Secor, A., 1999. ‘Orientalism, gender and class in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters: to persons of distinction, men of letters and c’. Cultural Geographies (formerly Ecumene) Volume 6, Issue 4 pp375-398. Arnold Publishers.
Abstract: In 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu accompanied her husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, on his ambassadorial mission to the Ottoman court. During their sojourn, Montagu composed what would become her most famous writings: the collection of edited letters which constitute the Turkish Embassy Letters. The reading of the Letters presented in this paper situates Montagu's text, including her famous claim that Turkish women have more liberty than British women, within the material and discursive context of eighteenth-century England and the geopolitical relations of the day. I argue that Montagu's travel narrative reproduces dominant discourses which naturalize class relations of her times, even and especially in moments when gendered or Orientalist expectations are subverted. I conclude that though class has been relatively neglected in recent readings of travel narratives, class based discourses play an important role in the construction of difference and should be accorded greater attention in the literature.
As to their Mortality or good Conduct, I can say like Arlequin, that 'tis just as 'tis with you, and the Turkish Ladys don't commit one sin the less for not being Christians. Now I am a little acquainted with their ways I cannot forbear admiring either the exemplary discretion or extreme Stupidity of all the writers that have given accounts of 'em. 'Tis very easy to see they have more Liberty than we have ...
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters 1
Almost 40 years after she wrote these now famous words to her sister in 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu again addressed the question of liberty in a letter to her daughter: 'You have long been convinced there is no real Happyness
to be found or expected in this World ... but I ought to give you another Information, which can only be learned by Experience, that Liberty is an Idea equally as chimerical, and has no real existence in this Life.’2 Made towards the end of her life, this sombre advice reflects what is known of her life's experience, for Montagu's life and letters are a testimony to her own tenacious quest for a personal sort of liberty, both intellectual and sensual in nature, which was difficult for her to achieve within the constraints of her society. In 1717-18, during her journey to Europe's nearest Orient with her husband, who was then doing a brief stint as Britain's ambassador to the Porte, Lady Mary took the opportunity to engage in the ultimately reflexive exercise of writing an account of her travels, the Turkish Embassy Letters. As Mary Louise Pratt has argued, travellers enter a space of negotiated intercultural contact which ultimately serves to create the 'domestic subject';3 thus through the purported 'discovery' of the spaces of the exotic, the traveller in fact explicates her own society and subject position.4 The social, economic and political structures within which Montagu herself was situated, within which she defined herself domestically and in the 'other' empire to which she travelled, bound not only the woman to her station but her text, the Turkish Embassy Letters, to the discourses of Orientalism, gender and class circulating in her day. It is through the reproduction, rejection and negotiation of these overlapping discourses that Montagu constructs her notion of liberty, as signified in part by what she construes as the liberty of the Turkish woman; and it also through this interplay that Montagu both reinforces and disrupts gendered notions of Orientalism through a class-centred construction of difference.
The central argument of this paper is that Montagu's letters
reproduce dominant discourses which naturalize class inequality, even and especially
in moments when they subvert Orientalist or gendered expectations. I begin with
a sketch of Montagu's life and times through which I aim to describe the circumstances
of her sojourn in Turkey and the production of the Turkish Embassy Let@, while
at the same time to indicate the broader parameters of her era's social organization
and practices of cultural hegemony. My reading of the letters which follows
explores the overlapping discursive formations of class, gender and Orientalism
and the negotiation of these discourses in the text. Finally, I conclude by
suggesting that, though class has been relatively neglected in work on women's
travel writing, an analysis which highlights the interplay of class with other
discourses of difference can provide a greater understanding of the complex
construction of these texts.
In this paper, I draw on the work of such critics as Sarah Mills and Alison Blunt who have argued that statements within women's texts exhibit various tendencies towards supporting and undermining both colonialist and feminine conventions.5 Montagu's historical context differs from that of Victorian women travellers, and Turkey in the eighteenth century was not a colonial conquest (nor would it ever be). Nonetheless, the theoretical frames developed and used by critics of Victorian women's travel writing suggest appropriate tools for my analysis of the Turkish Embassy Letters as a travel narrative inevitably situated within gendered and intercultural discourses, albeit of a different era and geog-
raphy than, for example, Mary Kingsley or Fanny Park. 'Orientalism' may be taken to refer to multiple geographical areas, some of these colonized and others not, and Turkey in the eighteenth century occupied a significant place in relation to Britain's empire.6 This paper aims to contribute to the growing body of work on women's travel narratives, while at the same time to distinguish the Turkish Embassy Letters as a text which was produced in the material context of eighteenth-century gender relations, geopolitics and class constraints, and which therefore negotiates the discursive frames which generate and are generated by these historically specific social, political and economic relations.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: woman and aristocrat of her day
Lady Mary's youth and marriage provide the backdrop for her later views on women's education. Lady Mary Pierrepont was born in 1689 into one of the England's landowning families. At a time when the Enclosure Acts had secured the property of the privileged class and left many yeoman farmers landless, Lady Mary spent her youth at Thoresby, a Palladian house which boasted a deer park, a 65-acre lake, and a quarter-mile canal which ran through vast formal gardens and fed into a multitude of fountains.7 With her education left to a governess whom she later would describe as ignorant and superstitious,8 Lady Mary was intent upon educating herself. In her father's libraries she indulged her passion for reading and taught herself Latin, and at the age of 14 she published a book of verse. As a young woman of 21, Lady Mary sent her translation of Epictetus to the Bishop of Salisburg with a letter criticizing the lack of attention given to women's education: 'My Sex is usually forbid studys of this Nature, and Folly reckon'd so much our proper Sphere that we are sooner pardon'd any excesses of that, than the least pretensions to reading or good Sense.'9 She goes on to complain,
There is hardly a character in the World more Despicable or more liable to universal ridicule than that of a Learned Woman. Them words imply, according to the receiv'd sense, a tatling, impertinent, vain and Conceited Creature. I believe no body will deny that Learning may have this Effect, but it must be a very superficial degree of it.10
However, perhaps remembering to whom she was addressing her letter, the young Lady Mary hastens to add that she is not arguing for equality of the sexes, and that she has no doubt that 'God and Nature has thrown us into an Inferior Rank. We are a lower part of the Creation; we owe Obedience and Submission to the Superior Sex; and any Woman who suffers her Vanity and folly to deny this, Rebells against the Law of the Creator, and the indisputable Order of Nature.’11 One may doubt whether she truly believed this, but at the very least it is apparent that she believed it important to announce that she did.
Her own ambition and frustration with her neglected education would lead her to become a lifelong, though not unequivocal, advocate of education for girls. Late in life, writing from her self-imposed exile in Italy to her daughter,
Lady Bute, Lady Mary would advocate the education of her granddaughter. Her pronouncements on the topic of women's education are at once concerned with the development of women's intellects and reason and with the problem of the role and place of learned women in society. She advises that girls be encouraged in learning, as '[n]o Entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting'.12 The end of this learning is not public station, she makes clear, but simply private diversion for one whose fate, by virtue of gender and birth, is to remain idle. In the same letter she writes that, although some object that boys 'lose so many years' in the learning of languages, 'This is no Objection to a Girl, whose time is not so precious. She cannot advance her selfe in any proffession, and has therefore more hours to spare.’13 In conclusion, Lady Mary cautions her daughter to teach her child 'to conceal whatever Learning she attains, with as much solicitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness. The parade of it can only serve to draw on her the envy, and consequently the most inveterate Hatred, of all he and she Fools, which will certainly be at least three parts in four of all her Acquaintance.’14 If such a warning seems paranoid, one need only remember that Lady Mary's sharp wit had by the time of this writing earnt her more enemies than friends in the literary circles of her day. When, for example, she became the victim of her former friend Alexander Pope's poison pen, her own wit and learning became the fodder for his well-publicized enmity. Indeed, she has been immortalized as the repulsive, yet somehow still promiscuous, venom-tongued poetess named for the homoerotic Sappho in Pope's satirical verses. The stereotype of the learned woman which she decried in her early letter to the Bishop had become, as she had feared, her own distorted reflection. For her granddaughter, the young Lady Mary Bute, she clearly wished a cleaner public image.
