Philobiblon: Popping up everywhere

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Popping up everywhere

It seems that several times a week now I find another wonderful woman writer from the 16th or 17th or 18th centuries, before, on many popular accounts, there were any at all.

Today's is Mary Davys, who I encountered during an excellent paper at the "The Women's Studies Group: 1500-1837", of which more here.

It was about her The Fugitive, 1705, of which unfortunately there is not a modern edition, but I've gone looking for some other writing. A sample:
On why she wrote fiction ...

"The Pedant despises the most elaborate Undertaking, unless it appears in the World with Greek and Latin Motto's; a Man that would please him, must pore an Age over Musty Authors, till his brains are as worm-eaten as the books he reads . . . I have neither Inclination nor Learning enough to hope for his favour, so lay him aside.
The next I can never hope to please, is the Dogmatical Puppy, who like a Hedgehog is wrapt up in his own Opinions . . . I leave him therefore . . . I confess the Royal Exchange, Southsea with a P-x, Exchange Alley, and all trade in general, are so foreign to my understanding that I leave 'em where I found 'em and cast an oblique glance at the Philosopher, who I take be a good clever fellow in his way. But I am again forced to betray my ignorance. I know so little of him that I leave him to his, No Pleasure, No Pain; and a thousand other Chimera's while I face about to the Man of Gallantry. Love is a very common topick, but 'tis withal a very copious one; and wou'd the Poets, Printers, and Booksellers but speak the truth of it, they wou'd own themselves more obliged to that one subject for their Bread, than all the rest put together. 'Tis there I fix."
(The Reformed Coquet, 1724, p. 2)

That's typical of her delightfully blunt writing, but it seems she suffered for her style, and with the increasing gentrification of the literary world during her lifetime (1674-1732); the Grub-Street Journal (No 80, 15 July 1731) dismissed her as the author of "several bawdy Novels". Earthy, or down-to-earth
would be a better label.

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