115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Question of Representation: From Montagu to Byron

Dewey W. Hall, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

While the term representation has become fraught with meaning due to postcolonial perceptions of the past that call into question Western depictions of the Oriental, often female, as exoticized, eroticized, and fetishized, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and George Gordon Byron depict Turkishness as the locus of personal desire and a space to be inhabited as part of one’s identity.


My paper “A Question of Representation: From Montagu to Byron” is a response to postcolonial critics—namely, Edward Said and Homi Bhabha—who characterize the binary of Occident over Orient in terms of unidirectional power relations. However, it seems to me that influence is bidirectional in which the Occident is orientalized by a desire to impersonate Turkishness. For instance, as the wife of an English aristocrat, Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters demonstrates her inclination to masquerade in Turkish attire, a sign of independence, as shown through her letters and a sketch of her meeting with Sultana Hafiten. In addition, Byron’s The Corsair features Conrad-the-pirate in fiction who assumes the guise of a Turkish dervish, which parallels Byron’s actual impersonation of an Albanian officer evident through his portrait. Through letters, poetry, and fine art, it appears that the Occident vs. Orient binary is not as dichotomized as Said and Bhabha assert. Montagu and Byron reveal the complexity of the dualism, as they each masquerade in Turkishness, which reshapes and refashions their Englishness.

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