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  • Writer's pictureJessie Wolf

‘The Turkish Embassy Letters’: The many faces of Lady Mary.

Throughout her letters, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu presents herself in many lights, depending on who she is writing to. This shows the idea of presenting our ‘best selves’ has been around for a while. Today we rarely write letters, but our social media pages and correspondences present the version of ourselves which we want other people to see.  

One of Lady Mary’s versions is her as an intellectual; casually conversing with Alexander Pope about “Mr Hobbes”’ (51) philosophy and, pampering Pope’s ego, talking of reading “your Homer” (74) on her travels. With the Abbe Conti, she follows political and religious discourse. She discusses the “oppressors” (61) of Persia and the malicious “priests who would not fail to falsify [the Alcoran]” (63). In a similar way “behind the screens of their smartphones, people feel more empowered and confident” (Wang, 110) and, with both letters and social media, the “time delay allows more scope for strategic communication” (Wang, 110). With the added benefit of Google in the modern day, people can present themselves however they would like to be perceived, just like Lady Mary.

Lady Mary is particularly strategic with some of her friends, chiefly Lady Rich and Sarah Chiswell. Her letters to Lady Rich are designed to impress, and make her jealous. She frequently ends her letters with sentiments such as “I am sure I have now entertained you with an account of such a sight as you never saw in your life” (60). The repetition of the pronouns “I” and “you” as well as the position of them in the sentence shows the attempt to dramatically separate the two ladies, elevating Lady Mary far above Lady Rich. Similarly, with Sarah Chiswell, she has a point to prove. Sarah Chiswell declined the invitation to travel to Constantinople with Lady Mary, as such Lady Mary presents herself as a tragic hero, telling Sarah “if I live to return” (82) in the hopes of eliciting sympathy from the person who chose to stay home.

Wortley Monatgu, M. The Turkish Embassy Letters. Virago, 1993.
Wang, X. Social Media in Industrial China. UCL Press, 2016.
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