Podcast #49: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

We kick off 2022 with an episode devoted to a woman famed for her wit and beauty, and later for her status as a sort of early inoculation influencer. Her tale is told by DLS co-founder and devoted traveler, Florian Duijsens.

English aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was raised to keep her opinions to herself, be it at home or in the King’s court, but she travelled widely, published secretly, and convinced many to take important steps that saved lives. When her husband became the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1716, she accompanied him to Constantinople. Gaining access to female spaces in Turkey, she witnessed smallpox inoculations there and had her son immunized in the same way, using a small sample of the live virus that had killed her brother and caused severe scarring to her own face. The principle was adapted into what we now know as vaccination. Lady Mary later left her husband behind in England after falling for an Italian count, only returning after she was widowed. She wrote poetry, essays, and copious letters, many of which were published after her death, encouraging other ladies to travel as she had done.

DLS other co-founder Katy Derbyshire joins producer Susan Stone to introduce the featured Dead Lady. 

Show notes:

From Mary’s Constantinople diaries
Mary with her terrible son Edward, in Constantinople
Some comfy Turkish fashions
Mocking Alexander Pope (artist’s impression)
Plain in dress and sober in diet?
Mary’s plans for her Italian kitchen garden
Would you call this a ‘sack dress’?

If you’d like to read some of Mary’s writing, Florian recommends the short version, Life on the Golden Horn, or the longer Selected Letters.

As to biographies, there’s Isobel Grundy’s 703-page belter subtitled Comet of the Enlightenment, or you could go for Jo Willett’s considerably shorter The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu.

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon.
Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode next month.