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Analyzing Lady Mary’s Turkish Embassy Letters: Gender, Writing, and Identity

Identity is an idiosyncratic definition of a individual that can be constructed through a lot of variables: race, gender, class and culture, to name but a few. The Turkish Embassy Letters, comes with a pre-constructed, orientalist ideal of the East, where identity is constructed wholly on race and culture. For that reason, it is imperative that this account is from a female viewpoint. If observed by means of male eyes, the females that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu interacted with would have been noticed as submissive and oppressed by their personal culture, embodying the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. As an alternative, Lady Montagu is in a position to examine gender as a concept that not only influences identity, but is completely separate from it. It is from this female viewpoint that Lady Montagu is in a position to explore gendered oppression as a universal occurrence. An orientalist strategy would view the West, and it’s men and women, as ‘free’, and the East as oppressed by their reserved culture and strict religion. But, the English protagonist is capable to see that Turkish females might, in reality, be liberated by means of the anonymity of their veil. As a result, Lady Montagu is capable to re-define ‘liberty’ from this orientalist viewpoint, and to also liberate the Turks from this label of ‘other’.

The identification of the Turk in Turkish Embassy Letters is constructed not through what the East was, but mainly by way of what the West was not. This ‘otherness’ is emphasised by means of a comparison to England and it is ‘amiable connexions with guys of letters and taste’. Identity, and subsequently one’s reputation in English society, is dependant upon education. The notion of ‘taste’ –extremely crucial within a judgemental eighteenth century society –is straight related with ‘letters’, suggesting education and refinement are interdependent. It is evident that Montagu is unable to escape the indoctrinated class system of her house country. Her approval of ‘amiable’ social circles is subtle but critical, while the use of ‘connexions’ suggests an inner society of the upper class, closed off to the reduced hierarchies of the class spectrum. Even in this examination of identity, gender is inseparable. Lady Montagu specifies ‘men’ as these worthy of bearing each an education and good taste even as a lady, there is a discovered belief that guys are privileged by nature. This praise of English customs is structurally placed straight right after a graphic description of Turkish barbarism. Purposefully, a comparison of the two cultures is automatically prompted. For that reason, the individuals described in the two accounts become representative of each and every culture as a entire, specifically poignant as it involves the actions of a Turkish prince. He attempts to quash an uprising ‘by ordering several persons to be strangled, who were the objects of his royal suspicion’. The lack of identity in ‘persons’ not only displays the reduce classes as with no this privileged voice, but it also suggests a disgustingly disposable element to human life. In contrast to the guys of ‘letters and taste’, the violence of the ‘barbaric spectacle’ disregards class identity is lost as everyone is lowered to a corpse. Moreover, this comparison induces immediate judgement, both from narrative and reader. However, there is a sense of inescapable irony. The English are judged by their manners, their ‘veins of wit’ and ‘elegant conversation’, and the Turks by their laws of punishment. Consequently, when examined, the identity of the Turks is constructed in a approach that is both biased and unbalanced. They are regarded as the ‘other’ in comparison to the English society, who notoriously judge on superficiality. To completely understand the Turkish identity, they must be deemed as a separate culture, and not as in association with one more. It is only by means of the physical distance from English society that Lady Montagu can observe as an outsider, and not conform to this judgemental viewpoint, as if she is a part of neither culture.

