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Free Study Guide: Candide by Voltaire - Synopsis / Analysis

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The Old Woman’s story


The Old woman tells her story. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the princess of Palestrina. She grew up in great luxury and was very beautiful. She fell passionately in love with the Prince of Massa-Carrara. His former mistress poisoned him and he died of convulsions. When this lady and her mother had gone on a holiday the Moroccan pirates raped them. She lost her virginity, which she had preserved so far. When they reached Morocco, the Emperor of Morocco’s fifty sons was fighting civil wars. They all fought to win her and some other women. Her mother and some Italian women were torn to pieces while the Moors tried to rape them. A captain hid her behind him and in his fury killed anyone who tried to advance towards her.

During this, as well as on many similar occasions, the Moroccans never failed to pray five times a day as recommended by their religion. She moved away from the corpses and went to a stream. There she fainted. She was in a state of weakness and insensibility. She became aware that something moved on her body. When she opened her eyes she saw a white man of good appearance who sighed in Italian that he was a eunuch.


In this chapter, the reader comes to know a lot about the old woman. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X. Actually there has never been a Pope by such a name. However, it should be noted that this name is not merely a creation of Voltaire’s fantasy. He has taken care not to defame a known Pope by ascribing an illegitimate daughter to him. Voltaire is said to have written a not praising his own discretion.

The reader has other references to the worst kind of sexual immorality. The soldiers strip and rape the lady and her mother. When they reach Morocco the Emperor’s son’s fight to win her and some other ladies. It is shocking that her mother and some other Italian ladies are torn to pieces merely to satisfy the lust of some soldiers.

Voltaire attacks the hypocrisy prevailing in the name of religion. He tells us that amidst bloodshed, murder and rape the Moslems never failed to pray five times a day as prescribed by their religious leader Mahomet. Voltaire is trying to explain satirically that neither Moslems nor Christians practice what they preach or claim to believe.

The good-looking white man is a eunuch as a result of the evil practice of castration of young choirboys.


Continuation of the Old woman’s misfortunes


The lady and the eunuch recognized each other. The eunuch used to be the court musician to her mother. He was castrated so that he could sing beautifully in the church choir. Thousands of other children in Naples were castrated every year. The eunuch was sent to a Christian power by the King of Morocco to make a treaty. He had just concluded the treaty. His ‘Christian’ country would supply guns to the Muslim King of Morocco to destroy the trade of other Christian countries.

The eunuch sold her to the governor of Algiers as a slave. Both men died because of Plague. She was then sold in Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria, Smyrna, and Constantinople. Then a Turkish officer took her to the defense of Azou.

The starving Turkish garrison decided to eat women. However, a priest warned them no to do so. He told them to eat one buttock from each lady. Then the fort fell. The Russians arrived. A French doctor cured the women.

A Russian made her a gardener in Moscow till he fell from power. She escaped across Europe. She often felt like committing suicide. Yet more often she wanted to live. Everywhere she met people who hated their lives, but she had known only twelve suicides.


Voltaire has introduced extreme despair in the story of the eunuch as well as the old lady. Injustice, selfishness, and lust caused so much evil and immense suffering to mankind throughout the world. Under such circumstances death would be welcome. Yet people prefer life to death. Though people hate life, the old lady has come across only twelve suicides. At the end of the novel, it is realized that life can be at least made tolerable.

Voltaire speaks of two more disasters over which human beings have no control. They are plague and famine. The soldiers ate human flesh. Such gory details are terrifying. They again disprove Pangloss’s views.

The Russians attacked Azou in 1695. Voltaire alters facts of history for the convenience of his fiction writing.

The lady who is the Pope’s and a princess’ daughter is sold again and again like a commodity. This is ironical and shows the lack of human values. It is eerie to think that the eunuch has been castrated so that he can sing beautifully in the church choir. One can hardly believe so much cruelty in the name of religion. This shows that even extremely deplorable acts can be excused on the pretext of religion. Thus Voltaire satirizes religion.

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