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Timothy Whelan, Professor of English, Georgia Southern University

Circulating Libraries and Private Networks: Locating Sources for Mary Hays’s Female Biography, 1795-1803

This paper attempts to answer a question posed often by scholars of Mary Hays (1759-1843), the Romantic novelist, essayist, and life writer: How did a single woman of average means gain access to more than 100 works of history, politics, and biography, in English and French, published between 1650 and 1800, to compose the 300 biographies found in her 6-volume work, Female Biography (1803)? A careful analysis of ten circulating and subscription libraries operating at that time in London not only answers that question but also expands our knowledge of Hays’s reading habits as well as the strategic locations of her residences in central London and the social and familial connections she developed and nurtured as a professional writer between 1795 and 1803.  

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