Brave Old World
I wonder how, if at all, it would be possible to measure the part played in our responses to individual books by the age at which we encounter them. Time enough for the eighteenth century later, observed Peter Currie, my excellent teacher of French literature, and he proceeded to focus, over the years of the sixth form, largely on the seventeenth century: on Corneille, Molière and Racine, seasoned memorably with La Fontaine and La Rochefoucauld.
In many ways this was an excellent decision, making for a lifelong enjoyment of the authors we studied: but it also meant that (‘et par conséquent’, as Voltaire might have written) it was not until I was at university that I first read Candide. I found it unforgettable, in tune as it seemed with the sprightly and largely uncompromised visions of youth. Over the ensuing forty-five years this wildly improbable tale of experiences which leave the protagonists foxed more than slightly has become a much-loved companion. It is that rare thing, a book which is both clever and wise, as well as hugely enjoyable.