work in progress

“Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors.” Spectator 93, 16 June, 1711.

I recently discovered this comment and it has helped me decide on my next project.  It will be something diverting, entertaining, and perhaps, even useful.  For several years now I have been following a fascination with all things Middle Eastern.  It began when I purchased a frayed, but beautiful Oriental rug at a local auction.  It’s a double tree-of-life design and I began researching its origins.  That led to books about carpets, about Persia, about Turkey.  I found histories, stories, including the wonderful Arabian Tales (1001 nights), and travel books. My study is filled. I want to know about the lives of women there and then.

One extraordinary woman, Lady Mary Wortley Montegu, fascinates me. She was a British, titled, educated woman in an unhappy marriage who took the opportunities offered to her to investigate and taste the larger world.  In 1716 (yes!) she traveled overland with a young son and her husband to Turkey (the Ottoman Empire).  She wrote letters rich with details and delight of a foreign way of living, dressing, eating.  It changed her profoundly.  She also is credited with bringing the information about small pox vaccination back from the East a full generation before Edward Jenner’s ‘discovery’.  In fact, since she had suffered disfigurement from small pox as a young woman she allowed her young son to be vaccinated in Turkey.  A very daring and intelligent decision.

I didn’t discover someone unknown, but I would like to make her better known, and hope to do so through a novel.  Why a novel? Well, because I don’t believe I have the fastidiousness required for a biographer.  I like to indulge in flights of fancy, and I have a fertile imagination which needs regular feeding.  I want to color in the unknown bits of her life.