Chasing Cunégonda

What is it that keeps us going? To draw breath one more time, to rise one more time, to walk one more mile, to fight one more battle, to love one more time, to pick up the pieces one more time, to persistently push forward ever so sweetly once more.

I recently finished Voltaire’s Candide for a second time, now as an adult, and I consider the horrible possibility that the satire holds more truth than any of us would ever consciously accept. Are we not, much like the naive Candide, chasing a dream to relive a “first kiss”? On an eternal hunt for our own incarnated, inbred ideal. To at any cost satisfy the burning dissatisfaction that maybe ‘it is already as good as it ever gets’. Is this search for that perfect match, the fuel that keeps our hearts beating?

The children’s stories brainwash us unsuccessfully to believe that the grass is not really greener on the other side, “grasp all, loose all”, and pride precedes fall. The conformist adult is dragged down the aisle, forced into a white gown with a vision-distorting veil, at a wedding between the externally enforced and internally desired all the while the universe echo: “Speak now or forever hold your peace!” Simultaneous, in the mind of those brave or foolish enough, the inside self screams its answer: “Objection! Your honor! The grass can and is greener elsewhere!”.

Anyone who has been anywhere know this to be not a possibility, but a borderline certainty. Fighting for that something a little-bit-extra, with cherries on top, battling not only the universe, but the self in the process. While none can deny the impending damage, settling with a restless soul leads only to misery. The only snag: “How do we tell when we reached the peak of the mountain?”

Currently I am reading a book that for the first time in too long holds me captivated body, mind and soul. Written in that naughty French era full of promiscuity, constructs of gender roles so completely alien to a modern society, and coquette etiquette, it explores the hunt for that something extraordinary. In the first half we follow the poet, who with an angel among women, involves in increasing intricate passions. Yet like Candide while in Eldorado dreamed of Cunégonda, our poet dreams of an ideal still unrealized in an emotional search for a “heart beating in harmony with his, for a soul to merge with his own” (p.88). The reader follows his reasoning between the burning desire for the Ideal and attempts to free it of its premature description.

Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin captivates me as a mirror image of the internal conflict for the external search. Told with deep reflection over that pursuit for the dream, with witty humor much like the work of Voltaire. Immersed, I cannot help but wonder what the morals of the story will be. I fear an ending with the bittersweet realization that dream always exceeds reality as Candide so brutally had to conclude. Because, regardless, I know my search would not end, I would still battle on, ever so sweetly once more.

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