Published when Voltaire was 66 years old, Candide was expressly written to satirize the philosophy of Optimism. This optimism was not simply the positive hope of better circumstances, but the belief that everything that happened was for the best, no matter if good or bad, happy or tragic. This philosophy disgusted Voltaire because he felt that it left no facility for bettering oneself or one's surroundings and that it supported fatalism and complacency. The tragic earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 seemed to precipitated the writing of this novel, causing the author to question justice in such a calamity, and reflected in his poem, "Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon," written weeks afterward. Candide was further emphasis of Voltaire's rejection of the attitude that life was the "best of all possible worlds" and that everything that happened in it was for the best.
detailed portrait by Maurice Quenton de la Tour
Satire: the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues
Candide is a young man who has grown up living in a state of perfect happiness, guided by his tutor, Pangloss, who is entrenched in the doctrines of Leibnizian Optimism. Leibnizian Optimism, a philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, believed that this world is the best of all possible worlds because it was created by an omniscient God who would not create flaws if a better world could have been created, therefore, whatever we experience in this world, be it good or bad, must work towards good. When Candide is thrown out of his paradise, he travels the world, at times escaping persecution, and at others, searching for his love, Cunégonde, experiencing many horrific trials and suffering that challenge the philosophy entrenched by his tutor, causing him to question over and over, if this really is "the best of all possible worlds."
That said, these were only my impressions of a book that touches on topics of which I have a limited understanding. To give an informed opinion on Voltaire's stance, you would really need to have more than a cursory knowledge of Leibnizian Optimism, as well as having at least summary knowledge of his contemporaries, with a dollop of the study of the Enlightenment on top. So I will count this as the beginning of my inquiry into the Enlightenment and Voltaire, and hope that my journey fairs better than the journey of Candide. And until my next foray into Voltaire, I will be cultivating my garden.
Translated by Lowell Blair