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All Possible Worlds

Voltaire's 'Candide' as Media Event


Candide. [Title page], Digital ID 1618971, New York Public LibraryThe title page of the [Geneva]
1759 true first edition
(NYPL Digital Gallery)
To say that Candide enjoyed an immediate success is an understatement. Candide was a phenomenon. The novel was published through the medium of print, a fact which we too easily take for granted. The print world of the eighteenth century was unlike our own and posed two particular challenges.

The first was censorship. England enjoyed a fairly free press, but most European countries had various systems for controlling the output of publishers. In France, for example, a book might be censored by the King, by judges or by the Catholic Church – or by any combination of these three. The second challenge was piracy: the notion of copyright in a printed work was still a relatively new idea in the eighteenth century, and in most countries, once a book was published, it was considered to be in the public domain and therefore liable to be copied, or ‘pirated’. Many European printers earned their living as pirate publishers.

Voltaire knew that Candide was liable to be censored. And he knew too that it was likely to be pirated. But he turned these apparent constraints into advantages. The ‘first’ edition of Candide was printed early in 1759 by Voltaire’s regular printer in this period, Cramer, in Geneva. But to speak of a first printing is misleading. Before handing over a final manuscript to Cramer, Voltaire went behind Cramer’s back and sent a (slightly different) version of the manuscript to John Nourse, a printer in London; he may well have dispatched copies to other publishers too. The result was that within weeks of the first edition of Candide appearing in Geneva, other editions appeared in Paris, London and Amsterdam. There was an enormous buzz surrounding the new work – it was not signed by Voltaire, a fact which only confirmed that he must have written it – and numerous pirated editions soon flooded the market all across Europe.

Before the year 1759 was over, there had appeared no fewer than seventeen different French editions of Candide. Only two libraries in the world own all seventeen editions: one is the Taylor Library in Oxford, and the other is the New York Public Library, and all seventeen editions are currently on display through April 25, 2010 in the exhibition, Candide at 250: Scandal at Success.

 Scandal and Success' exhibition at the Wachenheim Gallery, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (© The New York Public Library, 2010)The 17 first editions on display in the 'Candide at 250: Scandal and Success' exhibition at the Wachenheim Gallery, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (© The New York Public Library, 2010)

Translations are further evidence of the Candide craze. Voltaire was popular in England, and in the course of 1759, no fewer than three different English translations of Candide were published in London.

Of course, the censors tried to halt the progress of the work, and of course they failed: the more they criticized the work, the more it sold, and the more it sold, the more pirated editions were produced. The censors and the pirate publishers – often seen as the author’s enemies – all contributed hugely to the success of Candide. Part of Voltaire’s genius lay in his understanding of the medium of print and his ability to manipulate the book market for his own ends. If he had lived today, we can only imagine his career as a spin-doctor working in the modern media of TV and Twitter…

(...or on our own digital spin on the text, the Candide networked edition.)

A few of the 17 "first" editions of Candide:


Nicholas Cronk is director of the Voltaire Foundation and professor of French literature in the University of Oxford. He is also general editor of the Complete works of Voltaire: this edition, due for completion in 2018, is the first ever complete scholarly edition of Voltaire and will number some 200 volumes. He has recently edited The Cambridge Companion to Voltaire (Cambridge University Press, 2009).


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On piracy...

For anyone interested in further exploring the history of piracy (in the textual rather than the "yarrrrrgh" sense), I'd highly recommend Adrian Johns' new book <a href=""> Piracy : the intellectual property wars from Gutenberg to Gates</a>

On piracy...

We were talking about Adrian Johns' book on a tour in the exhibit the other day! It's amazing--I got it as an e-book when University of Chicago offered it in a brilliant special promotion, an interesting way to consider how the academic publishing market is responding to new technologies. Alice Boone curator, Candide at 250: Scandal and Success

Which is the rarest of them all?

I wonder which of the 17 editions from 1759 are particularly rare, and which is the least common. I am a collector of editions myself, having happened upon a very inexpensive one, once upon a time, and having kept track of their sale over the course of three years' time on (Oct 2003-Oct 2006). --And sorry, what follows will only be decipherable for first edition nerds. The Cramer edition '299G' comes up for sale occasionally, and I expect it is not especially rare. 237 is another rather common edition. 215 comes up frequently, but not 215A. 299L and 299LA are frequent. In the count I had only one occasion of 190, 167a. No others. I have researched 167a -- only three, perhaps four copies known to me. One was that very inexpensive one, six years ago! Does anyone else have relevant information on this? I'd love to know. - Eric Palmer, editor of the Broadview Editions <em>Candide</em>, Associate Professor, Allegheny College

1759 Candide

I have a 1759 Paris (French Edition) with 259 pages. Do you know how I can tell which version it is? How much it's worth?

Candide "the sequel"

I have a 1761 Geneva edition of Candide which is printed uniformly (and bound with) the spurious "seconde partie" (thought, I gather, to be the work of Thorel de Campigneulles or Henri Joseph Du Laurens, and not Voltaire.) Interesting how the necessarily clandestine and obscurantist circumstances of the work's publication also gave license for an interventionist to simply embellish & pile on to the story. I'm not even sure who published this edition, we've only just acquired it and I am a book dealer, hardly a Voltaire scholar. The colophon on the title page of the first part features Hermes, I thought a really amusing visual pun for the well, Mercurial and elusive nature of the enterprise.

Candide 1759 French Edition

Does anyone know how I can tell which "version" of Candide I have? It's 253 pages, printed in Paris in the french language and definitely 250 years old. Title Page looks identical to the one posted here.

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