The Persian Letters

Series:
Oxford World's Classics
Author: Montesquieu
Editor: Andrew Kahn Margaret Mauldon

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The Persian Letters is a major classic of European literature by a thinker who had a huge influence on the Enlightenment and in the USA on the founding fathers. Through the observations of his two Persian travellers in Europe, Montesquieu asks fundamental questions about human nature, social structures, customs and institutions. It is also a witty, inventive satire, a fusion between travel literature and the epistolary genre.

The first and only English translation from the new, definitive edition (2004) of the original French text. The most complete and comprehensive introductory essay in English, covering a wide range of topics including the novel’s fictional techniques and innovations; travel literature as a genre; historical context and Enlightenment ideas; Orientalism and other issues.

Full explanatory notes, useful list of characters, invaluable Appendix featuring excerpts from Montesquieu’s most important sources, excellent for cultural context and a helpful guide to Orientalism.

‘Oh! Monsieur is Persian? That’s most extraordinary! How can someone be Persian?’

Two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, arrive in Paris just before the death of Louis XIV and in time to witness the hedonism and financial crash of the Regency. In their letters home they report on visits to the theatre and scientific societies, and observe the manners and flirtations of polite society, the structures of power and the hypocrisy of religion. Irony and bitter satire mark their comparison of East and West and their quest for understanding. Unsettling news from Persia concerning the female world of the harem intrudes on their new identities and provides a suspenseful plot of erotic jealousy and passion.

This pioneering epistolary novel and work of travel-writing opened the world of the West to its oriental visitors and the Orient to its Western readers. This is the first English translation based on the original text, revealing this lively work as Montesquieu first intended.
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