300 years ago, in April 1721, a smallpox epidemic was raging in England. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu knew that she could save her 3-year-old daughter using the process of inoculation. She had witnessed this at first hand in Turkey, while she was living there as the wife of the British ambassador. She also knew that by inoculating – making her daughter the first person protected in the West – she would face opposition from doctors, politicians and clerics. Her courageous action eventually led to the eradication of smallpox and the prevention of millions of deaths.
But Mary was more than a scientific campaigner. She mixed with the greatest politicians, writers, artists and thinkers of her day. She was also an important early feminist, writing powerfully and provocatively about the position of women.
She was best friends with the poet Alexander Pope. They collaborated on a series of poems, which made her into a household name, an ‘It Girl.’ But their friendship turned sour and he used his pen to vilify her publicly.
Aristocratic by birth, Mary chose to elope with Edward Wortley Montagu, whom she knew she did not love, so as to avoid being forced into marrying someone else. In middle age, her marriage stale, she fell for someone young enough to be her son – and, unknown to her, bisexual. She set off on a new life with him abroad. When this relationship failed, she stayed on in Europe, narrowly escaping the coercive control of an Italian con man.
After twenty-two years abroad, she returned home to London to die. The son-in-law she had dismissed as a young man had meanwhile become Prime Minister.
This was a fascinating book!
After I read the blurb for this book I was intrigued and wanted to know more about her, what she had achieved and she sounded like she definitely had an interesting life for a woman who was living 300 years ago!
The book is written with a natural flow and it reads at time like a story rather than a biography and I enjoyed that approcah. I liked that it felt like you were peaking in to her life, friendships and romances.
At times I really felt for her, but then I almost found myself checking myself as it showed what it was like for a lot of aristocratic woman in that period, and they had it a lot better than the poor communities even if they did feel that were held back at times.
It is 5 stars from me for the one, I loved finding out more about Mary – she certainly made a name for herself when she was alive and she deserves the recognition that the author is giving her now.
She truly was an absolutely fascinating woman – I love a good biography and this was definitely a revelation – she really did so much! Very highly recommended!!
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