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Josá Maria Eça de Queiróz is acknowledged to be one of the greatest Portugese novelists, attempting to bring about social reform through his novels. In 1869 and 1870, he travelled to Egypt and watched the opening of the Suez Canal, which inspired several of his works, most notably “O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra”. “A Correspondencia de Fradique Mendes” features a character – Mendes – who travels to many different places and writes of them to his friends and relatives. It is said that Eça de Queiróz modelled the character of Mendes on himself. Introducing the character of Mendes, he writes of their meeting in Cairo:
“…I asked Fradique what had detained him thus in Persia for a year and a day, just as in the fairy tales. And Fradique confessed with all sincerity, that he had tarried so long on the banks of the Euphrates because he had by chance come into contact with a religious movement called Bábism, which since 1849 had been developing and nearly triumped in Persia. Although attracted to this new sect by a critical curiosity, and also wishing to observe how a new religion is born and established, he gradually began to take a very keen interest in Bábism – not so much because he admired its doctrine, but because of the dedication of its apostles…
I do not remember, after so many years, whether these are the exact facts. I only know that these revelations by Fradique, thrust upon me during the festival in Cairo, impressed me unutterably. While he spoke of the Báb…and of the rise of another faith within the Muslim world, with its own procession of martyrs and ecstasies…this personage (the Báb) took on grand proportions in my mind. I had never known anyone involved in such exalted matters, and I felt myself both proud and awed to be trusted with this sublime secret. I would not have been more moved if I had, on the eve of St Paul’s departure for Greece to take the Word to the Gentiles, walked with him through the narrow streets of Seleucia, listening to his hopes and dreams.”