An Extraordinary Destiny: Mary Hays, Dissenting Feminist

Fitzpatrick and Thomas
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Enlightenment and Dissent, 2008, 24 (NA), pp. 82 - 93
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Since the late eighteenth century Mary Hays has occupied an unfortunate critical space, akin perhaps to the place she must have felt she occupied for sometime in her life, awkwardly positioned between the rational philosopher William Godwin and the `romantic feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Known principally for the scandalous `novel Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), Hays was grouped by contemporaries along with those women named in Richard Polwheles rabidly anti-feminist poem `The Unsexd Females (1798) as `a Wollstonecraftian. When critical attention turned to Hays in the mid-twentieth century, she was first categorized as a `disciple of Godwin, one of a number of women who formed `a sort of philosophic seraglio around him.1 This slightly scandalous assignment echoed Polwhele and implied that Hays primary interest in Godwin was erotic. Early biographers of Godwin such as Ford K Brown reported that Hays proposed marriage to Godwin `in 1795 or early 17962 - an unsubstantiated claim implying that Hays was in love with William Frend and William Godwin simultaneously
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