Relationship with the recipient is subordinated to

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relationship with the recipient is subordinated to the need to get the story of her travelswritten. The letters are almost more like essays—on the primitive conditions in Bohemia,on the women’s baths that are a feature of Islamic culture, on the lives of “Turkish”women (that is, those of the many nations and ethnicities that made up the Ottoman
Empire), on inoculation for smallpox, and on Pope’s poems on the lovers killed bylightning.Some of these letters have acquired their own individual commentary. The one aboutMontagu’s visit to the Turkish baths (which took place not at Adrianople but at Sofia) isoften interpreted as showing her using the male gaze and objectifying Turkish women(who, too, are often presented as a colonial Other). Against that reading various pointscan be made. Elsewhere in the Embassy Letters, having described the beauty of herhostess on another visit, Montagu recalls reading that women always speak in rapturewhen they speak of beauty: she identifies appreciation of beauty as something feminine.She cites a male writer and male painters, but what women could she have cited as aptly?Wishing that her friend Charles Jervas could have shared the sight might suggest thenotion that men (in a culture in which visible nakedness was not encouraged) do notknow women’s bodies well enough to paint them. These women are indeed colonialsubjects but they are ethnically white, with fair skins, and Montagu concludes by sayingshe was charmed with their “civility and beauty”—the very opposite of the primitive. Hercomparison with female behavior at the courts of western Europe may have beendesigned, like many of her comparisons in these letters, to jolt her reader out of theirfamiliar feelings of superiority.The letter to Pope, for its part, has been read as showing a culpable lack of sympathy withlabouring-class people. But Montagu is responding not to the death of the lovers but totheir celebration by Pope. The two poems that he sent her about this event (not the bawdycouplet he wrote but did not send to her) heavily romanticize and sentimentalize love,death, and marriage (since these lovers were about to marry). Montagu flatly contradictshis idealizing, and also (in a manner uncharacteristic of the Embassy Letters) rejects anaspect of the relationship with her that Pope is offering. He had expressed his expectationthat she would be moved to tears by the lovers’ deaths and his hope that she woulddignify their tomb with “a Tear from the finest eyes in the world” (Grundy 177). Inexchange for his gallant compliment on her unequalled beauty, she offers a parallelmock-compliment on his unequalled poetic ability, and for herself rejects the role ofbeing praised by (male) poets.To Lady Mar, 1727: This letter forms part of correspondence of the 1720s. Montagu’ssister Frances was unhappy in her marriage (to a man chosen by their father) andunhappy in the exile from England to which her husband was sentenced for leading thefirst Jacobite rebellion in 1715 against the British crown. Frances was, indeed, sliding

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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

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