ABSTRACT

Female Biography has been used consistently by scholars to highlight what has been described as the dumbing down of feminism in this period, and has rarely been considered in the context of Enlightenment theories of woman. This chapter argues instead that Female Biography marked an important intervention into these theories of woman. It examines the invention of woman as a historical category in the conjectural histories of the Enlightenment, in order to interrogate how writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays came to historicize womanhood in decidedly feminist ways. It also focuses on the influence of Rational Dissent in the work of Mary Hays and as another significant element of the Enlightenment project. Mary Wollstonecraft is often identified with Enlightenment historiography due to her A Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution a conjectural history of the Revolution. This work, as Jane Rendall has shown, has been located within the philosophical historical tradition associated with the Scottish Enlightenment.