Monday, 26 January 2009

Staggering Posterity

I was totally fascinated by Lydia Syson's review in Saturday's Guardian about Wendy Moore's new book Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. It tells of Bowes' abusive marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney: an extraordinarily calculating and brutal man who, in 1777, tricked her into marriage after apparently fighting a duel to defend her honour. Years of abuse followed, but she finally escaped Bowes with the help of one of her own female servants. As Syson says:
Riches, beauty, wit, and an excellent education bought Mary Eleanor Bowes anything but liberty. As Moore shows, nothing could save her from the fate of legal nonentity that she shared with every other married woman of her time. Neither could anything spare her the merciless scrutiny of a celebrity-obsessed press that flourished on scandal, and judged the countess author of her own woes. Years later Mary wrote a prototype misery memoir, recalling the tortures she endured, including a horrific abduction. It was a counterpoint to the Confessions her husband had bullied out of her and then published. She rightly imagined her cathartic Narrative would "stagger the belief of Posterity".
The book isn't released until March in the US, but it's worth looking out for.

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Vic said...

Fascinating. I have been delving into women's rights of that era and, appallingly, there were none. This story exemplifies the limited choices wives had. They had no place to turn if there was no sympathetic friend or family member to help them.

Mrs Woffington said...

Thanks for your comment Vic - I'm also very interested in that area; if you ever get the chance to read Mary Nash's book on Susannah Cibber, The Provked Wife, which I mentioned here
I can't recommend it enough. I may get hold of Wedlock once it's out in paperback so will no doubt post more then...