“Drinking a Dish of Tea With Sapho”: The Sexual Fantasies of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Byron

Winch, Alison. 2013. “Drinking a Dish of Tea With Sapho”: The Sexual Fantasies of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Byron. Women's Writing, 20(1), pp. 82-99. ISSN 0969-9082 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Byron's admiration for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was exceptional in a period when her reputation was still suffering from Alexander Pope's and Horace Walpole's virulent misogyny. Byron was fascinated by her and claimed to have read her Turkish Embassy Letters (1763) by the age of 10. His letters reveal an erotic attraction towards this scholarly woman. When he was residing in Venice, he discovered the passionate letters that Montagu had sent to her young Venetian lover over 60 years earlier. These letters reveal a series of performative sexual identities constructed in relation to a lover. This article argues that Byron can be productively read through his alliances with earlier, sexually transgressive literary figures. More specifically, Montagu's works, as well as her queer ethnomasquerades, were influential in his writing of Don Juan (1819), and also in his creation of a Byronic celebrity persona. For both writers, philhellenist and Orientalist discourses enable possibilities of self-imagining and celebrity spectacle. Montagu's depictions of passionate travelling and heroic sexuality reveal continuities across the borders of canonized literary periods.

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“This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Women's Writing on 25 January 2013, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09699082.2013.754259. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.”

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


25 January 2013Published

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Date Deposited:

16 Sep 2022 15:34

Last Modified:

17 Sep 2022 16:39

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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