Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley

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Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley (1689-1762): English Writer.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced small pox inoculation to Britain and produced a significant body of travel correspondence, essays, poems, and romance writing. Her intense intellect and independence drove her to educate herself in subjects usually reserved for men. In August of 1712, she eloped with Edward Wortley Montagu, who although wealthy, was a commoner. She spent the first few years of her marriage in London, where she gave birth to her son Edward, became acquainted with Pope, Alexander, and suffered from small pox. In August of 1716, she set out across Europe with her husband, who had been named Ambassador to the Ottoman Porte (Ottoman Empire). Her daughter Mary (later Lady Bute) was born at Constantinople in 1718. During this trip Lady Mary witnessed small pox inoculation in Adrianople; she had her son inoculated, and when she returned to London late in 1718, she promoted the practice, allowing physicians to witness the procedure on her daughter.

Lady Mary quarreled with Pope in 1722, and their dislike for each other grew over several years. In 1739, she again went abroad, this time without her husband. She went first to Northern Italy and Venice. From there, she traveled to Florence (where she met Horace Walpole), Rome, Naples, Geneva, Chambéry, and Avignon. She returned to England shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1762.

In addition to a large body of correspondence, Lady Mary wrote several essays, dozens of poems, romances, and a play. Her essays reveal a keen sense of observation and her poetry a sharp wit engaged with her contemporaries. Her romance fiction especially interrogates the world of male power to which she was subject.

Further Reading:

I. Grundy, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1999.

Steve Raynie