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.
Click on the links below to listen to an audio guide to Persian Letters
by Andrew Kahn of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, who provided the introduction and notes for the new translation of the novel by Margaret Mauldon in Oxford World’s Classics.
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A world of scepticism
Inspiration and publication
Giving ideas a form
- Persian Letters, written as an epistolary novel, is highly innovative in its form. The genre allowed Montesquieu both to develop a gripping plot and also to explore intellectual ideas.
Andrew Kahn how this literary text functions [6:16]