Mary Wortley Montagu (1747) Written during Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's 1716-17 stay in London prior to traveling to Constantinople with her husband, her "Satturday: The Small Pox" is one of a collection of six eclogues. Intended as satiric, the eclogue remained a mixture of multiple conventions, including those of the pastoral, classic, and burlesque. Others of her era, such as the poet and dramatist John Gay, attempted eclogue, but Montagu has been credited with some of the best examples. Her forceful, autobiographical style marked her eclogues with spirit and the sharp biting tone appropriate to satire.
The eclogue features Flavia, who takes her position as the Saturday entry among five others also marked as days in the week to organize the group as a series. Flavia's complaint focuses on her loss of beauty, her lamentation echoing Montagu's own. As her heroine, had, Montagu had experienced the ravages of smallpox, suffering from a disfigured face. The value of beauty remains Montagu's target, as fashionable society believed that a lovely physical appearance made a woman a valued commodity. While money could purchase a husband, beauty allowed a woman greater choice and might ensure a greater degree of dedication of her mate. Montagu reinforces the idea that despite the ephemeral nature of beauty, as the critic Ann Messenger explains, it translates into power and perhaps wealth, and that fact remains evidence of a corrupt world. While it may prove aesthetically valuable, in a moral sense beauty lacks worth.
Montagu's genuine belief in that fact remains a crucial aspect of her poem.
"Satturday" consists almost completely of Flavia's dialogue lament. As Alexander Pope, another of Montagu's contemporaries, did in his "The Rape of the Lock," Montague adopts a mock-heroic tone to tell her tale. Flavia remains distressed, noting in line 5 her great change since the beauty of her youth. With the loss of her fine appearance, she has also lost "The promis'd Happyness for Years to come." She had spent much time in front of the mirror, as had Pope's heroine Belinda, and had reaped various treasures from her period of social success, including opera tickets and china. The most difficult loss was that of the attention of men, who were known to leave activities such as debates just to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Flavia. She reminisces,
For me, the Soldier has soft verses writ, For me, the Beau has aim'd to be a Wit, For me, the Wit to Nonsense was betraid, The Gamester has for me his Dun delaid. (28-33)
Flavia obviously took pride in her ability to provide a distraction and control the actions of others, particularly males. As Flavia assesses the possessions in her room, she notes with longing the presence of her portrait at her prime, as well as her now-little-used toilette. The main reason "Meaner beauties," as she labels other women in line 55, attract attention is lack of competition from Flavia. Her condition will force her to retire to hide her face "in shades," as Montagu establishes the pastoral, or innocent rural life, as mere escape from the more attractive city life. Flavia dreams of hiding where "Gentle streams will weep" over her sadness.
While Montagu emphasizes the vacuity of Flavia's former life, suggesting that beauty occupies her society to the extreme, her obvious longing for what she feels to be a real loss remains poignant. Perhaps most sad, as Messenger notes, is the fact that while Flavia may hide in nature, the pastoral remains merely a poetic concept. Montagu could find no such refuge in her real world.
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