Early Feminism

Laetitia

Laetitia Pilkington  was a Dublin poet of the early 18th century, a contemporary of Dean Swift and a very early feminist.  Daughter of a respected obstetrician, clever and self-educated.   She abhorred the notion that women should suppress their God given intelligence in case they upstaged their husbands’ wit, or lack of same.

She was well known and well regarded in Dublin literary circles and became shockingly famous on a fateful night when she was caught, in October 1737, in her bedroom with a well known rake “reading a book”.  Her husband arrived at the door with a dozen men, the worse for drink.  They proceed to break down the open door and roughly handled both Laetitia and her male friend.  She was beaten over the head and had fingers broken while her man friend was held down and throttled by the husband.

The incident signaled the end of her marriage and any connection with Swift, who wrote that she was a “profligate whore”.  She moved to London and lived in considerable poverty until she published her memoirs, serving time in a debtors prison.  She became a celebrated author and wit, and all the rage in social circles.  She highlighted the unfairness of a world where a husband was blameless for keeping his own affairs, but could treat his wife as a chattel, his property, and physically abuse her at will.

Despite her social disadvantages she fought back against her accusers with her razor sharp mind and her incisive pen.  Her poetry is funny, at times lewd, savagely cutting and highly entertaining.  She is a great example of the concept of #tainment.  It is not the best reasoned argument or the most morally compelling one that wins.  If you want to win give us an argument that grabs our attention, or shocks us out of our complacency or makes us laugh.

The Wish, By a Young Lady; by Laetitia Pilkington

I ask not wit, nor beauty do I crave,
Nor wealth, nor pompous titles wish to have;
But since, ’tis doomed through all degrees of life,
Whether a daughter, sister, or a wife;
That females should the stronger males obey,
And yield implicit to their lordly sway;
Since this, I say, is ev’ry woman’s fate,
Give me a mind to suit my slavish state.

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