Comparing Voltaire's Candide and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Voltaire's Candide and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are classics of western literature, in large part, because they both speak about the situation of being human. However, they are also important because they are both representative of the respective cultural movements during which they were written - the Enlightenment and the Romantic Era. As a result of this inheritance, they have different tones and messages, just as the Enlightenment and Romanticism had different tones and messages. But, it is not enough to merely say that they are "different" because they are linked. The intellectual movement from which Frankenstein emerged had its origins in the intellectual movement from which Candide emerged. By examining each of these works from the context of these intellectual movements, the progression in tone from light-hearted optimism in Candide to a heavier brooding doom in Frankenstein can be explained as being an extension of the progression from the Enlightenment to the Era of Romanticism.
The Enlightenment had its roots in the scientific and philosophical movements of the 17th century. It was, in large part, a rejection of the faith-based medieval world view for a way of thought based on structured inquiry and scientific understanding. It stressed individualism, and it rejected the church's control of the secular activities of men. Among the movement's luminaries were Descartes, Newton, and Locke. They, among others, stressed the individual's use of reason to explain and understand the world about himself in all of its aspects. Important principles of the Enlightenment included the use of science to examine all aspects of life (this was labeled "reason"),...
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...The need is never satisfied for the reader, for Shelley's perception of society after the Enlightenment is a bleak place where human needs are supplanted by the monolithic focus on reason alone. This stands in sharp contrast to the ending of Candide. While the young man is constantly denied the company of his one true love, Cunegonde, throughout the work, in the end he finds her and finds satisfaction in a life near his friends as a farmer. The Enlightenment found optimistic hope in a dark age through the potential of the progress of human society, but to the Romantics, this improved world was less than optimistic if untouched by human elements such as love and imagination.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
Voltaire. Candide. In Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories.Trans. Donald Frame, New York: Penguin Group, 1961.