Skip Navigation
Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Mary Manley

b. 1672, Portsmouth, England; d. 1724, London

Novelist Mary Manley took aim at Whig political machinations in a number of hugely successful potboilers that were essentially propaganda novels for the Tory party disguised as romances. The Secret History of Queen Zarah and the Zarazians (1705), the first of her sensationalized fictions, features a power-hungry woman who disdains feminine virtues. The eponymous character is a thinly veiled portrait of Sarah, duchess of Manchester. Real-life scandal is the subtext of Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of Both Sexes from the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediterranean (1709), an exposé of the private lives of Whig ministers. Manley was arrested for seditious libel shortly after publication, but was acquitted of the charges in 1710. She also wrote a few plays, including The Lost Lover; or, The Jealous Husband: A Comedy (1696) and Lucius, The First Christian King of Britain: A Tragedy (1717).