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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

38. A Critique of European Moress

Texte intégral

1In her epistolary novel, Letters from a Peruvian Woman, which was published in 1747 and revised in 1752, Françoise de Graffigny (1695–1758)i basing her work on the model of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, formulates a criticism of western civilisation, and in particular of French mores. The letters of her heroine Zilia, who is doubly foreign in eighteenth-century French society, both as a woman and as a Peruvian, denounce the inequality of conditions in pre-revolutionary Europe.

Letter 20 [extract]

2Intent only about the afflictions of my heart, I have hitherto, my dear Aza, said nothing to thee respecting those of my understanding: yet these are not the less cruel because I have omitted them. I experience a distress of a nature unknown among us, and which nothing but the equivocal genius of this nation [France] could invent.

  • ii The Inca sovereign.

3The government of this empire, quite opposite to that of thine, must necessarily be defective. With us, the Capa Incaii is obliged to provide for the subsistence of his people: here, the sovereigns subsist only on the labours of their subjects: hence it is that most of the crimes and misfortunes of these people proceed from unsatisfied necessities.

4The misfortunes of the nobles, in general, arise from the difficulties they are under to reconcile their apparent magnificence with their real misery.

5The common people support their condition by what is called Commerce, or industry; the least evil arising from which is insincerity.

6Part of the people, in order to live, are obliged to depend on the humanity of others; and this is so slender, that scarce have those wretches sufficient to preserve their existence.

7Françoise de Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Princess (1747–1752).

Frontispiece of the 1752 edition of the Letters of a Peruvian Princess, drawn by Eisen and engraved by Lafosse.iii

Read the free English text online (1787 edition):​books?id=Gd1IAQAAMAAJ&dq=azacapaincamenperu&hl=fr&pg=PA29
Read the free text in the original language (1777 edition):​ark:/12148/​bpt6k62721455
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Table des illustrations

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Légende Frontispiece of the 1752 edition of the Letters of a Peruvian Princess, drawn by Eisen and engraved by Lafosse.iii
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