Chapter VIII

The History of Cunegonde

“I WAS IN bed and fast asleep when it pleased God to send the Bulgarians to our delightful castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh; they slew my father and brother, and cut my mother in pieces. A tall Bulgarian, six feet high, perceiving that I had fainted away at this sight, began to ravish me; this made me recover; I regained my senses, I cried, I struggled, I bit, I scratched, I wanted to tear out the tall Bulgarian's eyes—not knowing that what happened at my father's house was the usual practice of war. The brute gave me a cut in the left side with his hanger, and the mark is still upon me.”

“Ah! I hope I shall see it,” said honest Candide.

“You shall,” said Cunegonde, “but let us continue.”

“Do so,” replied Candide.

Thus she resumed the thread of her story:

“A Bulgarian captain came in, saw me all bleeding, and the soldier not in the least disconcerted. The captain flew into a passion at the disrespectful behavior of the brute, and slew him on my body. He ordered my wounds to be dressed, and took me to his quarters as a prisoner of war. I washed the few shirts that he had, I did his cooking; he thought me very pretty—he avowed it; on the other hand, I must own he had a good shape, and a soft and white skin; but he had little or no mind or philosophy, and you might see plainly that he had never been instructed by Doctor Pangloss. In three months' time, having lost all his money, and being grown tired of my company, he sold me to a Jew, named Don Issachar, who traded to Holland and Portugal, and had a strong passion for women. This Jew was much attached to my person, but could not triumph over it; I resisted him better than the Bulgarian soldier. A modest woman may be ravished once, but her virtue is strengthened by it. In order to render me more tractable, he brought me to this country house. Hitherto I had imagined that nothing could equal the beauty of Thunder-ten-Tronckh Castle; but I found I was mistaken.

“The Grand Inquisitor, seeing me one day at Mass, stared long at me, and sent to tell me that he wished to speak on private matters. I was conducted to his palace, where I acquainted him with the history of my family, and he represented to me how much it was beneath my rank to belong to an Israelite. A proposal was then made to Don Issachar that he should resign me to my lord. Don Issachar, being the court banker, and a man of credit, would hear nothing of it. The Inquisitor threatened him with an auto-da-fé. At last my Jew, intimidated, concluded a bargain, by which the house and myself should belong to both in common; the Jew should have for himself Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and the Inquisitor should have the rest of the week. It is now six months since this agreement was made. Quarrels have not been wanting, for they could not decide whether the night from Saturday to Sunday belonged to the old law or to the new. For my part, I have so far held out against both, and I verily believe that this is the reason why I am still beloved.

“At length, to avert the scourge of earthquakes, and to intimidate Don Issachar, my Lord Inquisitor was pleased to celebrate an auto-da-fé. He did me the honor to invite me to the ceremony. I had a very good seat, and the ladies were served with refreshments between Mass and the execution. I was in truth seized with horror at the burning of those two Jews, and of the honest Biscayner who had married his godmother; but what was my surprise, my fright, my trouble, when I saw in a san-benito and mitre a figure which resembled that of Pangloss! I rubbed my eyes, I looked at him attentively, I saw him hung; I fainted. Scarcely had I recovered my senses than I saw you stripped, stark naked, and this was the height of my horror, consternation, grief, and despair. I tell you, truthfully, that your skin is yet whiter and of a more perfect color than that of my Bulgarian captain. This spectacle redoubled all the feelings which overwhelmed and devoured me. I screamed out, and would have said, ‘Stop, barbarians!’ but my voice failed me, and my cries would have been useless after you had been severely whipped. How is it possible, said I, that the beloved Candide and the wise Pangloss should both be at Lisbon, the one to receive a hundred lashes, and the other to be hanged by the Grand Inquisitor, of whom I am the well-beloved? Pangloss most cruelly deceived me when he said that everything in the world is for the best.

“Agitated, lost, sometimes beside myself, and sometimes ready to die of weakness, my mind was filled with the massacre of my father, mother, and brother, with the insolence of the ugly Bulgarian soldier, with the stab that he gave me, with my servitude under the Bulgarian captain, with my hideous Don Issachar, with my abominable Inquisitor, with the execution of Doctor Pangloss, with the grand Miserere to which they whipped you, and especially with the kiss I gave you behind the screen the day that I had last seen you. I praised God for bringing you back to me after so many trials, and I charged my old woman to take care of you, and to conduct you hither as soon as possible. She has executed her commission perfectly well; I have tasted the inexpressible pleasure of seeing you again, of hearing you, of speaking with you. But you must be hungry, for myself, I am famished; let us have supper.”

They both sat down to table, and, when supper was over, they placed themselves once more on the sofa; where they were when Signor Don Issachar arrived. It was the Jewish Sabbath, and Issachar had come to enjoy his rights, and to explain his tender love.


  1. The Jewish Sabbath, as opposed to the Christian Sabbath, occurs on Saturday instead of Sunday. It is observed from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday, which means that Don Issachar's arrival can be timestamped at sometime after supper but before the first stars came out. There is, of course, a lewd suggestion to the fact that he has come only at night and not earlier in the day.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  2. Notice that after all these horrors, Cunegonde thinks most of the kiss she and Candide shared in Chapter I. This is yet another example of her hopeless naivete: in spite of all the atrocities she has suffered so far, she's still a lovestruck teenager and is willing to risk putting both herself and Candide in danger in order to see him again.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. Recall that Candide was whipped to the beat of a song, which is here revealed to be the Miserere, or Psalm 51 from the Bible. The Miserere is a song that begs God for forgiveness of sins and asks him to purify the sinner's body by any means necessary, including punishment like the one Candide receives.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. Cunegonde has made a point of saying that she has been virtuous since meeting the Bulgarian captain, but this line, like the one about the captain being of "good shape," suggests otherwise. It may be that Cunegonde wants Candide to believe that she's been more virtuous than she actually has, so that he won't think less of her.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. If Cunegonde had given in to the Grand Inquisitor and Don Issachar, this line implies, they wouldn't love her anymore—the logic being that a man is only interested in what he can't get, and that once a woman appears to no longer be virtuous he doesn't consider her beautiful or worthwhile.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Note the use of the word "resembled" here. In the last chapter, Cunegonde made it clear that she didn't know that Pangloss was dead, and yet here she says that she saw it quite clearly. Voltaire may well have chosen the word "resembled" to close this plot hole and move the story along.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. This should be understood as a euphemism for wanting a chance to seduce her. The Grand Inquisitor, as the head of the Inquisition, was more likely a lawyer or scholar than a religious figure, and would thus not have been bound by any oaths of chastity. However, this desire to "save" a woman enslaved to one man by enslaving her to another reveals the essential hypocrisy of the Grand Inquisitor, whose self-interest is readily apparent here.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. The word "tractable" means easily managed, docile, and in this case, pliant, in the sense that she could be coerced into providing sexual favors. He plans to do this by bringing her to his country house, which is even more lavish than the castle she grew up in with Candide. It's clear from the following passage that this plan isn't successful.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. Given the horrific nature of Cunegonde's story, this is a shockingly inappropriate response from Candide, and one that has upsettingly sexual overtones. It's especially strange that Cunegonde herself relates this story in an emotionless, matter-of-fact way, which suggests that Voltaire made a conscious choice not to delve too deeply into Cunegonde's psychology.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor