Witty and rebellious female playwright. Lost treasure of English Restoration theatre.
Mary Pix (1666-1709)
Born in Buckingham in 1666, Pix emerged as a professional writer in 1696. She went on to write one novel and seven plays, with a further four anonymous plays attributed to her. Despite the success of Pix’s work, little is known about her and her contemporary female playwrights in comparison to her fellow male playwrights from this time.
Female Playwrights in the Restoration Era
During the restoration era (1660-1710), the liberalisation of social values in England led to more opportunities for women in the arts, but they still faced criticism and hostility. The rising of a middle class and the increased sense of a ‘domestic sphere’ for women at this time highlights the rebellious nature of female playwrights like Pix, breaking away from the stereotype that a woman's place was in the home.
Many female playwrights chose to write anonymously or under male names to be more easily accepted. This anonymity has resulted in many plays being lost or mistakenly attributed to male authors of the time.
Many of the ‘lost’ female plays of this era were categorised as obscene and as such kept under strict supervision at the British Library, contributing to the mystery surrounding these women and their work.
The female work of this era has been described as 'protofeminism', laying the foundations for future feminist work.
Aphra Behn (1640-1689), the most well-known female playwright of this era, was often portrayed as ‘unwomanly’ and vilified by male writers of the 18th century. Her work paved the way for the likes of Pix by opening up public space for women writers.
Delariviere Manley (1663-1724) and Catherine Trotter (1674-1749) are the playwrights Pix was mostly associated with throughout her career. A dramatic satire of 1697 titled The Female Wits or; The Triumvirate of Poets was written anonymously, the critique being directed at the three female writers after they began achieving more success. This play gives a more personal insight into Pix, describing her as a sociable and openhearted female writer.
The larger number of women in Pix’s plays and her work itself challenged traditional stereotypes of women as inferior to men. These female characters were often far more diverse in ages and social classes than many male-authored plays of the time.
Her writing centres around female solidarity and women working together to overcome a society that is against them, with a significant theme of women educating other women to reach goals socially. Through The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich or; The Beau Defeated, Pix offers a humorous, light-hearted social critique on gender and female solidarity.