The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist

by Jo Willett


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The first biography to look at the early feminist and radical Mary Wortley Montagu, who successfully introduced Britain to the inoculation against the smallpox virus.

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781526779380
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Publication date: 06/09/2021
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

JO HAS BEEN an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life. Her credits range from the recent MANHUNT, starring Martin Clunes, to BIRDS OF A FEATHER. Her most relevant productions include BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (a fictionalised story of the first women who ran Ann Summers parties in the 1980s), THE MAKING OF A LADY (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness), BERTIE AND ELIZABETH (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage) and the BAFTA-and-RTS Award-Winning A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE (starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley, adapted from the novel of the same name by Angela Lambert). She studied English at Queens' College Cambridge and has an MA in Arts Policy. She is married with a daughter, a son and a step-son. She lives in London.

Table of Contents

Characters vii

Introduction Changing the Course of Science xvii

Chapter 1 Childhood 1

Chapter 2 Courtship 11

Chapter 3 Early Married Life 21

Chapter 4 Smallpox 31

Chapter 5 Traversing Europe 41

Chapter 6 Turkey 52

Chapter 7 Campaigning against Smallpox 63

Chapter 8 Friendship and More-Than-Friends 74

Chapter 9 The South Sea Bubble Crisis 86

Chapter 10 Feminist Writing 97

Chapter 11 Sister Mar 104

Chapter 12 The Break with Pope 116

Chapter 13 Motherhood and Marriage 128

Chapter 14 Francesco Algarotti 139

Chapter 15 A New Life Abroad 151

Chapter 16 Finishing Things with Algarotti 162

Chapter 17 Wandering Through Europe 172

Chapter 18 Count Palazzi 183

Chapter 19 Growing Old Abroad 195

Chapter 20 London Again 203

Appendix Following in Mary Wortley Montagu's Footsteps 216

Bibliography 218

Acknowledgements 230

Notes 231

Index 245

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