Mary, Quite Contrary: The Novels of Mary Davys, 1700–1727

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Linda Bensel-Meyers, Ph.D.


Eighteenth-century novel, Female protagonist, Generic conventions, Mary Davys, Patriarchy, Women novelists


As a relatively unknown author, Mary Davys (1674-1732) has garnered scant scholarly attention and little admiration for her work. Those who have written on Davys’s prose fiction most often mention the last three texts she published, Familiar Letters betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady (1716), The Reform’d Coquet (1724), and The Accomplish’d Rake (1727), yet rare mention is made of her first three novels. Moreover, of her later novels, many scholars read them as socially conservative and as representations of Davys’s support of and belief in patriarchy. My project disproves the long-standing and generally agreed upon conceptions regarding Davys’s writings and demonstrates the significance of her life’s work to studies of the novel. By investigating contemporary cultural issues, discussing the popular genres and modes of early eighteenth-century England, and comparing and contrasting Davys’s fiction to other authors’, I explore the myriad ways in which Davys experimented with the formal properties of the novel. Also, by closely examining each novel independently, I foreground Davys’s willingness to engage with charged contemporary topics such as rape, suicide, the laws surrounding inheritance, and male privilege. Not only does she engage with these topics; there is a discernable voice of protest imbedded in the narratives. At times, the techniques Davys employed and the plots she created in her work obscured her social concerns, yet with close reading, subversion also surfaces as one of Davys’s methods. An analysis of Davys’s experimentations with prose fiction and form illuminates the ways in which those innovations allowed Davys to criticize the culture in which she lived. Furthermore, an investigation of the whole of Davys’s work and the totality of her novels—looking at both form and content—exemplifies the importance of Davys for students of feminist thought and the development of the novel.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Nichol Irene Weizenbeck

File size

290 p.

File format





Literature, Gender Studies

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