Immensely learned, self-educated in an era when formal schooling was denied to women, Mary Wortley Montagu was an admired poet, a consistently scandalous doyenne of eighteenth-century London society, and, in a period when letter-writing had been elevated to an art form, one of the greatest letter writers in the English language. Her epistles, meant for both public and private consumption, are the product of a mind distinguished by its adventurousness, its indifference to convention, and its eagerness not only to acquire knowledge but to convey it with unmitigated style and grace.
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Great Journeys allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries – but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: Great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science. Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.