Frontispiece of the 2006 Project Gutenberg copy of 'Candide,' taken from 1918 Modern Library editionType "Candide Gutenberg" into Google and you will swiftly find your way to a delightful English translation of Voltaire's wonderful work. It would cost you a whole $1.50 to get the same text on paper, in the remarkably inexpensive Dover Thrift Editions series. Spend $500 on a new iPad and you can get the Gutenberg version practically for free! Why bother going anywhere else?
Well, first, compare Gutenberg's version to Candide 2.0, in the "Candide at 250" online exhibit on the NYPL site. Candide 2.0 uses the same English translation, but it allows you to see others' comments on what they have read. And it allows you to reply to their comments, and to post your own comments, inviting others to reply. You get something more for your money, and you haven't even spent any money! Surely it's the best of all possible media. Or, perhaps it's one of a set of them.
Broadview Editions 'Candide' (2009)In 2003 I began work on an edition of Candide that Broadview Press published in 2009. It is available, to this point, exclusively in dead tree format. Fortunately, by the time they find themselves between the covers, the trees are entirely post-consumer recycled material. What's more, near to 2/3 of the intellectual content is also recycled: you could find much of it online, or in a good library. So, why might you bother to look at it? What is the relevance of traditional publishing in this age of digital downloads and cooperative wiki-products?
Simply put, there's much more to an old book than meets the eye. For example: In the very first paragraph of Candide there are references to "Westphalia," "Thunder-ten-tronckh," and "seventy-one quarterings." A well educated reader might be able to grasp one of those references: Westphalia is an area of northern Germany. A very well educated reader might catch a second: quarterings are units of genealogical measure within heraldry. A very technically educated reader, such as one I consulted, would see the oddness of the number seventy-one – for quarterings cannot advance by odd numbers (quarterings, that is, according to my consultant: as opposed to impalings, which I don't even try to grasp). Sixty-four quarterings would signal a highly unlikely standard that would be reflected in heritage of arms from all parents for six generations. Finally, nobody knows just why Voltaire came up with the name ‘Thunder-ten-tronckh,' but a few have guessed that he thought that it would sound very ugly, and so, riotously funny as a reflection on Germany for a French audience.
So, here is one answer on why to look to different editions of Candide: you might use the footnotes, which are not essential for enjoying Candide, but can greatly increase your understanding of history and of Voltaire's wit. I learned a great deal when presented with the task of writing about two hundred footnotes for Candide, and one hundred fifty more for the historical material I assembled around that text. I can assure you, since I have consulted footnotes in a half-dozen other editions, that you will learn different things from different editors' footnotes. You might learn the most from René Pomeau's edition (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1980). That might not suit your needs or taste, however: you will learn different things from each of the Broadview edition, the Hackett edition, and the Norton edition. And you might find still other ideas online at Candide 2.0, including some fresh ones that are in none of the printed editions.
If you want to learn a bit from Candide, pop into a bookshop (or a good library) and see which edition can best teach you. If you want to learn a bit more from Voltaire regarding his times, you would do well to start with Letters Concerning the English Nation, edited by Nicholas Cronk (Oxford University Press, 1994). Very useful footnotes in that one!