Historic Book Person of the Week #11: Theodora de Verdion

Chevalier John Theodora de Verdion: Walking Bookseller, Teacher of Languages, Woman

For a short, fascinating, troubling, near-contemporary account of Verdion’s life, the delightful Portraits of Curious Characters in London &c. &c is available online. The concluding poem alone is enough to indicate the conflicting and complicated gender attitudes of the time.

And the account of the medical analysis she received (breast cancer caused by a fall down the stairs… or, dropsy) is another example of the welcome advances of modern medicine:

The disorder of a cancer in her breast, occasioned by falling down stairs, she was, after much affliction, at length compelled to make known to a German physician, who prescribed for her; when the disorder turned to a dropsy, defied all cure, and finished the career of so remarkable a lady.

A remarkable lady indeed, who endured the jests of other booksellers as she attended auctions and bought heavily, often leaving with a “coach load” of books.

Her physical appearance is described here and elsewhere as “grotesque”:

…wearing a bag wig, a large cocked hat, three or four folio books under one arm, and an umbrella under the other, her pockets completely filled with small volumes

Pockets full of books don’t sound particularly grotesque to me.

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