Theme: A satire on systems of thought which are not founded on experience. Voltaire also despises the notion of a God who could dispense suffering for the sake of some higher good. Conversely, humanity's irrational resilience is celebrated.
Style: A model of clarity. The use of euphemism paradoxically exposes the horrors of the real world.
Chief strengths: An analysis of the unreasonable desire to rationalise suffering. Characters are nearly killed, permanently crippled, forced to witness unspeakable horrors, yet bounce back with insane elasticity.
Chief weaknesses: When Voltaire gets hold of a joke he is unwilling to let go.
What they thought of it then: Topped the 18th century bestseller lists with 20 pirated editions coming out in 1759, together with English and Italian translations.
What we think of it now: Admired in France because it reflects the qualities the French most admire in themselves: lightness of touch coupled with philosophical profundity.
Responsible for: Waugh's Decline and Fall which similarly pits a naive optimist against a hostile world. Gavin GriffithsReuse content