Mary Leapor

Mary Leapor was born in Northamptonshire in 1722 and is noted for being one of the most acclaimed poets of the time who actually came from a working class background. Her achievement, particularly the publication of her most well-known work Poems Upon Several Occasions, is all the more remarkable in that she died at the age of just 24. Leapor was the daughter of a humble...

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Mary Leapor Bio

Mary LeoporMary Leapor was born in Northamptonshire in 1722 and is noted for being one of the most acclaimed poets of the time who actually came from a working class background. Her achievement, particularly the publication of her most well-known work Poems Upon Several Occasions, is all the more remarkable in that she died at the age of just 24.

Leapor was the daughter of a humble gardener and, though she may have received a basic schooling, she largely undertook her own education, teaching herself to write and beginning to produce verses by the age of 10 years old. Her writing was further encouraged when she began work as a chamber maid to Susanna Jenna who not only provided encouragement but also allowed Leapor to have access to a library.

It wasn’t all good news for the burgeoning poet. When she finished work for Jenna, Leapor began a post with another household where she was dismissed for spending too much of her time writing. When her mother died in 1741, Leopor returned to Northamptonshire to care for her father who was also ailing and here she continued to write poetry, circulating her works around town.

This inability to stop writing, led Leopor to meet with rector’s daughter Bridget Freemantle and the two formed a strong bond. With a mentor for her writing, she began to enter a more prolific period and wrote most of her well-known works during this short time. Freemantle encouraged Leopor to publish her work which she did under the pen name of Mira.

She had been influenced over her youth by the works of Alexander Pope and her poetry from this period shows traces of his style and subject matter. She also explored other issues such as the role of women in society which was unusual for the time particularly for someone from such a humble background. She believed greatly in the education of women and An Essay on Women is considered a highly feminist work for the period.

Leopor would not live to see any success for her writing. That first foray into publishing was not terribly successful and shortly after she contracted measles and died at the age of just 24 in 1746.

Freemantle did not let her friend’s talent go to waste though and published a posthumous collection under the title Poems Upon Several Occasions, two years after Leopor’s death. In her poems she also explored the role of women including in Dorinda at her Glass the story of a woman who has to contend with her own fading beauty.

The mantle for her work was taken up a few years later when writer and printer Samuel Richardson published a second collection of poetry which secured her literary reputation amongst the critics and writers of the time.

For one so young, Leopor had written a large amount of work before her untimely death including 17 volumes of poetry and a good few dramatic plays. Though her poems often contain grammatical errors because of her lack of formal education they also provide a unique perspective of the thoughts and aspirations of women in the 18th century.