[FS] Candide by Voltaire

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Candide by Voltaire, first published in 1759 is a French satire and one of the greatest works of literature ever penned. It’s had various subtitles over the years, but the most common one is “Candide: or, Optimism”. Candide is a picaresque novella, which ridiculed via allegories a variety of topics, events, and people of its time. Its sharp wit provoked irascible inveighing from multiple sources. Originally printed to amuse a small group of men with its wit, it took nine years for Voltaire to admit that he had written Candide.

The Folio Society (Affiliate link) published a magnificent limited edition edition of Candide featuring illustrations by Quentin Blake in 2011. It sold out almost immediately and to date has been the Society’s fastest Limited Edition seller ever. Unfortunately, I do not own a copy as I joined Folio after Candide had sold out. I would have loved to get my hands onto a copy, but the demand is high for only 1,000 copies, so the prices are high for used copies on the secondary market whenever a copy surfaces for sale.

Books & Vines has summarized the details of the Folio limited edition of Candide along with some real-world photographs. Head on over there if you want to drool over that edition, and you can also see the summary provided by the Folio Society themselves on their original offering page. It’s a nice touch by the Society to maintain the webpages of their Limited Editions so you can pine after the sold out editions you’ve missed out on.

Now, quite funnily (and in the style of Candide itself), some people have disparaged the selection of Quentin Blake to illustrate Folio’s edition of Candide. The reason why this is humorous is that Voltaire himself stated in a letter to Charles Joseph Panckoucke¹:

Je crois que des Estampes seraient fort inutiles. Ces colifichets n’ont jamais été admis dans les éditions de Cicéron, de Virgile et d’Horace.

Which is roughly translated as, “I think the illustrations are unnecessary. Cicero, Virgil, and Horace never had cartoons printed in their books!”. Of course, illustrations were produced for Candide anyway, against Voltaire’s wishes. That hasn’t changed much – but I think Voltaire would have appreciated Quentin Blake’s art.

The relationship between reader and book is unique for every book. What “makes” a book for someone may “ruin” it for another. I think Quentin Blake’s illustrations have “made” this edition of Candide. But I’m not willing to try to track down a very scarce out of print limited edition that’s way over my budget, as fabulous as it is. While drooling over Candide – it was printed in English. I suddenly had a thought.

Why didn’t I just track down a copy of Candide in French? After all, it’s a French book. I enjoy reading Baudelaire in French. It’s not too thick of a book, so it’d not be too great a burden on my admittedly rusty and poor French. And off I went to search for copies of Candide. By pure serendipity, I ran across a the frontispiece image Blake had painted for the Folio Society’s edition of Candide. “A purple cover. French text. Hmm…”

Offered for sale by a third party in America, Candide Ou L’Optimisme, Illustre Par Quentin Blake (French Edition) which wasn’t too surprising to me as French language books are rarely published in America. There wasn’t any details behind it, so I had to do further research. I went off to Amazon UK and purchased a copy: Candide via Amazon UK. There wasn’t much there either. So off to Amazon FR and finally a description of this edition (Candide ou l’Optimisme (Amazon.FR)) popped up to explain the creation of the edition:

La trentaine d’illustrations, en couleur et en noir et blanc, qui accompagneront le texte de Voltaire ont été publiées par The Folio Society au Royaume-Uni dans un volume de luxe, au tirage limité à 1 000 exemplaires et vendu à 195 livres. Elles sont inédites en France. Le volume Folio sera imprimé sur du Périgord mat 120g ; il ne comprendra pas d’appareil critique.

Roughly translated as: “There are thirty illustrations (in color & black and white) in this edition. They were originally created for the UK Folio Society to illustrate a luxurious deluxe limited edition of which 1,000 copies were sold at £195 each. These editions are unusual in France. This book has been printed on 120g matt Périgord (a type of paper), and it does not include any critical apparatuses.”

Published by Gallimard on March 8, 2012, this is a very new edition. I couldn’t find out any further information on the edition until I visited Quentin Blake’s own website, where it was noted that this was published by special arrangement between Gallimard and the Folio Society to celebrate Gallimard’s 40th anniversary.

As French readers may know, Gallimard is also known as “Folio”. Their books have “Folio” imprinted onto their covers, which made this a brilliant crossover promotion. Candide in the original French. With the Blake illustrations! I finally received this book today – and I was rather surprised to find that the reason that the purple cover shown on the Amazon sites and the illustrated cover shown on Quentin Blake’s site was because the paperback had a rubberized dustjacket. You read that right. There’s a dustjacket on this paperback!

The Gallimard book edition itself is quite small – it’s almost the exact same size as the Oxford Very Short Introduction book series if you’re familiar with that series. I’ve taken a photo of the book with one of the books from the Very Short Introduction series to compare the sizes. I really don’t need to praise Candide‘s text, so just assume that you have to have this book, especially if you can read French and missed out on the Society’s limited edition.

40th Gallimard Anniversary edition details:
ISBN: 2070446980
Publisher: Gallimard (Folio series)
Pages: 192
Dimensions: 7×4.2×0.9″
Weight: 0.85 pounds
List Price: €6.95 (from Amazon FR) – varies depending on your country of origin

As for my opinion on this edition’s production values – the illustrations by Quentin Blake were magnificent. I was prepared for a letdown after the Animal Farm fiasco, but they are sumptuously reproduced, and the text is simply laid out in French. I obviously cannot compare against the original limited edition, but all 30 illustrations are present, and the colors & shading of the black and white illustrations pop out.

The paper color is white, but it appears creamy in its opacity and slightly glossy, but not overly so. The cover itself is a simple laminated cover – but the real gem is the rubberized purple dustjacket. It has the same feel as the cover of another book I recently reviewed, Film School. I wonder if this is the start of a new trend in publishing – the production of rubberized paper covers in some format? If so, I won’t complain. It makes the book wonderfully grippy in the hand, increasing my pleasure in reading that edition. In short – I’ve managed to mitigate my disappointment in missing out on the Limited Edition of Candide produced by the Folio Society. But if you can afford it, don’t feel guilty about picking up that LE. We’ll just simmer in our envy and pet our Gallimard edition for the time being.

Candide rating: A+
Folio Society Limited Edition: (just based on envy) A+
Gallimard edition: A+ (for what it is, a paperback edition of a classic)

And yes, Candide is now the fourth entry in my library rebuilding process and the first paperback. It’s an unique edition, and befits its subject matter!


¹Bellhouse, Mary L. (December 2006). “Candide Shoots the Monkey Lovers: Representing Black Men in Eighteenth-Century French Visual Culture”. Political Theory (Sage Publications) 34 (6): 756. DOI:10.1177/0090591706293020

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