Mary Pix

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Mary Pix

Mary Pix (1666 – 17 May 1709)[1] was an English novelist and playwright. Church records indicate that she lived in London, marrying George Pix, a merchant tailor from Hawkhurst, Kent in 1684. Baptismal records reveal that she had two sons, George (1689) and William (1691). It appears that George died in 1690.

Life and Works[edit]

Mary Griffith Pix was born in 1666, the daughter of a rector, musician and Headmaster of the Royal Latin School; her father, Roger Griffith, died when she was very young, but Mary and her mother continued to live in the schoolhouse after his death. She was courted by her father's successor Thomas Dalby, but he left with the outbreak of smallpox in town, just one year after the mysterious fire that burned the schoolhouse. Rumour had it that Mary and Dalby had been making love rather energetically and overturned a candle which set fire to the bedroom.

At the age of 18, Mary Griffith married George Pix, a merchant, in 1684 and moved to his country estate in Kent. In 1690, her first son, George, died very young.[2] The next year thee couple moved to London and she gave birth to another son, William. In 1696, when Pix was thirty years old, she first emerged as a professional writer, publishing The Inhumane Cardinal; or, Innocence Betrayed, her first and only novel, as well as two plays, Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperour of the Turks and The Spanish Wives.

Though from quite different backgrounds, Pix quickly became associated with two other playwrights who emerged in the same year as herself: Delariviere Manley and Catherine Trotter. The three female playwrights attained enough public success that they drew criticism in the form of an anonymous satirical play The Female Wits (1696). Mary Pix appears as "Mrs. Wellfed one that represents a fat, female author. A good rather sociable, well-matured companion that would not suffer martyrdom rather than take off three bumpers in a hand".[3] She is depicted as an ignorant woman, though amiable and unpretentious. Pix is summarised as "foolish and openhearted"[4]

Her first play was put on stage in 1696 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, a theatre that was near her own house in London, but when that same theatrical company performed The Female Wits she moved to Lincoln's Inn Fields. They said of her that "she has boldly given us an essay of her talent … and not without success, though with little profit to herself" (Morgan, 1991: xii).

In the season of 1697–1698, Pix became involved in a plagiarism scandal with George Powell. Powell was a rival playwright and the manager of the Drury Lane theatrical company. Pix sent her play, The Deceiver Deceived to Powell's company as a possible drama for them to perform. Powell rejected the play, but kept the manuscript, and then proceeded to write and perform a play called The Imposture Defeated, which had a plot and main character taken directly from The Deceiver Deceived. In the following public backlash, Pix accused Powell of stealing her work, and Powell claimed that instead he and Pix had both drawn their plays from the same source material, an unnamed novel. In 1698, an anonymous writer, now believed to be Powell himself, published a letter called "To the Ingenious Mr. _____." which attacked Pix and her fellow female playwright Trotter. The letter attempted to malign Pix on various issues, such as her spelling and presumption in publishing her writing. Though Pix's public reputation was not damaged and she continued writing after the plagiarism scandal, she stopped putting her name on her work, and after 1699 she only included her name on one play, in spite of the fact that she is believed to have written at least seven more. Scholars still discuss the attribution of plays to Pix, notably whether or not she wrote Zelmane; or, The Corinthian Queen (1705).[5]

Pix's plays were very successful among audiences. Each play ran for at least four to five nights, and some were even brought back for additional shows years later.[6] Her tragedies were quite popular because she managed to mix extreme action with melting love scenes. Many critics believed that Pix's best pieces were her comedies. Pix's comedic work was lively and full of double plots, intrigue, confusion, songs, dances and humorous disguise. An Encyclopaedia of British Women Writers (1998) points out that

"Forced or unhappy marriages appear frequently and prominently in the comedies. Pix is not, however, writing polemics against the forced marriage but using it as a plot device and sentimentalizing the unhappily married person, who is sometimes rescued and married more satisfactorily."(Schlueter & Schlueter, 1998: 513)

Few of the female playwrights of Mary Pix's time came from a theatrical background, and none came from the aristocracy: within a century, most successful actresses and female authors came from a familiar tradition of literature and theatre, but Mary Pix and her contemporaries were from outside this world and had little in common with one another apart from a love for literature and a middle-class background.

