Another approach would be to view the characters’ retreat to a farm as Voltaire giving us the advice that it is better to retreat from the world–in whatever way you can–than to engage oneself with it. The ending of Candide is enigmatic: when Candide says for the second time that “we must cultivate our garden,” is Voltaire trying to dissuade us from philosophizing about the existence of evil in the world? Is he critiquing the field of philosophy in general while simultaneously engaging in philosophy?
ADDENDUM: At the end of War and Peace (1869), Tolstoy (like Voltaire) spends a fair amount of time sharing his thoughts about the shortcomings of other intellectuals. Specifically, Tolstoy criticizes different methods of historical analysis. Tolstoy is particularly critical of historians who fail to recognize the role of “necessity” in their analysis of human interaction, and cites Voltaire as someone who has prematurely disregarded the role of religion. You can find this discussion on the second to last page of War and Peace (p.1,443) if you have the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Rosemary Edmonds.
Publishing note: My edition of Candide was a Norton critical edition, translated by Robert M. Adams. Other group members had other editions and translations. We discovered that they were all fairly similar, but not identical. Adams’ translation uses slightly more formal language, however, so if that is what you prefer, then I can recommend the Norton edition which also has a number of critical essays following the text.
- Candide App-eal (voltairefoundation.wordpress.com)