Ever just written a poem out of revenge? Lady Mary Wortley Montagu sure has.
That’s the face of a woman who isn’t having any of men’s shit. The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to write a Poem called The Lady’s Dressing Room was written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1734, during the Restoration Period. Lady Montagu was a feminist aristocrat whose majority of works were written to challenge the views and attitudes directed toward women. This poem was written as a response to Dr. Jonathon Swift’s poem, The Lady’s Dressing Room, supposedly as a backstory for why he wrote his poem. Dr. Swift’s poem is about a man walking into a lady’s dressing room and shattering the male constructed image of women as ethereal beings, declaring them disgusting. Rather than simply satirical, Lady Montagu felt that Dr. Swift’s poem was misogynistic and shed women in a bad light. Which is how she came to write The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to write a Poem called “The Lady’s Dressing Room”.
This poem is about Dr. Swift and his experience of meeting with a prostitute and paying for her services for him to ultimately be unable to “perform”. After blaming her for his lack of erection, he demands his money back but she refuses to return the money, in turn blaming his old age instead. He declared getting vengeance for this but the prostitute had the last say, with Lady Montagu referring to his slanderous poem.
What was meant to be a satirical take on men’s expectations of women turned into a literary war between two writers. Rather than focus on the topic of hygiene of women, Lady Montagu attacks Dr. Swift’s capabilities in sex resulting in why he must have written the poem.
This poem has great examples of sexism because of how Dr. Swift addresses the prostitute, Betty. The main theme that Lady Montagu intends to address throughout this poem is the misogyny from men and the rise of feminism.
Lady Montagu describes Dr. Swift’s arrival and encounter with Betty as a man with high expectations. She begins his journey to Betty with words and phrases of confidence and allure to describe Dr. Swift. At his arrival she wrote, “The destined offering now he brought,/And in a paradise of thought,/With a low bow approached the dame,/Who smiling heard him preach his flame.” (lines 21-24). With the words “paradise of thought”, Dr. Swift is imagining their approaching “union”. The use of velvety words such as “destined”, “paradise”, “dame”, “smiling”, and “flame” allow for him to be looking at the situation with the male constructed view of women. Similarly, in a quote right after, “And then, returend with blushing grace,/Expects the doctor’s warm embrace.” (lines 29-30), soft and velvety phrases like “blushing grace” and “warm embrace” portrays a graceful woman who can have no faults. The clear dichotomy is that men are driven and confident while women are passive and sexual beings.
After a long digression talking about the authority of different standings, making an allusion to the ranks between men and women, Lady Montagu continues with the tale.
Dr. Swift is ready to do the deed with Betty, except he realizes that he can’t get it up, if you catch my drift. This is really emphasized in the lines, “The reverend lover with surprise/Peeps in her bubbies, and her eyes,/And kisses both, and tries—and tries.” (lines 63-65). The use of punctuation and repetition surrounding the word “tries” brings that idea forward. He then blames this lack of pleasure on the prostitute, “He swore, “The fault is not in me./Your damned close stool so near my nose,/Your dirty smock, and stinking toes/Would make a Hercules as tame/As any beau that you can name.”” (lines 69-73). This is where Lady Montagu brings the center of his poem to light in her poem. He blames her lack of private femininity, or publicly displaying her “damned close stool”, “dirty smock”, and “stinking toes”, for his incapability of getting it up. Her argument is that Dr. Swift’s shortcomings stem from his sexual frustrations. With Dr. Swift’s character using Hercules as a comparison, he shows arrogance as he is giving him that high value of a God. The lines basically state that her disgusting habits would make even a God tame, just as another other man. Even though he isn’t calling himself a God or even putting himself on a similar level as God, his usage sounds like “God would be disgusted and as am I” which indirectly puts Dr. Swift with some superiority. This coincides with the idea of men having dominance over women.
The first line of the next stanza, “The nymph grown furious roared” (73), is interesting because the literal translation of the word “nymph” is “a beautiful, young woman”. But immediately after she uses the words “furious” and “roared” which aren’t very nymph-like. At least, roaring isn’t. Just as Dr. Swift’s expectation of women being beautiful 24/7 vs the true reality of women behind the scenes, the quality of the term “nymph” (simply being beautiful) is contrasted with the quality of the phrase “furious roared” (showing real emotions and reactions).
Lady Montagu continues the poem with, “By God/The blame lies all in sixty odd,”/And scornful pointing to the door/Cried, “Fumbler, see my face no more.”/”With all my heart I’ll go away,/But nothing done, I’ll nothing pay./Give back the money.” “How,” cried she,/”Would you palm such a cheat on me!/For poor four pound to roar and bellow–/Why sure you want some new Prunella?”/”I’ll be revenged, you saucy quean”/(Replies the disappointed Dean)/”I’ll so describe your dressing room/The very Irish shall not come.”/She answered short, “I’m glad you’ll write./You’ll furnish paper when I shite.”” (lines 73-89). The prostitute blames Dr. Swift for his lack of pleasure, saying that it’s no wonder as he’s sixty years old. She is adamant that she shouldn’t have to return the money. As punishment for refusing to return the money, the Dr. Swift character threatens to announce the disastrous state of her dressing room, tying it back to his actual poem, The Lady’s Dressing Room, addressing her filthy and unhygienic dressing room. She comes back with a great response, saying she’ll wipe her shit with whatever he writes. This is an especially great comeback due to his written disbelief that women are nasty enough to poop. So not only did she insult his writing and give him no satisfaction in revealing her filthy habits (that are only natural) to the world, but she addressed his original poem that spoke about all the nasty habits he doesn’t believe women actually have. But I digress.
Lady Montagu’s response to The Lady’s Dressing Room is superior than the original pem by Dr. Swift. His poem is misogynistic because it discusses the seemingly disturbing things that women do to get ready. He observes it to be disgusting and basically gives the idea that women should be elegant and polished 24/7 which is absolutely ridiculous. Lady Montagu’s response to the poem in The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to write a Poem called The Lady’s Dressing Room was a feminist response. Rather than only addressing the hygiene issue that Dr. Swift brought up, Lady Montagu shed light on his sexual inadequacy being the reason he is so critical and pessimistic. But she also turned it around to tie in the woman hygiene issue.
Lady Montagu used her writing to direct a movement of realizing women’s true values by writing the satire The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to write a Poem called The Lady’s Dressing Room.
Spencer Beck. “THE MISOGYNY OF JONATHAN SWIFT & THE FEMINIST RESPONSE OF LADY MARY MONTAGU”. WordPress.com. 25 Feb, 2014. britlitsurvey2.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/the-misogyny-of-jonathan-swift-the-feminist-response-of-lady-mary-montagu/