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Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington - Introduction

Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington


The Memoirs of Lætitia Pilkington give a wonderful glimpse into several worlds of the 18th Century – respectable Dublin, into which she was born the daughter of an eminent doctor; Dr. Swift and his circle, in which she moved until the failure of her marriage; Grub Street and the demimonde of London where she was afterwards forced to scrape a living. She was friend and confidante of Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, and Colley Cibber. Sometime she hob-nobbed with Dukes, sometimes she was in a debtor's prison. Throughout it all she kept her courage, her wit, and her remarkable memory for the telling anecdote, which she drew on for her memoirs. Though they were written principally to make money, both through sales and through blackmail, she hoped

That I, like the classics, shall be read
When time, and all the world are dead.

They have long been drawn on by biographers of Dr. Swift, but fell into neglect during the Victorian era, which no doubt found her altogether unsuitable for respectable readers. There have been a few to admire her, though: Virginia Woolf began her appreciation

Can you imagine a very extraordinary cross between Moll Flanders and Lady Ritchie, between a rolling and rollicking woman of the town and a lady of breeding and refinement? Lætitia Pilkington (1712-1759) was something of the sort, shady, shifty, adventurous, and yet, like Thackeray's daughter, like Miss Mitford, like Madame de Sévigné and Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth, so imbued with the old traditions of her sex that she wrote, as ladies talk, to give pleasure. Throughout her Memoirs, we can never forget that it is her wish to entertain, her unhappy fate to sob.

More recently, interest has been re-awakened by a (very expensive, and now out of print) edition in 1997, and Norma Clarke's recent biography Queen of the Wits. Here she is in her own words; and if it is not all literally true, then it certainly should be.

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Volume 1

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Volume 2

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Volume 3

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