Monday, August 25, 2014

Elizabeth Montagu and the Bluestocking Society

Montagu (seated middle)
in company of other "Bluestockings"
(1778)
On August 25, 1800, British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonist, literary critic, and writer Elizabeth Montagu passed away. She was one of the wealthiest women of her era and one of the founders of the Bluestocking Society, an informal women's social and educational movement in England in the mid-18th century.

Elizabeth Robinson grew up in a quite influential and wealthy family. She befriended Lady Margaret Harley in early years and spent a significant amount of time in her household, where important figures of the 1730s met and men and women were considered equal. She increased her interest in literature, when she began visiting her grandfather at Cambridge frequently, where he was occupied as the University's Librarian [1,2].

In letters, Robinson sent to Harley in 1738, the young woman explained that she had no desire for marriage, as she saw marriage as expedient convention. In 1742, she married Edward Montagu who was a grandson of the first Earl of Sandwich and owned coal mines and estates in Northumberland, Yorkshire and Berkshire. However, it is assumed that both lived independent lives and also, he was twice as old as Elizabeth. Together, they had a son, who passed away in 1744. Following this event, Elizabeth Montagu became increasingly religious [1,3].

After Montagu had moved to London in 1850, she initiated so called 'conversation parties' and is believed to have said "I never invite idiots to my house" in this period. These events were soon called blue-stockings and they turned into elaborate evenings where literature was discussed. She also began hosting events of this kind in Bath, where she lived at various times in several houses. She became one of the three leading literary or blue-stocking hostesses, together with Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Boscawen.

Dr. Johnson once wrote about Montagu, that "She diffuses more knowledge than any woman I know, or indeed, almost any man. Conversing with her, you may find variety in one". She anonymously contributed 3 dialogs to Lyttelton’s Dialogues of the Dead in 1760 and published her book 'An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets, with some Remarks upon the Misrepresentations of Mons. de Voltaire' at the end of the 1760s. Her work was a great success and her reputation as an author grew significantly. Unfortunately, her husband died in 1775 and Elizabeth Montagu decided to take control of the families' interest. She proved to be a great business woman and it is believed that was always on good terms with her family [1].

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video titled "Searching for Shakespeare".



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