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Reading Questions for Lady Mary Wortley Montague's Writings: Selection I

Vocabulary: Enlightenment, epistles, epistolary


  • What famous philosopher did Lady Montague marry?
  • Lady Montague’s daughter, Mary Godwin, later married what famous English poet from the Romantic period? What famous science fiction work did this author write?
  • What foreign city did Lady Montague live in when her husband was the British ambassador?
  • What (in general) sort of advice was Lady Montague giving the Countess of Bute regarding the education of the Countess’ daughter? What relationship does Lady Montague have to the Countess of Bute, and accordingly, what is the familial relationship between Bute’s daughter and Lady Montague?
Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters: Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the Countess of Bute

Reading Questions: (Answer these questions as you read along to make sure you understand the text.)

  • “To the Countess of Bute, Lady Montague’s Daughter”
  • Why is Montague pleased to hear that the child is skilled in arithmetic?
  • In the second paragraph, why does Montague say that Bute’s education had to differ from that of the granddaughter?
  • Montague asserts that “Learning, if she has a real taste for it . . . will not only make her contented, but happy in it.” What reasons does Montague give to support this assertion?
  • In the third paragraph, Montague issues two “cautions” or warnings about education. What is the first warning when it comes to classical languages? In the next paragraph, what is the second warning when it comes to public knowledge about the girl’s education?
  • Who are “perhaps the most ignorant fellows upon earth” according to Montague?
  • Montague gives an unusual reason why a young girl should know English poetry. Why is it advantageous to them? Why has “many a young damsel . . . been ruined by a fine copy of verses”?
  • According to Montague, how will the public generally react to a display of learning in a woman? Accordingly, what should the grand-daughter do with any education she attains?
  • Montague states what fraction or percentage of the general population acquainted with the daughter will be composed of “he- and she-fools”?
  • According to Montague, what should Bute keep in mind when it comes to the calculations of Isaac Newton?
  • What missing skill would Montague find “scandalous” in a woman? Does that seem dated today?
  • What missing skill would Montague find “scandalous” in a man? Does that seem dated today?
  • What does Montague think is the source of her poor eyesight in later years?

Passages for Identification/Discussion:

A. Learning, if she has a real taste for it . . . will not only make her contented, but happy in it.

B. Languages are more properly to be called vehicles of learning rather than learning itself, as may be observed in many schoolmasters, who, though perhaps critics in grammar, are the most ignorant fellows upon earth.

C. [M]any a young damsel . . . been ruined by a fine copy of verses, which she would have laughed at if she had known it [the poetry] had been stolen from Mr. Waller.

D. The second caution to be given here (and which is most absolutely necessary) is to conceal whatever learning she attains, with as much solicitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness; the parade of it can only serve to draw on her the envy, and consequently the most inveterate hatred, of all he- and she-fools, which will certainly be at least three parts in four of all her acquaintances.

E. The ultimate end of your education was to make you a good wife (and I have the comfort to hear that you are one): hers ought to be to make her happy in a virgin states. I will not say it is happier; but it is undoubtedly safer than any marriage. In a lottery, where there are (at the lower end of computation) ten thousands blanks to a prize, it is the most prudent choice not to venture.


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