Friday, June 12, 2009
Tart of the Week: Laetitia Pilkington
The witty Laetitia van Lewen was born in 1709 in Ireland to a well-standing family. At the ripe age of sixteen Laetitia met a priest for the Anglican, Church of Ireland and the two were married. His name was Matthew Pilkington. Almost as soon as Laetitia was married, she and her new husband became acquainted with Jonathon Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels.
Swift, already a noted talent, was taken with the young couple and they spent many a night together discussing this and that. He notice Laetitia's knack for poetry and encouraged the skill. He, himself was inspired by the couple. He fondly dubbed Laetitia "her Serene Highness of Lilliput." So fond was Mr. Swift of the Pilkingtons that he was able to get Matthew a good job in London. Laetitia stayed in Ireland with Mr. Swift humming and hawing over her grammar and refining her poetic speech.
When Laetitia visited her husband in London a couple years later, she was disgusted to find that he had fallen in love with a Drury Lane actress and had involved himself in shady political schemes. Laetitia made the best of her new situation in London and networked with both those of the fashionable set and writers. After putting up with her husband's affair, Laetitia embarked on her own amorous adventure, with William Adair. Matthew came home early one night to discover the two alone in her bedroom. Uh-oh! He promptly filed for divorce.
Not only did the pricey and time-consuming divorce separate the married couple but it also estranged them from Jonathon Swift. The stuffy author did not want to be associated with a separated couple. He now dubbed Laetitia the "profligate whore." Harsh.
After the divorce, Laetitia, now with little money, dove into her work. She wrote and published poems, feminist prologues, and operas. Her writings helped her survive, although she did land in debtor's prison at one point. Her talent also introduced her to other great minds of the time. She famously became friends with Colley Cibber and put her wit on display in her book, Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, Comedian. Her most popular work, which was to make her famous was her Memoirs. She was never to see her work completed. Laetitia died from a bleeding ulcer in 1750 while writing the third volume of her Memoirs. Her son would later complete the volumes by having the last, and unfinished volume published four years after his mother's death.