Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu defied many norms of English life and culture during the time that she lived. This was an idea that was difficult to draw from reading her letters alone, but Ms. Hamovit’s presentation was very clarifying. Being born into an upper class family, Lady Montagu had access to a number of tutors that came to her home, but what was impressive about her is that she taught herself Latin at a time when only boys learned this language. In addition to teaching herself a language, we learned that by the time she was 16 years old, she had already written two volumes of poetry and an epistolary novel. Another example of her branching out from what was expected of her was when she refused the marriage her father had arranged for her, instead eloping and moving to England with Edward Worthley Montagu when she was 22. Her husband, a member of the Whig Party, was appointed ambassador to Turkey, which is what gave Lady Montagu the opportunity to experience Turkish culture and write letters based on her own personal experience. The content of her letters contained subjects such as women’s dress, nudity, childbirth, sexual behavior, and social hierarchy, all of which were considered improper to publicly talk about this time.

What I found most fascinating about Lady Montagu’s letters was not the fact that she wrote about things considered inappropriate, but that she offered a viewpoint that I had never before considered. When talking about the dress of women in other cultures that include veils that cover their faces, I think that in our society we feel as though this is oppressive and restrictive for these women. However, Lady Montagu argues that because of the way they dress, Turkish women were more free than English women, saying that “‘tis very easy to see they have more liberty than we have.” Their clothing, which may seem restrictive, actually in a sense gave them the freedom to roam the streets without fear of being cat-called or identified. I also thought that the article from The Guardian compliments Lady Montagu’s opinion, when it says that forcing Muslim women to stop wearing veils might be “depriving them of the choice and opportunity to integrate.” It is especially interesting to note the contrast with dress code at Govs, since students feel that being told to cover up is restricting, while the Turkish women Lady Montagu spoke of found it liberating.

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