Lady Mary's early ideals of egalitarian marriage were, like her views on education for girls, tempered by her life's experience. At a time when marriage between landed families was primarily a business arrangement involving hard bargaining over the balance between the bride's dowry and the groom's settlement, Lady Mary's marriage to Edward Wortley Montagu was unconventional. Estranging herself from her family and forfeiting financial security, Lady Mary eloped with Wortley when a financial disagreement with her father threatened to break off the engagement. In her letters to Wortley during their long courtship, Lady Mary expressed a romantic vision of marriage based on mutual love and companionship, an idea which was at the vanguard of changing gender relations in her day. Despite those lofty ideals, her biographers conclude that her marriage was a loveless one, and indeed her correspondence with her husband bespeaks a cordial distance.15 On the pretext of health concerns, Lady Mary moved alone to Italy in 1741, never to see her husband again and not to return to England until after his death. Her move to Italy, while certainly evidence of the coolness of her marriage and perhaps also of her need to escape from Pope's revilement, was occasioned by her late-life pursuit of an unfulfilled love affair with a young Italian philosopher. On the topic of marriage, Lady Mary wrote to her daughter in 1753:
The ultimate end of your Education was to make you a good Wife (and I have the comfort to hear that you are one); hers [Lady Bute's daughter's] ought to be, to make her Happy in a Virgin state. I will not say it is happier but it is undoubtedly safer than any Marriage. In a Lottery, where there are (at the lowest computation) ten thousand blanks to a prize, it is the prudent choice not to venture.16
When her husband was appointed as ambassador to Constantinople in 1717, Lady Mary's journey with him to Turkey proved to be one of her life's richest opportunities.17 Upon her return to England, she compiled the Turkish Embassy Letters as a booklet of polished and edited versions of her Turkish correspondence, and distributed the manuscript amongst her circle, which included Pope, Addison, Steele and other literary figures of her day. The text, though constructed as a series of letters, is more aptly considered a travel book than a collection of true correspondence, since she thoroughly edited her letters and included passages from her journals.18 The volume begins with Lady Mary's departure from England and ends with her return to Dover two years later. The letters, which are relatively formal in tone, nonetheless retain the flavour of correspondence in their sensitivity to the person addressed and the occasion. For example, she addresses a discourse on Turkish poetry to Pope, her thoughts on Islam to the Abbe Conti, and letters concerned with the customs and dress of Turkish women to her sister, Lady Mar. The manuscript's journey to publication is itself a story which illustrates the pressures of class and gender norms at work in Montagu's day.
Although urged to publish the manuscript by her friend the feminist Mary Astell, she refrained from doing so, for as 'an aristocrat first and a feminist only when feminism did not clash with her primary loyalty',19 she considered such publication unsuitable to someone of her station. Throughout her life, Lady Mary became ever more conservative regarding class; in her late letters to her daughter she condemned the humanistic tenants with which she had grown up, cautioning that she would not be surprised if the 'Levelling Principle does not one day or other break out in fatal consequences to the public'.20 She laments that 'the silly prejudices of my education had taught me to believe I was to treat no body as Inferior', when in the end she has found 'the greatest examples of Honor and Integrity ... amongst those of the Highest Birth and Fortune' .21 Given her station and the social and economic disruptions her society was undergoing, it is not surprising that, even before she took an overt stance against the intermingling of the new bourgeoisie with the landed classes, the ideology of class and its privilege shaped her perspective. Montagu observes the changes in her society with distaste, complaining that the 'confounding of all Ranks and making a jest of order has long been growing in England' .22 Indeed, hers was a time of rapid change and social upheaval for English society, as it was being transformed by the success of the bourgeois revolution, the depopulation of the countryside and the growth of the working class. As the eighteenth century proceeded, frequently voiced Rousseauist principles positing the transcendence of human nature over gender and class created stressful conditions for the upper classes, who were struggling to uphold and to naturalize class difference in this atmosphere.23 As a member of the aristocracy and sharing in this ideological
retrenchment, Montagu considered writing for publication to be beneath her; on the topic she wrote to her daughter, 'I hope you have not so ill opinion of me to think I am turning Author in my old age.'24 If writing for publication was unfashionable amongst the aristocracy, writing for money was considered even worse, as it turned one of 'the most distinguishing prerogatives of mankind' into a 'trade' and thus demeaned it.25 No doubt Montagu would have been pleased to see the title page of the Turkish Embassy Letters had she been alive when it was published, as it was addressed to 'Persons of Distinction, Men of Letters &c.'
In addition to the aristocratic principles of the day, gender also constrained the production of the Turkish Embassy Letters. First of all, Lady Mary's choice to structure her travel narrative around the medium of letters may be seen as part of the gendered dimensions of the text's production; the letter form in general creates a more personal and private appearance and thus may be used to provide a feminine gloss to women's narratives.26 Secondly, Montagu's choice to postpone the manuscript's publication until after her death reflects not only the constraints of her aristocratic station but also gendered norms, since many eighteenth-century women writers kept their work private during their lives, recording their experiences in journals and diaries, and many also did assume that their writing would be published after their deaths.27 Willingly or unwillingly, however, Lady Mary was known during her life as a woman of letters. During her years in the midst of London's literacy circles, she published witty verse from behind a thin scrim of anonymity, and even a series of political pamphlets titled 'The Nonsense of Commonsense' (1737-8), in which she defended Walpole in Parliament and, in one edition, advocated for feminism and women's rationality.28 In 1747, while she retired in Italy, an unauthorized publication of her poems kept her reputation alive in England. In 1753, when requested to present a volume of her work to Cardinal Querini's college library in Brescia, Lady Mary professed modesty, claiming (falsely) never to have published a word in her life.29 Her booklet of the Turkish Embassy Letters is exceptional amongst her writings in that she made special arrangements for it to be published after her death, entrusting the manuscript to the Reverend Benjamin Sowden in Holland on her last journey home to England. Despite the efforts of her daughter and son-in4aw, Lady and Lord Bute, to prevent the publication of the manuscript, the letters found their way into print, appearing in the London Chronicle in 1763. The Turkish Embassy Letters have remained continuously in print since their publication, and Lady Mary's letter to her sister in which she extols the liberty of Turkish women has become a staple in anthologies of women's travel writing.
Montagu's views on marriage and education have led some modern critics to proclaim that she was one of feminism's founding mothers.30 Whether or not it is appropriate to place her in this category, one can say that Montagu was a woman of her times, an era marked by both nascent feminism and a vitriolic public discourse against women. For example, in an anonymous 1750 tract, the 'Female Pedant' was described as one who 'has only by her much reading spoil'd a good Pudding-maker, and neglected those useful, tho' humble culinary Arts, more properly adapted to a female Genius, to make herself that prodigious uncouth kind of a Hermaphrodite, a deeply-read Lady'.31 If the gender discourses
of her day could be seen as a hall of mirrors, this caricature without character appears as the image of Lady Mary's reflection in Pope's distorted mirror. Yet at the same time hers was the era of emergent feminism in England, and it is clear that Lady Mary, in her friendship with Mary Astell and in her own writings, engaged with this nascent ideology. In a private letter to Sir James Steuart in 1758, referring to a contemporary doctor's conclusion that men may also suffer from hysteria (from the spleen, rather than the womb), she writes:
I own I am charmed with his taking off the reproach which you men so saucily throw on our sex, as if we alone were subject to vapours; he clearly proves that your wise honour-able spleen is the same disorder and arises from the same cause; but you vile usurpers do not only engross learning, power, and authority to yourselves, but will be our superiors even in constitution of mind, and fancy you are incapable of the women's weakness of fear and tenderness. Ignorance! I could produce such examples -.32
Taken alongside her views on women's education, and her admonitions that learning should be a quiet pastime for her granddaughters yet a public shame, her 'feminism' appears as a moderated stance, one which asserts women's ability to reason at the same time as reinforcing the 'natural' domination of men in society. As will be seen, these discourses of femininity and feminism, of humanism and class privilege, are constitutive of the production of the Turkish Embassy Letters in the broadest sense: not only its journey to publication but also the construction of the text itself.
