Persian Letters


Montesquieu’s "sources" are legion, since they doubtless extend to readings and conversations which are modified en route. The impact of Jean Chardin’s Voyages en Perse, to which he owes most of his information about Persia – which is far from superficial – must of course be recognized; he owned the two-volume edition of 1687 and purchased the extended edition in ten volumes in 1720. To a lesser degree, he drew on the Voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and Paul Rycaut, not to mention many other works which his vast library afforded him. Everything having to do with contemporary France or Paris, on the other hand, comes from his own experience, and from conversations of anecdotes related to him.

Various aspects of the book are doubtless indebted to particular models, of which the most important is Giovanni Paolo Marana’s L’Espion dans les cours des princes chrétiens (Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy), widely known at the time, even though Montesquieu’s characters obviously are Persians and not Turks. While the great popularity of Antoine Galland’s Mille et Une Nuits (The Arabian Nights) contributes, as do the Bible and the Qu’ran, to the general ambiance of oriental subjects, in fact it has almost nothing in common with the Lettres persanes.

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