Nowadays no one is surprised when women become presidents or prefer to earn money, while their husbands stay at home with children. Nevertheless, women in England in the 18th century could not even dream of proper education, not to mention such liberties. Though, of course, some of them were indignant at such unfairness and wanted changes.
Mary Leapor was born in a working-class family and during her short life – she died at 24 – got a feel for social injustice since women of all social classes were believed to be “too soft for Business and too weak for Pow’r”. In spite of all difficulties, she learnt to read by 10 and while working as a kitchen maid got access to a library with classical works, which influenced her subsequent verses.
Her An essay on woman, in which a feminine creature, half skeleton and half flesh, represents women as a whole, is regarded as one of early examples of feminist poetry. Some critics consider it to be a response to Alexander Pope’s Of the Characters of Women: An Epistle to a Lady, where he described women as unserious and helpless human beings. In reply Mary Leapor sharply emphasizes the social conditions and views, which lead to the general unhappiness and frustration of women regardless of their social class, though as a member of a working-class she sympathizes the poor more. Poetess was perturbed that women were judged by their beauty and were “despised if ugly”, though in her work she claims that even external beauty and smartness do not ensure female happiness. Moreover, while getting older, women understand the loss of their beauty, which cannot be hidden with the help of clothes, and so to speak ‘power on men’ and fall into depression.
Between the lines we can read Mary’s quite far-reaching views on women’s future, which will guarantee appropriate education and wider choices for them. She wants people to understand that ageing is insuperable and we should pay much more attention to the inner world.