746px-VoltaireCandidFrontis Chap01-1762

Frontispiece and first page of chapter one of an early English translation by T. Smollett et al of Voltaire's "Candide" , printed by J. Newbery, 1762.

Candide: or, The Optimist (1759) is a satire written by French philospher Voltaire.  Candide is a sheltered young man who lives in an Edenic paradise while being indoctrinated in the ways of Leibnizian optimism by his mentor, Pangloss.  "The work describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide's slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world." Stevens associated Voltaire with freedom of action and expression.

According to Edward Ragg's book Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction, Stevens wrote to Barbara Church about Partisan Review backer Allan Dowling's socialist politics.  Stevens speculated on the emerging Cold War ideologies placing freedom at a premium:"The total freedom that now endangers us has never existed before, notwithstanding Voltaire, and so on."

The Comedian as the Letter CEdit

In the presto of the moment, Crispin trod,

Each day, still curious, but in round

Less prickly and much more condign than that He once thought necessary.  Like Candide,

Yeoman and gub, but with a fig in sight

Candide, a hero in Voltaire's novel, begins as an innocent,endures much and famously concludes "Il faut cultiver notre jardin." (One must cultivate one's own garden.)  Crispin, another hero whose name begins with a C, is suggestive of Candide.  He experiences life with a fresh, naive outlook but suffers misfortunes.  Once Candide is mentioned, Crispin hopes that his talent will return.


Wallace Stevens Concordance


The Comedian as the Letter C   

Cook, Eleanor. A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. 

Rigg, Edward. Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010.