“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.