Mary Montagu was one of the most extraordinary characters in the world. She was a self-educated intellectual, a free spirit, a radical, a feminist but also an entitled aristocrat and a society wit with powerful friends at court.
In 1716 she travelled across Europe to take up residence in Istanbul as the wife of the British ambassador. Her letters remain as fresh as the day they were penned: enchanted by her discoveries of the life of Turkish women behind the veil, by Arabic poetry and by contemporary medical practices - including inoculation. For two years she lovingly observed Ottoman society as a participant, with affection, intelligence and an astonishing lack of prejudice.
She is one of the first modern travel writers and still one of the best, studying and recording a lived culture through its own values and its own language. In her own words, ‘No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure more lasting.’