chapter  6
19 Pages

Mary Hays’s invisible women

Manuscript poetry and the practice of life-writing in Ann Yerbury (1729–1754)
WithCarme Font Paz

This chapter examines a relatively neglected but promising area related to Mary Hays's endeavors with Female Biography: her conceptualization of the practice of life-writing as a source of knowledge and intellectual authority for women. Ann Yerbury's approach to self-learning through life-writing is in line with Hays's attempt to displace the focus of women's gathering of knowledge away from fiction reading, particularly novels. Yerbury did not rely either on a male mentor or an intellectually superior figure who validated her knowledge. There are decades-long established critical assumptions about the rise and maturity of the novel as an eighteenth-century genre that allowed the professionalization of women writers. These coexist with an alternative dormant reality: the manuscript output found in archives and libraries by women who wrote for self-expression and the advancement of their learning, with an apparent lack of interest in seeking money or recognition through their writing.