The mission to Constantinople: geopolitical dimensions and Orientalism
In 1716, Edward Wortley Montagu was nominated to replace Sir
Robert Sutton as Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court of Turkey, an appointment
which was contracted to last at least five years and had, for his immediate
predecessors, lasted no less than ten. The diplomatic task at hand was a delicate
and urgent one; England aimed to prevent Austria and Turkey from going to war.
Two years earlier, Turkey had declared war on the Venetian Republic in an attempt
to recover territory lost during the previous century. In 1716, Austria's emperor,
bound by treaty to assist Venice, was on the brink of deflecting his forces
from their Mediterranean Spain-watching duties, a development that England feared
would disrupt the balance of power in Europe.33 A month before Wortley and Lady
Mary were to embark upon their journey, tensions were escalating, the Austrian
army was preparing to leave for Hungary, and war seemed imminent.
In addition to mediating between Vienna and Constantinople, Wortley was to represent the Levant Company, which held the charter for trade in the Near East. Britain's commercial relationship with the Ottoman court had begun in the sixteenth century, with the foundation of the Levant Company during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1581. At the time of Worley's mission, England had already emerged as a major imperial power, as signalled by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713.34 With the ascendance of mercantile capitalist ideology and
England's increasing prominence in world affairs, foreign-policy decisions in Wortley's day were based primarily on balance of power concerns and the accommodation of the state's trading and colonial interests.35 During Worley's employment, the prosperity of the Levant Company was at its height; in 1716 and 1717 they exported to Turkey '43,000 cloths, and a very great quantity of lead, tin, sugar, etc.' and returned home with raw silks, mohair and other products.36 Although Turkey was not literally dominated by England, the once wealthy and formidable Ottoman empire had, since 1536, been increasingly engaged in trade treaties called Capitulations, which permitted first the French and then the other. European powers free and unrestricted trade in the Empire37, thus facilitating the success of such operations as the Levant company and the entrenchment of unbalanced trade relations between Turkey and its western neighbours.
Wortley's diplomatic mission was not a success, in part due to the intrigues of his personal enemies in England, in part to his own shortcomings, and in part to his pro-Turkish stance at a historical juncture when theirs was not the winning side. By the time Wortley and Lady Mary reached Vienna in September, the political crisis there had changed. The imperial army had defeated a Turkish army of twice the size at Peterwardein on 5 August, and it was thought that the Turks could be brought to the negotiating table without the fall of Belgrade. After two months of negotiations in Vienna, the Wortley party continued on to Adrianople (present-day Edirne in Turkey), then serving as the capital of the Turkish empire. Throughout the spring of 1717, Wortley pursued his diplomatic mission in Adrianople, finally emerging with definite terms for a truce: the Turks would cease firing if Temeswar, which had been captured by the Austrians the previous November, were restored to them. Given the weakness of the Porte's negotiating position at that moment, Vienna did not deign to reply to the submitted terms.38 At the end of May 1717, Wortley and Lady Mary left for Constantinople. While Wortley waited for a reply to his mediation terms, the Austrian army besieged Belgrade. Six days after a sudden attack in which the Turks were thoroughly defeated, the city capitulated to the Austrians. Despite his knowledge of this defeat, Wortley continued to advise that the Turks demanded the return of Temeswar, terms which Austria considered absurd. In mid-September 1717, arrangements for Wortley's replacement were set into motion, though the official news did not reach him until the beginning of November of that year. His mission aborted, Wortley left for England with Lady Mary in July of 1718. With a new British ambassador in place, the war ended that same year with the Peace of Passarowitz, in which the Ottomans, though successful in regaining territories from the Venetians, lost half of Serbia and a piece of Wallachia to the Austrians.
The decline of the Ottoman empire and the ascendancy of England on the world stage provided the context in the early eighteenth century for a shifting Orientalist discourse which nonetheless displayed some continuity with historical precedents. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman empire had been a feared but respected regime, with its disciplined armies and powerful sultanate. In order to check the influence of this rival power, Christian Europe's educated religious class had disseminated a vociferously bigoted
polemic against Islam which avowed that the religion represented a negation of Christianity, that Mohammed was an impostor and an evil sensualist; that he was, in fact, the Anti-Christ.39 Similarly to later Orientalist discourses, the polemic of the Middle Ages stressed the differences between East and West, and portrayed the East as the locus of a lascivious sensuality and a culture of inherent violence, a motif which Said has counted as amongst the most enduring of Orientalism.40 The lust and sensuality of the East were further linked to cruelty, violence and despotism, and this edifice became a metaphor for the Orient as a whole.
From the seventeenth century onwards, as increasing levels of interaction and the popularization of travel accounts coincided with the beginning of Ottoman decline and the transformation of that society through the penetration of Western capitalism, the place of the Turks in the European imaginary was changing. The realignment of relations between East and West at this time did not herald the abandonment of previous 'knowledge' of the Orient, but rather opened up spaces within the Western polemic for the corroboration, elaboration and in some cases displacement of previous accounts. For example, in Montagu's own narrative she addresses and dismisses the religiously based condemnation of the previous era:
He [Effendi Achmet Bey] assured me that if I understood Arabic I should be very well pleased with reading the Alcoran, which is so far from the nonsense we charge it with, 'tis the purest morality deliver'd in the very best Language. I have since heard impartial Christians speak of it in the same manner, and I don't doubt but that all our translations are from Copys got from the Greek Priests who would not fail to falsify it with the extremity of Malice. No body of men ever were more ignorant and more corrupt ... 41
This inversion of the old order, in which the Greek priests are represented as lowly and Koran as elevated, marks a particular historical juncture in the rolling tides of Western constructions of the East and its meaning. The anti-Islamic polemic was still in circulation, but the locus of British Orientalism vis-à-vis Turkey was shifting.42
Turkey came, in the eighteenth century, to represent a foil to Britain's self-conception, especially in the arenas of relations of domination between state and society and men and women. Orientalist discourse of this time was no longer centred around the fear of this powerful neighbour, but increasingly focused on the Ottomans as an example of what England should not be or become. That the tropes of Oriental despotism and sensuality, and the central figure of the sexualized and enslaved Oriental women, are evident in the travel writings and novels of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century has been amply demonstrated.' For example, Alain Grosrichard, in his discussion of Oriental despotism in the texts of Ricaut (whose writing Montagu references in her letters), Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau, uses a Lacanian framework to explore the links between constructs of the despotic, sensual Orient and the counter-space of the Enlightment. Grosrichard's argument provides an archaeology of the notion of Oriental despotism that also encompasses questions of patriarchy and the representation of Oriental women. Grosrichard concludes
that the seraglio, in which Oriental women were thought to be enslaved under a tyrannical male, 'is the microcosm reflecting the despotic State in its entirety'.44 Furthermore, this despotic state was held up as an inversion, a perversion, of European governance, an especially salient counterpoint in the early eighteenth century. While Grosrichard links the topos of male domination to the notion of despotism and questions of governance and rationality in Europe, Nassbaum draws out the ways in which British representations of 'other women of Empire' served to enable 'the consolidation of the cult of domesticity in England'.45 Nassbaum suggests that the British fascination with polygamy in the eighteenth century and ultimate rejection of it enabled the consolidation and definition of English sexuality and marriage in opposition to the uncontained and polygamous 'other'. Through her reading of English narratives of the period, Nussbaum shows how Oriental women in tales such as Defoe's Roxana were portrayed as untethered from the gender regimes that governed English femininity and matrimony.46 Thus England's Orient of the eighteenth century reflected not only domestic questions of governance but also those of social structure, marriage and sexuality.
