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Verse-Seasons 'N Picks 'LAETITIA PILKINGTON'

Laetitia Pilkington, Engraver: Richard Purcell, National Gallery images

Laetitia Pilkington was no ordinary woman. Pilkington's extraordinariness was rather conspicuous, especially in the Libertine age or rather even in the Libertine age.

Plainly approached, Libertines could easily be perceived as open minded, tolerant, impartial and such, however, that is further from the truth. Libertines, turns out, were hypocritical when principles of libertinism extended to women. The sexual pleasures devoid of moral principles were only applicable to men, and pitiably the Libertines were insolent towards women, on such matters. For Pilkington to be amid Libertines was rather challenging and testing, by her own admission. Yet she ruled the Libertine circles, even after her infamous divorce from Matthew Pilkington, who caught her in their marital bedroom with Robert Adair, a surgeon.

Pilkington's very telling Memoirs covers this incident and more. She eventually came to be known for her Memoirs, which were published in three parts, the first two in 1748 and an unfinished third volume in 1754, by her son, after her death in 1750 aged 41. Her Memoirs are a source of information about the lives of many famous men and women of the period, of which writer Jonathan Swift's is one.

Swift even alluded to her as “the most profligate whore in either kingdom.” Despite such remarks and mentions by him and others, Pilkington carried on living independently and publicly, while not having the protection of a man, which at the time was considered extremely rare and brave as well as contemptuous and scandalous.

Pilkington's poem The Wish, by a Young Lady is a testimony of her wit, her literary prowess and her deep understanding of the state of affairs of women in society. While this note about her is only scratching the surface, there are many more striking accounts and instances surrounding her life, and her Memoirs would be a good start — straight from the horses's mouth.


You can listen to Laetitia Pilkington's The Wish, by a Young Lady on O's podcast


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