Excerpts from Works by Mary Hays

From Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793)

From No. III. On the Influence of Authority and Custom on the Female Mind and Manners

"Of all bondage, mental bondage is surely the most fatal; the absurd despotism which has hitherto, with more than gothic barbarity, enslaved the female mind, the enervating and degrading system of manners by which the understandings of women have been chained down to frivolity and trifles, have increased the general tide of effeminacy and corruption. To conform to the perpetual fluctuation of fashion ... requires almost their whole time and attention, and leaves little leisure for intellectual improvement"


[To women]

"In this age of light and liberty, may our bosoms be fired with a more worthy emulation! And in the reformation of manners so much talked about, and so loudly called for, let us catch the glorious enthusiasm, and take the lead!-- If we would but unite in intention, great would be our power, and extensive our influence; the character of one sex has ever been found to affect that of the other: for the confirmation of this we need not refer to the days of chivalry, we need but observe on the present times" (158)


From Letters to William Godwin (Uncollected)

To William Godwin, 7 December 1794

"The education of women, like the boasted polish of the ancients, extends not beyond the cultivation of taste. This renders a habit of severe investigation and abstract attention difficult to be attained - but though failing a thousand times, I am not of a disposition to give up anything as impracticably. I have ever eagerly embraced and endeavoured to make the most of every opportunity of improvement, because I have found in the exercise of my understanding the only means of stilling the importunate suggestions of a too exquisite sensibility - foster'd by the delicacy of female education, and those habits of privacy & retirement which afford the imagination too much leisure to seduce by its enchantments, or subdue by its imperious tyranny."

To William Godwin, 19? Feb. 1796

"What then am I to do? I want a substitute for the mind must have an object- but where am I to gain it? I have sought for happiness in love, it is an illusion, say you perhaps so, but I have only your word for it, I have of this had no experience...

It is true, I have risen superior to the generality of my sex, I am not a mere fine lady, a domestic, a drudge, or a doll of fashion. I can think, write, reason, converse with men & scholars, and despise many petty, feminine, prejudices. But I have not the talents for a legislator or a reformer of the world, I have still many shrinking delicacies & female foibles, that unfit me for rising to arduous heights.... Where, then, shall I find this object to call forth my exertions, and preserve me from languour & apathy? Shall I love again, and subject myself to a third disappointment?"


From The Monthly Magazine

"Improvements Suggested in Female Education" by M.H. in The Monthly Magazine March 1797:94

"One of the principal causes which seems to have given rise to the present dissolute and venal motives by which the intercourse of the sexes is influenced, is perhaps the dependence for which women are uniformly educated... The greater proportion of young women are trained up by thoughtless parents, in ease and luxury, with no other dependence for their future support than the precarious chance of establishing themselves by marriage: for this purpose (the men best know why) elaborate attention is paid to external attractions and accomplishments, to the neglect of more useful and solid acquirements."

"One of the world's maxims, equally false and pernicious, is, that a woman having once deviated from chastity is to be considered as irreclaimable.... To demonstrate the truth of this philosophic and merciful adage, great care is taken to bar up every avenue against the return of this frail, unfortunate being, who, driven from the society and countenance of the virtuous and respectable, is reduced to associate with those whose habitual vices render them little calculated to assist her in regaining the path from which she has wandered. By these wise and humane methods, the tender, affectionate heart betrayed, perhaps, by its own amiable susceptibility, and artless credulity, is precipitated by despair into real depravity."


From Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women

From What Men Would Have Women To Be (47)

"Of all the systems, –if indeed a bundle of contradictions and absurdities may be called a system,-- which human nature in its moments of intoxication has produced; that which men have contrived with a view to forming the minds, and regulating the conduct of women, is perhaps the most completely absurd...

What a chaos!-- What a mixture of strength and weakness, – of greatness and littleness, – and sense and folly, – of exquisite feeling and total insensibility, –have they jumbled together in their imaginations, – and then given to their pretty darling the name of woman!"

From What Women Ought To Be

"Since the beneficent Creator of all, has dealt out to his children of this world his portions of intelligence, and all his benefits, with so impartial an hand, that we are not only entitled, but irresistibly impelled to claim equality in his paternal inheritance; why should women be excluded from having, and giving their opinions, upon matters of importance to themselves? And why again I repeat it, should the opinions of men carry all before them?.... (154)

In forming the laws by which women are governed, and in the arbitary opinions which have been taken up and encouraged with regard to them, and which have nailed the fetters of the law down, or supplied their place where they have been entirely silent; have not men in forming these and in continuing them, consulted more their own conveniency, comfort, and dignity, as far as their judgment and foresight served them, than that of women; though they are as nearly concerned and much more likely to be sufferers, as having no hand in forming them? (158-9)




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Eleanor Ty
Department of English and Film Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University
Ontario, Canada

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