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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:


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