because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mary Ann Talbot

Mary Anne Talbot's mother died giving birth to her in 1778. Fortunately, despite the fact that her father was undeclared, there was a bit of money following Talbot around from guardian to guardian and boarding school to boarding school for some time. It could certainly have been much worse.

At fourteen, however, Talbot was smuggled onto a ship by the ship's captain to serve, we must assume, as his mistress. She was listed as a footboy under the name "John Taylor," and so began Talbot's adventures in men's clothing.

After the captain was killed in battle in the Napoleonic wars, Talbot was wounded while serving as a drummer, but managed to keep her identity a secret. So, when she discovered that her inheritance had been squandered by the man who was supposedly looking out for her interests, Talbot decided to just keep up her ruse.

Going from ship to ship, Talbot served as a cabin boy and a powder monkey (keeping shooters supplied with gun powder during battles) until she was captured by the French and held in a dungeon for eighteen months. Having nearly lost her leg her last time out at sea forced Talbot to give up life on the ocean, after which she puttered around from one menial job to another and spent a time in debtor's prison.

When she died at the age of thirty, Talbot was acting as a houseservant for a publisher who promptly celebrated her death by publishing The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot. Sometimes in-your-face women boldly make unexpected choices or belligerently demand to do only what they want to do and, sometimes, they just play the hand they're dealt. Two hundred years later, we can't always know which it was.

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