Mary Astell

1666 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) – 1731 (Chelsea)

Astell was a significant feminist avant la lettre, whose writings arguing for equality via education were widely noted, including by Defoe, Steele (mockingly) and Samuel Richardson. She studied astronomy with Flamsteed in Greenwich, and tried to persuade her close friend Montagu to publish her ‘Turkish Letters’, writing a preface to them. Astell didn’t engage in London literary society, but associated with a group of independently-minded, mostly aristocratic women, including Montagu and Elstob. It is unknown whether or not Richardson knew her (they certainly had a friend in common) – his heroine Clarissa bore striking resemblances to the real Astell.

Mary Astell knew…