The Persian letters and the Fearful Void

The Fearful Void and the Persian notes are both travelogues. Travelogues are works of fiction, nonfiction, or illustrated writing that describe the destinations and experiences of a traveler. The former (The Persian letters), also known as the "Lettrespersanes" in French, was written in 1721 by Charles de Secondat, the baron de Montesquieu at the time. He described the journeys of two Persian noblemen, Usbek and Rica, through France. They come into contact with various cultures, people, and way of living; however, the story is cut short when a revolt takes place at the Usbek's household that leads to the murder of his five wives. The story is captivating and well informative of the encounters of the travelers. The novel ‘the Fearful Void' is a literal work authored by George Moorhouse in 1972 that also focuses on his accounts of experience while crossing the Sahara desert from the Atlantic Ocean to the Nile river. He leaves the civilized world behind to venture by himself into an unchartered land to discover himself and rid himself of the fear and anxiety welling up within him. These two novels are pieces of literature written during two different timelines, recounting the experiences of two distinct personalities. Therefore this paper intends to demonstrate the fact that even though the works are both travelogues, they are similar and dissimilar in several critical aspects examined intricately. The paper will finally include a conclusion in which the arrived at, findings will be appended.

Authors, literary forms, themes, and symbols.

The first similarity of comparison between the two works is that they feature characters that leave the comforts of their homes and head into virgin lands to experience life anew and discover themselves if not encounter new cultures and aspects of human life. The Persian letters recount the story (as mentioned in the introduction) of two noblemen who leave to France to encounter the freshness of life and rejuvenate their cultural spirits and awareness. On the other hand, the Fearful Void also remarks the epic journey of Moorhouse from the comforts of his home into the wilderness of the Sahara to experience himself, test the limits of his weakness and rid himself of his fears.

Secondly, the works are not folklore neither are they mythological but narratives though a bit exaggerated, consist of factual accounts of the story behind them. The Persian Letters are an accurate account of the author's experience depicted in the lives of the fictional characters (Usbek and Rica). The Fearful void also is a factual account of the author's experience in the wild Sahara. They are both stories based on a factual account it's only that the representations are in some aspects exaggerated or enlist the incorporation of fictional characters for literal purposes but still maintain their authenticity (Eschenbaum 12).

Another aspect of similarity is that the authors recount the experiences of their characters reflective of their own experiences and encounters (Canavan23). The Persian letters' author Charles De Secondat as a baron had the luxury of traveling far and wide to the extent of experiencing different cultures and ways of life. In his encounters, he suffers the adversities of culture shock and religious intolerance (Montesquieu 10). This personal experience is exactly what he replicates in the narrative about the ordeals of Usbek and Rica in France. He puts his emotions in the struggles of the two to the effect that reading the novel would be reading his (Charles De Secodant) autobiography. Similarly, the book The Fearful Void by Moorhouse is a personal encounter in the wilderness, the character in his novel is himself, and he recounts his experiences and tells of them first hand. A reader of the novel would not need to translate any event into the context of the author since it is his ordeal edited on a book.

The two novels each have the theme of human reasoning incorporated into literature (Canavan25). This theme is indicative of the events upon which the characters become illumined of a given reality or aspect that they were not privies to before. The Persian Letters incorporate this theme in several places where the characters are depicted to be learning something new in their encounters in France. The characters are exposed to new cultures that include French cuisines and ways of dressing quite distinct from their Arabian and Islamic customs. They depict a learning of these new societal tenets that reflect the theme of human reasoning, the training of the mind to some new reality. Similarly, in the Fearful Void, the author is depicted as learning new features about the harshness of the wilderness that he was not conscious of for instance the desert insects like black head Scorpions and sand rattlesnakes. He is also portrayed as learning new aspects of himself and his inner fear that which leads into the wilderness at the first place.

There is also the addition of the theme of religion. The two books though with different conclusions about the same issue (as will be treated later in this paper) still appear centered on issues religion. In the Persian letters, the authors discuss on matters of comparative religions, the fact that there are other existent religions out there in France as opposed to what they (the character) were used to at home. Similarly, in the novel The Fearful Void, the author presents the fundamentality of religion, to be precise Christianity in his quest to discover self. He recounts how his journey wouldn't have made sense had there not been the attuning of his spirit to something more than itself, i.e., God. To which he fundamentally concludes by asserting that he is the purpose as to why the author lives and finds himself.

