‘Feminism in the Footnotes: Wollstonecraft’s Ghost in Mary Hays’ Female Biography’

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Abstract

Mary Hays is now remembered above all as Mary Wollstonecraft's first feminist disciple and author of the revolutionary novel Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796). Her later work of women's historiography, Female Biography (1803), has been criticised by its feminist readers both for neglecting to include Wollstonecraft amongst its sympathetic pen portraits of women including Aphra Behn and Catherine Macaulay, and for betraying Wollstonecraftian feminism with the biographies' emphasis on domesticity. I argue that Hays' Female Biography defies the simplistic reading of it as a series of airbrushed domestic paragons by its inclusion of detailed portrayals of complex women, from Catherine the Great and Mary, Queen of Scots to Madame Roland. Furthermore, even when focussing on more domestic figures, Hays' frequent authorial interjections, often expressed in revealing footnotes, reintroduce revolutionary feminism in a work published during a reactionary age. Although Wollstonecraft's name does not appear in Female Biography, the influence of her feminism and her friendship with Hays throbs throughout its pages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-285
JournalLife Writing
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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