Les Mille et une nuits and the politics of the aesthetic
Montagu engages in various ways with the Orientalist discourses of her day. One of the most influential representations of her times was Les Mille et une nuits, or as it came to be known in English, The Arabian Nights, a copy of which her biographer Robert Halsband located in her library. The Arabic manuscripts, themselves a latter-day transcription of the oral lore, had been loosely translated into French by Antoine Galland in 1704. Les Mille et nuits proved very successful, perhaps providing a pressure-valve for 'an era that was fidgeting under the stern dominion of rationalism, desiring imaginative space and relief from sobriety’,47 and would become with time one of the most ubiquitously referenced 'representations' of the Orient in the citationary universe of Orientalism. For eighteenth-century Orientalists, the tales were associated with abundant detail, 'luxury and pleasure of the senses', the arbitrary exercise of power and literally magical turns of fortune.48 As Judy Mabro notes in her volume of selected writings by Western travellers on Middle Eastern women, in the nineteenth century the images from Les Mille et une nuits, which became known as 'the facts of the "Arabian Nights"', were 'discovered' by travellers over a vast geographical area. 'Indeed, the images from childhood were so strong, as was the desire to escape from the reality of their own stifling society, that other travelers found the atmosphere and characters of these stories in Uganda, India, Yugoslavia…’.49 As one critic of eighteenth-century Orientalism has put it, the tales provided travellers with a vehicle for the expression of a 'wild and immoral autobiography'50. Montagu's writing, only a little more than a decade after the tales' publication in French, participates in the early incorporation of this mythology into the Orientalist canon. Montagu sought, in her journey to Turkey, the actualization
of these Oriental tales. More than once in her letters she mentions the tales and affirms that she has found them to be 'genuine'. For example:
This is but too like (says you) the Arabian tales; these embroidered Napkins, and a jewel as large as a Turkey's egg! - You forget, dear Sister, those very tales were writ by an Author of this Country and (excepting the Enchantments) are a real representation of the manners here. 51
Montagu thus conflates the imaginary Orient and the world she finds about her, collapsing time and geography to affirm that Galland's translated folk-tales, culled from the oral lore of Turkey, Arabia, Persia, India and even China, were in fact written by a Turk describing the customs of the place. The predominant tropes of the Oriental tale can be found in her many opulent descriptions: the rich interiors, the 'boundless wealth' of the indolent Orientals, and the 'Violence of passion' of the Turkish language - to which, she claims, English translation cannot do justice.52 Montagu draws upon ideas of the Orient as unintelligible and dark, its inner chambers hidden in 'agreeable obscurity’.53 It is generally pleasing to her, the 'Orientalness' of the Orient on an aesthetic level: ' 'Tis yet harder to describe a Turkish palace than any other, being built entirely irregular. There is nothing can be properly call'd front or wings, and tho such a confusion is (I think) pleasing to the sight, yet it would be very unintelligible in a Letter.'54 The imaginary Orient, in all its unknowable irregularity, is represented here by the Turkish architectural structure which can only be described by pointing to its elusion of description.
Montagu's appreciation of the imagined Orient and interest in the customs she encountered has been attributed by an editor of the Turkey Embassy Letters to her historical context: 'Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in an earlier age [than Fanny Park] was not called upon to establish colonial power and did not suffer from any threat to her self-confidence. She was able, in Turkey, to give full rein to the romanticism and sensuality in which she reveled.’55 Indeed, the eighteenth century was the Age of Reason, an era when 'tolerance was the test of true Europeanism'.56 The 'enlightened society' was characterized by knowledge, self-control and open-mindedness. In a letter from Vienna included in the Turkish Embassy Letters, Montagu describes the habits she observes, and concluded: 'Thus you see, my Dear, Galantry and good breeding are as different in different Climates as Morality and Religion. Who have the rightest notions of both we shall never know till the Day of judgement; for which great Day of Eclaircissement I own there is very little impatience in your [Lady Mary].’57 This discourse of tolerance can also be found in her letters about Turkish customs and religion, but more often she suggests that in fact what she perceives as the Oriental ways are superior to those of her own culture. In such instances, the letters challenge the value judgements implicit in Orientalist discourses of difference while simultaneously reproducing European myths of the Orient. The trope of the sensual, hedonistic Orient, for example, is employed not to condemn the Turks but rather to praise them:
Thus you see, Sir, these people are not so unpolished as we
represent them. 'Tis true
their Magnificence is of a different taste from ours, and perhaps of a better. I am all-
most of opinion they have a right notion of Life; while they consume it in Music, Gardens, Wine and delicate eating, while-we are tormenting our brains with some Scheme of Politics or studying some Science to which we can never attain, or if we do, cannot perswade people to set that value upon it we do our selves ... Considering what short liv'd, weak Animals Men are, is there any study so beneficial as the study of present pleasure? I dare not persue this theme; perhaps I have already said to much ... but I allow you to laugh at me for the sensual declaration that I had rather be a rich Effendi with all his ignorance than Sir Isaac Newton with all his knowledge.58
The statement begins with a rejection of the 'discourse of savagery';59 the idea that Orientals are 'unpolished' (with the term's class-based connotations) in comparison to Europeans is immediately addressed and negated. What follows, however, asserts the veracity of another Orientalist trope: Orientals have an ignorant, sensual, hedonistic 'notion of Life', while Europeans are represented by Sir Isaac Newton. Such a rhetorical move demonstrates how the text is ensconced within Orientalist discourses, whether or not the hierarchical positions of the mutually constituted and reflective 'East' and 'West' are momentarily, even playfully, reversed. Furthermore, her professed willingness to switch places is couched in terms of class, in that she sees the life of the 'rich Effendi' (a title of respect) as the embodiment of this Oriental life of pleasure of which she dreams.
Not only is the supposed sensuality of the East represented in her letters, but also the mythical overwrought violence. When Montagu requests a supper of pigeons, and the chief civil officer of Adrianople is unable to procure them, she writes:
My janizary, in the height of his Zeal for my service, immediately lock'd him up prisoner in his room, telling him he deserv'd death for his impudence in offering to excuse his not obeying my command, but out of respect to me he would not punish him but by my order, and accordingly came very gravely to me to ask what should be done to him, adding by way of Compliment that, if I pleased he would bring me his head. 60
Elsewhere, however, Montagu rejects the image of the cruel Turk:
I know You'l expect that I should say something particular of [the market] of the Slaves, and you will Imagine me half a Turk when I don't speak of it with the same horror that other Christians have done before me, but I cannot forbear applauding the Humanity of the Turks to those Creatures. They are never ill us'd and their Slavery is in my Opinion no worse than Servitude all over the world.61
In these passages, the text moves between the expected and presumably amusingly or pleasingly exotic images of the irrational and violent Orient, and a rejection or mitigation of the Orientalist 'knowledge' circulating in British society at this time. This movement is, however, linked to discourses of class: the 'Janizary’ (janissary, or soldier) who is in her service displays a crude and subservient violence, while slave-owners are filled with 'Humanity' - a characteristic that the slaves, 'those Creatures', do not even seem to possess. Thus in these examples Orientalist tropes are reproduced at the same time as they are mediated both by Enlightenment discourses of humanism and by class discourses which distinguish between the negatively 'Oriental' lower classes and the positively 'Oriental'
Ottoman court. In this way, class discourse in the Turkish Embassy Letters is couched in a rhetoric of similarity. The tapper classes of Ottoman society are presented as more similar to the British than to the lower classes, and class order in Ottoman Turkey is presented as parallel to that of eighteenth-century England. Montagu seeks to make the distinction between 'considerable' and ‘common' Turks comprehensible to her readers through analogy to the British class system. Of the Turkish language, she writes:
The vulgar Turk is very different from what is spoke at Court or amongst the people of figure, who allways mix so much Arabic and Persian in their discourse that it may very well be call'd another Language; and 'tis as ridiculous to make use of the expressions commonly us'd, in speaking to a Great Man or Lady, as it would be to talk broad Yorkshire or Somerset shire in the drawing-room.62
By drawing a parallel between class-based speech differences in Turkey and England, Montagu implies not only that it is as absurd to imagine a classless Oriental society as it is to imagine a classless British society, but that the negativity of the Orientalist discourse circulating in her society has arisen from exposure to those classes which, similarly to their British equivalents, should not in her view be taken to represent the culture of the society as a whole. In another instance, Montagu reports that a wealthy Turkish gentleman informed her that
the prohibition of Wine [in Islamic doctrine] was a very wise maxim and meant for the common people, being the Source of all disorders amongst them, but that the Prophet never designed to confine those that knew how to use it with moderation; however, scandal ought to be avoided, and that he never drank it in public. This is the general way of thinking amongst them, and very few forbear drinking wine that are able to afford it.63
Montagu reproduces this Ottoman discourse of class as further evidence that, amongst the ruling classes, ' 'tis just as 'tis with you.'
