WHO WAS LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU?
The one-woman show 'Lady in a Veil' celebrates one of the most remarkable women of her age. It is performed in the character of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a female wit, poet and travel writer, who introduced smallpox inoculation from Turkey to Europe, and saved thousands of lives.
Lady Mary (1689-1762) was the eldest daughter of Lord Kingston and Lady Mary Fielding, she spent much of her childhood at the family seat of Thoresby Hall (Notts.), teaching herself Latin. Her elegant translations, romances and satirical verses, and her role as her father’s hostess (her mother having died when she was four) combined to build her reputation as a wit.
In 1712, escaping her father’s choice of a wealthy aristocrat, Lady Mary eloped with, and married, Mr Edward Wortley Montagu. Her clandestine courtship letters (less passionate than her letters to his sister) propose travel together to maintain ‘esteem’. Newly-wedded, it was her husband who travelled, chasing election as a Whig MP. He hardly sent her news, let alone money, and in 1714, she published a satire on marriage in 'The Spectator'. However, her wifely correspondence, a fund of advice about ethical ways to gain and use influence, shows her ardent support of his career and, in 1715, he was appointed to the Treasury. She joined him in London, attended court, and collaborated with Alexander Pope and John Gay on the satirical 'The Town Eclogues'. In 1716, when Wortley Montagu was appointed Ambassador to the Court of the Ottomans, she went with him.
Edward Jenner wasn't to trial smallpox vaccination until 1798. However, reducing smallpox in Europe began with Lady Mary’s observation of a harem party for inoculation, or ‘variolation à la Turca’. She had survived smallpox in London and developed immunity, so her guinea pig was her only son. The experiment was successful. On her return to England, she obtained royal support to inoculate six prisoners, six orphans and, in 1722, George II’s daughters, so inoculation became the fashion. Lady Mary’s contribution to the nation’s health is commemorated by an obelisk at Wentworth Hall, Yorkshire.
When she was fifty, Lady Mary fell in love with, and pursued across Europe, Count Francesco Algarotti, who was at least as interested by her friend Lord Hervey. This is where 'Lady in a Veil' begins …
- Venues in 2019 included Mansfield College (Oxford), Dr. Johnson’s House (London), Chawton House (Hampshire) and Middlethorpe Hall Hotel (Yorkshire).
'Lady in a Veil' will be zoomed via Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution - HLSI on Sunday March 14th 2021 at 4pm and on 14th May 2021, via the Adventurous Eighteenth-Century Wives Conference held in collaboration with Chawton House (14th and 15th May 2021).
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT 'LADY IN A VEIL':
“… such a wonderful performance. I’ve received several comments about how good the ‘show’ was, and interesting and well-researched.” — Celine Lupo McDaid, Curator, Dr Johnson’s House.
“Witty and moving, and very nimbly negotiated the difficulties in teaching an audience without sounding as if doing so.” — Professor Gregory Woods, Emeritus Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Nottingham Trent University
“Fascinating portrayal of a woman of substance brought to life with real skill; both script and performance.” — Catriona, (audience) Bromley House Library.
“… a wonderful presentation of Lady Mary, the General Manager ... and I both enjoyed it very much, and learnt a great deal. Feedback from our guests has been excellent.” — Nicola Thresh, Events Manager, Middlethorpe Hall.
“Absolutely amazing” — Carolyn, (audience) Vagina Museum.
“Terrific. Really informative and entertaining.” — Chris Reason, BBC scriptwriter.
“I was amazed by the depth of cultural and factual content – and the delivery which painted a great picture of her life and times.” — Chris Brighouse, singer-songwriter.
“What an entertaining talk”… “I learnt a lot, especially about her role against smallpox”…”Didn’t she bring her alive!” — Chat from U3A Richmond over Zoom
"The performance really brought her to life for me. Fantastic." — Celia Jarrett (zoom audience)
"A compelling character telling a story that should be more widely heard" --- Paul Bradley, actor
WORKSHOPS AND FURTHER READING:
'Lady in a Veil' can be booked with a two-hour workshop for up to 12 participants, combining dramatic improvisation with writing exercises, to develop monologues for characters from history, including family and personal history.
Dr Georgina Lock combines writing, acting and directing with research into the eighteenth century – particularly its women. 'Lady in a Veil' builds on her chapter 'Performance and Performing in Lady Mary’s letters from Istanbul' in Britain and the Muslim World (ed. Gerald Maclean).