cover image Letters from a Peruvian W -OS

Letters from a Peruvian W -OS

Francoise De Graffigny, Grafigny. Modern Language Association of America, $8.95 (174pp) ISBN 978-0-87352-778-1

This 18th-century novel turns the concept of ``savage'' on its head in a scathing--and feminist--critique of French society. It comes in the words of a Peruvian princess, Zilia, who has fallen into French hands after being captured by the Spanish. Zilia's letters of love and longing to Aza, the Inca prince she was to have married, shift focus as she is initiated into French language and culture by Deterville, a devoted young nobleman. She portrays the ``barbaric'' French nobility as effete hypocrites who value politeness and wealth over virtue and who raise their daughters to be ornaments (``It is based on their more or less painfully constricted bearing . . . that parents glory in having raised them well''). The questions of whether Zilia will be reunited with Aza and the fate of Deterville, who loves Zilia, sustain dramatic interest through this lengthy, if astute, portrait. In the end Graffigny portrays a woman of true nobility and courage who must recover her faith in life in the wake of exile and betrayal. Graffigny was a noblewoman who supported herself through her writing; her tale is a worthy restoration to the canon of women's literature. (Jan.)