The 'truth' of the Arabian tales is not the only one Montagu asserts that she finds actualized in her journey; she also encounters in the area around Adrianople, 'a place where Truth for once furnishes all the Ideas of Pastorall'.64 The aestheticization of her surroundings which characterizes Montagu's writing not only allows her to conjure the beauty of the imagined Orient but also serves to naturalize the class structure of the day. Describing the pastoral idyll, she observes
the Banks of the River set with Rows of Fruit trees, under which all the most considerable Turks divert them selves every Evening; not with walking, that is not one of their Pleasures, but a set party of 'em chuse out a green spot where the Shade is very thick and there they spread a carpet on which they sit drinking their Coffee and generally attended by some slave with a fine voice or that plays some instrument.65
Here, Montagu sees European ideas of the pastoral as being actualized in the Turkish agricultural landscape, which not only provides food for the cities but also a setting within which the wealthy ('most considerable') Turks may amuse themselves in the evening. The gardeners who tend the crops, the women at their looms, the lounging landowners and the singing slave - they are all of a piece, part of a naturally ordered world which is, primarily, beautiful.
The pastoral she finds in the Ottoman lands inevitably reflects back upon the construction of her own national identity. In her letter to the Princess of Wales, Montagu recounts her journey through the European regions of the Ottoman Empire. The letter is of particular interest due to the complex interplay between the generic conventions of travel writing, the norms of eighteenth-century British femininity and Britain's nascent imperialist interests:
I have now, Madam, pass'd a journey that has not been undertaken by any Christian since the Time of the Greek Emperours, and I shall not regret all the fatigues I have suffer'd in it if it gives me an opportunity of Amuseing your Royal Highness by an Account of places utterly unknown amongst us ... We cross'd the Desarts of Servia, allmost quite overgrown with Wood, thro a Country naturally fertile and the Inhabitants industrious. . . The happyness of this Plenty is Scarse perceiv'd by the oppress'd people. I saw here a new Occasion for my compassion, the wretches that had provided 20 Waggons for our Baggage from Belgrade hither for a certain hire, being all sent back without payment, some of their Horses lam'd and other kill'd, without any satisfaction made for 'em ... I cannot express to your Royal Highness how much I was mov'd at this Scene. I would have paid them the money out of my own pocket, with all my Heart, but it would only have been giving so much to the Aga [landowner], who would have taken it from them without any remorse.66
In part, this uncharacteristic interest in the peasantry's plight articulates a tension between two voices at odds within the text. First, the bold statements with which the letter opens issue from the typically masculine voice of the imperial explorer: the narrator promises to expand England's geographical knowledge, and indeed as the letter continues makes special note of the land's resources and 'industrious' population. As Pratt has argued, male travel writing often is structured around the 'goal-directed, linear employment of conquest narrative', an 'adventure story' framework which is employed less frequently by women travellers.67 Indeed, Montagu's claims to conquest are mildly subverted by the mention of 'fatigues', a recurring feminine allusion in her letters, though she does not make much of them and often affirms that her health is, in fact, fine. Secondly, Montagu's position as a woman and a traveller leads her to produce a particular kind of geographical knowledge. The voice of the conquering European representative is not sustained, and the masculine production of geographical knowledge is transformed through the gendered discourse of emotional response. This emphasis on compassion and distressed concern for the peasants reaffirms eighteenth-century discourses of femininity, in which women were to play emotion to men's reason, and also demonstrates some continuity with what Mills identifies as the 'philanthropic' role women of the Victorian era adopted in the public sphere. 68
The narrative of this letter moves from expressing an emotional and noble response to the peasant's oppression to applauding the landscape and climate:
After four days journey from this place over the Mountains we came to Sophia ... 'Tis hardly possible to see a more agreeable Landscape ... The Country from hence to Adrianople is the finest in the World ... But this Climate, as happy as it seems, can never be perfer'd to England with all its Snows and frosts, while we are blesse'd with an easy Government under a King who makes his own Happyness consist in the
Liberty of his people and chooses rather to be look'd upon as their Father than their Master.69
Here, the consolidation of the European state system in the previous century and the discourses of identity which were employed to naturalize this development come into play. Indeed, in eighteenth-century England, with the depiction of Pastoral Arcadia and its idle shepherds and shepherdesses, the landscape came to signify domesticity and the order of society.70 Such an emergent nationalist discourse undoubtedly compelled Montagu, in praising the landscape of foreign lands, also to reaffirm the moral superiority and enlightenment of British institutions. In the mutually constitutive mirrored universe of Orientalism, the enlightened West is invoked by the suffering of the peasants under Ottoman rule, and the edifice of the despotic East by the wisdom of the English monarchy.
Authority and Montagu's representation of the Oriental woman
Throughout the letters, Montagu points out the errors of previous
travel writers and claims for herself an authority based on gender and class.
Meyda Yegenoglu, in her reading of Turkish Embassy Letters, notes that Montagu's
contestation of the accounts of jean Dumont, George Sandys, John Covel and others
rests on her claim that she, as a woman, had greater access to the 'truth' of
Oriental women. Yegenoglu goes on to assert that it is through the renunciation
of previous 'truth claims' that a text may claim authority for itself; in other
words, the contestation of previous knowledge can in fact be seen as part of
Orientalist discourse's hegemony and unity, rather than as a challenge to it.71
While Yegenoglu's reading highlights the interaction between gendered and Orientalist
discourses in the construction of textual authority, it nonetheless omits the
important role of class discourses in the interplay between these authoritative
Class mediates Montagu's frequent critiques of what others have said or assumed about the Turks: she refutes the accounts of other travel writers who assert the superiority of Christian or Western ways by arguing that both the Orientalists themselves and the people of whom they write are of the lower classes, and therefore not able to authentically represent or be representative of Oriental culture. Montagu repeatedly remarks that previous travellers remained ignorant of Oriental civilization because they had not come in contact with the strata of society she so easily moved as the ambassador's wife. In a letter to an unnamed correspondent she asserts: 'The Turks are very proud and will not converse with a Stranger they are not assur'd is considerable in his own Country. I speak of the Men of Distinction, for as to the Ordinary Fellows, you may imagine what Ideas their Conversation can give of the general Genius of the people.'72 The implication is both that it is of little consequence to talk to common people when seeking Orientalist knowledge, and that few travellers have been aristocratic enough to be received by the most elite, and therefore culturally sig-
nificant, figures of the Porte. In the same letter, she disparages the images of Turkey presented by jean Dumont in his 1694 travel narrative, Nouveau Voyage au Levant, stating that Dumont 'has writ with equal ignorance and confidence', and later adds that male authors 'never fail giving you an Account of the Women, which 'tis certain they never saw, and talking very wisely of the Genius of the Men, into whose Company they are never admitted, and very often describe Mosques, which they dare not peep into'.73 Montagu bolsters her rhetorical claim to privileged knowledge through arguments of prerogative based upon both class and gender:
You will perhaps by surpriz'd at an Account so different from what you have been entertained with by the common Voyage-writers, who are very fond of speaking of what they don't know. It must be under a very particular character or on some Extraordinary Occasion when a Christian is admitted into the House of a Man of Quality and their Harems are always forbidden Ground .74
Montagu's claims to authority simultaneously unravel prevalent Orientalist discourses, assert the heterogeneity of Turkish society and catapult class discourses to centre stage, according them a leading role in the construction of difference and similarity in the text. These claims to authority are critical in her production of knowledge about Oriental women. Asserting that 'the manners of Mankind doe not differ so widely as our voyage Writers would make us believe', 75 Montagu asserts her femininity to legitimate her own 'knowledge' of forbidden female spaces, especially the women's baths.
