Lettres persanes

ISBN: 2253003212
ISBN 13: 9782253003212
By: Montesquieu

Check Price Now


18th Century Classics Currently Reading Fiction France French French Literature Literature Philosophy To Read

About this book

To Montesquieu belongs the honor of pioneering the movement out of which grew the philosophical dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the literary crusade against mental subjection. If ever satire had a distinct call to duty it was during the Regency in France. Montesquieu adopted the device of a series of familiar letters exchanged by two Persian travelers in France. They were completed in 1721. Popular taste was captivated by the wit and pleasantry of the Letters. They gently satirized the abuses rife in church and state; society was held up to ridicule for its pet sins.

Reader's Thoughts

E.J. Matze

This richly evocative novel-in-letters tells the story of two Persian noblemen who have left their country - the modern Iran - to journey to Europe in search of wisdom. As they travel, they write home to wives and eunuchs in the harem and to friends in France and elsewhere. Their colourful observations on the culture differences between West and East culture conjure up Eastern sensuality, repression and cruelty in contrast to the freer, more civilized West - but here also unworthy nobles and bishops, frivolous women of fashion and conceited people of all kinds are satirized. Storytellers as well as letter-writers, Montesquieu's Usbek and Rica are disrespectful and witty, but also serious moralists. "Persian Letters" was a succes de scandale in Paris society, and encapsulates the libertarian, critical spirit of the early eighteenth century.

Maryam Talakoob

Parts were thought provoking specially those letters that compared the Persian culture to French. Other parts were revolting like how the Persian traveler talks about his Harem of women and the unechs.


Montesquieu may not be known to you, but he is largely responsible for the system of checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government. The Founding Fathers of our country were deeply influenced by Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, which he wrote later in life.The Persian Letters, however, was written a quarter century earlier and was one of the most popular books of its time. Montesquieu has, in effect, created an epistolary novel about two Persians who spend some ten years in Europe from 1711-1720, closely observing the strangeness of French institutions and customs from the point of view of Persians of the time.It was a rough time in France, roughly comparable to our own recession due to the Mississippi Bubble and the "system" of John Law, who had been appointed Controller General of Finances of France under King Louis XV. Law was brilliant but exceedingly unorthodox, with the result that many fortunes were lost. In Letter 146, the narrator Usbek writes:I saw contractual honour dismissed, the most sacred conventions annihilated, every law of the family overthrown. I saw debtors full of avarice, proud and insolent in their poverty, worthless instruments of the ferocity of the law and the harshness of the time, pretending to pay their debts, not doing so, but stabbing their benefactors instead. More shamefully still, I saw others buying notes for almost nothing, or rather picking up oak-leaves from the ground and putting them in the place of the subsistence of widows and orphans.I saw an insatiable lust for money suddenly springing up in every heart. I saw the instantaneous development of a hateful conspiracy to get rich, not by honourable work and unstinting behaviour, but by ruining the king, the state and other citizens.At the same time that Usbek is observing France, we are observing his seraglio back in Persia falling to pieces, as his prolonged absence from his wives results in the disorder of his married life. This is an interesting book to dip into from time to time, not only to see what was troubling France in the early 1700s, but to see a highly original mind at work with a penetrating intellect in matters relating to culture and governance.

Christopher Rush

This is a fine book, full of interesting perspectives on 18th-century political, religious, and social issues. It must have been controversial back in the day, and like most things of such a nature, it doesn't make a stir now. Perhaps the most perplexing thing is the editorial-translator work of C.J. Betts. Why does he turn all the French money into British money? It's clear throughout the letters the Persians are mostly in Paris and its environs ... why use British money? Surely even in 1973, the British audience would not be offended or slighted by French money. Also, his introductory remarks make the cardinal errors of revealing too much, going on too long, and not saying enough. The reader has little desire to continue on with the actual letters by the time he or she has waded through Betts's erudite-yet-longwinded prefatory material, but if one does persist, one will find a good contribution to world literature. It does not offend, it does not excite, and it's not really the heartbreaking pessimistic decline Betts tries to make it out to be. Admittedly, things do fall thoroughly apart in the seraglio back home, but the main reason it seems to end so destructively is because Montesquieu intentionally left those letters for the end, out of chronological order with the main political/religious/social commentary-driven letters supplying the bulk of the work. And I bet Tarantino thinks he invented that.

Piotr Bukański

It's quite amazing that the problems which were in Europe in 1721 are still there, nothing has changed, just surnames, probably even not families.

Beatrice Bowles

Delcious and brilliant, a novel in fictional letters between two travelling Persian rulers. You might laugh out loud at their hilarious views of European culture and customs, especially women's freedom. The Persians also send and receive racy messages to and from their harem favorites at home and to the eunuchs who must guard them from other men's eyes. Pure genius at work and play!

