Short summary - Persian Letters - Montesquieu

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Persian Letters

The action of the novel covers the years 1711—1720. The epistolary form of the work and additional piquant material from the life of Persian harems, a peculiar construction with exotic details, full of bright wit and caustic irony of description, apt characteristics made it possible for the author to interest the most diverse audience, including court circles. During the life of the author, "Persian Letters" went through 12 editions. The novel solves the problems of state structure, questions of domestic and foreign policy, questions of religion, religious tolerance, decisive and bold shelling of autocratic rule and, in particular, the mediocre and extravagant reign of Louis XIV. The arrows also hit the Vatican, monks, ministers, the whole society as a whole laugh at it.

Uzbek and Rika, the main characters, Persians, whose curiosity made them leave their homeland and go on a journey, are in regular correspondence both with their friends and among themselves. Uzbek in one of the letters to a friend reveals the true reason for his departure. He was introduced to the court in his youth, but this did not spoil him. Exposing vice, preaching the truth and maintaining sincerity, he makes many enemies for himself and decides to leave the court. Under a plausible pretext (the study of Western sciences), with the consent of the Shah, Uzbek leaves his fatherland. There, in Ispagani, he owned a seraglio (palace) with a harem, in which the most beautiful women of Persia were located.

Friends begin their journey from Erzurum, then their path lies in Tokatu and Smyrna - lands subject to the Turks. The Turkish Empire lived out at that time the last years of its greatness. Pashas, who only get their posts for money, come to the provinces and plunder them as conquered countries, the soldiers obey exclusively their whims. Cities are depopulated, villages are devastated, agriculture and trade are in complete decline. While the European peoples are improving every day, they stagnate in their primitive ignorance. In all the vast expanses of the country, only Smyrna can be considered as a city rich and strong, but Europeans make it so. Concluding the description of Turkey to his friend Rustan, Uzbek writes: "This empire, within two centuries, will become the theater of triumphs for some conqueror."

After a forty-day voyage, our heroes find themselves in Livorno, one of the flourishing cities in Italy. The Christian city seen for the first time is a great sight for a Mohammedan. There is a difference in buildings, clothing, main customs, even in the smallest trifle, there is something extraordinary. Women enjoy more freedom here: they wear only one veil (Persians - four), on any day they are free to go out, accompanied by some old women, their sons-in-law, uncles, nephews can look at them, and husbands almost never take offense at this ... Soon, travelers flock to Paris, the capital of the European empire. After a month of living in the capital, Rika will share her impressions with her friend Ibben. Paris, he writes, is as great as Ispagan, "the houses in it are so high that one can swear that only astrologers live in them." The pace of life in the city is completely different; Parisians are running, flying, they would have fainted from the slow carriages of Asia, from the measured pace of camels. The Eastern man, however, is not at all adapted for this bustle. The French are very fond of theater, comedy - arts, unfamiliar to Asians, since by their nature they are more serious. This seriousness of the inhabitants of the East is due to the fact that they have little contact with each other: they see each other only when the ceremonial forces them to do so, they are almost unaware of the friendship that constitutes the delight of life here; they stay at home, so each family is isolated. Men in Persia do not have the liveliness of the French, they do not show the spiritual freedom and contentment that are characteristic of all estates in France.

