Lady Mary Chudleigh Biography
Lady Mary Chudleigh (1656-1710) was born in Devon, England. Poet. Considered one of the most relevant female figures of her time. Chudleigh promoted through her poetry gender equality, reneged on traditional gender roles and sought that the female figure should be respected. She is seen as a feminist poet. Her most prominent poem is To the Ladies, written in which she delved into the life of the married woman, criticizing the power of the man and how his will was more important than the voice of the woman. In it, she mentions: fearing her husband as to a deity. She must obey him, she must serve, without ever acting, without ever saying. Her writings added to the criticism against female repression, by authors like Mary Ann Radcliffe.
Born into a wealthy family, her mother was Mary Sydenham, a member of a prominent local family. Her uncle Thomas Sydenham, was a renowned London doctor, a friend of John Locke. Chudleigh was interested in writing from an early age, an area in which she excelled by exposing her writings to her close friends and family. During those years Mary, she educated herself in a self-taught way and embraced the faith of the family, becoming an Anglican devotee. Thanks to the prestige and money of the family, she could afford to cultivate her love for poetry and literature, later joining literary circles in which she became friends with famous writers of the time, such as Mary Astell and Elizabeth Thomas.
Lady Mary Chudleigh’s work
After training, she began to write and present her poems to her friends in small meetings, a common practice at the time. At the beginning of the 18th century, she published her first book, The Ladies Defense (1701), a long poem written in response to the sermon The Bride-Woman’s Counselor, given by John Sprint, in which the cleric mentions that the woman’s duty is to love, obeying and honoring her husband. As poet and intellectual Chudleigh, opposed the approach of the cleric in her poem, in which she asked for greater opportunities for women, in the educational field, also highlights how oppressive marriage was for woman, who had to fulfill her husband’s wishes, which is why most married women lived under a lot of pressure without expressing their opinions.
After being published the paper was severely criticized for the ideas it promoted, becoming censored. Two years later, she published Poems on Several Occasions (1703), a series of poems in which the author spoke about the friendship between women and the joy it offers when intellectual interests are shared between them. This also addresses other topics such as happiness and love; also, in this work she included a short poem for the queen.
This poem included her most prominent and well-known poem, To The Ladies, in which Chudleigh talks about marriage, highlighting how oppressive it was for women, who after getting married became the husband’s servants, who no longer so amble as it was before his proposal. He becomes a tyrant, slowly breaking the spirit of the woman. In this, the author calls women out to avoid marriage, in her words: Avoid, sweet maidens, that undesirable state, and all that adoration that suppurates hatred. Value yourself, and despise the gallants.
Chudleigh’s last book was Essays upon Several Subjects (1710), a book dedicated to Princess Sophia. This included 17 poems in which the writer deals with themes such as self-esteem, friendship, pride, love, greed, fear, death, life, and anger, among others. At this time the writer was married and had six children, of whom four died. About this aspect of her life, little is known, although it is believed that based on what was written by the author, the marriage was not happy, however, these are only speculations. It should be noted that despite being married, she continued writing and publishing, and her husband also allowed the reprint of her work after her death.
In the last years of her life the writer faced difficult moments because the death of her mother and two of her siblings seriously affected her, this situation deteriorated the health of the writer, who was admitted to her room due to her poor health, sometime later she passed away.
The work of the British poet has been considered a feminist for her defense of rights and gender equality. However, several scholars point out that although she delved into certain aspects and promoted the change in the way women looked, his work cannot only be understood in that way, given that it is complex, versatile and deepens on various topics, it is also written in a certain context and reflects the atmosphere of a different era. Her poems were included in various anthologies published between the 18th and 19th centuries, making her one of the most recognized poets of her time.