As a novel written from a female point of view, with access to exclusively female places, it is undeniable that gender will be examined. This comparison between English and Turkish, that was previously seen as primarily based upon sensibility, becomes how each and every culture defines freedom and oppression for females. Teresa Heffernan presents the eighteenth century view of the Turkish ‘veiled woman’ of whom ‘can only be “saved” from her culture or “submit” to it.’[1] Lady Montagu, instead, views the veil as a protection from patriarchy, rather than an alienation of an oppressive culture. The author is practically admirable to their ‘methods of evasion and disguise, that are extremely favourable to gallantry’. This sense of disguise is particularly critical in either Turkish or English society. To be a woman meant perpetual judgement upon her look, actions and morality. In a superficial society, this is inescapable. The veil allows Lady and handmaiden alike to seem identical not only flesh, but social class is ‘disguised’ by means of this ‘perpetual masquerade’ (Montagu, p.71). As a result, freedom is accomplished through anonymity and an inability to judge, the really aspect that the Western male would assume is oppression. Lady Montagu then compares this existence to her experience as a woman in England. Similar to the Turk’s suspected oppression, the English women are ‘sold like slaves’ (Montagu, p.xi) via the traditions of marriage and dowries. Furthermore, this idea of ‘gallantry’ can be linked in this comparison. Culture, and gender politics are defined ‘as distinct in distinct climates as morality and religion’. But, the struggle for a lack of oppression is unbiased of culture and race gallantry within gender politics is universal to all cultures, particularly poignant within the strictures of the eighteenth century. Inside this examination of gender, there is also an aspect of class. The author is a Lady, yet appreciates the freedom that ‘even the bosom of servitude’ gives. Even with such a status, Lady Montagu is unbiased, and refuses to include class inside her examinations of gender. As a result, gender is examined right here separately from the other identity markers. ‘Liberty’ as a female is defined differently according to culture, place and class. However, all of this is kept in separate consideration as Lady Montagu simply observes and celebrates the freedom of the Turks, rather than considering their actions as ‘other’ in comparison to England.

Therefore far, the identity of both Turkish individuals, and their culture as a whole, has been examined. Yet, these observations have been presented to the reader through the written word, and it is impact to consider how the physical act of writing and viewpoint is essential. Lady Montagu’s viewpoint, and her letters as a point of info, becomes problematic. In the eighteenth century, travel writers made a lot of claims upon their discoveries. As a result, the genre can induce doubts as to whether the content is truth, or a falsification. Lady Montagu actively claims to a truth to her writing: ‘I […] want you will believe me’. There is this continuous assertion of truth throughout her text, displaying a self-awareness that her letters might be utilized as educational. Probably Lady Montagu repeats herself so as this seemingly precise representation of cultures needs to be taken seriously upon returning house, difficult in each the genre, and gender of the author. Nevertheless the really assertion of truth produces doubts as soon as again point of view is problematic the ‘truth’ according to Lady Montagu could not be the truth that other people already believe. Despite this, Lady Montagu’s letters present an opposition to prior masculine narratives such as Joseph Spence, of whom claimed ‘Turkish ladies, you know are a sort of prisoner’. The phrase ‘you know’ recommend in itself a claim to authenticity simply due to his gender. For that reason, Lady Montagu’s claim to truth possibly suggests that Turkish gender politics cannot be recorded by man, as their quite gender alters the way they see a culture, and consequently how they construct it via writing. It is not only the content –including the female-only locations that Lady Montagu can frequent –but the author that is important. Truth, possibly, is not a universal idea that can just be observed, but one that need to be perceived.

The Turkish Embassy Letters can be understood as a record and construction of identity, primarily of the Turks, seen as the ‘other’. This account defines Lady Montagu as the ‘self’, one particular that represents the English consciousness. But, throughout her letters, the boundaries between the ‘self’ and ‘other’ are blurred. This happens physically, as Lady Montague adorns herself with Turkish dress, aligning herself not only with their culture, but the politics associated with their choice of dress. Gender also refuses to separate every culture Lady Montague identifies with the imposed oppression of the Turkish women, that English women expertise also. Yet there still stay moments of alienation in language such as ‘phlegm’, as Lady Montagu can seemingly never ever be rid of the male, orientalist narrative. Therefore, an underlying tension exits inside her letters. The narrative is a detachment and an embodiment of each English and Turkish customs paradoxically, it makes it possible for Lady Montagu a position of indifference, with an analytical point of view of the each.


Heffernan, T., ‘Feminism Against the East/West Divide: Lady Mary’s Turkish Embassy Letters’, Eighteenth Century Studies, 33.two (2000) 201-205

Montagu, Lady M. W., The Turkish Embassy Letters (St Ives: Virago Press, 1994)

Scholz, S., ‘English Females in Oriental Dress: Playing the Turk in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters and Daniel Defoe’s Roxana in Early Modern Encounters with the Islamic East Performing Cultures, ed. by Sabine Schulting et al (Surrey: Ashgate, 2012)
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