Critical Study of the Writings of Mary Hays, With an Edition of her Unpublished Letters to William Godwin.
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Do not be a martyr to philosophy, which you will be, if you do not take more exercise, be a little more foolish, and look at the world with all its awkward things, its clumsy, lumpish forms, its fools, its cockscombs, and its scoundrels with more endurance. This study makes no pretensions to provide ftill biographical coverage of Hays's life (1759-1843) or a comprehensive, critical exploration of the total range of her works. A thesis produced in 1971 purports 'to provide a definitive study of her literary achievements [...] and to place the complete corpus of Hays' extant works (ten in all) in the perspective of the literature of her time [...]2 and I am indebted to this exhaustive study of the author and her background. 3 However, as the preface to her thesis declares, Gina Luria had deliberately excluded consideration of the correspondence between Hays and William Godwin, then recently purchased by the Pforzheimer Library, New York, as she had intended future publication of it.4 Subsequently, the project was abandoned. I have made extensive use of this correspondence to explore Hays's novels and to challenge much of the adverse criticism surrounding her writing, which I believe is based on misreadings of the texts themselves as well as on a willingness to emphasise the notoriety surrounding the authoress as a female and then as a female Jacobin. Rather, I am focusing on the aspects of Hays's life which enabled her to articulate her concerns through a series of social and intellectual 'voices' which she systematically experimented with, but ultimately rejected. It seems likely that Hays felt a need to affix a label on herself whether it were Dissenter, Wolistonecraftian, Helvetian or Godwinian, and this need suggests that she was searching for an identity in a shifting and perplexing political and philosophical climate. The adoption of an identifiable 'position' might have suggested to her security and control. Most importantly, I am concentrating on the means she adopted in order to justify her apparent 'failure' to live up to the ideals of William Godwin.
AuthorsBrooks, Marilyn L
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