History and Political Science Name: Institution: Introduction Lady Mary Worley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters were written during her stay in Turkey in the eighteenth century. The letters give insight into cultural and political affairs of the time. The fact that the writer is female, a rarity at the time, gives the work a unique voice and perspective…
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’Tis very easy to see they have more liberty than we have”. (Montagu 1718, XXIX). Turkish ladies must cover themselves from head to toe whenever they leave the house. This conceals their identity, leaving them free to undertake whatever activities they desire. The women conduct affairs while never revealing their identity to their lovers. The idea of women conducting extra-marital affairs was taboo in Western society at the time. The writer remarks that the difference in religion aids this. Islam does not preach punishment for marital infidelities, unlike Christianity. The women are free to conduct their affairs without moral guilt or fear of discovery. She challenges the conception that Islam oppresses women by stating that it does not preach damnation and hellfire for women who have affairs. The writer describes Turkish women as “the freest on earth”. The writer redefines the concept of the veil, a symbol of oppression and restriction to Westerners. The veil sets the women free, giving them much more freedom than their Western counterparts. Turkish husbands dare not marry four wives even though their religion allows it. This contradicts the popular view that Islamic custom favors men by allowing polygamy. The women have the power to prevent the men from taking up extra wives. Turkish women own property, with some of them accumulating vast wealth. Women owning property was unheard of in England. Turkish women command respect from the men and are the last word in household affairs. They do not tolerate infidelity in their husbands; any man who desires a mistress has to keep it secret. Another strange custom the writer observes pertains to divorce. When a man who had divorced his wife wants her back, he has to let her spend a night with another man. This contradicts another popular notion that Islamic men wield all the power in divorce. The divorce must be thoroughly thought out and not done on a whim. The consequences of divorcing on whim are painful for the man who wants his wife back. The writer once more challenges the view of Islamic women as oppressed. The women conduct marital affairs yet the men cannot. This is a reversal of Western culture where sexual expression was allowed in men but frowned upon in women. The women have their own private space, the harems, where men cannot interfere. They are waited upon by slaves and live lavish, pampered lives. In one of many descriptions of the lavish life in Turkey, Montagu writes; “The sofas were covered with cushions and rich carpets on which sat the ladies” (Montagu 1718, XXVI). The women have everything they desire and more. The quality of their lives is better than that of their Western counterparts. In letter XXVI, the writer narrates her experience in a Turkish bathhouse. The experience can only be described by a woman, as no men are allowed inside them on pain of death. She describes the mannerisms of the women there as courteous, pleasant and welcoming. She contrasts them with women back home who are snide, spiteful and disdainful. The reception she gets from the Turkish women is nothing short of civil. Her visits to the wives of the grand vizier and the sultan reinforce the notion of courtesy, kindness and civility in Turkish women.
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She was known for traveling widely and her extensive form of literature. She got married to Edward Wortley Montagu, a Cambridge graduate who was designated to Congress in the year 1716. Most of her writings were written at the same time as she was in Turkey where her companion served as an ambassador.
The epistolary novel, are text composed of letters between characters and various novels from the period used letters to illustrate the characters interactions and thoughts. Travellers use this form to communicate with their travelers family and other travellers. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s contribution in English Literature has influenced the people in many ways.
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