Mike Edwards

As a critique of European society, this is a fantastic work. Just be warned that Montesquieu had absorbed many of the biases of his day, so his portrayal of a Middle Eastern man is riddled with stereotypes and is extremely uncomfortable to modern sensibilities.

Andrew Boes

speculation is a grand endeavor - it both looses and gains meaning when it arises as satire. To do what Montesquieu has done before the arrival of modern media sources is amazing. While there are certain flaws and falsehoods throughout, this work looses no relevance in the modern world.

Catherine Siemann

A sharp satire of Enlightenment Europe, tainted of course by the orientalism of the age, but well worth the read.



Marc L

Typische roman in brievenvormKracht: evolutie van de personages; variatie tussen harem-correspondentie (exotisch, sappig) en saaiere filosofische brie-ven (dienen ook als contrapunt); relativering van de absolute geldigheid van gebruiken en inzichtenpersonages- usbek: gericht op wijsheid; inzicht in relativisme en dikwijls sceptisch, maar twijfelaar; meer en meer gericht op rede en deugd; maar niet toegepast op eigen harem; eerder pessimistisch- Rica: jonge, vitale man; sterk ironiserend en satirisch over westerse samenleving; sneller aan het twijfelen en relativerenSterke kracht is de satire: tegen despotisme en absolutisme; tegen godsdienstig fanatisme- tegen sociale hypocrisieuitlopend op universeel relativisme

T.F. Rhoden

Any book that has the staying power that this title has had will have merit. Published nearly three hundred years ago (in 1721), Persian Letters by Montesquieu is an epistolary novel that traces the fictional correspondence between two eighteenth-century Persians and their countrymen as they travel through the occidental world for the first time, eventually settling in Paris for a decade during the remaining years of Louie XIV’s reign. The book illustrates what we would now call today culture shock for the two main characters as they try to make sense of their new surroundings and the colorful people that enliven their day-to-day soirées and sojourns into European life at the onset of the Enlightenment.This compellation has more than a few witticisms and biting criticisms of the times. Reading it today, three-hundred years later, it is obvious that Montesquieu used the fictional characters as a cover for his own criticisms. Though which critiques actually parallel his thoughts is open to question, this ambiguity, I think, actually making the piece more enjoyable to read. I cannot verify the accurateness of Montesquieu’s portrayal of these Persians—would they have really have reacted the way they had?—but a quick glance at the introduction to any modern reprinting of the text will tell you that Montesquieu used the best available resources at the time to capture what they would have likely reacted. Sometimes, you have to wonder though if he is working off imaginative stereotypes more than anything. The character development of the Persians is slight and the plot that Montesquieu throws us is light until the last few letters when events seem to pick up and then rush towards an interesting finale. However, I think it is better to judge the book on its playful musings and witticisms. I can imagine that much of what this Frenchman wrote would have been shocking, maybe even scandalous at the time.The most entertaining features of the book come from the main Persian’s communiqué with his seraglio back home. His many wives under lock and key in his desert harem, their hinted-at misadventures in lesbianism and infidelity, and the dictatorial African eunuchs who relentlessly keep watch over them—all of that fun stuff kept the book moving forward, and, consequentially, was my favorite part as well. Another entertaining element to the piece was, of course, Montesquieu’s musings on everything from government, virtue, law, morality, taxation, metrology to religion, particularly the Catholic Church. The best quotes from the book come from his thoughts on religion. One of my favorites:“I believe in the immortality of the soul periodically. My opinions depend entirely on my physical condition. According to whether I have greater or less vitality, or my digestion is functioning well or badly…I know how to prevent religion from disturbing me when I am well, but I allow it to console me when I am ill.”Speaking of quotes, that is one thing that I feel I ought to warn against. I imagine that I am not the only one who will be reading this text in anticipation of Montesquieu’s treatise The Spirit of the Laws. I found myself enjoying the book much more when I read it as literature and not when I was hunting for witty quotes to be used later on for the inevitable research paper I will have to write for my political theory class.I think it is best to compare the novel to something from its own era, and the person’s writing that first comes to mind to someone who is largely ignorant of that time period in French literature is, naturally enough, Voltaire. Like me, you will have probably have read Voltaire before tackling Montesquieu, which there is good reason for since I believe that Voltaire is much more readable than Montesquieu. If we compare Candide to Persian Letters, Candide comes out the winner easily: stylistically, for it imaginativeness, and hilarity. That said, I did enjoy the Persian Letters and recommend it for anyone who wants an entertaining reflection on early eighteenth-century France.http://tfrhoden.blogspot.com/

Scott Kleinpeter

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Makes me want to read more Enlightenment novels.


Another recommended reading, essential to my course outline. It is quite slow at the beginning but maybe it is just I. Will elaborate further as I flip more pages.


Since this is a series of letters, there isn't a solid plot throughout the book. Not my thing.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *