chapter  9
25 Pages

Mary Hays and the imagined female communities of early modern Europe

WithAmanda L. Capern

When Mary Hays part-compiled and part-wrote Female Biography, she intended the sheer weight of women's talent and historical subjectivity to persuade women and men alike in favour of social change. She appropriates past ideals of female virtue for her own advocacy of the education of girls and the civic participation of women. Mary Hays used old collective biographies and encyclopaedic life-writing for her task, and she operated in a literary world in which plagiarism was the norm. Her main sources were George Ballard's Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain of 1752 and the anonymous Biographium Faemineum (The Female Worthies) of 1766. Ballard stated in his Preface that 'England hath produced more women famous for literary accomplishments, than any other nation in Europe'. Each age in the western European past has reinvented the wheel of female virtue.