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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Mary Hays

b. 1759 or 1760, London; d. 1843, London

Mary Hays had a successful career as a novelist, biographer, and essayist. Her earlier works tended to be didactic and political, such as the story “Hermit: An Oriental Tale” (1786), which warned against excessive passion in love relationships, and the collection Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793), treating a wide variety of subjects including romance, manners, and friendship. Her most popular novel, Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), based on her affair with the mathematician William Frend, challenged conventional views of marriage and love. She denounced the subjection of women in the Appeal to the Men of Great Britain on Behalf of Women (1798), and decried Victorian constructions of the “fallen woman” in The Victim of Prejudice (1899). Two of her most enduring projects are compilations, Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1802), which comprised 290 biographies of women, and Memoirs of Queens, Illustrious and Celebrated (1821).