Candide, the illegitimate son of Baron Thunder-Ten-Tronck’s sister, has grown up at his uncle’s palace together with his children Cunegonde and Maximilian. The three children plus the serving maid Paquette are tutored by Doctor Pangloss, who teaches them that they are living in the best of all possible worlds. When Cunegonde happens to see Pangloss initiating Paquette into the mysteries of love, she aspires to discover those same secrets with Candide. As a result Candide
is kicked out of the palace.
In spite of this misfortune, the outcast Candide firmly believes in his master’s teachings. He joins the Bulgar army. One day he takes the liberty of going for a stroll and gets savagely punished for desertion. The Bulgar king, needing all the soldiers he can get for an upcoming war against Baron Thunder-Ten-Tronck, pardons Candide, who now has to fight against his own homeland.
Having fled from his war-ravaged country, Candide arrives worn-out at a church and begs for some bread. A while later he meets Pangloss, from whom he learns that the Baron, his wife, Maximilian, and his beloved Cunegonde are among the victims of the conflict. Pangloss himself has a chronic case of syphilis, but even so fondly recalls his amour with Paquette.
Paris – Vienna – Lisbon
Pangloss was mistaken: Cunegonde is alive! She was taken off to Paris, then Vienna, and is now in Lisbon providing sexual services alternately to the Grand Inquisitor and a rich Jew. Candide and Pangloss no sooner arrive in Lisbon than it is struck by an earthquake. The Inquisition eavesdrops on their conversations and accuses them of heresy. At an auto-da-fé, Pangloss is hanged and Candide flogged. Thanks to an old woman, Candide meets Cunegonde again. The Grand Inquisitor and the Jew arrive at the house where Cunegonde is staying. Candide kills them. Candide and Cunegonde escape to Spain with the old woman.
The old woman tells Candide and Cunegonde about her life of misadventure and adversity. They meet Cacambo, who becomes Candide’s faithful companion, and decide optimistically to travel to Paraguay together to join the struggle against the Jesuits and seek their happiness in the New World.
The Governor of Montevideo makes Candide a captain and takes a fancy to Cunegonde. As the friends are destitute, the old woman and Cunegonde hatch a plan to improve their prospects in the New World: Cunegonde will give herself to the rich Governor. The Inquisition arrives in Montevideo in pursuit of Candide, who once again escapes and has no choice but to throw in his lot with the Jesuits.
Cacambo and Candide are welcomed by the Jesuits. To everyone’s surprise, the commander of the Jesuits turns out to be Maximilian, who was presumed dead. He flies into a rage when he hears that Candide still hopes to marry Cunegonde, and Candide finds himself obliged to stab his half-brother and one-time friend.
Candide and Cacambo take refuge in the gold-rich kingdom of Eldorado. Candide is forced to admit that Thunder-Ten-Tronck Palace can’t have been the best place in the world. However, Candide’s longing for Cunegonde proves too great. Cacambo and Candide leave that safe haven with many valuable Eldorado sheep in order to pay for Cunegonde’s release.
Candide’s optimism and his belief in the best of all possible worlds vanish when he enters the slaving colony of Suriname. As it would be too risky in Paraguay for Candide, Cacambo heads there alone to purchase Cunegonde’s freedom. They will rendezvous in Venice. Candide searches for a ship to take him there and is cheated by the sugar merchant Vanderdendur.
On the Ocean – Marseille
The street-sweeper Martin – the most wretched, pessimistic person he could find – is Candide’s companion on the voyage to Marseille and on to Venice.
The treasures from Eldorado make Candide’s life in Venice very comfortable. He is joined there by Cacambo and Paquette as well as Pangloss and Maximilian, both alive and kicking. At long last Candide sees Cunegonde again, too, with the old woman. He realizes that his former lover has become a stranger to him.
In the Mountains
All of them are sick and tired of their former lives. Candide, Cunegonde and the others settle down on a farm in the mountains to lead a simple life: »We’ll build our house, we’ll chop our wood and make our garden grow.«