Candide revealed – a Voltairean oddity

Candide was published in 1759; 232 years later…

Perhaps no other work of literature from the eighteenth century has entered popular culture to the extent achieved by Voltaire’s Candide. After a shaky start in 1956 Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, Candide, swept the world. Numerous other derivative works have appeared, but none quite so odd as Candide revealed, an erotic fantasy comic version which started publication in 1991 by Eros Comix, an imprint of Fantagraphics, Seattle, the publisher of an enormous range of comic strips and graphic novels, some highly sexual. Candide revealed, ‘The Candide they were embarrassed to show you’ (‘They’ is undefined) is perhaps the most literary of their productions but by no means the most raunchy. There have been other fully illustrated ‘graphic novel’ versions of Candide, but this one is different, in that the text is completely rewritten in an American rough demotic. In traditional comic style, the ‘goodies’ are blond and beautiful in the WASP way, and the ‘baddies’ are ugly and dark. The work nevertheless follows Voltaire’s story very closely, though in a much condensed form and emphasising the erotic and violent episodes, compressing most of the events of the first nine chapters into 89 images, but with frequent allusion to the key phrase of ‘all for the best in the best of all possible worlds’ and other Panglossian sentiments.

The opening spread of Candide revealed.

The authors of the work are not easy to identify with any certainty. The script is attributed to Link Yaco, who may be Lincoln Yaco whose name appears on some other publications from the same source, but about whom little else is known. The drawings are attributed to a certain ‘Simon DeBeaver’, whose echo of a famous French feminist cannot be accidental. The cover colour is attributed to ‘Freesia Bunzoff’, perhaps an elegant reference to the illustration of Candide attempting to sleep in a ploughed field under falling snow. Three volumes of Candide revealed were advertised, but only number one can be found, on the last page of which readers are encouraged to save up to buy the continuation.

The final spread of volume 1 of Candide revealed.

I am grateful to an anonymous member of the staff of Fantagraphics for informing me that no evidence exists that the other two numbers were ever published. Perhaps the work fell between two stools, being too erudite but not sufficiently erotic for their core readership. A sole image from the intended next number confirms the planned publication.

A taster for the unpublished continuation.

Parodies of Candide started early. A. Owen Aldridge, in ‘The vindication of philosophical optimism in a pseudo-Confucian imitation of Voltaire’s Candide’, Asian and African Studies 6 (1997), p.117-25, describes L’Aventurier chinois, ostensibly published in Peking in 1773 (and sold by Mérigot le jeune of Paris). A complete account of pastiches, parodies, operettas and other derivatives is probably impossible to achieve, but some starts have been made. Works related to Candide are treated by Christopher Thacker in ‘Sons of Candide’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 58 (1967), p.1515-31, by J. Rustin in ‘Les “Suites” de Candide au XVIIIe siècle’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 90 (1972), p.1395-1416, and by J. Vercruysse in ‘Les enfants de Candide’ in Jean Macary (ed.), Essays on the Age of Enlightenment in Honor of Ira O. Wade (Geneva, 1977), p.369-76.

There are important studies of illustrated editions of Candide. See Peter Tucker, The Illustrated editions of Candide: the interpretation of a classic: an examination and checklist, with an introduction by Giles Barber ([Church Hanborough], The Previous Parrot Press, 1993). A copy may be seen, in part, here. (It is a limited edition of 185 numbered copies.) The University of Trier has a bibliography (though the illustrations are only accessible on campus). A more specialised investigation is Robert Vilain’s ‘Images of optimism? German illustrated editions of Voltaire’s Candide in the context of the First World War’, Oxford German Studies 37 (2008), p.223-52, which has striking illustrations, including those by Paul Klee. (Available online through academic institutions.)

Illustrated editions of Candide appeared very early. Voltaire disliked illustrations in his works, comparing himself modestly to Cicero, Virgil and Horace in a letter to his publisher Panckoucke concerning an edition (not of Candide) where he says: ‘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. Il faut imiter ces grands hommes dans cette simplicité si on ne peut pas imiter leurs perfections’ (12 January 1778, D20980).

These illustrations often concentrated on the erotic, though more subtly than Simon DeBeaver. Two early versions of the monkey episode, by Charles Monnet (1732-1808) in the Bouillon, 1778, edition, and by Jean-Michel Moreau (1741-1814) for a Renouard edition of the works in 1803, differ quite markedly in the nature of the suggested relationship between the women and the monkeys.

Left: Charles Monnet (1778). Right: Jean-Michel Moreau (1803).

This change in approach has been attributed to a hardening of attitudes to black men after the Haiti slave revolt by Mary L. Bellhouse in ‘Candide shoots the Monkey Lovers: representing black men in eighteenth-century French visual culture’, Political Theory 34 (2006), p.741-84 (available online through academic institutions). It is a pity we cannot know how Candide revealed would have treated this episode, and how it would now be viewed through the prism of critical race theory.

A not dissimilar contrast appears in two more modern illustrations of Cunégonde. In Norman Tealby’s account of the rape of Cunégonde by a Bulgarian soldier for an edition of Candide published in 1928 by John Lane The Bodley Head (London) and Dodd, Mead & Co. (New York), the soldier, though fearsome, looks like a Gilbert and Sullivan character, and the fair victim seems almost placid. Cunégonde’s plight is very differently represented by Umberto Brunelleschi (1879-1949) in a Candide published in 1952 by Gibert Jeune, where the blackness of her assailant is emphasised. It is tempting to wonder if Mussolini’s domestically popular African adventures influenced the artist.

Left: Cunégonde by Norman Tealby (1928). Right: Cunégonde by Umberto Brunelleschi (1952).

Images of literary figures and their adventures are constantly changeable and remade for the times and tastes they serve.

– Martin Smith

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