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Lecture 3

History 1401E Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Persian Letters, Montesquieu

Course Code
HIS 1401E

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In the Voltaire’s “Candide”, Denis Diderot’s “Supplement to the Voyage of
Bougainville”, and Montesquieu’s “The Persian Letters” the authors all use satire to
ridicule and denounce certain European societies in the eighteenth century. The
authors hope to convey their messages in a way to influence other people to feel the
same. Whether it was criticizing the legislature or how religion operates in Europe
the authors wish to send a message to all of Europe that the values that so many
people are calling “Enlightened” are not, this includes people in positions of power.
Through these messages the authors attempt to suggest improvements that can be
made to society through humour in order to portray their ideas in a lighter tone
The use of satire was very effective as an individual who reads any of these
pieces literally word for word without looking for a deeper meaning would not truly
understand the messages the authors are trying to convey. Therefore someone who
comprehends what the authors are attempting to say would already have some
concept of the problems of European societies. Thus these pieces of word would
only add or strength the ideas the individual already had.
One significant difference is between Voltaire and Diderot. In Voltaire’s
writing it is less clear that he is criticizing European society as he does such things
as calls the Bulgarians that attacked the villages heroes. To anyone who understands
Voltaire’s work clearly know that he is using irony to ridicule society’s idea of what
a hero was at the time, however someone who is less observant may miss the irony
all together. In Diderot’s piece he clearly ridicules European religion through the
voice of Orou a Tahitian. It is much more evident in Diderot’s piece that he is being
sarcastic and critical towards modern society at the time then it is in Voltaire’s
piece. Montesquieu uses much more of a direct style of writing to expresses his
ideas. Whereas Diderot and Voltaire both use fictional stories, Montesquieu uses the
idea of letters published by an anonymous Persian. This way he can use the word “I”
and convey his writing in a way that clearly illustrates his ideas on political liberty
but he still retains the use of satire. However wit and humour were far less evident
in his piece than the other two pieces.
There were several noticeable instances in each piece of writing that best
depicted the point the author wishes to convey. The first instance in voltaire’s piece
was when the men Candide met on his journey declare that “Mankind were born to
assist one another”, shortly after this they proceed to train and beat him in order to
make him into a “hero”. This illustrates how Voltaire ridicules how society has
conditioned people to believe they are helping others when they are actually
harming them and twisted one’s perspective of what a “hero” is. The second
instance Voltaire’s point is best recognized is when Candide is told to pick a way to
die and he tries to explain to his captures that human will is free and he will choose
neither. However the men still make him choose, illustrating that in society at the
time Voltaire wrote this piece, there was actually no free will and everyone in the
society were constricted by the institutions. In the second piece by Diderot his point
is best shown when Orou and the Chaplain talk about his religion. In this passage
Orou points out that, as “religion” is ridiculous if it forbids you from partaking in
parts of nature. In this section Diderot is referring to sex, stating that European
societies have come to view sex as a bad thing due to religion when it is actually a
part of nature that all humans should experience as it is an innocent pleasure. In this
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