In 1803, Mary Hays published the six-volume work Female Biography, a substantial work of scholarship that relied on more than one hundred sources to write biographies about more than 300 hundred women. But how did Hays, a Dissenting writer of moderate means, access all of those books?
To find out, we invited Dr. Timothy Whelan to talk all things Mary Hays, but especially her literary environs, which included relationships with Dissenting booksellers, connections with the Godwin circle, a number of the biggest and most successful circulating libraries of the time, including the Minerva Press and Hookham’s, and residences across London that were never more than a five-minute walk from a library or a bookshop. And we meander through London itself, where Dr. Whelan tracked more than just where Hays’ likely found her sources for her History: he mapped Hays’ residences, the residences of her large extended family, the booksellers and circulating libraries around her locations, Dissenting booksellers, and the chapels of Dissenters in London—a variety of networks that, as it turns out, are far more interwoven than one could have anticipated without the help of Dr. Whelan’s seven-by-seven foot map.
Dr. Timothy Whelan is a Professor of English at Georgia Southern University. He works in the area of women’s studies and at the intersection of religion and literature in the lives of British and American Nonconformist women writers between 1650 and 1850, with a particular focus on various Romantic writers, both men and women, and their interaction with religious Dissent. He was the general editor for Pickering and Chatto’s eight-volume collection of Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720–1840, and some of his recent publications include an article in Publishing History called, “Mary Lewis and her Family of Printers and Booksellers, 1 Paternoster Row, 1749-1812” and an article in Women’s Writing called “Room[s] of her Own”: Libraries and Residences in the Later Career of Mary Hays, 1814–1828.” To learn more about his work on Mary Hays, you can visit his website https://www.maryhayslifewritingscorrespondence.com, and to learn more about his work on Non-Conformist women, including booksellers, visit his website https://www.nonconformistwomenwriters1650-1850.com/.
If you're interested in learning more about what we discussed in this episode, you can find resources and suggestions for further reading here: https://womensprinthistoryproject.com/blog/post/95