'Mary Hays and Henry Crabb Robinson: Reconstructing a “Female Biography”’
Timothy Whelan (Georgia Southern)
Seminar in Dissenting Studies, The Lecture Hall, Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR.
Wednesday 17 June, 5.15pm to 6.45pm. All are welcome.
Mary Hays has received considerable attention in the past two decades, through an edition of her correspondence, new editions of her novels and other prose, and important biographical studies, including Gina Luria Walker’s Mary Hays (1759-1843): The Growth of a Woman’s Mind (2006). Hays was herself concerned to record the lives of gifted women. Yet her own life history has been unnecessarily truncated and inaccurately presented owing to the absence of one critical resource: the life writings of Henry Crabb Robinson. Robinson met Hays in 1799 and, despite the sixteen-year difference in their ages, the friendship continued until her death in 1843. Robinson’s diary makes over 170 references to Hays, of which only seven have been published. Together with a valuable letter on Hays by Robinson to Catherine Clarkson in early 1800 concerning Hays’s affair with Charles Lloyd, these references provide an extensive genealogical record of Hays’s family after 1800 and their important involvement with Baptists and Unitarians, as well as Hays’s introduction to a vibrant group of Dissenting women from Leicester and their connections in the West Country that intersected at the same time with Godwin and his circle. Though Walker has referred to Hays’s life after 1806 as “buried”, Robinson’s accounts reveal something quite different, a woman who viewed herself and her life from within the prism of religious Dissent; a woman devoted to her family and their connections through marriage with several prominent Dissenting families (all friends of Robinson); a woman who held to many of the same opinions on religion, politics, and women’s rights she had first espoused in the 1790s; and who passed these ideals on to her niece and namesake, Matilda Mary Hays (1820-97), feminist and translator of George Sand.
Timothy Whelan is Professor of English at Georgia Southern University. He is Senior Visiting Fellow of the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, and currently Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Queen Mary University of London. His monograph, Other British Voices: Women, Poetry, and Religion, 1766-1840, is in press with Palgrave. It builds on his 8-volume edition of Nonconformist Women Writers 1720-1840 (Pickering & Chatto, 2011). He has published many other critical editions and articles including, most recently, ‘Wilhelm Benecke, Crabb Robinson, and “rational faith”, 1819-1837’; he is general editor of the forthcoming Oxford University Press edition of the Reminiscences and Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson.
For more information about the Seminar in Dissenting Studies contact James Vigus (email@example.com) or see www.english.qmul.ac.uk/drwilliams/events/current.html