Mary Hays Criticism - Essay

Monthly Review (essay date 1800)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Monthly Review 31 (January 1800): 82.

[In the following review of Hays's The Victim of Prejudice, the protagonist Mary Raymond is depicted as a character worthy of both love and pity owing to the disreputable circumstances surrounding her birth and history.]

Mary, the heroine of this little tale, is, to the credit of the author's pencil, a spirited and affecting sketch, but somewhat out of nature; and the principle which it is designed to inculcate by no means follows from the premises. By the novels which issue from this school, love, which is a transient passion, is to be complimented, in all cases, at the expence of the regulations and institutions of society; and a respect for virtue and decorum is to be classed in the list of vulgar prejudices. Love, which is generally our happiness, may and will sometimes be our misery. The wisest and the best are often the slaves and victims of circumstances:—Mary is one of those victims,—though amiable, noble, and virtuous, the circumstances of her birth prevented her from being the most eligible match for a man of virtue having virtuous connections, and wishing to have a virtuous offspring. Descended from a mother who was both a prostitute and a murderer, and who expiated her crimes on the gallows, shall we term the objection of the Hon. Mr. Pelham's father to the marriage of his son with her a mere prejudice? Must not William Pelham himself, had he been permitted to marry the lovely and amiable Mary, have had cause to blush when the children who might have been the fruit of their union came to inquire into the history of their mother? According to the fixed laws of nature, we suffer from the vices of our parents; and this, with every wise man, will be a very strong motive to virtue; since the evil resulting from a deviation from her paths will not terminate in ourselves. We must love and pity such a character as Mary Raymond: but her misery results rather from a general sentiment of detestation of atrocious crimes, than from any act which is entitled to the appellation of tyranny.

J. M. S. Tompkins (essay date 1938)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tompkins, J. M. S. The Polite Marriage, pp. 150-90. London: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

[In the following excerpt, Tompkins analyzes how Hays's notably brash, Godwinian character and philosophical beliefs are reflected in her novels, particularly The Memoirs of Emma Courtney.]

Of all the small writers whom [we] commemorate, Mary Hays is the least likely to be quite forgotten. This is not because of the quality of her literary work, which is, with the exception of The Scotch Parents, the worst we have handled, since she rejected the discipline of eighteenth-century taste and acquired no other; but because she passed many years of her life on the...

(The entire section is 14227 words.)

M. Ray Adams (essay date 1947)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, M. Ray. “Mary Hays, Disciple of William Godwin.” In Studies in the Literary Backgrounds of English Radicalism, pp. 83-103. Lancaster, PA: Franklin and Marshall College, 1947.

[In the following essay, Adams provides an overview of Hays's major writings and discusses Hays's relationship with William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.]

Mary Hays was one of that remarkable coterie of women, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Amelia Alderson, Mrs. Reveley, Mrs. Fenwick, and Mrs. Inchbald, who afforded William Godwin a sort of philosophic seraglio. Little is known of her life: no biographical sketch of her exists. As the information left by others is sparse, we...

(The entire section is 5546 words.)

Burton R. Pollin (essay date 1971)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pollin, Burton R. “Mary Hays on Women's Rights in the Monthly Magazine.Etudes Anglaises 24, no. 3 (July-September 1971): 271-82.

[In the following essay, Pollin examines Hays's contributions to the late eighteenth-century reform movement in the form of letters and essays she produced for the Monthly Magazine.]

While sifting the earliest issues of the Monthly Magazine for references to William Godwin, I was struck by the frequent mention of his name in the letters to the editor, from February 1796 through September 1797, chiefly on the subject of women's rights and education1. The series included several signed “M. H.” and...

(The entire section is 5752 words.)

Katharine M. Rogers (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rogers, Katharine M. “The Contribution of Mary Hays.” Prose Studies 10, no. 2 (September 1987): 131-42.

[In the following essay, Rogers describes Hays's writings on women's rights, comparing them to those of her friend Mary Wollstonecraft, whose approach was more theoretical than Hays's.]

