Brooks, Marilyn L. Books
About the author: Marilyn Brooks has taught a range of courses in literature, the Enlightenment, and women’s studies. She has worked for a variety of American and British universities before taking up a full-time position with the Open University in the Literature Department. She is now retired and living in the South of France where she continues to write.2004 0-7734-6357-7
Mary Hays is known for her literary works and as a formidable member of radical circles in the late eighteenth century. Her letters help the reader understand the extent of her engagement with contemporary issues and how these were voiced in her writings. Until now no full edition of the letters has appeared and earlier selections were greatly abridged. This new edition of almost 400 letters reaffirms Hays’ position within literary and radical circles and provides an important background against which to assess the importance of her writings. Because letters from as well as to Hays are included, we are able to see how much her opinions were sought and assess her importance within sensibility, rational philosophy and the development of feminism.
The letters span a long period beginning with her youthful correspondence where we see her ‘story’ unfolding as she grapples with the implications and vocabulary of sensibility, and strove to give meaning to her life, then her engagement with the demands of Dissent and the beginnings of her writing career. Family and friends supply background details of her influential behavior on others and the correspondence with well-known writers reveal her centrality in contemporary literary circles. The final letters to Henry Crabb Robinson show that even in her reclusive old age she was still engaging with philosophical issues and liberal discussion. It would seem that, here, Hays takes on the role of mentor so often assigned to men of her acquaintance. Hence, we find several ‘Mary Hays’ in this collection and the letters help clarify some of the ‘myths’ surrounding her.
This book which contains almost 400 letters contributes to a greater understanding of the contemporary time and its issues and will enable greater awareness of the central position of Mary Hays within it. Scholars interested not only in the life of Mary Hays but also in the emergence of Romanticism and contemporary life in general will find in these letters invaluable source material.