Dreaming of East explores the enduring fascination that the Middle East exerted on women of the West, both because of its exotic trappings and because of the freedom it seemed to offer.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's account of her journey to Turkey in 1717, along with sporadic reports by other travellers, mostly male, slowly brought the area now known as the Middle East, into the consciousness of Western women. By the early 1800s the taste for things Oriental had firmly gripped Europe.
On Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's travels she found much more than the new sensations she sought. She discovered that her attitudes toward both others and to herself were challenged and transformed. Accustomed to deferring to men, she was suddenly free to make her own choices and to form her own opinions. Moreover, her decisions and ideas were respected by – of all people – men. For a woman all too used to her inferior status at home, this venture into the land of near-sexlessness and freedom was exhilarating. When she eventually returned to her own society and found herself yet again relegated to second place, she would never again be content there.