The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett* – Scientist and Feminist – is a must read. Most of us know about Jenner, especially after all the talk and the publicity the Jenner Institute had in the last year, with its development of the Oxford vaccine. I wasn’t aware that Edward Jenner himself was inoculated against smallpox because Lady Mary brought the idea of inoculation with her from Turkey. The book is published now because it marks the 300 anniversary of the day when Lady Mary inoculated her second child, her daughter, against smallpox, in England. Her son was already inoculated, but that happened in Turkey.

This book is a biography and it is a fascinating one. Lady Mary was not only strong and had a scientific curiosity regarding disease and inoculation, but she was also a feminist, as the subtitle suggests. I have to admit that I was a bit sceptical about this, but I agree with Willett’s interpretation.

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett

One can only admire her strength and determination when it comes to dealing with doctors, also politicians and clerics. Because then, as now, some religious fanatics were arguing that diseases are sent by God and thus people deserved to suffer for whatever reason. Newspapers speculated that inoculation will not last a lifetime and that it might be dangerous, which is a bit ironic considering the contemporary discussion about vaccine efficacy and adverse effects.

Her life was much more exciting than bringing inoculation to the western world. She wrote a lot, was friends with Alexander Pope, before he used his influence to vilify her and smear her reputation. She was also a feminist, maybe not by modern-day standards, but she talked about women’s role in society, openly. I liked that the biography is showing her as she was, without trying to condemn her for her flaws or trying to whitewash these. Her relationship with one of her sisters is described so nicely, showing how Lady Mary changed her views as she understood more why her sister acted in the way she did.

I can’t recommend enough this book. Lady Mary was a fascinating woman and Jo Willett describes her life beautifully. The book has small chapters, about 10-12 pages each, on different aspects of her life, making it a delight to read and easy to follow.

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Pen & Sword History
Year it was published: 2021
Format: Hardback
Genre(s): Biography
Pages: 288

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.
Website & Social Media Links: Pen and Sword

*I was sent a copy of The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

5 thoughts on “The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jo Willett”

  • This looks like a book I would really enjoy and this review has made me add it to my reading list!

  • Sounds like an incredible story and the relevance seems like some of the key things would apply even today! What a strong woman she sounds like.

  • I really like that this book is divided into quite short chapters, as for the casual reader of the genre, like myself, the whole reading experience becomes not quite so onerous.
    I’m not a fanatic by any means, religious or otherwise, and I definitely believe in vaccinations against pandemic diseases and childhood inoculations. However, I have to admit leaning towards the idea that God uses events such as pandemics to keep the population under control, as if we were all immune to everything, then the worldwide population would overwhelm resources and we can only ration resources to a certain point!
    So many of the world’s eminent scientists were and are, women. This seems to be one of the areas of natural equality!
    Thanks for sharing and have a good weekend 🙂

    • I agree that many scientists were women, unfortunately not much is known about them, but this is changing with more and more biographies and research, which is great.

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