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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Letters
of the Right Honourable Lady M—y W—y M—e:

Written, during her Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa,
to Persons of Distinction, Men of Letters, &c. in different Parts of Europe.
Which contain, among other curious Relations,
Accounts of the Policy and Manners of the Turks;
Drawn from Sources that have been inaccessible to other Travellers.

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An open-minded observer, and a gifted and accomplished writer, Mary Wortley Montagu provides us with both edifying and entertaining first-hand reports of social customs and political conditions in various parts of early 18th century Europe. Particularly notable are her letters  from Turkey, the first authentic accounts from a Muslim country by a modern female traveler, which have famously influenced the European perception of the Orient in 18th and 19th century literature and art.

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About the Author

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (or Montague) was born as Mary Pierrepont in London on May 15, 1689, into an aristocratic family of considerable wealth. She used the library at her father’s mansion, which at the time was one of the finest private libraries in England, for her own education, which included teaching herself Latin. In 1712 she married the politician Edward Wortley Montagu, grandson of the 1st Earl of Sandwich, against her father’s wishes; they had a son in 1713. When her husband was appointed Ambassador to the Ottoman Porte in Constantinople in 1716, she accompanied him on his mission. In 1718, after the birth of a daughter, they returned to England. In 1739, she left her husband whom she later divorced, and went abroad, living in France and Italy. In 1762, after her ex-husband’s death and on her daughter’s request, whose husband was now Prime Minister, she returned to England, where she died on August 21.

In Turkey Lady Wortley Montagu learned about the inoculation against smallpox as it was practiced there, a disease from which her brother had died and which she herself had suffered in 1715, leaving her face scarred. Against severe resistance from the medical establishment, after her return she successfully promoted the introduction of smallpox inoculation in England.

Lady Wortley Montagu, “one of the most colorful Englishwomen of her time” (Encyclopedia Britannica), was a distinguished poet, essayist, satirist, writer of fiction, and letter writer. Today she is best known for her “Turkish Embassy Letters,” here presented, which she collected and edited for their possible publication after her death.

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