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Dr. Laura L. Runge
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ENL 6236 18th Century Women Authors in the Digital Archive

Class 9: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Selected Letters

    Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, entire Selected Letters (ed. Isobel Grundy);
    (In class review Locating London; Google maps)

    DUE: Post #8
    Wiki Assign: Write article / edit article in sandbox

    Discuss letters as a genre, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu life and writing
    Conduct in-class mapping exercise
    Analyze article on LMWM
    Wiki updates and questions

Notes and Discussion Questions

    This week I have assigned a significant amount of reading from one author. Considered one of the best letter-writers in history, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu gives us the opportunity to explore the representation of life and culture in eighteenth-century Europe as well as in the Ottoman Empire. Her letters are charming, intelligent and of wide-ranging subjects. Through her letters we come to know the eighteenth-century world more intimately. By examining her letters written over a lifetime, we not only witness the evolution of her life and thought but we also learn the conventions and artistry of the genre. Pay attention to formal attributes of the letter.


    From the introduction, Isobel Grundy writes "As a letter-writer she resembles Samuel Johnson or Virginia Woolf in the urgency and the skill with which she extracts imaginative sustenance from matters at hand. The view from her window (whether it is a wintry English tree or the exotically early spring flowers of Turkey), her little daugher playing about the room or the latest gossip, either marital or political, all are grist to her mill; but she selects and angles all these details to forward an exchange of minds and hearts with each particular correspondent" (xx). Evaluate the skill of the letters. By what measure or standard do we judge aesthetic skill in letter-writing?

    Grundy includes part of the famous Turkish Embassy Letters in this collection, even though they are widely known and make a complete separate publication, so as to demonstrate the complete range of LMWM as a letter writer. How are these letters different?

    Susan Staves dedicates a section of chapter four to Lady Mary's Embassy Letters (211-217), written between 1716 and 1718. She calls the collection, which circulated privately in manuscript before it was published in an unauthorized form in 1720, "the most brilliant book by any women writer of the Restoration and eighteenth century and one of the best books written by a writer of either gender in this period" (211-2). Evaluate these letters as represented in Grundy's collection.

    In Letter 107, Lady Mary relates her now much-discussed experience at the "bagnio" or bath-house in Sofia. In what ways is the bath-house a "contact-zone" (Pratt) or a meeting of cultural exchange between Ottoman women and Lady Mary, a European and a Christian. How does her experience in the bath-house compare to the "contact zones" of Rotterdam and Vienna described earlier?

    Grundy refers to the "range of Lady Mary's epistolary moods and techniques" across the spectrum of her letters. Compare and contrast two or three different moods and evaluate the epistolary performance.

    The "Marriage Market" letters tell a courtship story that begins with refusal and ends with open acceptance. How would you describe Lady Mary's negotiations with her future husband? Do these letter foretell a doomed marriage?

    In Letter 19 Lady Mary states: "I do not doubt God and Nature has thrown [women] into an inferior rank... and any Woman who suffers her Vanity and folly to deny this, Rebells against the Law of the Creator and indisputable Order of Nature" (30). How might we understand Lady Mary's attitudes toward gender? Is it possible to discuss gender apart from rank and social order in Lady Mary's correspondence?

    As you read, note the unfamiliar, whether it is a reference to an object of clothing or a Venetian noble, a building or a song, a plant in her garden or an author she is reading. Check the annotation and pursue any curiosity raised by her incorporating this in her letter.

    These letters represent writing over the course of a long life; how do the letters reflect Lady Mary's age or aging? What surprises you about this? How might this reflect Enlightenment themes?

    Grundy writes that Lady Mary's reputation as a writer has never been higher (and her scholarship may be a leading cause for this). What role do the letters play in Lady Mary's literary reputation? What other forms of writing bring her fame?

    Using Locating London's Past identify the place names mentioned in Lady Mary's correspondence. Using My Maps in Google Maps [see drop down menu on upper left corner of Google Maps], create a document tracing Lady Mary's world travels. Reflect on the significance of this for a woman in the eighteenth century. Reflect on the significance of this for readers today.

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