Persian Letters

The dénouement

While Usbek appreciates the freer relations among men and women in the West, he remains, as master of a seraglio, a prisoner of his past. His wives play the role of languorous and lonely lovers, he the role of master and lover, with no true communication and without revealing much about their true selves. Usbek’s language with them is as constrained as theirs with him. Knowing, moreover, from the outset that he is not assured of a return to Persia, Usbek is also already disabused about their attitude (letters 6 and 19 [20]). The seraglio is a hothouse from which he increasingly distances himself, trusting his wives no more than his eunuchs (Letter 6).

Everything cascades in the final letters (139–150 [147–161]), thanks to a sudden analepse of more than three years with respect to the preceding letters. From letter 69 (71) to letter 139 (147) – chronologically from 1714 to 1720 – not a single letter from Usbek relates to the seraglio, which is unmentioned in any guise from letter 94 to 143 (and even in the edition of 1758 from supplementary letter 8 (97) to 145. Moreover, all the letters from 126 (132) to 137 (148) are from Rica, which means that for about fifteen months (from 4 August 1719 to 22 October 1720) Usbek is completely silent. Although he has in the meantime received letters, the reader does not learn of them until the final series, which is more developed after the addition of supplementary letters 9–11 (157, 158, 160) of 1758. Although Usbek has learned as early as October 1714 that "the seraglio is in disorder" (letter 63 [65]). As the spirit of rebellion advances, he decides to act, but too late; with delays in the transmission of letters and the loss of some, the situation is beyond remedy.

A dejected Usbek is apparently resigned to the necessity of returning, with little hope, to Persia; on 4 October 1719 he laments: "I shall deliver my head to my enemies" (147 [155]). He nevertheless does not do so: late in 1720 he is still in Paris, for letters 134–137 (140–145), which contain the whole history of Law’s "System," are in fact posterior to Roxane’s last missive (dated 8 May 1720), which he must already have received – the usual time for delivery being about five months – when he writes the latest in date of his own (supplementary letter 8 and letter 138 [145 and 146]), in October and November 1720.


This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.