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Lady Mary Montagu ( 1689 - 1762 )  Category ( Authors ) [suggest a correction]
 

Lady Mary Wortley MontaguLady Mary Wortley Montagu was an English aristocrat and writer. Her literary talent and social status allowed her to move in the vivid, satirical literary circles of eighteenth-century England. She is best remembered today for her letters, especially ones she wrote from Turkey, which are considered by critics to be the first example of secular writing by a woman concerning the Muslim world. Her writings from that period went on to inspire the Western interest in the Orient, which found expression in literature and art.

She was born the daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, Fifth Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull. She was a friend with Mary Astell and other champions of women's rights. In 1712, after failing to obtain her father's permission to wed, Mary and Edward Wortley Montagu eloped. When her husband became a Member of Parliament in 1715 the couple moved to London, where her wit and beauty soon made her a court favorite. One year later her husband was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul. Lady Mary accompanied him there and they remained until 1718. Her descriptions and observations of Turkish life during the period are told in her Turkish Embassy Letters. When she returned to the West she brought with her and promoted in England the practice of inoculation against smallpox. Her friendship and subsequent estrangement with poet Alexander Pope is a favorite topic amongst literature specialists, since the two filled their letters to one another with satire, quarrels, and keen observations of the times in which they lived.

In 1739, Lady Montagu left her husband and went abroad. They continued to write to one another affectionately but never met again. The following year she became ill with smallpox, became disfigured, and suffered from mental illness. By 1761, after the death of her husband, Lady Mary's daughter, Mary, Countess of Bute, whose husband was now Prime Minister, begged her to return to England. She returned to London, where she died in 1762. Her son, Edward, was also an author and traveler. Like many women writers of previous centuries, Lady Mary's work was not available in scholarly editions until the late twentieth century.

"Mary Wortley Montagu," by Charles Jervas, after 1716.


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