Over a lifetime of writing, from her Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793) to her Memoirs of Queens (1821), Mary Hays argued for women's rights and celebrated their achievements. Like her friend Mary Wollstonecraft, she was an ardent feminist whose assertion of the rights of women was reinforced by the ideals of the French Revolution. Mary Astell...

(The entire section is 5890 words.)

Terence Allan Hoagwood (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoagwood, Terence Allan. Introduction to The Victim of Prejudice, by Mary Hays, pp. 3-12. Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1990.

[In the following essay, Hoagwood discusses the connections between Hays's polemical writings and her novel The Victim of Prejudice.]

Mary Hays's The Victim of Prejudice (1799) is an important feminist novel, intellectually and aesthetically. Its author was a prominent figure among British writers who, during the period of the French Revolution and afterward, advocated feminist and politically radical forms of thought. A friend of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Joseph Priestley, and many others in the...

(The entire section is 3472 words.)

Eleanor Ty (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ty, Eleanor. “Breaking the ‘Magic Circle’: From Repression to Effusion in Memoirs of Emma Courtney,” and “The Mother and Daughter: The Dangers of Replication in The Victim of Prejudice.” In Unsex'd Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790s, pp. 46-72. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Ty discusses Memoirs of Emma Courtney, suggesting that the novel's true thesis, despite Hays's stated intentions to the contrary, is to demonstrate the fatal consequences of female repression. Ty further examines Hays's The Victim of Prejudice and claims that it is far more pessimistic than Emma Courtney, and...

(The entire section is 12026 words.)

Terence Allan Hoagwood (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoagwood, Terence Allan. “Literary Art and Political Justice: Shelley, Godwin, and Mary Hays.” In Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World, edited by Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran, pp. 30-38. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Hoagwood suggests that Hays, Shelley, Godwin, and Wollstonecraft all drew from the ideology of the philosophes and incorporated their political philosophies within their novels and poems.]

Shelley's major poems represent a dialectical theory that, like works by William Godwin and Mary Hays, is developed from arguments expressed by the philosophes and the...

(The entire section is 3905 words.)

Sandra Sherman (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sherman, Sandra. “The Feminization of ‘Reason’ in Hays's The Victim of Prejudice.The Centennial Review 41, no. 1 (winter 1997): 143-72.

[In the following essay, Sherman discusses The Victim of Prejudice as a departure from Hays's belief that reason was instrumental for achieving the independence of women.]

Mary Hays's novel, The Victim of Prejudice (1799), is read alongside a cadre of “revolutionary” texts inspired by events in France, rebutting the Reflections of Edmund Burke (1790) which idealized patriarchalism.1 Yet its address to texts which challenged Burke, and aligned themselves with Mary...

(The entire section is 11327 words.)

Tilottama Rajan (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rajan, Tilottama. “Autonarration and genotext in Mary Hays' Memoirs of Emma Courtney.” In Romanticism, History, and the Possibilities of Genre: Re-forming Literature 1789-1837, edited by Tilottama Rajan and Julia M. Wright, pp. 213-39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, Rajan refutes critics who consider Memoirs of Emma Courtney scandalously autobiographical, suggesting instead that the novel is a self-conscious attempt to explore the relationship between experience and textuality.]


Mary Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs of Woman, long written out of the canon by being used as a...

(The entire section is 11292 words.)

Eleanor Ty (essay date 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ty, Eleanor. “The Imprisoned Female Body in Mary Hays's The Victim of Prejudice.” In Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s, edited by Linda Lang-Peralta, pp. 133-53. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Ty discusses The Victim of Prejudice, claiming that Hays's concern in this novel was the construction of female subjectivity according to the hierarchies associated with class and gender.]

In her Advertisement to the Reader, Mary Hays states that what she wants to question in The Victim of Prejudice (1799) is the “too-great stress laid on the reputation for chastity in...

(The entire section is 7841 words.)