Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (née Pierrepont) was an early-18th-century feminist, poet, and wit. Disinherited from her wealthy family when she refused to marry the man her father chose for her ("Hell"), she instead eloped, not with a passionately adored lover ("Paradise") but with Edward Wortley Montagu--a rational choice, as she saw it ("Limbo"). Among her more important achievements was her role as a fervent champion of the smallpox inoculation. When she accompanied her husband to Turkey after he became British ambassador there, Lady Mary was able to witness firsthand the positive effects of the drug. While in Turkey, she gained privileged and unprecedented access to Turkish high society, despite the fact that her smallpox campaigning there earned her equal portions of adulation and vilification. Indeed, as Isobel Grundy writes: "She was different, she was unique, she provoked delight or disgust, nothing in between."
This 600-plus-page biography provides a detailed, frequently entertaining analysis of Lady Mary's extant texts: poems, correspondence, fiction, other prose, and an up-close reading of her family life, travels, and travails. Because of the sheer volume of information Grundy covers, the book can at times feel a bit dense. It may appeal more to specialist readers who are interested in deepening their learning about the vibrant lady and her experience of the 18th century, rather than to the general biography hound.--Lisa Gee, Amazon.com.uk
Its detail ... is truly prodigious ... It deserves to be praised to the skies. Mark Bostridge, The Independent on Sunday, 09/05/99. quite simply, the most interesting biography of a woman I have read for years; it is also a marvellously rich account of an exuberant period Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times, 11.4.99 Isobel Grundy has turned a potential weakness into a strength by a triumphant combination of historical precision with imaginative tact. This is an indispensible, unputdownable account for anyone interested in a character who stood out in her own and later generations. Hilary Spurling, Daily Telegraph, Sat 01/05/99 a book of the year Christopher Hawtree, Words column, The Independent, 06/05/99.