By John Alan Baum (Auth.)
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Montesquieu and S o c i a l Theory 28 Mme. de Tencin had spent her youth imprisoned in a convent, from which she had escaped to devote herself to a dissipated life of lovemaking and revelry, which, during the licence of the Regency period, enabled her to meet and befriend many influential persons. On writing an excellent novel based on her experiences in the convent, she was recognised to have literary talents and, with the financial help of her brother, established a fashionable and popular salon.
Amongst this clientelle that she sometimes, for obscure reasons, referred to as "ses bStes" or "sa menagerie", were the "Sept Sages": Fontenelle, Marivaux, Mirabaud de Boze, Astruc and Duclos; La Motte, the other one of the seven, having died in 1731. It is interesting that Montesquieu never came to be classed amongst them, a fact which well illustrates that Montesquieu could never easily be classified into membership of any of the major groupings of the 18th century. 54 Perhaps his thought was too original, too sociological to allow himself to fall into place in the 18th century.
The choice of two oriental visitors as a means by which the author can comment upon contemporary social processes is neither accidental nor fortuitous. Montesquieu's use of an increasingly popular literary device has the latent function of allowing him the degree of disinterestedness necessary to his art. Usbeck and Rica, paradoxical and alarming as it may seem, are proved capable of understanding French society, about which they had virtually no prior knowledge at all, and completely incapable of understanding their own Persian society, amongst which they had been brought up.