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Reading Questions for Lady Mary Wortley Montague's Selected Embassy Letters

Vocabulary: deism, Enlightenment, epistles, epistolary

Introduction:

  • What famous philosopher did Lady Montague marry?
  • Lady Montague’s daughter, Mary Godwin, later married what famous English poet from the Romantic period? What famous science fiction work did this author write?
  • What foreign city did Lady Montague live in when her husband was the British ambassador?
  • What (in general) sort of advice was Lady Montague giving the Countess of Bute regarding the education of the Countess’ daughter? What relationship does Lady Montague have to the Countess of Bute, and accordingly, what is the familial relationship between Bute’s daughter and Lady Montague?

Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters: Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the Countess of Bute, the Abbot Conti, the Countess of Mar, Miss Sarah Chiswell

Reading Questions: (Answer these questions as you read along to make sure you understand the text.)

  • Selected Turkish Embassy Letters
  • "To the Lady _____, 1 April 1717, Adrianople"
  • What special attraction does the city of Sophia offer visitors for their health?
  • Montague mentions voitures in the second paragraph. What are voitures? How many people do they hold?
  • Montague goes to the bagnio at 10:00 a.m. What is a bagnio?
  • How are the water temperatures controlled at the bagnio?
  • How do the local women respond to Lady Montague’s foreign attire? How does that contrast with the way European women behave when a stranger shows up in foreign clothing?
  • What does the phrase “Uzelle, pek uzelle” mean?
  • When the women at the Turkish bath open up Lady Montague’s skirts and see her stays, corsets, petticoats, and whalebone corset, they make two mistaken assumptions.
  • What do they mistakenly assume about the “power to open it [the corset]”? What do they assume about the “contrivance” of the device?
  • Montague wished to spend more time with the ladies, but decided to travel on to meat her husband and see a tourist site in the area. What was this tourist site? What was her reaction to it when she contrasted it with the Turkish baths?
  • In the last paragraph of the letter, Montague notes that no travel book written by men describes the Turkish baths. Why is that? Do you think that gender matters when writing a travel guide?
  • "To the Abbot Conti, 1 April 1717, Adrianople"
  • What dangers await travelers on the road through Serbia according to this letter?
  • The letter mentions janissaries in the first paragraph. What is a janissary?
  • What is “teeth-money”?
  • What is an effendi?
  • The various denominations of Islam—Zeidi, Kadari, Jabari, etc., remind Montague of what?
  • According to Montague, in spite of the various sectarian views, the prevailing opinion in religion matters is what? Do you think she’s accurate in this? Or is the prevailing beliefs of the 18th century deists coloring her perceptions?
  • Montague expresses an unusual idea regarding to origins of the Alcoran (the Koran). What is her theory?
  • "To the Countess of Mar, 1 April 1717, Adrianople"
  • This letter is addressed to the Countess of Mar. Who is the Countess of Mar and what is her relationship to Montague? (hint: look at the first line of the letter and the last line of the letter.)
  • Why does Montague say the Abbot of Conti would be surprised to see her appearance? What is Montague wearing on the day she writes her letter?
  • Explain the following bits of Turkish garb: caftan, curdee, talpock, and the “bouquet”?
  • What custom does the Lady Montague note about what Turkish women do with their eyes? Their fingernails?
  • How does Turkish garb allow women in Turkey more freedom than western women have?
  • Why does Montague think that “Turkish women” are the only “free people in the Empire”?
  • "To Miss Sarah Chiswell, 1 April 1717, Adrianople"
  • What medical procedure common among the Turks does Montague describe in this letter? How does the healing woman go about the process? How long does it take for the disease to manifest itself? How long does the fever last? How many children die from the process?
  • Montague is so impressed with the treatment, whom does she have treated in this manner?
  • To the Abbot of Conti, 17 May 1717, Adrianople:
  • Montague is surprised to discover that the wealthiest professional class in Turkey is what race? (Hint: This ethnic group was expelled from England in the 1200s under King Edward, so she would not know many in England.)

Passages for Identification/Discussion: (For the title, simply refer to these on examinations as "selected letters" and provide Montague as the author--you need not memorize the title/recipient of individual letters.)

A. “’Uzelle, pek uzelle,” which is nothing but, ‘charming, very charming.’”

B. The first sofas were covered with cushions and rich carpets, on which sat the ladies, and on the second their slaves behind them, 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 defect concealed, yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst them.

C. “ I was here convinced of the truth of a reflection that I had often made, that if it was the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed.

D. . . . In short, it is the women’s coffee house, where all the news of the town is told, scandal invented, etc. They generally take this diversion once a week, and stay there at least four or five hours without getting cold by immediately coming out of the hot bath into the cool room, which was very surprising to me.

E. “Adieu, Madam. I am sure I have now entertained you with an account of such a sight as you never saw in your life and what no book of travels could inform you of. It is no less than death for a man to be founding one of these places.”

 


 

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