Mary Hays’s wide-ranging literary career included writing on feminism, philosophy, biography, education, social and political reform, fiction, history, and literary criticism. Born to a middle-class family in the Southwark suburb of London, Hays received the usual superficial education for women of her class. In her teens she became engaged to religious dissenter John Eccles, and the letters they exchanged show the influence of late eighteenth century ideals of sensibility, in which sympathy and delicate sentiments are understood to reflect personal refinement and virtue. Shortly before their wedding, Eccles died suddenly, leaving Hays emotionally devastated. Nevertheless, she remained close to Eccles’s circle of dissenting intellectuals, and began a course of self-improving reading under their guidance.
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- Mary Hays (1760–1843)
Mary A. Waters
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