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Through Strangers' Eyes

Fictional Foreigners in Old Regime France

by Sylvie Romanowski

Publication Year: 2005

In the eighteenth century, a type of novel flourished showing naive outsiders who come to Europe and are amazed at what they see. Foreign travelers first set foot in Europe in the sixteenth century and are memorably present in Montaigne's essay Des Cannibales. The genre was made popular in France by Montesquieu's novel Lettres persanes. Considering the "stranger" as a figure of ambiguity, Sylvie Romanowski explains why the genre was so useful to the Enlightenment. The question of why showing ambiguous stranger is important in that period is addressed in the book's introduction by setting the Enlightenment in the historical context of the seventeenth century. Romanowski then examines Montaigne's Des Cannibales, showing how these first "outsiders" relate to their eighteenth-century successors. She next considers Montesquieu's Lettres persanes in its entirety, studying the voices of the men, the women, and the eunuchs. She also studies other examples of the genre. The author closes with a discussion of the philosophical tension, ongoing in Western thought, between skeptics and those who, refusing skepticism, seek firm foundations for knowledge, this draws connections between the sixteenth century, and our "postmodern" era.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Series: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures


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Title Page

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pp. vii-ix

List of Illustrations

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p. x

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pp. xi-xii

Like a tree, this book has grown in concentric circles. The starting point was the idea that Montesquieu’s only novel, the Lettres persanes, was a quest novel enacting a search for knowledge by...

Note on References

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p. xiii

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Introduction: Ambiguous and Useful Strangers

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pp. 1-13

Numerous imaginary strangers come calling from the ends of the earth to eighteenth-century Europe: from Turkey, China, Siam, Persia, Peru, Africa, and America, they come, observe, and criticize. ...

Part 1: Montaigne's Cannibals

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1. Montaigne's Unknowable Cannibals

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pp. 17-37

The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the necessity of individual knowledge and the impact of that emphasis on society in general has its roots in the larger movements of philosophy and science occurring in the Renaissance. ...

Part 2: Montesquieu's Persians

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2. The Men's Quest for Knowledge: The Impossibility of Transcendence

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pp. 41-64

Although the Lettres persanes and its author are usually considered as belonging to the eighteenth century, they are actually both on the cusp of the Enlightenment. Montesquieu had a foot in both cultures. ...

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3. Women's Knowledge: The Temptation of Equality

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pp. 65-84

Where do women fit into this general scheme? Kant has a telling sentence in the essay “What Is Enlightenment?”: “The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have...

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4. Who Are the Eunuchs?

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pp. 85-117

Paul Valéry asks the question “Mais qui m’expliquera tous ces eunuques?” and speculates, “Je ne doute pas qu’il n’y ait une secrète et profonde raison de la présence presque obligée de ces personnages...

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5. Montesquieu's "Introduction" and "R

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pp. 118-132

To bring this analysis of the novel to a close, I would like to consider two texts that surround the Lettres persanes: the “Introduction” (7–9), which accompanied the novel in 1721, and the well-known...

Part 3: Graffigny's Elusive Peruvian

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6. Graffigny's Lettres d'une P

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pp. 135-182

Françoise de Graffigny’s epistolary novel begins with two important preliminary texts, an “Avertissement” and an “Introduction historique aux Lettres Péruviennes,” which are an integral part of the novel...

Part 4: Nature Affirmed and Nature Denied

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7. Voltaire's L'Ingenu and Claire de Duras's Ourika: The Aristocracy's Betrayals

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pp. 185-209

This chapter will conclude the study by focusing on two works that have a stranger as chief protagonist, but have diametrically opposed philosophical positions regarding nature and society. ...

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Conclusion: Ambiguous Strangers and the Legacy of the Enlightenment

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pp. 210-218

The purpose of this study was to survey in detail the best- known examples of the naive outsider novels that caught the imagination of the period, and along the way to consider how these novels, far from being...


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pp. 219-231


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pp. 233-251

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 253-257

E-ISBN-13: 9781612490823
E-ISBN-10: 1612490824
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557534064
Print-ISBN-10: 1557534063

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures
Series Editor Byline: Patricia Hart See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 608126974
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Through Strangers' Eyes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Outsiders in literature.
  • Aliens in literature.
  • French literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • French literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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