We’ve discussed how a push towards women equality has been a major theme of the Enlightenment. As an Enlightenment writer, how does Voltaire express his views on women’s rights in “Candide”?
It seems to me that Voltaire did not give the question too much thought and did not consider it a serious issue of the Enlightenment. The women of “Candide” are all undeveloped characters that do not contribute to the plot or theme of the story. He clearly illustrates the physical inferiority of women, all of them falling victim to gruesome rape on many occasions, which Voltaire describes very nonchalantly. This might point to his belief that women are inferior in other aspects as well. The women in his story are ranked based on their beauty, with no mention of the intellectual capacity. Women used their sexuality to escape dreadful situations by becoming someone’s lover or mistress. Even the brother of the main female character, Cunegonde, dictates who she can and can’t marry, clearly demonstrating women’s subservience. Cunegonde does not develop into an independent intellectual character by the end of the story, but instead becomes corrupt and ugly.
If Voltaire was such a serious advocate of reason and not relying on others or tradition for guidance, then why did he not promote women’s rights in his writings?