Despite her claims to truth and plainness, however, Montagu’s
autobiographical account is embellished, feigned and fragmented.
She rewrites herself as a precocious fourteen-year-old as opposed to
nineteen, and the related events and emotions do not always
correspond with those outlined in her letters. In failing to write in so
‘plain a manner’, Montagu gestures at the inevitable fabrication
involved in writing the self and in writing history. In particular, she
exposes the difficulty of portraying a protagonist who ‘had a way of
thinking very different from that of other Girls’ (79), of inscribing a
person who defies the fixed, gendered categories of ‘plain English’.
The problematics of depicting history and conforming to that
powerful dictator, ‘reputation’, are further evident in Montagu’s
‘History of her Own Times’which she reportedly destroyed ‘as fast as
she finished it, in a sustained, heroic act of self-censorship’.2 Indeed,
the contradictory impulse to write the life of Montagu and to write it
according to the policing gaze of ‘Chastity, Modesty and Purity’
plagues Montagu’s self-representations, as well as those of the critics
who attempt to write and edit her life for future readers.