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Hays, Mary (1760–1843)

English novelist and feminist. Name variations: (pseudonym) Eusebia. Born in Southwark, London, England, in 1760; died in London, England, in 1843; never married; no children.


Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793); Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796); An Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798); The Victim of Prejudice (1799); Female Biography (six volumes, 1803); The Brothers; or Consequences (1815); Family Annals; or The Sisters (1817).

Feminist writer Mary Hays was a member of what was referred to at the time as a Dissenting family. Growing up with her widowed mother and two sisters, she attended lectures at the Dissenting Academy in Hackney and, in 1792, gained some notoriety with her defense of public worship entitled Cursory Remarks. Published under the pseudonym Eusebia, it was in answer to an attack on Gilbert Wakefield, one of the teachers at the Academy. The work brought her to the attention of some of the eminent radicals of the day, including Mary Wollstonecraft , who became her friend and mentor. (Hays helped nurse Wollstonecraft through her final illness and, after Wollstonecraft's death, wrote several moving tributes to her.) Wollstonecraft exercised influenced over Hays' subsequent writings, particularly her Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793), in which Hays argues against tyranny in religion and marriage. The later Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798), published anonymously and advocating greater freedom for women, was also attributed to Hays.

Hays' novels were also feminist in nature. In the first, Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), the independent heroine, against the advice of a confidant, declares her passion for her beloved and offers to live with him without benefit of clergy, a plot twist that brought Hays some unexpected notoriety. An illegitimate orphan is the heroine of her second novel, The Victim of Prejudice (1799), in which Hays decries sexual inequality. She was also the author of Female Biography (1803), a six-volume work on historically significant women, and two collections of what might be called morality tales, The Brothers; or Consequences (1815), and Family Annals; or The Sisters (1817).

Mary Hays never married; an early love affair was discouraged by her mother and father. She settled in London in 1824 and died there at that age of 83.

Hays, Mary (1760–1843)

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