Mary Davys Criticism - Essay

Mary Davys (essay date 1725)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Preface to The Works of Mrs. Davys, 1725, in Eighteenth-Century British Novelists on the Novel, edited by George L. Barnett, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968, pp. 38-39.

[In the following essay, Davys comments on the methods and motivations of her own work.]

'Tis now for some time that those sort of writings called novels have been a great deal out of use and fashion and that the ladies (for whose service they were chiefly designed) have been taken up with amusements of more use and improvement—I mean History and Travels, with which the relation of probable feigned stories can by no means stand in competition. However, these are not without their advantages, and those considerable, too. And it is very likely the chief reason that put them out of vogue was the world's being surfeited with such as were either flat and insipid, or offensive to modesty and good manners, or that they found them only a circle or repetition of the same adventures.

The French, who have dealt most in this kind, have, I think, chiefly contributed to put them out of countenance, who, tho' upon all occasions and where they pretend to write true History, give themselves the utmost liberty of feigning, are too tedious and dry in their matter, and so impertinent in their harangues that the readers can hardly keep themselves awake over them. I have read a French Novel of four hundred pages without the least variety of events, or any issue in the conclusion either to please or amuse the reader, yet all fiction and romance, and the commonest matters of fact, truly told, would have been much more entertaining.

Now this is to lose the only advantage of invention, which gives us room to order accidents better than Fortune will be at the pains to do, so to work upon the reader's passions, sometimes keep him in suspense between fear and hope, and at last send him satisfied away. This I have endeavoured to do in the following sheets. I have in every Novel proposed one entire scheme or plot, and the other adventures are only incidental or collateral to it, which is the great rule prescribed by the criticks, not only in tragedy and other heroick poems but in comedy too. The...

(The entire section is 922 words.)

Robert A. Day (essay date 1955)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to Mary Davys: Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady, Augustan Reprint Society, Vol. 54, Clark Memorial Library, University of California, 1955, pp. i-iv.

[In the following excerpt, Day discusses Davys's Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady in the context of early epistolary fiction.]

Although students of Restoration and Augustan literature are aware that letters were used as a fictional device before Richardson's Pamela appeared, the minor fiction of these periods has been little studied. The authors of these "novels" were mostly unknown and industrious hacks; the books are now excessively rare, found only in the...

(The entire section is 963 words.)

George L. Barnett (essay date 1968)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Mrs. Mary Davys" in Eighteenth-Century British Novelists on the Novel, edited by George L. Barnett, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968, pp. 37-38.

[In the following essay, Barnett offers a brief introduction to Davys and the "Preface" to her Works.]

As The Works of Mrs. Davys, published in two volumes in 1725, noted in the subtitle—Consisting of Plays, Novels, Poems, and Familiar Letters—this author's literary efforts attained variety. But fame, in spite of her diverse efforts, never came, and today she is forgotten. Still, the Preface to her Works "is valuable as one of the few detailed statements by a practicing novelist of the...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Margaret Anne Doody (essay date 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson, Oxford University Press, 1974, pp. 17-22, 132-35.

[In the following excerpt from a study of Samuel Richardson, Doody discusses Davys and other women novelists of his day.]

After writers like Mrs. Aphra Behn and Mrs. Manley had shown that it was possible for women to write and be read, even to earn money by the exercise of the pen, a host of minor writers had taken up the love novel or novella. The teens and twenties of the century show a proliferation of such works by authors with whose names the veriest dunce of a sorcerer's apprentice would not attempt to conjure: Mrs. Penelope Aubin, Mrs. Jane...

(The entire section is 2630 words.)

Jean B. Kern (essay date 1983)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Mrs. Mary Davys as a Novelist of Manners" in Essays in Literature, Vol. X, No. 1, Spring, 1983, pp. 29-38.

[In the following essay, Kern analyzes Davys as a novelist of manners in and against the tradition of women's romance writing.]

Mrs. Mary Davys (1674-1732), playwright, novelist, and occasional poet, has not fared well from biographers, literary historians, or critics. The DNB is inaccurate about her dates; she is not mentioned in the Oxford Companion to English Literature although her contemporaries Mary Manley and Elizabeth Haywood are; Ian Watt's Rise of the Novel does not even include her name, but his omission is more...

(The entire section is 5407 words.)

Nancy Cotton (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Minor Women Playwrights 1670-1750," in Women Playwrights in England c. 1363-1750, Bucknell University Press; Associated University Presses, 1980, pp. 156-60.

[In the following excerpt, Cotton discusses Mary Davys' work as a dramatist.]

Mary Davys (1674-1732),7 born in Dublin, was happily married to the Reverend Peter Davys, headmaster of the free school at St. Patrick's and a friend of Swift. When he died young in 1698, she was widowed and without means at the age of twenty-four. She went to England and tried writing. In 1700 she made an unsuccessful "first Flight to the Muses" (Works, 1:v) with a novel, The Lady's Tale, for which she...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)

Jane Spencer (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Reformed Heroines: The Didactic Tradition: The Lover-Mentor: Mary Davys's The Reform'd Coquet (1724)," in The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen, Basil Blackwell, 1986, pp. 145-7.

[In the following excerpt from a study of the development of women's novels in English, Spencer analyzes the portrayal of a reformed heroine in Davys' The Reform'd Coquet.]

The Lover-mentor: Mary Davys's The Reform'd Coquet (1724)

We might expect that a novel tradition based on the woman writer's role as moral guide to her sex would present stories of a heroine's reform through the advice of a more experienced woman; and in fact,...

(The entire section is 1161 words.)

Mary Anne Schofield (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Mary Davys," in Masking and Unmasking the Female Mind: Disguising Romances in Feminine Fiction, 1713-1799, University of Delaware Press; Associated University Presses, 1990, pp. 79-90.

[In the following excerpt from a study of women's romance writing, Schofield analyzes Davys' response to the romance tradition, arguing that her work becomes more conservative over the course of her career.]

Mary Davys (1674-1732) more than any of the other pre-1740 novelists is concerned with examining the nature of fiction. Specifically, she is concerned with the viability of the romance genre, and she carefully scrutinizes its present state to ascertain how much she can...

(The entire section is 5397 words.)

Natasha Sajé (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "'The Assurance to Write, the Vanity of Expecting to be Read': Deception and Reform in Mary Davys's The Reform'd Coquet." in Essays in Literature, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Fall, 1996, pp. 165-77.

[In the following essay, Saje analyzes the theme of the "coquette" and the historical dilemma of the marriageable female in Davys' life and novel, The Reform'd Coquet.]

Since its coinage in mid seventeenth-century France, "coquette" labels a woman who gains power over others by manipulative verbal and body language, a skill referred to as her "art."1 Etymologically, the word "coquette" comes from "cock," a male animal which controls its hens and is known...

(The entire section is 6472 words.)