She has lived through violence, rape, slavery, and betrayal and seen the ravages of war and greed. The old womans story also functions as a criticism of religious hypocrisy. She is the daughter of the Pope, the most prominent member of the Catholic Church. The Pope has not only violated his vow of celibacy, but has also proven unable and unwilling to protect his daughter from the misfortunes that befell her.
Candide also displays this sense of hope in light of his many hardships. He honors his commitment to marry Cunegonde at the end of the story despite the physical abnormalities that have plagued her. Cunegonde is a young and beautiful woman at the beginning of Candide. Mirroring Candides naive optimism, their love plays out in unrealistic romantic cliches: a blush, a dropped handkerchief, a surreptitious kiss behind a screen. However, this romance in the shelter of the Barons estate is too far removed from reality to last, and Candides veil of ignorance cannot last either. The baron soon discovers the tryst and expels Candide from this garden of bliss. Up until their meeting in Chapter 29, Candide – who had not seen Cunegondes transformation – believes she is still the innocent, beautiful girl she was at the beginning of the story: “Candide, that tender lover, seeing his fair Cunegonde sunburned, blear-eyed, flat-breasted, with wrinkles around her eyes and red, chapped arms, recoiled three paces in horror, and then advanced from mere politeness” (Voltaire 141). Ironically, Cunegonde does not know she is now ugly either, as “no one had told her so” (Ibid 97). She reminds Candide of his matrimonial intentions, and Candide, who is finally awakened to the brutality of the world, agrees to marry her, although she becomes “uglier every day… shrewish and intolerable” (Ibid 98). Her ugliness symbolizes the end of Candides empty dreams as it shatters his unrealistic hope for perfection. Her beauty had symbolized Candides ideal for happiness throughout the novel.
However, in the end she proves a useful member of the small society in which she lives on Candides farm. She becomes a good pastry cook and finds pleasure and satisfaction in work.
In Voltaires Candide, the accounts of three women serve to exemplify the questions of gender status in Voltaires Europe. The stories of Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman are discussed to highlight the suffering of women during this time period. However, women are strangely represented in the novel since at once they seem like helpless victims yet also show remarkable strength. It seems however, that the “strength” that these women show might not be a statement on the internal powers of women, but rather that they have no choice than to adapt to a gruesome and misogynistic situation. The old woman, after telling her terrible life story, relates that she does not believe in self-pity — she was merely telling everyone her story to pass the time. Although there are many female victims in Candide, none of them seem at all aware of the travesties committed to them or their sex and moreover, they hold true to an abundance of stereotypes (gold-diggers, prostitutes, battered old women). Collectively, the three women and their tales are used to demonstrate that regardless of financial status, political roots, or physical appearance, women are destined to encounter hardships.
Voltaire. Candide. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Rolland, Romain; Andre Maurois; and Edouard Herriot. French Thought in the Eighteenth Century: Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot. New York: David McKay Company, 1953.
Weitz, Morris. Philosophy in Literature: Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tolstoy & Proust. Wayne State University Press, 1963.
Clinton, Katherine. “Femme et Philosophe: Enlightenment Origins of Feminism.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 8: 283-299.
Black, Moishe, “The Place of the Human Body in Candide.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 278 (1990): 173-85.
Scherr, Arthur. “Voltaires Candide: A Tale of Womens Equality.” Midwest Quarterly 34.3 (spring 1993): 261-82.