Another theme also inclusive of the two books is humanism. This is the theme that emphasizes the philosophical and ethical stance that includes the value, place, and agency of human beings, considered individually and collectively. It prefers critical thinking and empirical evidence over the acceptance of ideological dogmas or societal superstition (Canavan26). The Persian letters incorporate this theme where the author depicts the characters as seeking to experience and unravel matters on their own and not relying on foreign interpretations of the same. They are described as individuals who prefer experiencing the human society as it is both from their personal individual perspective and the perspective of the others. The entire visit to France is meant for the characters to experience by themselves the talk of the town (Persia) that the world was different from that in Persia. They seek out to stake their own experience of it, and the author recounts their experience as both individually felt and communal regarding human collectivity (Montesquieu 15). The Fearful Void also has the application of the same humanism theme, where the author presents the character as one who wishes to experience the adversities of human weaknesses by himself. He desires not to rely upon other interpretations of what his internal fears and anxieties could be but undertakes an epic journey to discover that himself. The theme on humanism to be more specific points towards a character in a novel or literal work that seek to stake his importance and niche in the unfolding of the narrative; in some way, the character transfers the role of storytelling form the author to himself (Moorhouse 23).

Another similarity between the two books is the content structure. The narrative in the two books is presented chronologically. The story seems to unfold in a sequence of events happening within a given time frame. The author the Persian Letters chronologically divides his ideas and narration into epistolary segments with several letters clustered to present a given idea within a given time frame. The divisions are as follows; Letters 1–21 [1–23]: narrate the journey from Isfahan to France, which was almost 14 months (from 19 March 1711 to 4 May 1712). The other cluster; Letters 22 [24]–89 [92]: they narrate the duals experience in the town of Paris during the reign of Louis XIV, approximately three years in total (from May 1712 to September 1715). The other cluster; Letters 90 [93]–137 [143] or [supplementary Letter 8 =145]: they depict the Regency of Philippe d'Orléans, which covered five years (from September 1715 to November 1720). The last cluster is; Letters 138 [146] – 150 [161]: elaborating the final collapse of the seraglio in Isfahan, which took approximately three years (1717–1720) (Montesquieu 2). Similarly, even though the novel Fearful Void is not an epistolary novel its narrative is instead divided into chapters, which depict the events happening in the life of Moorhouse chronologically from the point of departure, through the Sahara desert till his arrival in the across the Nile River.

However in light of comparing the two works, they can also be analyzed in dissimilarity to each other as elaborated below.

The first immediate contrast is based on the author's departure point for their novels. The Persian letters as authored by Charles de Secondat were pieces of literature that greatly mirrored his own life and identity. Being a Baron, he afforded and was accustomed to traveling far and wide into different cultures, peoples, and ways of life and existence. That travel identity substantially impacted on his choice of theme for the novel. The story is explained in third person indicative of the two Persian noblemen, and occasionally the author includes direct quotes from their conversation (Usbek and Rica). The Fearful Void is a story that is detailed in the first person and explains the experiences of the author. The story mirrors his own factual experience that changed his life forever; he documents his journey through the Sahara and how he finally finds himself. The story is indicative of the author' internal strife and anxiety over the fear and dread that seems to grip him shadowing his days and rendering meaningless his life. So as the Persian letters are born from the travel personality and experiences of a baron, the fearful void is conceived from the fear and void

Another contrast between the two authors of the books that significantly impacted their writings is the timelines in which they lived, Charles de Secondat lived and wrote his works during the age of enlightenment. This period is significant with the revolution of literature form its ancient forms of speculation as received from the Latin and Greek ancestors to the imaginative styles that incorporated imageries, symbolism, and fiction. Those revolutionary aspects impacted on the works Persian letters. The author inputs a lot of creativity and imagery in his writing to the effect of explaining the different sites, communities, and cultures the characters experienced. He exemplifies cultures as though a tree, a form of communal being that grows and that is different in its appearance concerning the geographical location it is as much as cultures too are different globally (Montesquieu 20). George Moorhouse however, writes his novel during the contemporary age of literature writing where literature as we know it takes into addition forms and styles to include introspective literature and experiential fiction (Canavan25). These contemporary features are well incorporated into the works of Moorhouse; his Fearful Void novel is distinctly introspective and based on his own experience in the Saharan wilderness. That aspect is quite distinct from the former's style of writing owing to the timelines which defined their literature structures.

It's worth noting also that the Persian letters are works constructed and finished as epistolary (Canavan27). As mentioned in the introduction, they are a consolidation of letters from the author each detailing a specific aspect of the entire story fabric. The letters are 150 in total and recount of different chapters of the story, though in some places they amalgamate to recount a singular idea or narrative within the story, it doesn't alter the fact that the primary divisions of the work are epistolary. Fearful Void, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative in prose (Canavan30). The works are divided into chapters with each recounting of a different aspect of the authors narrative still within the integrated whole. The divisions in this work unlike the former are chapters and not letters.

