On this day in 1659 the English aristocrat, socialite, writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born.
An independent and strong minded woman, she was prepared to challenge and change conventional views on her place in society. Lady Mary spent several years in Constantinople where her husband was ambassador and later, after they separated, travelled and lived extensively in Europe. Her letters from Turkey contain descriptions of a Turkish bath and the horror of Turkish women who saw her corsets as instruments of real torture.
Here is part of a poem written to her by Alexander Pope, an admirer:
In beauty, or wit, no mortal as yet
To question your empire has dared:
But men of discerning
Have thought that in learning
To yield to a lady was hard.
…’Twas a woman at first
(Indeed she was curst)
In knowledge that tasted delight,
Then bravely, fair dame,
Resume the old claim,
Which to your whole sex does belong;
And let men receive,
From a second bright Eve,
The knowledge of right and of wrong.
But if the first Eve
Hard doom did receive,
When only one apple had she,
What a punishment new
Shall be found out for you,
Who tasting, have robb’d the whole tree?
Today I will reflect upon change and the need sometimes to challenge conventions.