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All Possible Worlds, Biblio File

Terry Southern and Voltaire: The Lost Art of Blasting Smugness


Enter Candy Christian: Candide's Sexpot Alter-Ego 

"The story I have in mind is in the tradition of Candide, with a contemporary setting, the protagonist an attractive American girl, Candy, an only child of a father of whose love she was never quite sure, a sensitive progressive-school humanist who comes from Wisconsin to New York's lower-east side to be an art student, social worker, etc. and to find (unlike her father) 'beauty in mean places.'

— Terry Southern, in a 1956 letter to notorious French publisher of 'erotic' novels Maurice Girodias, about his proposed book Candy.

One of numerous pirated editions of 'Candy'One of numerous pirated editions of 'Candy'When my father began updating Voltaire's Candide into a pornosophic satire on '50s America, he had no inkling how eerily his book's fate—and consequently his own—would mirror Voltaire's. The parallels abound: Terry wrote Candy in Geneva—almost precisely 200 years after Voltaire had written and published Candide there. Upon publication, both books caused immediate literary and cultural sensations—complete with copy banning, legal actions, huge sales, and massive piracy. Both Voltaire and Southern were forever 'branded' by the whimsically caustic visions and commercial success of their satirical books—a notoriety which launched Voltaire to the top of his literary game. With Candy's popularity, its widely debated "obscenity," AND the release of Dr. Strangelove (which Terry co-authored), in 1964, Terry Southern became, as Victor Bockris put it, "the most famous writer in America".

While Terry intentionally mimicked aspects of Candide (including its episodic format and charming, sleaze-ball windbags), it was the escalating outrageousness of Candy's undoing—and the ultimate hypocrisy of 'doing' her—that compelled Terry to land similar 'Voltarian' punches—in the form of outrageously coarse monologues, over-the-top characterizations and whack philosophies—all serving to smash mainstay ideas taking hold of society. In Terry's time, these included: Psychology, television, advertising, paternalism, anti-Communism, the quest for enlightenment, and the arrogance of doctors and University professors.

Terry SouthernTerry SouthernCandy opens with the ultra-stuffy Professor Mephisto, delivering a full-on Panglossian oratory to his class (on 'Contemporary Ethics') designed to bed the girl. "I have seen the wonders of the world," he croons, "but I've never seen anything to compare with the beauty of the human face!" At her odyssey's end, Candy winds up in religious/meditative training at the hands of Guru Grindle, his opening salvo setting the stage: "First… we'll want to get out of this worldly apparel." He then hoodwinks Candy into having sexual intercourse under the guise of his 'instruction,' their Cosmic Rhythm Exercise Number Four quickly achieving his aim: 

"I shall presently demonstrate still another mastery of the so-called glandular functions," claimed Great Grindle, breathing heavily, "naturally, in willing the chemistry of the semen, I would eliminate the impregnating agent, spermatozoa, as a constituent for it would be of no use to our purposes here you see."

"Now then," he continued after a moment, "tell me if this does not almost exactly resemble the philistine 'orgasm'?"

"…Oh gosh," murmured the darling closed-eyed girl… and how!"

Candy was banned outright upon its publication in France in 1958. When it was published in America in 1964, it was, like Candide, a 'media event'. Putnam's had anticipated the censorship laws in the U.S. collapsing—thanks to intrepid test cases of Barney Rosset's Grove Press, including the publication of Lady Chatterly's Lover, Howl, and the much-anticipated (yet warehoused for years) Naked Lunch. But it wasn't just the novelty of sex in literature that attracted people to Candy—nor solely its hip hilarity—it was also the timeless, agitational, iconoclastic sensibility—echoing Voltaire and Twain—at a pivotal time of cultural change.  As my father told Newsweek at the time, "The world has no right to complacency…where you find smugness, you find something worth blasting."

When I began writing The CANDY Men; The Life and Times of the Notorious Novel, Candy, my aim was to capture the creative spirit of three literary renegades; my father, Terry Southern, the poet and Candy co-author, Mason Hoffenberg, and their indefatigable publisher of transgressive (mostly erotic) fiction, Maurice Girodias.

Mason HoffenbergMason HoffenbergI also wanted to showcase my father's letters illuminating that rich period—when many American writers and artists were developing their talents and convictions shuttling between the bars and cafés of Paris and Greenwich Village. Finally, when New York attorney Leon Friedman provided me with a complete set of correspondence, it enabled me to bring to life the full story behind what became one of the most mind-boggling literary cases to be litigated in a trans-Atlantic copyright battle.

I look forward to immersing myself in this garden of Voltarian delights, and hope the electronic readership will indulge my occasional allusions to Candy and Terry Southern—and that a thread might begin (someday to be picked up by a thesis student?). In any event, my thanks to Alice Boone and NYPL for the terrific rekindling of this literary spirit that questions, provokes, and indeed, entertains.

Nile Southern is a writer living in Boulder, Colorado, and Thessaloniki, Greece. His book, The CANDY Men; The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel, Candy, won the 'Book of the Year' award in Colorado for Non-Fiction. Nile is working on a new anthology of his father's unpublished and uncollected writings; The QUALITY LIT of Terry Southern, as well as a documentary film about his father, currently in development.

Terry Southern is the author of Flash and Filigree, Candy, The Magic Christian, Blue Movie and Texas Summer. He received Academy Award Nominations for his writing on screenplays Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, and also co-wrote Barbarella, The Cincinnati Kid, The Loved One, and End of the Road. Southern's short stories, essays, and 'new journalism' are anthologized in Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes, and Now Dig This; The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern 1950-1995 (edited by Josh Alan Friedman and Nile Southern). Grove/Atlantic 2000.  Terry Southern's literary papers are in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library.