Study Guide

Candide Wealth

By Voltaire

Wealth

The Baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia, for his castle had not only a gate, but also windows. His great hall, even, was hung with tapestry. All the dogs of his farmyards formed a pack of hounds at need; his grooms were his huntsmen; and the curate of the village was his grand almoner. They called him "My Lord," and laughed at all his stories. (1.2)

Although the Baron is the wealthiest man in Westphalia, it does not save his family from rape and murder.

"Who was it that robbed me of my money and jewels?" said Cunégonde, all bathed in tears. "How shall we live? What shall we do? Where find Inquisitors or Jews who will give me more?" (10.1)

It is apparent from Cunégonde’s sudden loss of wealth that wealth is transient.

"Miss, you have seventy-two quarterings, and not a farthing; it is now in your power to be wife to the greatest lord in South America, who has very beautiful moustaches. Is it for you to pique yourself upon inviolable fidelity? You have been ravished by Bulgarians; a Jew and an Inquisitor have enjoyed your favors. Misfortune gives sufficient excuse. I own, that if I were in your place, I should have no scruple in marrying the Governor and in making the fortune of Captain Candide." (13.6)

Although Cunégonde loves Candide, the Old Woman advises her to marry the Governor in order to acquire wealth. She values wealth above love, and it comes back to haunt her when she ends up as a servant anyway.

"I own, my friend, once more that the castle where I was born is nothing in comparison with this; but, after all, Miss Cunégonde is not here, and you have, without doubt, some mistress in Europe. If we abide here we shall only be upon a footing with the rest, whereas, if we return to our old world, only with twelve sheep laden with the pebbles of El Dorado, we shall be richer than all the kings in Europe. We shall have no more Inquisitors to fear, and we may easily recover Miss Cunégonde."

This speech was agreeable to Cacambo; mankind are so fond of roving, of making a figure in their own country, and of boasting of what they have seen in their travels, that the two happy ones resolved to be no longer so, but to ask his Majesty's leave to quit the country. (18.21-22)

Candide and Cacambo wish to leave El Dorado in order to better enjoy the status afforded by their wealth. Because there is no such thing as "wealth" in El Dorado, they fail to recognize that they already have happiness there.

"You are foolish," said the King. "I am sensible that my kingdom is but a small place, but when a person is comfortably settled in any part he should abide there. I have not the right to detain strangers. It is a tyranny that neither our manners nor our laws permit. All men are free. Go when you wish, but the going will be very difficult…"

"We desire nothing of your Majesty," says Candide, "but a few sheep laden with provisions, pebbles, and the earth of this country." The King laughed.

"I cannot conceive," said he, "what pleasure you Europeans find in our yellow clay, but take as much as you like, and great good may it do you." (18.23- 26)

The King of El Dorado finds the acquisition of wealth and riches strange, foolish, and useless. He is also, arguably, the happiest character in the book.

Our travelers spent the first day very agreeably. They were delighted with possessing more treasure than all Asia, Europe, and Africa could scrape together. Candide, in his raptures, cut Cunegonde's name on the trees. The second day two of their sheep plunged into a morass, where they and their burdens were lost; two more died of fatigue a few days after; seven or eight perished with hunger in a desert; and others subsequently fell down precipices. At length, after traveling a hundred days, only two sheep remained. Said Candide to Cacambo:

"My friend, you see how perishable are the riches of this world; there is nothing solid but virtue, and the happiness of seeing Cunégonde once more." (19.1-2)

As quickly as they acquired wealth, Candide and Cacambo lose their riches.

"Ay!" said the skipper to himself, "this man agrees to pay twenty thousand piastres with as much ease as ten."

He went back to him again, and declared that he could not carry him to Venice for less than thirty thousand piastres.

"Then you shall have thirty thousand," replied Candide.

"Oh! oh!" said the Dutch skipper once more to himself, "thirty thousand piastres are a trifle to this man; surely these sheep must be laden with an immense treasure; let us say no more about it. First of all, let him pay down the thirty thousand piastres; then we shall see."

Candide sold two small diamonds, the least of which was worth more than what the skipper asked for his freight. He paid him in advance. The two sheep were put on board. Candide followed in a little boat to join the vessel in the roads. The skipper seized his opportunity, set sail, and put out to sea, the wind favoring him. Candide, dismayed and stupefied, soon lost sight of the vessel. (19.24-28)

Because of his wealth, Candide is targeted for robbery. His riches therefore bring him further unhappiness.

The Abbé sympathized in his trouble; he had had but a light part of the fifty thousand francs lost at play and of the value of the two brilliants, half given, half extorted. His design was to profit as much as he could by the advantages that the acquaintance of Candide could procure for him. He spoke much of Cunégonde and Candide told him that he should ask forgiveness of that beautiful one for his infidelity when he should see her in Venice. (22.70)

Even holy figures are corrupted by wealth in Candide.

In the midst of these transports in came an officer, followed by the Abbé and a file of soldiers.

"There," said he, "are the two suspected foreigners," and at the same time he ordered them to be seized and carried to prison. (22.84-85)

Candide is targeted only because of his wealth.

"I will not suffer," said the Baron, "such meanness on her part, and such insolence on yours; I will never be reproached with this scandalous thing; my sister's children would never be able to enter the church in Germany. No; my sister shall only marry a Baron of the empire." (29.4)

Wealth once again proves futile to Candide, as it is unable to sway Cunégonde’s brother to approve the marriage.