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The Confused Males of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Voltaire’s Candide, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

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The Confused Males of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Voltaire’s Candide, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses


“Now my father was then holding one of his second beds of justice, and was musing within himself about the hardships of matrimony, as my mother broke silence.—
—My brother Toby, quoth she, is going to be married to Mrs. Wadman.”
—Then he will never, quoth my father, be able to lie diagonally in his bed again as long as he lives.”
(Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy)

The eighteenth century, what a magnificent time—a contemporary critic is likely to exclaim, and indeed it was. The century of Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Kant, Swift, Sterne, and others, whose names still make pound the sensitive hearts of many students of history, philosophy, and literature. The Age of Enlightenment, when every aspect of man’s life—morals and vices; natural and conventional laws; issues of government and religion, of marriage and child rearing, of politics and economy, of the sciences and the arts—was scrutinized under the critical eye of thinkers and often discarded without pity. A time of blossoming critical and literary thought, a time of great intellectual challenges, trials, and successes—in a word, a splendid, magnificent, glorious time.

And what books were written, what literary marvels were produced! Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Voltaire’s Candide, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses . . . Innovative and daring, they questioned a traditional, God-blessed and Church-sponsored view of man’s life, providing armies of scholars with an enormous literary and philosophical heri...


... middle of paper ...


...al pursuits with more earthly matters. To the modern reader, unfortunately, they may appear too “enlightened.”

Notes

1If my reader wonders why I am taking so great an interest in this matter, I would like to point out that his or her (especially her) speculations are totally erroneous and irrelevant to the subject.

2Note that Uzbek is a Persian, and Candide is a German. Apparently when French writers create a hero with “limited” sexual prowess, they don’t assign him a French origin, probably preserving the myth of French sexual vigor.

Works Cited

Montesquieu, de [Baron de La Bréde, Charles de Secondat]. Persian Letters. New York: Penguin, 1973.

Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy. New York: Norton, 1980.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988.

Voltaire [Francois Marie Arouet]. Candide. New York: Bantam, 1959.


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