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Letters from a Peruvian Woman

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Wikipedia article

'Letters from a Peruvian Woman' is a 1747 epistolary novel by Franoise de Graffigny. It tells the story of Zilia, a young Incan princess, who is abducted from the Temple of the Sun by the Spanish during the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. In a series of letters to her fianc Aza, who is also the Sapa Inca, Zilia tells the story of her capture, her rescue by French sailors, her befriending of the captain Dterville and her introduction to French society.

Like Montesquieu's 'Lettres persanes,' 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne' presents a satirical view of French life, particularly the conditions of French women, through the eyes of an outsider. Zilia talks about language, literature, philosophy, education, and child rearing, among other subjects. To a much greater degree than Montesquieu, Franoise de Graffigny engages readers in a suspenseful story, turning on whether Zilia will be reunited with Aza or whether she will consent to marry Dterville. Many readers and critics were unsatisfied by the conclusion, but when the author revised and expanded the novel for a new edition in 1752, she refused to change the ending.

The inspiration for the novel came from seeing a performance of 'Alzire', Voltaire's play set during the Spanish conquest of Peru; immediately afterwards, in May 1743, she began to read the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega's 'History of the Incas', which supplied most of the historical background for the story.Dainard, ed., 'Correspondance', vol. 4, letters 557-558. Although only a small fragment of a manuscript exists, the process of composition can be followed in the author's correspondence.Vera L. Grayson, "The Genesis and Reception of Mme de Graffigny's 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne' and 'Cnie'." 'Studies on Voltaire' 336 (1996), pp. 7-27.

The novel was an immediate success with readers; by the end of 1748 there were fourteen editions, including three of an English translation. Over the next hundred years, more than 140 editions appeared, including the revised and expanded 1752 edition, several different English translations, two in Italian, and others in German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.See Smith, "Popularity". Contemporary critics, including Pierre Clment, lie Catherine Frron, Joseph de La Porte, and Guillaume Thomas Franois Raynal, wrote long and mostly favorable reviews. Several articles in Diderot's 'Encyclopdie' quote the novel. A number of sequels were written, often to "improve" on the author's dnouement; the most famous was 'Lettres d'Aza', by Ignace Hugary de Lamarche-Courmont, published in 1748 and frequently reprinted with the original novel.For excerpts from the reviews and sequels, see Mallinson's edition of the novel.

The popularity of 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne' faded after 1830, but it enjoyed a strong revival of interest in the last third of the twentieth century, thanks in part to new scholarship and in part to the new interest in women writers generated by the feminist movement.


English translation

* 'Letters of a Peruvian Woman' translated by Jonathan Mallinson. O.U.P. 2020.

Modern editions

*Dainard, J. A., ed. 'Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny'. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1985--, in progress.

*Bray, Bernard, and Isabelle Landy-Houillon, eds. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne'. In 'Lettres Portugaises, Lettres d'une Pruvienne et autres romans d'amour par lettres'. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1983. pp. 1556, 239-247.

*DeJean, Joan, and Nancy K. Miller, eds. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne'. New York: MLA, 1993; revised edition, 2002.

*DeJean, Joan, and Nancy K. Miller, eds. David Kornacker, tr. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Letters from a Peruvian Woman'. New York: MLA, 1993; revised edition, 2002.

*Mallinson, Jonathan, ed. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne'. "Vif". Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002. The best available edition; contains a valuable introduction, shows variants of early editions, and provides supplementary materials in appendices.

*Mallinson, Jonathan, ed. and tr. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Letters of a Peruvian Woman'. "Oxford World classics." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

*Nicoletti, Gianni, ed. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne'. Bari: Adriatica, 1967.

*Trousson, Raymond, ed. Franoise de Graffigny, 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne'. In 'Romans de femmes du XVIIIe Sicle'. Paris: Laffont, 1996. pp. 59164.


*Davies, Simon. "'Lettres d'une Pruvienne' 1977-1997: the Present State of Studies." 'SVEC' 2000:05, pp. 295324.

*Ionescu, Christina. "Bibliographie: Mme de Graffigny, sa vie et ses uvres." In Jonathan Mallinson, ed. 'Franoise de Graffigny, femme de lettres: criture et rception'. 'SVEC' 2004:12, pp. 399414.

*McEachern, Jo-Ann, and David Smith. "[http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/eighteenth_century_fiction/summary/v009/9.1.mceachern.html Mme de Graffigny's 'Lettres d'une Pruvienne': Identifying the First Edition.]" 'Eighteenth-Century Fiction' 9 (1996): 21-35.

*Smith, D. W. "[http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/eighteenth_century_fiction/summary/v003/3.1.smith.html The Popularity of Mme de Graffignys 'Lettres dune Pruvienne': The Bibliographical Evidence.]" 'Eighteenth-Century Fiction' 3 (1990): 1-20.

*'Vierge du Soleil/Fille des Lumires: la' Pruvienne 'de Mme de Grafigny et ses' Suites. Travaux du groupe d'tude du XVIIIe sicle, Universit de Strasbourg II, volume 5. Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 1989.

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