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Significance of Françoise de Graffigny's Lettres d'une Peruvienne

6 Pages 1529 Words December 2019

Françoise de Graffigny’s epistolary novel Lettres d’une Peruvienne, initially published in 1747, was an immediate success to readers in eighteenth-century Europe. The novel tells the story of Zilia, a young Incan princess who is abducted from the Temple of the Sun by the Spanish and is eventually rescued by French sailors and introduced to French society. The novel is structured mostly through one-sided letters written by Zilia and addressed to her beloved fiancé Aza, who is set to be the future Sapa Inca (emperor). Though the plot of the novel can easily be interpreted as a romantic and suspenseful story filled with adventure, examining the story deeper reveals valuable philosophical content often grazed over in historical examinations of the novel. Historically, rather than focusing on the novel’s rich philosophical content, examinations have classified the work as purely sentimental fiction (for example, Undank (1988) compares Zilia’s “feminine sensibility” to Montesquieu’s character Uzbek’s “masculine reasoning1”). One important underlying message of the novel is a challenge to the eighteenth-century belief that women were incapable of reasoning at the same level as men2. Though Graffigny’s message is meant as a direct challenge to eighteenth-century society, the same message can and should be extended to our own society in the present age. Although a significant amount of progress has been made to rectify the incorrect concept of women’s inferiority, there is statistical evidence to suggest that implicit gender bias, especially in fields that rely heavily on reasoning skills and logic, still has a foothold on society.
In order to frame the significance of the text today, it is imperative to understand the necessity for it in the time of its publication. The ideas presented in the novel were radical in the context of the time it was written. In mid-eighteenth-century France, legislation treated women as se...

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