sometimes, for I am very tired of the ladies of the town, of their coquetries, of their jealousies, of their quarrels, of their humors, of their pettinesses, of their pride, of their follies” (Voltaire, 70)
Certainly, some of the previously mentioned can be very tiresome, but this character assumes such an attitude towards everything. The lord can be characterized by perfectionism; he demands excellence from everyone and everything surrounding him. Overall, perfectionism is a positive quality because it stimulates a person to improve oneself but in his case, it becomes grotesque, because Lord Pococurante rejects everything that allegedly does not meet his standards.
His literary tastes are also very interesting. Lord Pococurante is quite able to criticize Homer, Horace, and Cicero; there is nothing, which may seem flawless. His ability to find defects in everything prevents him from taking pleasure in literature, philosophy, and painting. It is obvious that the author is ironic about him, it can be deduced from Candides remark “But is there not a pleasure in criticizing everything, in pointing out faults where others see nothing but beauties’ (Voltaire, 73). The main problem is that such a world outlook is a personal tragedy, and such an attitude may eventually result in suicide.
The question arises why Voltaire inserts such a character in the novella, and what functions he performs in the story. On the one hand, Lord Pococurante embodies the then French aristocracy, the social class, surfeited with everything. The author attracts the reader’s attention to a very curious paradox: people, who live in luxury, cannot enjoy it. Though it is not explicitly stated by Voltaire, such people are doomed to failure. At this point, we can say with certainty that Voltaire is prophetic in this novella.
Another aspect, which should be discussed, is perfectionism. The author emphasizes that such a worldview can be very dangerous if the person does not keep the sense of proportion, as it is with Lord Pococurante. He is not able to see the beauty of things that surround him. His criticism can be only destructive, though Pococurante identifies drawbacks; he does put forward any suggestions, which may prove useful.
Apart from that, this character demands perfection only from other people, he never attempts to apply this principle to himself and it makes him a slightly comic figure. Lord Pococurante is neither artist, nor writer, but he takes faults with the world masterpieces, which is absurd in its core. Nevertheless, many people deem themselves quite competent for criticizing, having never created any work of art.
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Through this character, Voltaire also wants to analyze a very peculiar feature of human psychology. This man has in his possession what other people can hardly dream of but he can only criticize it. Very often people who have achieved success or prosperity do not value it. Lord Pococurante takes his wealth for granted and it bores him. If he were deprived of it, his opinion would have radically changed.
The fallacy of Lord Pococurantes philosophy becomes obvious if we compare him with other people that Candide encounters on his journey. For example, the old Turk, who is not so sophisticated and educated as to the Venetian nobleman but he can look at the world realistically, and its beauty is not concealed from him, whereas Pococurante refuses to see it, which makes him pitiable.
Thus, having analyzed Voltaires novella “Candide or Optimism”, namely such character as Lord Pococurante, we can arrive at the following conclusions. First, the author employs this character to satirize the then Western aristocracy, unable to take pleasure in what they had. Secondly, the example of Lord Pococurante shows all the dangers of perfectionism (it is maximized). In addition to that, Voltaire proves that people are not always able to value what they possess unless it is taken away from them.
J. H. BRUMFITT. “Voltaire: Historian”. Oxford University Press, 1990.
Romain Rolland. “French Thought in the Eighteenth Century” David McKay, 1995.
Voltaire. “Candide” Courier Dover Publications, 1991.