Montesquieu ; translated with an introduction and notes by C.J. Betts
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.