To say these are a collection of the best letter writing of the eighteenth century really would be understating the importance and brilliance of The Turkish Embassy Letters. A collection of letters written during travels through Europe to Istanbul from 1716-18 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, her husband Sir Edward Wortley Montagu and their considerable entourage to take up the post as Turkish Ambassador in Istanbul.
Often considered as the first female travel writer, these letters provide not just many fascinating insights into the customs at the time, but also an important historical account of the social divide within many of the countries travelled and the religious and social customs of the time. Written with genuine candour, intelligence and wit. The Turkish Embassy letters show not the wonderful articulation of someone such as Mary Wortley Montagu’s position who, showing a keen interest in travel since a young age, but also a glimpse into society’s customs of the age.
Lady Mary’s life was as intriguing as her travel writing, and Eland has graciously included a very detailed and fascinating Biographical Afterword by Dervla Murphy who gives a very detailed account of Lady Mary’s life, which although tinged with loneliness and sadness is also inspiring and educational. Including such figures as Alexander Pope and early Feminist writer, Mary Astell, these are letters that are of considerable influence and importance.
Mary Wortley Montagu’s life certainly reads like a great adventure, her letters are filled with intrigue and detail that is rivalled by many travel writers to this day, her personal life saw her actively endorsing smallpox inoculations and romantic intrigues. Sadly her reputation was sullied by eighteenth-century gossip, of which she never really recovered. However, with this new edition of The Turkish Embassy Letters, hopefully, a new generation of readers can become inspired by her life and eradication the rumours of the past.
- The Turkish Embassy Letters by Mary Wortley Montagu is published by Eland Books (£12.99). To order a copy go to www.travelbooks.co.uk
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at tomasstanger.com