From the feminization and sexualization of the Orient in Western accounts arose a fascination with the sexual female spaces of the women's baths and the harem. 76 In the Western imagination, it became the Oriental woman herself sensual, muted and subjugated - who apotheosized all that was understood to be Oriental. George Sandys, who began his travels in the Ottoman empire in 1610 and whose work Montagu cites in her letters, viewed the hamams, or public baths, as the site of homoeroticism between women: 'Much unnaturall and filthy lust is said to be committed daily in the remote closets of these darksome Bannias,' he writes, 'yea, women with women; a thing incredible, if former times had not given thereunto both detection and punishment.’77 Similarly, Baudier wrote that lesbianism was so widespread that 'whenever a Turk wishes to marry a Turkish woman, he begins by finding out whether she is in the thrall of some other women'.78 Montagu enters this women's space and counters the sexualization that was typical in imaginative male accounts. Her description of the women's baths challenges discourses of Oriental sensuality by desexualizing this supposedly voluptuous space:
The first sofas were cover'd with Cushions and rich Carpets, on which sat the Ladys, and on the second their slaves behind 'em, but without any distinction of rank by their dress, all being in the state of nature, that is, in plain English, stark naked, without any Beauty or deffect conceal'd. Yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest Gesture amongst'em. They Walk'd and mov'd with the same majestic Grace which Milton describes of our General Mother. There were many amongst them as exactly proportioned as ever any Goddess was drawn by the pencil of Guido or Titian, and most of their skins shineingly white, only adorn'd by their Beautiful Hair divided
into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or riband, perfectly representing the figures of the Graces ... To tell you the truth, I had wickedness enough to wish secretly that Mr. Gervase could have been there invisible. I fancy it would have very much improv'd his art to see so many fine Women naked in different postures, some in conversation, some working, others drinking Coffee or sherbet, and many negligently lying on their Cushions while their salves ... were employ'd in braiding their hair in several pritty manners. In short, 'tis the Women's coffee house, where all the news of the Town is told, Scandal invented, etc.79
In this passage, Montagu counters the idea that these feminine spaces are in any way improper. She emphasizes the modesty and good breeding of the women she encounters there, portraying the bath as a communal space where the markings of rank are stripped off and where women are able to consort. In claiming that the bath represents the women's 'coffee house', and thus comparing it to the prominent male institution of public space of Ottoman Turkey, she elides these two forums and negates the exceptionalism of the all-female site. This desexualization is buttressed by claims to racial similarity in reference to the 'shineingly white' skins of the naked women. It is also significant that the passage mentions the social levelling of the women's nakedness, while at the same time clearly identifying the mistresses, 'negligently lying', and their slaves working to enhance the beauty of these women of higher social standing. Thus this 'feminotopia'80 at once claims to rest on the naked equality of women and simultaneously reconfirms the 'natural' class-based order of the women's relationships.
As Nussbaum points out in her analysis of his passage, Montagu also participates in the ob edification of Oriental women by appropriating the male gaze of the painter Charles Jervas ('Mr. Gervase'), and wishing to bring him 'behind the veil' with her, into the inner sanctum of the Turkish women. Nussbaum identifies this move with homoeroticism in the text, through which Montagu identifies herself with the sexualized Oriental women and longs to enter their company.81 Though I agree that this 'wicked' thought is in tension with the overt desexualization of the scene, I view it as a subtle move which indirectly leads the reader back to the trope of sensuality through discursive chains of reference. The painter's gaze is primarily invoked in aestheticizing the scene, but thereby deepens the objectification of the women and the interior landscape of their forms. The invoked gaze is detached, but nonetheless the scene is sexualized by the invisible male painter because his mention reiterates the 'forbidden' nature of the space, and this prohibition is itself linked through the discursive chains of Orientalism to the supposed sensual hedonism of the women. This reference creates a tension in the passage, but does not negate the simultaneous rejection of typical Orientalist themes regarding the all-female space of the bath.
Montagu's strongest intervention in the predominant Orientalist tropes of her day is her argument that Turkish society allows women greater freedom than they enjoy in the West. The Orientalist discourse of her day, concerned as it was with despotism and the harem, reiterated the idea that Muslim women lived as slaves; as Monsieur de Thevenot wrote in his 1665 Relation dun voyage fait au
Levant, 'The Turks do not believe that women go to paradise and barely recognize them as rational animals. They take women simply to serve them as they would a horse.’82 Montagu argues that, on the contrary, it is not true that 'Muhammad excludes women from any share in a future happy state'. Instead, she writes that the Prophet was 'too much a gentleman and loved the fair sex too well to use them so barbarously'; in fact he had promised the Turkish women ‘a very fine paradise' separate from that of their husbands. There is more than a hint of sarcasm in Montagu's conclusion: 'But I fancy the most part of them won't like it the worse for that, and that their regret of this separation will not render their paradise the less agrecable.’83
Montagu's most famous letter, briefly excerpted at the beginning of this article, was addressed to Lady Mar, her sister, on I April 1717. Here, she not only extols the virtues of Oriental women's lives in comparison to English women's, but also counters discourses of difference by asserting that really, ' 'tis just as 'tis with you.' The letter continues:
'Tis very easy to see they have more Liberty than we have, no Woman, of what rank so every being permitted to go in the streets without two muslins, one that covers her face all but her Eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head, and hangs halfe way down her back and their Shapes are also wholly conceal'd by a thing they call a Ferigee which no Woman of any sort appears without ... You may guess how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great Lady from her Slave and 'tis impossible for the most jealous Husband to know his Wife when he meets her, and no Man dare either touch or follow a Woman in the Street.
