ABSTRACT

By bringing gender despotism into the discussion of the Persian Letters, the scholars join a long-standing debate about whether the representation of gender and sexuality in the Persian Letters signifies a rejection of patriarchy. This chapter suggests that Montesquieu was not able to resolve this issue successfully because the democratizing imperatives of Enlightenment sociability in the Persian Letters are ultimately undermined by the domestic politics of sexuality. Montesquieu's Persian Letters contributed to the growth of Orientalist discourse in the eighteenth century, they also contained the seeds of Orientalism's deconstruction. Dena Goodman argues that one of the goals of the French Enlightenment was to achieve an ideal of sociability within the civilizing atmosphere of the female-dominated Paris salon, whereby Frenchmen substituted reciprocity and equality for hierarchy and the rules of polite conversation for absolute power and military force. The point is that Rica's are the only letters which attempt to present gender relations from a woman's perspective.