Skip to main content

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Bringin' You All the Vaccines

Have I talked about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on here before?...a quick search tells me I have not.

Well then.


A good portion (read: two essays) of my college career was spent on this woman. Why? I don't know. Two of my classes wanted her Letters from the Turkish Embassy read, and I wrote my term paper on her for one of them.


WHO WAS SHE. Right. Okay. Picture it's 1710 (appx.) and you're a 21-year-old lady and you're super-smart and kind of vain and pretty rich. You don't have a mother, and you're bored. What do you do? Of COURSE you convince yourself you should elope with Edward Wortley Montagu, even though he seems reticent about it because you might lose your dowry. THAT'S not a warning sign. You're eloping! It's exciting! (however, you totally pass up the chance to marry a guy named Clotworthy Skeffington, for which I will never forgive you)


Then what happens? Queen Anne dies. Oh no! But it's ok, because George from Hanover's all set to come over and become king. Awesome. New dynasty. But -- ! Trouble in Constantinople! England might have to go to war because of an alliance, and war is expensive and maybe the new king doesn't want that. So he appoints a new ambassador. And that ambassador is your dowry-loving husband Edward.



So obvs you go with him. And because you're super-smart, you decide to write home to your many awesome friends, like Alexander Pope (who later hates you, but that's another story), about Constantinople and what it's like and how you're learning Arabic because you're a BADASS and how you've discovered they have this immunization thing against smallpox that you're WAY INTO because you had smallpox and you don't want your son (oh yeah, you have a son) to get it.

You also make some pretty kickass observations about the inside of a harem, and how the veil gives women MORE freedom and not less, because people in the street have no idea who you are and you can go and do whatevs. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Respecting Your Culture Since 1716.

Your husband's pretty much a dick, but that's ok, because your estrangement lets you wander around and do more on your own (there's a pretty sassy letter from her where she's like "You didn't ask about your sick son, but YEAH HE'S FINE THANKS"). Eventually, though, (like after a year) Edward gets recalled to England, 'cause it turns out he sucks at being an ambassador (you would've been way better at it), and you all move home, but you and he separate and you move to Italy, where you are still totally vain but totally smart and awesome until you die in 1762.

The issue with her letters is she seriously edited them during her life. Which sucks. She's one of those people you begrudgingly like, because she's totally aware of how smart she is, but she's still pretty cool. After Edward gets recalled, her letters start being somewhat insulting of Turkish culture, BUT I'd like to point out that she realized she had to reassimilate into English culture, and the best way to do that is to Other something. She'd been talking these people up all year, but now she could be seen as having become one of them, which was not ok. So she distances herself so this doesn't happen:


And I don't think it does, but I'm not sure; all I really know is Alexander Pope writes some not-nice things about her later, which some people think might be because she made fun of him being a bit physically challenged, but WE SHALL NEVER KNOW FOR SURE.

You can read highlights of her letters in the lovely short book The Turkish Embassy Letters

And finally, here's a picture showing how Judy Greer could totally play her in the movie:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Harry Potter 2013 Readalong Signup Post of Amazingness and Jollity

Okay, people. Here it is. Where you sign up to read the entire Harry Potter series (or to reminisce fondly), starting January 2013, assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse. I don't think I'm even going to get to Tina and Bette's reunion on The L Word until after Christmas, so here's hopin'.


You guys know how this works. Sign up if you want to. If you're new to the blog, know that we are mostly not going to take this seriously. And when we do take it seriously, it's going to be all Monty Python quotes when we disagree on something like the other person's opinion on Draco Malfoy. So be prepared for your parents being likened to hamsters.

If you want to write lengthy, heartfelt essays, that is SWELL. But this is maybe not the readalong for you. It's gonna be more posts with this sort of thing:


We're starting Sorceror's/Philosopher's Stone January 4th. Posts will be on Fridays. The first post will be some sort of hilarious/awesome que…

How to Build a Girl Introductory Post, which is full of wonderful things you probably want to read

Acclaimed (in England mostly) lady Caitlin Moran has a novel coming out. A NOVEL. Where before she has primarily stuck to essays. Curious as we obviously were about this, I and a group of bloggers are having a READALONG of said novel, probably rife with spoilers (maybe they don't really matter for this book, though, so you should totally still read my posts). This is all hosted/cared for/lovingly nursed to health by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) because she has a lovely fancy job at an actual bookshop (Odyssey Books, where you can in fact pre-order this book and then feel delightful about yourself for helping an independent store). Emily and I have negotiated the wonders of Sri Lankan cuisine and wandered the Javits Center together. Would that I could drink with her more often than I have.


INTRODUCTION-wise (I might've tipped back a little something this evening, thus the constant asides), I am Alice. I enjoy the Pleistocene era of megafauna and drinking Shirley Templ…

Yes, Frances Willard was as gay as Oscar Wilde. But in a lady-way.

Yup. We're gonna do it. We're gonna talk about Frances Willard and gayness. Look, it's not a major part of her life, and it's definitely not the main thing she should be remembered for, but the fact that a line is being put out that she was totally straight is complete hogwash and it upsets me.




The thing is, I get when people say it's anachronistic to put the cultural concept of "gayness" onto a person from a century other than the 20th/21st. I get that. And usually agree with it. But Frances Willard is one of the gayest people in history. I have zero problem labeling her with that. The fact that she didn't have the language to describe what she was experiencing is upsetting, but she managed to have a seemingly full and satisfying life anyway, so I am happy for her.

And for people annoyed when gay people say that someone from the past was gay, here's the thing: When you're completely whitewashed from history, it is a matter of TOTAL DELIGHT wh…