At the time of Mary Pix, “The ideal of the one-breadwinner family had not yet become dominant”;[7] whereas in 18th-century families it was normal for the woman to stay at home taking care of the children, house and servants, in Restoration England husband and wife worked together in familiar enterprises that sustained them both, and female playwrights earned the same wage as their male counterparts.

Morgan also points out that “till the close of the period, authorship was not generally advertised on playbills, nor always proclaimed when plays were printed”.[8] This made it easier for female authors to hide their identity so as to be more easily accepted among the most conservative audiences.

As Morgan states, “plays were valued according to how they performed and not by who wrote them. When authorship ―female or otherwise― remained a matter of passing interest, female playwrights were in an open and equal market with their male colleagues” (Morgan, 1991: xx); the fact that the author was not very important made it easier for female writers to use male names, so their plays would be more easily accepted. This explains why many of the plays written by females have been lost, unknown about and why they have been mistakenly attributed to male authors of the time.

Although some contemporary women writers, like Aphra Behn, have been rediscovered, even the most specialised scholars have little knowledge of works by writers such as Catherine Trotter, Delariviere Manley or Mary Pix, despite the fact that plays like The Beau Defeated (1700) present with a wider range of female characters than plays written by men at the time. In fact, Pix's plays generally had eight or nine female roles, while plays by male writers only had two or three.[9]

Works[edit]

Pix produced one novel and seven plays. There are four other plays that were published anonymously that are generally attributed to her.

Novel[edit]

  • The Inhumane Cardinal; or, Innocence Betrayed (1696)

Plays[edit]

  • Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks (1696)
  • The Spanish Wives (1696)
  • The Innocent Mistress (1697)
  • The Deceiver Deceived (1697)
  • Queen Catharine; or, The Ruines of Love (1698)
  • The False Friend; or, the Fate of Disobedience (1699)
  • The Beau Defeated; or, the Lucky Younger Brother (1700)
  • The Double Distress (1701)
  • The Czar of Muscovy (1701), attributed to Pix although not published in her name
  • The Different Widows; or, Intrigue All-A-Mode (1703), attributed to Pix
  • Zelmane; or, the Corinthian Queen (1705), attributed to Pix (though some scholars still debate this attribution)[10]
  • The Conquest of Spain (1705), attributed to Pix
  • The Adventures in Madrid (1706) attributed to Pix.

Poetry[edit]

  • Violenta; or, The Rewards of Virtue, Turn'd from Boccace into Verse (1704)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Find a Grave: St Clement Danes Churchyard. Accessed 8 February 2013
  2. ^ Clark, Constance (1986). Three Augustan Women Playwrights. New York: Peter Lang. p. 183. ISBN 0-8204-0309-1. 
  3. ^ Morgan, Fidelis (1981). Female Wits. London: Virago. ISBN 0860682315. 
  4. ^ Morgan, Fidelis (1981). Female Wit: Women Playwrights of the Restoration. London: Virago. p. 392. ISBN 0860682315. 
  5. ^ Person, Jr., James (1988). Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Detroit: Gale. p. 255. ISBN 0810361078. 
  6. ^ Person, Jr., James (1988). Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Detroit: Gale. p. 255. ISBN 0810361078. 
  7. ^ Morgan, 1991: xvii
  8. ^ Morgan, 1991: xx
  9. ^ Schoenberg, Thomas (2008). Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Detroit: Gale. p. 223. 
  10. ^ Kramer, Annette (June 1994). "Mary Pix's Nebulous Relationship to Zelmane". Notes and Queries 41 (2): 186–187. doi:10.1093/nq/41.2.186. 
  • Morgan, Fidelis. The Female Wits: Women Playwrights on the London Stage, 1660–1720. London, Virago, 1981.
  • Morgan, Fidelis, and Patrick Lyons, eds. Female Playwrights of the Restoration: Five Comedies. London, J. M. Dent, 1991.