Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type




First Advisor

Scarlet Bowen


Though there has been much research done in the past three decades on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s writing in regards to her promotion and description of femininity in Turkey, as well as her historical and societal contributions to eighteenth-century England through her knowledge of inoculation, there are still some dualisms which cannot be easily categorized or placed in literary history. One such important dualism is the author’s simultaneously rational and sentimental style, which when explored shows that Montagu’s aesthetic expands the period’stravel writing narrative. Though Montagu is hailed as one of the first to bring smallpox inoculation to England from Turkish practice, or praised for her epistolary style of travel writing, or even widely acknowledged for her depictions of harems and Turkish women, the question that arises is this: how, and why, are these accomplishments actually depicted in her literature, or more specifically, in her Turkish Embassy Letters? Some critics have simply acknowledged her work for its unique feminine content, while others have tried to narrowly place her in either a strict travel or feminist genre, pertaining to a distinct segment within the divided rational and sentimental segments of the Enlightenment. In blending rationalism and sentimentalism by depicting exactly what she is most known for – depictions of Turkish femininity, epistolary travel writing, and smallpox inoculation - and by doing so in a specific epistolary style, Montagu is able to engage in feminist discourse by straying from the travel narrative’s typically patriarchaland often biased tropes. Montagu’s alternating logos and pathos-filled style, her portrayals of European and Turkish women, particularly in her rendering of Turkey as a feminotopia, and ultimately her novel, boundary-breaking depictions of smallpox, allow the Lettersto fit into an overarching feminist context that cannot be restricted to simply one aspect of either rationalist or sentimentalist thought. In referring to the Letters and conducting close reading, Montagu’s many dualities and uniqueness within literary history are illustrated, and her enhancement of the travel writing form is evident.