This perpetual Masquerade gives them entire Liberty of following their Inclinations without danger of Discovery ... You may easily imagine the number of faithful Wives very small in a country where they have nothing to fear from their Lovers' Indiscretion ... Neither have they much to apprehend from the resentment of their Husbands, those Ladys that are rich having all their money in their own hands, which they take with 'em upon a divorce with an addition which he is obliged to give 'em. Upon the whole, I look upon the Turkish women as the only free people in the empire. The very Divan pays respect to them and the Grand Signor him selfe, when a Bassa is executed, never violates the priveleges of the Harem (or Woman's apartment) which remains unsearched entire to the Widow. They are Queens of their slaves, which the husband has no permission so much as to look upon, except it be an old Woman or two that his Lady chuses.84
The metaphor of the veil, one of the Europe's most enduring symbols of the presumed backwardness and oppression of the Orient, is turned inside out, and instead comes to represent a source of liberty, a mode of free public passage. The liberty for which she envisions Turkish women using this veil is freedom of movement for the purposes of having extramarital affairs. Montagu notes the economic independence of rich Turkish women, governed by Islamic family law which was more liberal towards women than Britain's was at the time, and once more sees the benefits in terms of freedom from the usual constraints of marriage. Montagu also asserts that the veil's 'disguise' obscures class, making the mistress and her slave interchangeable on the street. The liberty which Montagu imagines, then, is also the liberty to step outside one's class-based limitations, to travel unfettered by the norms and morality imposed on women by society
and economic dependence. While the bathing women were stripped of rank, here rank is cloaked, but once again this blurring of boundaries is accompanied soon after with mention of the power wealthy Turkish women wield over their slaves, a move which highlights the freedom of high-class women by illustrating that they are not themselves on the lowest rung of the domestic hierarchy, and reinserts class-based order into this unmarked female world. The liberty of Turkish women, this liberty which Montagu constructs, is based on physical mobility, economic security and finally the complete control of the domestic sphere. Not only do wealthy women lord over their slaves, but they even have their own territory, the harem. Thus the inviolability of the harem is taken to represent autonomy and female control of space, rather than the imprisonment of women.
In addition, Montagu contests popular Orientalist myths of promiscuity and associated polygamy. Montagu asserts that the morality which governs marriage in the East is no different than in Europe, both in the standard ideals of the institution and the liberties taken within it. On the issue of polygamy, she writes: ' 'Tis true, their Law permits them four wives, but there is no Instance of a Man of Quality that makes use of this Liberty, or of a Woman of Rank that would suffer it.' A prominent man who 'keeps a number of she slaves' is, as he would be in English society, regarded as 'a Libertine' or a 'Rake'.85 What is clear, once more, is that the distinction being made is between lower and upper classes, and that it is to the upper class that she ascribes a morality similar to her own society's.
The women with whom Montagu bathed and dined were, as she makes abundantly clear, very wealthy, and for that reason alone no doubt enjoyed different types of freedoms from those available to Turkish women of this time. However, even given that the women with whom she consorted were of a particularly privileged class, what Montagu does not address is the question of what access to the public sphere (which is to say realms outside of marriage, romance and the harem) was afforded even the wealthiest Muslim women relative to herself. Montagu's choice to focus on the spaces of women's freedom, rather than their limitations, fulfils the promise of her claims to authority in the text: she introduces a different kind of Orientalist knowledge and presents a counterpoint to the myths surrounding Oriental women by pointing out that Turkish women could look forward to a paradise free of men, and in this life in fact enjoyed some privileges which British women did not. The freedom of Turkish women is constructed through the complex interplay of Orientalist, class-based and feminine discourses which situate this 'liberty' within the domestic and romantic spheres, rather than the realms of education, economic or political life, arenas in which Montagu herself participated in defiance of prevalent norms in her own society.
You will easily pardon an abrupt conclusion. I believe by this time you are ready to fear I would never conclude at all.86
Whether Montagu steps outside the Orientalism of her day or herself contributes to the mainstream of eighteenth-century British ideas of the imagined East has been subject to some debate. Lisa Lowe interprets the assertion of similarity between the Turkish women and British women as evidence that Montagu's 'interventions in the orienalist tradition are primarily articulated in a feminist rhetoric and take place in the moments when her text refutes the constructed topos of the enslavement of Turkish women'. 87 Lowe argues that Montagu, by asserting the similarity of women across British and Turkish cultures, rejects the discourses of difference that envelope the iconic Oriental woman of the Western imagination. Lowe suggests that by adopting this 'emergent feminist discourse' Montagu has access to 'the language, arguments and rhetoric to interrogate traditional travel writing about the Orient'.88 0n the other hand, Yegenoglu, in her critique of Lowe's analysis, argues that the discourse of similarity which Lowe identifies as the site of Montagu's feminist intervention in Orientalism is but another facet of the hegemonic truth-claims which mark Orientalist discourse. Yegenoglu argues that Orientalism encompasses claims both to difference and to similarity, and in fact derives its enduring power and unity from its internal schisms and dialogues.89 While Yegenoglu's point on the nature of Orientalism is well taken, my departure from Lowe and Yegenoglu is of a different nature: While Lowe, who includes class in her framework, gives primacy to the role of feminist discourse in Montagu's disruption of the Orientalism of her day, and Yegenoglu links British feminist discourses to Orientalism, I argue that class discourse is the most salient component of both Montagu's 'feminism' and her contestation of predominant myths of Oriental women.
Through my reading of Turkish Embassy Letters, I have identified several rhetorical strategies through which discourses which naturalize and reproduce class structure mediate other discourses of difference in the text. In places, Montagu highlights the good breeding of the Turks with whom she consorts as evidence of the value of Oriental culture. At other times, she highlights the differences between Turks of the most elite class and other Turks to discredit negative Orientalist stereotypes; that is to say, some Orientals are more 'different' than others, and the most high-class are the furthest from the negative Orientalist tropes. This rhetoric is frequently employed in her discussion of gender relations: well-bred Turkish women display British-style morality (and immorality) when it comes to marriage. Montagu's argument against previous accounts of the Orient is frequently that the finest, most respectable and high-ranking people of Constantinople are less unlike Europeans than they were generally accused of being: women of class do not suffer their husbands to take additional wives, men of breeding drink wine and the high culture of the Ottoman court is impeccable. At other times, her aesthetic appreciation of the imagined Orient encompasses both the slaves and their owners, the rich and the poor, together in the harmony of a beautiful landscape. In all these ways, Montagu's letters
reproduce dominant discourses which naturalize class inequality, even and especially in moments when she subverts aspects of Orientalist or gendered expectations.
Class discourses have not been accorded enough attention in the literature on women's travel writing. Critics of travel writing have participated in extensions and critiques of Said's work which emphasize the historically changing and multiple nature of Orientalism.90 Drawing on Foucault's deconstruction of authorial unity, critics have revealed the variations between and within the voices of travel narratives.91 Despite these important contributions, critics of women's travel literature rarely note that the material and discursive options of these (mostly Victorian) travellers are carved out of a space which was created not only by imperialism and male dominance but also by class. In cases where class discourses are noted, they have been subsumed under a focus on feminist discourses, or viewed as 'replacing' rather than interacting with other discourses of difference.92 Class has taken a back seat to gender, race and nationality in analyses of women's travel narratives, but is clearly no less important in the mediation of power and difference within these texts. I hope that my reading of Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters, in which I have argued that discourses of class are at least as important as those of femininity and feminism and play a central role in the negotiation of Orientalism in the text, will help to reinsert class into understandings of the textual, social and political practices which constitute the travel narratives of different moments, different texts, different voices.
Department of Geography
University of Colorado
1 To Lady Mar, I Apr. 1717, in M. W. Montagu, The complete
letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu I: 1708-1720, ed. R. Halsband (Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 327-8.
2 To Lady Bute, 23 Jan. 1755, in M. W. Montagu, The complete letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu M: 1752-1762, ed. R. Halsband (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), p. 80.
3 M. L. Pratt, Impe7ial eyes: travel writing and transculturation (London, Routledge, 1992).
4 I. Grewal, Home and harem: nation, gender, empire and the cultures of travel (Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1996); T. Nicholas, Colonialism's culture. anthropology, travel and government (Priceton, Princeton University Press, 1994); M. Yegenoglu, Colonial fantasies: towards a feminist reading of orientalism (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998).
5 S. Mills, Discourses of difference. an analysis of women's travel writing and colonialism (London, Routledge, 1991); A. Blunt, 'Mapping authorship and authority: reading Mary Kingsley's landscape descriptions', in A. Blunt and G. Rose, eds, Writing women and space. colonial and postcolonial geographies (New York, Guilford Press, 1994), pp. 1-28; A. Blunt, Travel, gender and imperialism: Mary Kingsley in West Africa (New York, Guilford Press, 1994).
