"Wedlock is a padlock/When you're married to a no-good man," sang R&B chanteuse Laura Lee in 1972. That lyric would make an ideal epigram for this biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, a bright and flirtatious aristocrat whose married life should have encompassed galas, theatrical outings, and pursuit of the botanical studies she adored. Instead, Mary inadvertently became a figurehead for women's rights in late 18th-century England when she successfully obtained a divorce from her tyrannical husband: no easy feat in an era that condoned beating wives to keep them in line and denied them all material possessions.
Although the first Gothic novels didn't appear until the dawn of the 19th century, Mary's adventures, roughly spanning the 1760s-1780s, could easily pass for the sort of darkly tantalizing fiction that readers sought in Frankenstein and The Monk. Having already endured one ...
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