I think that Voltaire’s Candide opposed the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Enlightenment period. He demonstrates the inadequacy of women and portrayed them to be weak and inferior. The Three Spinners gives young impressionable girls the idea that there is a guy out there that would treat them like the Prince treated the girl in the story, and give her everything she could want, if she was beautiful.
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This is an unrealistic and unhealthy view in any relationship, no matter what the so-called benefits are. However, if you are not beautiful, The Three Spinners tells girls that if you would hard, you will be a desirable catch for marriage. I feel that both stories show you how women had extremely little alternatives if they wanted to survive or advance in life. Women either had to marry, become the mistress of a powerful man (sometimes both), or they had to be able to work hard in a skill trade to be able to survive. Neither of these stories supported the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Enlightenment period regarding equality for women.
I feel that Voltaire did not value women equality at all when he wrote Candide. It seems to me that all the women in Candide were just vulnerable characters that did not really contribute to the story in any real way. The women were rated by their looks with no acknowledgement of their intelligence at all. Each of the women, Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman, all fell victim to rape and/or sexual exploitation, that Voltaire appears to describe rather indifferently. I think that Voltaire tended to mock the women’s hardships and focused on the helplessness of the women.
Let’s start with Cunegonde. She is the first female character to be mentioned in Candide. She is Candide’s cousin, the daughter of a wealthy German Baron and is described as fresh, plump, and desirable. (101) Cunegonde is your classic damsel-in-distress; entirely dependent on men to save, protect and provide for her. However, where Candide is naive and unable to make decisions without someone else’s input, Cunegonde is realistic and knows that she needs to use her beauty and sexuality to her benefit if she wants to survive.
Paquette is the second female to be mentioned in Candide. Now the first time we read about her, Cunegonde sees her having sex with Pangloss. Paquette was described as that pretty maidservant to our august Baroness. (106) She is pretty much described after that by Pangloss as a whore who gave him syphilis. When Candide sees her again in Venice, she is working as a prostitute trying to make a living. Again, you have another female character seen for her sexuality verses her intelligence.
The Old Woman is the daughter of Pope Urban the Tenth and the Princess of Palestrina. (115) She grew into a very beautiful woman who was engaged to be married to a prince. Until the mistress of her prince killed him. When she left the land she was living at, her ship was attacked, and everyone was killed, and she was raped. She was sold into slavery. She was used because of her beauty and sold from one man to another.
The Old woman is later seen as Cunegonde’s advisor of some sorts though I don’t think that is how Voltaire intended her to be. Cunegonde asked for a quarter-hour to collect herself, consult the old woman and make up her mind. (119) While she reunites Candide and Cunegonde, she is also the reason Cunegonde choses to marry the Governor instead of her love Candide. My lady, you have seventy-two quarterings and not one penny; if you wish, you may be the wife of the greatest lord in South America, who has a really handsome moustache; are you going to insist on your absolute fidelity? You have been raped by the Bulgars, a Jew and an Inquisitor have enjoyed your favors; miseries entitle one to privileges. I assure you that in your position I would make no scruple of marrying My Lord the Governor and making the fortune of Captain Candide. (119-120) The Old Woman seem to push what is equivalent of sex sales. Personally, I felt that the Old Woman made Cunegonde feel guilty about doing what she had to survive life. It seems that she was jealous that Cunegonde was reunited with her love, while the Old Woman’s love died before they were even married.
The women in Candide used their sexuality to leave their horrendous situations is by becoming someone’s mistress or wife. The way Voltaire was indifferent regarding the women’s rape can point to his belief that women are inferior to men. For Voltaire to be such a crucial supporter of reason and the fact that he did not rely on others for guidance, then why do we not see him promoting women’s equality within his writings?
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