- Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature
The expanding critical interest in reassessing England's relationship with the Islamic world in the early modern period must begin, reasons Bernadette Andrea, with acknowledgment and scrutiny of the literary productions by women that record encounters, actual and imagined, with Ottoman culture. Doing so both corrects misrepresentations (of women Eastern and Western, and of those encounters) culturally-inculcated by male-authored narratives, and counters the tendency in postcolonial analysis to anticipate the development of England's imperialist enterprise when discussing the nation's interaction with the Mughal and Ottoman empires prior to the eighteenth century. Recognizing that scholars have often examined the Turkish Embassy Letters (1763) of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu when initiating studies that link women and Islam in early modern English literature, Andrea opts instead to explicate the implications of a range of feminist predecessors for Montagu, from Elizabeth Tudor to Delarivier Manley, before concluding her discussion with a reassessment of Montagu by contemporary Algerian fiction writer and theorist Assia Djebar.
With the topos of the Anglo-Ottoman cultural encounter and its feminist implications structuring her monograph, Andrea focuses in the first chapter on the exchange of letters between Elizabeth I and Safiye, during the latter's term (1595-1603) as valide sultan, or mother of the sultan, Mehmed III, revealing how its role in Turkish culture was misreported or otherwise distorted by English writers as different as Fulke Greville and Richard Hakluyt. Safiye's letters resolutely resist the Ottoman address custom of regendering queens as masculine, and of refusing to acknowledge their political power, and simultaneously correct the western "misconception of the harem as a space of female oppression and masculine fantasy" (26). The mutual admiration of these female leaders, expressed on multiple levels, even prompts them to select gifts that cannily undercut the notion of "women as objects and men as agents of exchange" (28).
The second chapter dissects errors in popular portraits of the self-appointed [End Page 1390] 1598 ambassadorial mission (and its aftermath) by Anthony and Robert Sherley to Persian Shah Abbas I, in particular the labeling of Robert Sherley, dressed in turban and native garb, as the first "Persian" in England —a distinction literally belonging to his wife, Lady Teresa Sampsonia Sherley, a former subject of the Shah. The encounter here includes Lady Mary Wroth, whose sympathies in the Persian portions of her Urania, and whose experiences of parallel persecutions by disapproving men, lead her to align herself "with the effaced figure" (52) of Lady Teresa. The fascinating third chapter considers the perceptual ramifications of religious missions by Quakers Mary Fisher (in 1657, resulting in her speaking directly to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV), Katherine Evans and Sarah Chevers (both imprisoned in Malta from 1659-62 for their religious and political convictions). In consequence, Andrea reveals the wealth of cultural data residing in the over two hundred tracts published by Quaker women before the end of the seventeenth century, and scrutinizes the role of patriarchal bias, particularly in the form of male editors, in effacing the voices of women in Quaker tracts following the Restoration.
Before Lady Mary Wortley Montagu traveled to the Ottoman empire as an ambassador's wife (1716-18), at least forty plays (1660-1714) had been written by women and set in the Levant or in Asia, and Andrea examines the work of these female wits in the fourth chapter, especially the dramas of Delarivier Manley —The Lost Lover; or the Jealous Husband (1696), The Royal Mischief (1696), and Almyna; or, The Arabian Vow (1706) —as she "disputes the orientalist assumption that slavery is inherent in eastern women's experience, and therefore foreign to the condition of 'freeborn' English women" (85). The fifth chapter connects Manley's allegorical caricatures of Whig lords and ladies, The New Atalantis (1709), the fact of Manley's own entrapment in a bigamous marriage, and the reality of Muslim women possessing property rights that vastly exceeded those of English women, to show how Manley...