Monday, December 15, 2014

The Perfect Holiday Gift for a Traveling Woman - The Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Lady Mary is one of those intrepid travelers whose primary motivating force is her curiosity.  Her letters are written to close friends and therefore any diplomatic assignations are missing.  Instead, Lady Mary, traveling from London to Constantinople in 1717 offers us an honest and often humorous view of the courts of several European countries as well as her heartfelt appreciation for the Muslim women she encounters in Constantinople.  Her position as the wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire gives her the opportunity to see not only the hovels of the poor as she passes by, but also the privileges of the ruling  classes.  Her judgments are visceral. Her willingness to meet the culture of the mid east with an open mind presents a view which is absolutely the opposite of what her male counterparts sent back to London.  I love this woman.  I love her letters.  I love traveling with her.  You will, too.  
Try Lady Mary's commentary.  I promise surprises, laughter, an occasional giggle and at the very least a sense of what it means to travel without insisting that the world be a mirror of the home country.

Lady Mary is my favorite travel writer.  However can that be? I am a modern woman who follows the travel adventurers of women like Robyn Davidson, whose first travel book, Tracks, is today an excellent little Aussie film. I also love Kira Salak's discovery of her own limits in Four Corners, a trek through the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

However, Lady Mary's sense of humor, somewhat reminiscent of another intrepid British traveling woman, Mary Kingsley in Travels in West Africa, is what captures this reader as one surreptitiously follows the uneven tracks that some call roads and looks forward to doors opening upon scenes that only women can see since foreign men are not allowed in the soiree of The Otttoman Empire.

If you are looking for a thoroughly modern and always entertaining set of judgments about the courts of seventeenth century Europe and Eurasia, spend a few moments with Lady Mary Wortley Montague and like her once dear friend, Alexander Pope, you will be entertained.