Meanwhile, disturbing news comes from Uzbek's harem. One of the wives, Zashi, was found alone with a white eunuch, who immediately, on the orders of Uzbek, paid for treachery and infidelity with his head. White and black eunuchs (white eunuchs are not allowed into the harem rooms) are low slaves who blindly fulfill all the desires of women and at the same time force them to obey the laws of the seraglio. Women lead a measured lifestyle: they do not play cards, do not spend sleepless nights, do not drink wine and almost never go out, since the seraglio is not adapted for pleasure, everything in it is saturated with obedience and duty. An Uzbek, talking about these customs to a French friend, hears in response that Asians are forced to live with slaves, whose hearts and minds always feel the humiliation of their position. What can you expect from a man whose whole honor is to watch over the wives of another, and who takes pride in the most heinous position that humans have. The slave agrees to endure the tyranny of the stronger sex, just to be able to drive the weaker to despair. “This repulses me most of all in your morals, free yourself, finally, from prejudices,” the Frenchman concludes. But Uzbek is unshakable and considers traditions sacred. Rica, in turn, watching the Parisians, in one of the letters to Ibben talks about women's freedom and tends to think that the power of women is natural: this is the power of beauty, which nothing can resist, and the tyrannical power of men is not in all countries extends to women, and the power of beauty is universal. Rika will remark about herself: “My mind imperceptibly loses what is still Asian in it, and effortlessly adapts to European customs; I have only known women since I have been here: I have studied them more in one month than I could have been able to in the Seraglio in thirty years. " Rika, sharing with Uzbek his impressions about the peculiarities of the French, also notes that, unlike their compatriots, who have all the characters monotonous, since they are tortured (“you absolutely do not see what people really are, but you see them only as they are forced to be ”), in France pretense is an unknown art. Everyone talks, everyone sees each other, everyone listens to each other, the heart is open as well as the face. Playfulness is one of the traits ofnational character

Uzbek talks about the problems of state structure, because, while in Europe, he has seen many different forms of government, and here it is not like in Asia, where the political rules are the same everywhere. Reflecting on which government is the most reasonable, he comes to the conclusion that the perfect one is the one that achieves its goals with the least cost: if under soft government the people are as obedient as under strict government, then the former should be preferred. More or less severe penalties imposed by the state do not contribute to greater obedience to the law. The latter are just as feared in countries where punishments are moderate, as in those where they are tyrannical and terrible. Imagination automatically adapts to the mores of a given country: an eight-day prison sentence or a small fine has the same effect on a European brought up in a country with a soft government, as losing a hand on an Asian. Most European governments are monarchist. This is a violent state, and it soon degenerates into either a despotism or a republic. The history and origin of the republics are described in detail in one of Uzbek's letters. Most Asians are unaware of this form of government. The formation of the republics took place in Europe, as for Asia and Africa, they have always been oppressed by despotism, with the exception of a few cities in Asia Minor and the Republic of Carthage in Africa. Freedom was created, apparently, for the European peoples, and slavery - for the Asiatic.

Uzbek, in one of his last letters, does not hide his disappointment from a trip to France. He saw a people, generous by nature, but gradually corrupted. In all hearts, an unquenchable thirst for wealth arose and the goal of getting rich not by honest labor, but by the ruin of the sovereign, the state and fellow citizens. The clergy do not hesitate to make deals that ruin their gullible flock. So, we see that as the stay of our heroes in Europe drags on, the mores of this part of the world begin to seem less surprising and strange to them, and they are amazed at this awesomeness and strangeness to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the difference in their characters. On the other hand, as the absence of Uzbek in the harem drags on, the confusion in the Asiatic seraglio intensifies.

Uzbek is extremely concerned about what is happening in his palace, as the head of the eunuchs reports to him about the unthinkable things happening there. Zeli, going to the mosque, throws off the veil and appears before the people. Zashi is found in bed with one of her slaves - and this is strictly prohibited by law. In the evening, a young man was found in the garden of the seraglio, moreover, the wife spent eight days in the village, at one of the most secluded dachas, together with two men. Soon, Uzbek will find out the answer. Roxanne, his beloved wife, writes a suicide letter in which she admits that she deceived her husband by bribing eunuchs, and, laughing at the jealousy of Uzbek, turned the disgusting seraglio into a place for pleasure and pleasure. Her lover, the only person who tied Roxanne to life, was gone, therefore, having taken poison, she follows him. Addressing her last words in her life to her husband, Roxanne confesses her hatred for him. A rebellious, proud woman writes: "No, I could live in captivity, but I was always free: I replaced your laws with the laws of nature, and my mind has always remained independent." Roxana's suicide letter to Usbek in Paris completes the story.