Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter C
Rica to Rhedi, at Venice
THE CAPRICES of fashion among the French are amazing. They have forgotten how they were dressed this summer; they know as little how they will be dressed in the winter; but, above all, you would never believe how much it costs a husband to dress his wife in the fashion. Where is the use of my giving you a full description of their dress and ornaments? A new fashion would destroy all my labor as it does that of the dressmakers; and before you could receive my letter all would be changed.  1
  A woman who leaves Paris to spend six months in the country, returns from it as out of date as if she had been forgotten for thirty years. The son does not know the portrait of his mother, so strange does the dress in which she was painted appear to him; he imagines that it represents some American, or that the painter wished to express a fancy of his own.  2
  Sometimes the headdresses grow gradually to a great height, until a revolution brings them down suddenly. They grew so lofty once that a woman’s face seemed to be in the centre of her anatomy; at another time it was the feet that occupied that place, the heels forming a pedestal which raised them into the air. Would you believe it? Architects have often been obliged to raise, to lower, or to widen their doors, according to the change in the women’s dresses; and the rules of their art have had to yield to such caprices. Sometimes one sees upon a face an immense quantity of patches, which are all gone next day. Formerly women had figures and teeth; now these are of no consequence. In this changeable nation, whatever ill-natured wags may say, the daughters are differently made from the mothers.  3
  As with their fashions, so is it with their customs and style of living: French manners change with the age of the king. The monarch could even succeed in making his people solemn if he chose to try. He impresses his own characteristics upon the court, the court upon the city, and the city on the provinces. The soul of the sovereign is a mold in which all the others are formed.

  PARIS, the 8th of the moon of Saphar, 1717.

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