Manley, Mary de la Rivière (1663–1724)

views updated

Manley, Mary de la Rivière (1663–1724)

English author and playwright . Name variations: Delarivier Manley; Mary de la Riviere Manley; Dela Manley; Mrs. Manley Delarivière. Born in 1663 in England; died in 1724 in England; daughter of Sir Roger Manley (a high-ranking British officer and writer); married cousin John Manley (dissolved because he was already married); lived with Barbara Villiers , duchess of Cleveland (c. 1641–1709).

Selected writings:

Letters (1696); Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes From the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediterranean (1709); Memoirs of Europe … Written by Eginardus (1710); Court Intrigues (1711); The History of Rivella (also called The Adventures of Rivella, 1714); The Power of Love (1720).

Mary de la Rivière Manley was born in 1663, the daughter of Sir Roger Manley, a high-ranking officer in the British military and writer. According to a semi-autobiographical account of her life, she was drawn into an illegal marriage with her cousin, John Manley, who at the time of the ceremony was still married to another woman. He soon added insult to injury by taking control of her inheritance and deserting her. In another account, Manley identified herself as "a ruined woman" in the wake of her disastrous marriage to her cousin; she does indeed seem to have had a scandalous reputation among her contemporaries. She later wrote with considerable compassion about other such "ruined women," a group with which she clearly identified.

After John Manley left her, Mary Manley began to pursue her writing career in earnest, turning out plays, satiric prose, short stories, letters, and political articles (she was sympathetic to the Tory cause). She broke new ground in a number of literary areas, and is said to have been the first Englishwoman to work as a political journalist, the first to author a bestseller, and the first to be arrested because of something she had written. Her most famous work, Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes From the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediterranean, published in 1709, was a satiric diatribe against the opposition Whig Party and other persons of importance, intended to expose personal scandals. Although the characters bore fictitious names, Manley helpfully appended a key to their real identities. Both she and her publishers were briefly arrested in the uproar over Secret Memoirs.

A collection of individual stories, Secret Memoirs is linked together by the framework of a tale of a goddess named Astrea, who returns to earth and visits an island in the Mediterranean called Atalantis. While on Atalantis, Astrea encounters Virtue and her mother, Intelligence, and the three share stories of what they have seen on their travels. Although the element of scandal (or slander) has faded, the stories retain a certain interest for modern-day readers for their revealing accounts of women's lives at the time. "Corinna" tells of a young woman who adamantly refuses to wed, and how circumstances conspire to punish her, while "The Cabal" offers a somewhat peculiar description of a circle of lesbians.

Encouraged by the success of her contemporary, the great playwright Aphra Behn , Manley wrote several plays, including The Lost Lover, unsuccessfully staged in 1696, The Royal Mischief, also written in 1696, and Lucius, presented in Drury Lane in 1717. In 1710, she published Memoirs of Europe … Written by Eginardus, followed in 1711 by Court Intrigues. Although she had been attacked by Jonathan Swift in an issue of the Tatler, she later succeeded him as the editor of the Examiner, a popular Tory publication, and he assisted her on the job. In an entry in his Journal to Stella, Swift commented that "she has very generous principles, for one of her sort." Her memoir-novel The History of Rivella, thought by many to be largely autobiographical, opens with this description of the title character: "There are so many things Praise- and yet Blame-worthy in Rivella's Conduct, that as her Friend I know not how with a good Grace, to repeat."

Mary de la Rivière Manley lived for a time with Barbara Villiers, duchess of Cleveland, and was said to have been the mistress of several men, including Alderman Barber. She died in 1724. A facsimile edition of her novels was published in 1971.


Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th ed. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Goreau, Angeline. The Whole Duty of a Woman: Female Writers in Seventeenth Century England. NY: Dial, 1985.

Goulianos, Joan, ed. by a Woman writt: Literature from Six Centuries by and about Women. Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1974.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

About this article

Manley, Mary de la Rivière (1663–1724)

Updated About content Print Article