Mary Hays (1759–1843): An Enlightened Quest
Mary Hays was the most purposefully intellectual woman within the tiny community of English Jacobins in the 1790s. Her experiences reveal much about the aspirations, opportunities and difficulties of women intellectuals in this period. Like her intimate friend Mary Wollstonecraft, she bootstrapped her way into masculine preserves of knowledge. Unlike Wollstonecraft, she possessed neither physical nor social grace, nor the self-confidence born of such qualities.2 Like Anna Barbauld, Hays probed the connections between religious, domestic, and political life. Unlike Barbauld, she had neither familial nor academic structures to advance her education or to provide collaborators and critical readers.3 She was encouraged by some of her contemporaries and repudiated by others, and she often undermined her own authority by retreating from the controversies she provoked.
KeywordsHunt Kelly Defend Century Editor Heroine
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