Written by one of the most scandalous figures in the beau monde and published just prior to the French Revolution, A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople (1789) transported readers to the most exclusive courts of Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
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Written by one of the most scandalous figures in the beau monde,
A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople (1789) offers a glimpse of a world in remarkable flux. Published just prior to the French Revolution, but marked by the humiliation of the American Revolution, this British travel narrative transported readers not only to the most exclusive courts of Russia and the Ottoman Empire, but also to the recently annexed Crimean peninsula. Lady Elizabeth Craven’s scathing accounts of harems and hammams stand in marked contrast to those of her famous predecessor Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, which celebrated Turkish women’s beauty. Deeply ethnocentric and yet thoroughly aestheticized, Lady Craven’s orientalism and her philhellenism are symptomatic of much late eighteenth-century writing on the East. As many observers noted at the time of its publication, A Journey is as concerned with re-constituting Lady Craven’s ruined reputation as it is with restoring the ruins of classical antiquity from Turkish neglect. In addition, Lady Craven’s descriptions of the court of Catherine the Great and of the militarization of the Crimea are among the earliest and most detailed accounts of imperial Russia in English. This text simultaneously gives us access both to British perceptions of its imperial competitors in the Levant and to the aristocratic cosmopolitanism of the ancien regime on the eve of its dissolution.