Another contrast between the novels is based on the dominant themes inherent in the works. The Persian letters are more of tragedy themed. They recount the story of the two Persian noblemen to a foreign country but end up with the main character's (Usbek) wives murdered in a revolt that occurs in his base back at home. That constitutes a tragic ending and thus a sad theme with other inclusions of the horrors that the two noblemen undergo during their voyage that almost risks their lives when they encounter different unfavorable cultures and races. However, the novel Fearful Void is based on an epic theme. The desert safari of alone man who transverses the wilderness with all its mysteries and risks to come out a hero in his right. After the desert exile and safari Moorhouse finally recovers the purpose of his life which he claims as centered in God and eventually conquers his fears of the unknown (Canavan27).

In line with the mentioned point is the nature of the themes. The tragedy theme in the Persian letters is clearer; they give an account of self through other characters, and they talk more about issues of the society as though a social commentary. They describe the lives and storyline of the Persian noblemen are exemplified as the personality and wishful thinking of the author. Though Moorhouse's writings are not in the first person, they are but rather a delving into the experience of others to explain the self-experience. The fearful Void on the contrary with an epic theme is more of an introspective narrative. It recounts the experience of Moorhouse in person and his internal journey. He presents his tale in his language and his own experience which for him is not secondary but primary. Those aspects are constitutive an acutely fictional account of a real-life experience.

The narratives also in the two works are different in nature of their emphasis. The Persian letters are more emphatic of the cultural and spiritual aspect of religion being depicted as mostly comparative. They expose the society as multi-religious with many different forms and element that strike the religion as we know it as differently observed in different places. In the perspective of the author, the two Persian noblemen represent the Islamic religion that was dominant in the Persian Empire. The narrative explains how they are entangled in a culture shock by discovering that there was more than Islam religion out there. The issue of religion is thus presented in this work as multilateral and not unilateral. However, in the Fearful void, the aspect of religion appears to be narrowed and unilateral. The author presents the character in his work as one who is dumbfounded with the uncertainty of life and of which deity to trust with revamping his disintegrating self. It finally ends up with the character firmly rooted both in belief and attitude that life as he knew it had only purpose and meaning through one God (as subscribe to by the Christian religion) who saw him through the self-imposed desert safari.

Another contrast is the form in which the narrative is composed and formulated. The Persian letters consisting of two main characters constitutes a story life that reflects a dialogue between two noblemen as they go on their adventure in France. Though the dialogues are presented in the third person, they are indicative of a conversation between two ordinary friends as they encounter new societal aspects their day to day life. The fearful void in on the contrary a narrative that is more of a monologue. It mainly features the mind thought of the main character, the character is (as mentioned) on a desert voyage where the only encounters are caravans and shifters. Most of the active conversations that are present in the novel are what can be called; the character was speaking to himself (Canavan20).

Another significant aspect of comparison is the finality of the two narratives. Though this is to be distinguished from the former point on the themes incorporated in the works; the finality of the stories defer in context and appraisal. The author of the Persian letters concludes the narrative with the two main characters losing the very objectives that they sort out to achieve. In context the two set out to experience the world, to explore the different aspects of it thus affirming their beliefs in totality or acquiring some new tastes of life. But as the story ends, the voyage is cut short with the tragedy that happens at home necessitating their return home. A premature return that leaves their objectives immaterialized. However, the Fearful Void character goes full throttle with his narrative, cutting across the desert, going through the ups and downs consequential to such a feat and emerges objectified. He as the author narrates ends up finding purposeful thoughts about his insecurities and uncertainties. Those objectives that compel him to indulge in the journey are finalized, and the character ends fulfilling the purpose to which the author sets up to narrate.


Finally having compared the two works by analyzing how the two literal works are similar and dissimilar the following findings are arrived at. The two books are travelogues recounting the experiences of their authors during a given travel ordeal. The two works are arranged chronologically as though an itinerary based narrative of sorts. They enlist several themes that bring out the converging and diverging views of their authors. They are dissimilar in several ways to include the tangent in which the authors take in exemplifying various themes as illustrated previously. The novels though written in different timeline still observe the fundamentals of travelogue literature that cut across such a genre of writing. And finally, they are works worth the appraisal they have received over time because they move the reader to imaginatively position in the context of the author and the characters involved. Such creativity is a definite success of any literary work, which is to capture the mind and imagination of the reader.

Work Cited

Canavan, Tony. "No ordinary travelogue." (2017): 39-40.

Eschenbaum, Natalie K., and Barbara Correll, eds. Disgust in Early Modern English Literature. Routledge, 2016.

Montesquieu, Persian Leters. "trans. Margaret Mauldon." Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press 22 (2008): 78.

Moorhouse, Geoffrey. The fearful void. Faber & Faber, 2012.

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