6 F. Nussbaum, Torrid zones: maternity, sexuality and empire in eighteenth-century English narratives (Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); A. Grosrichard, The sultan's court. European fantasies of the East (London and New York, Verso, 1998); B. Melman, Women's Orients: English women and the Middle East, 1718-1918: sexuality, religion and work (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1995); R. Kabbani, Europe's myths of Orient (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986).
7 R. Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1956), pp. 2-3.
8 See letters to Lady Bute, 28 Jan. and 6 Mar. 1753, in Montagu, The complete letters III, pp. 20, 25.
9 To the Bishop of Salisbury, 20 July 1710, ibid. 1, p. 44.
11 Ibid. p. 45.
12 To Lady Bute, 28 Jan. 1753, ibid. m, p. 21.
14 Ibid, p. 22.
15 Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, pp. 10-28, 236-62.
16 To Lady Bute, 28 Jan. 1753, in Montagu, The complete letters m, p. 24.
17 Not only did Montagu produce her best-known writing during this time, but she also made her contribution to medicine, bringing back with her from Turkey a serum for inoculation against smallpox which she had discovered from her conversations with Turkish women; see Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, pp. 80-1.
19 D. Murphy, Embassy to Constantinople. the travels of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (New York, New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 29.
20 To Lady Bute, 23 July 1753, in Montagu, The complete letters III, p. 36.
21 Ibid., p. 36.
22 Ibid., p. 35.
23 Grewal, Home and harem.
24 To Lady Bute, I Oct 1752, in Montagu, The complete letters M, p. 19.
25 Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 255.
26 Mills, Discourses of difference.
27 F. Nussbaum, The autobiographical subject, gender and ideology in eighteenth-century England (Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
28 M. W. Montagu, The nonsense of common sense, 1737-1738, ed. R. Halsband (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1947).
29 Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 254.
31 Quoted in Nussbaum, The autobiographical suljec4 pp. 150-1.
32 To Sir James Steuart, 5 Sept. 1758, in Montagu, The complete letters M, pp. 171-2.
33 A. Hasall, The balance of power 1715-1789 (New York, Macmillan, 1903).
34 L. Brown, Ends of empire.- women and ideology in early eighteenth-century English literature (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1993).
35 L. Lowe, Critical terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1991).
36 J. T. Bent, Early Voyages and travels in the Levant (New York, Burt Franklin, 1893),
37 Ibid., pp. iv-ix.
38 Halsband, The life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 77.
39 Kabbani, Europe's myths of Orient, N. Daniel, Islam and the West. the making of an image (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1958).
40 E. Said, Orientalism (New York, Vintage, 1978).
41 To the Abbe Conti, I Apr. 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, pp. 318-19.
42 C. Knipp, 'Types of Orientalism in eighteenth-century England'
(PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 1974).
43 See e.g. Nussbaum, Torrid zones-, Melman, Women's Orients-, and Grosrichard, The sultan's court.
44 Ibid., P. 126.
45 Nussbaum, To77id zones, p. 1.
46 Ibid., pp. 22-46.
47 Kabbani, Europe's myths of Orient, p. 28.
48 Knipp, Types of Orientalism, p. 32.
49 J. Mabro, Veiled ha4f-truths: Western travelers’ perceptions of Middle Eastern women, selected and introduced by J. Mabro (London and New York, 1. B. Tauris, 1996), p. 28.
50 Knipp, Types of Orientalism, p. 289.
51 To Lady Mar, 10 Mar. 1718, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, p. 385.
52 To Alexander Pope, I Apr. 1717, ibid., p. 335.
54 To the Abb6 Conti, 19 May 1718, ibid. p. 414.
55 A. Desai, 'Introduction', in M. W. Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. xxxii.
56 R. B. Mowat, The age of reason: the continent of Europe in the eighteenth century (London, Harrap, 1934), p. 19.
57 To Lady Rich, 20 Sept. 1716, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, p. 272.
58 To the Abbe Conti, 19 May 1718, ibid., pp. 414-15.
59 This term is from P. Hulme, Colonial encounters: Europe and the native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London, Methuen, 1986).
60 To Lady Bristol, I Apr. 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, p. 325.
61 To Lady Bristol, 10 Apr. 1718, ibid., p. 401.
62 To Alexander Pope, I Apr. 1717, ibid., p. 333.
63 To the Abb6 Conti, I Apr. 1717, ibid., p. 316.
64 To Alexander Pope, I Apr. 1717, ibid., p. 331.
66 To Her Royal Highness Princess of Wales, I Apr. 1717, ibid. pp. 310-11.
67 Pratt, Imperial eyes, p. 157.
68 Mills, Discourses of difference.
69 To Her Royal Highness Princess of Wales, I Apr. 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, pp. 31 0-1 1.
70 Grewal, Home and harem.
71 Yegenoglu, Colonial fantasies, p. 80.
72 To Lady -, 17 June 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters i, p. 368.
74 To Anne Thistlewayte, 1 Apr. 1717, ibid., p. 343.
75 To Lady Mar, I Apr. 1717, ibid., pp. 229-330.
76 See Melman, Women's Orients, for a discussion.
77 G. Sandys, Sandys Travails (London, 1652); excerpted in Mabro, Veiled half-truths, p.137.
78 Baudier, Histoire generale du serail et de la cour du Grand Seigneur, empereur des Turcs, 1623, 2nd edn, 1626, ch. 15, pp. 159-60; quoted in Grosrichard, The sultan's court, p. 170.
79 To Lady -, I Apr. 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters I, pp. 313-14.
80 Nussbaum uses this term, coined by M. Pratt, in her discussion of Oriental women s spaces in the accounts of Montagu, Elizabeth Craven and Sarah Scott in Torrid zones, pp. 135-62.
81 Ibid., p. 91.
82 M. de Thevenot, Relation dun voyage fait att Levant (Paris, Thomas jolly, 1665); excerpted in Mabro, Veiled ha4f-truths, p. 138.
83 According to Halsband, this letter appears to have been a genuine piece of correspondence, not included in the original manuscript of the Turkish Embassy Letters, but later inserted into the volume. Halsband prints the French original in his edition of The complete letters-, the translation quoted here is to the Abb6 Conti, Feb. 1718, in Desai, ed, Montagu, Turkish Embassy letters, pp. 109-1 1 0.
84 To Lady Mar, I Apr. 1717, in Montagu, The complete letters 1, pp. 328-9.
85 Ibid., P. 329.
86 To Lady Mar, 14 Sept. 1716, in ibid. p. 269.
87 Lowe, C7ifical terrains, p. 51.
89 Yegenoglu, Colonial fantasies, pp. 81-2.
90 For examples of such critiques and extensions of Said's work see B. Robbins, 'Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism: a symposium', Social Text 40 (1994), pp. 1-10; P. Hulme, Colonial encounters.- Europe and the native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London, Methuen, 1986) and A. Behdad, Belated travelers: Orientalism in the days of colonial dissolution, (Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1994).
91 E. Kroller, 'First impressions: rhetorical strategies in travel writing by Victorian women', Ariel 21 (1990), pp. 87-99; C. McEwan, 'Encounters with West African women: textual representations of difference by white women abroad', in Blunt and Rose, Writing women and space, pp. 73-100.
92 For an analysis which includes class but views class difference as replacing racial discourses, see S. Blake, 'A woman's trek: what difference does gender make?' Women's Studies International Forum 13 (1990), pp. 347-55.
Secor, A., 1999. ‘Orientalism, gender and class in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters: to persons of distinction, men of letters and c’. Cultural Geographies (formerly Ecumene) Volume 6, Issue 4 pp375-398. Arnold Publishers.