London: R. Wellington, 1696. First edition. 18th century quarter calf over marbled boards, with gilt to spine. All edges stained red. Joints and corners professionally repaired. Small early auction house label to front board. Internally with early ownership marks to front pastedown and endpaper and some toning and foxing throughout, largely toward the rear. Measures 210 x 150mm (pages). Collating , 48: complete. A scarce work by an early and outspoken female playwright, ESTC reports 17 U.S. libraries with holdings, while the modern auction record shows only two appearances in the past 45 years. The present is the only copy on the market.
A prolific playwright of the late Restoration, Mary Pix produced seven dramas bearing her name and an additional five anonymous plays between 1696-1706. As one of the earliest women in English to join the field, Pix proved to be a skilled stage-writer in her creation of original work as well as in her adaptations of classical and early modern stories. "Her comedies were generally ingeniously plotted...Her tragedies relied heavily on extravagant emotional rhetoric, well suited to actresses such as Elizabeth Barry, who played many leading roles for Pix...Although her work preserved contemporary dramatic conventions of plotting and characterization, they frequently gave stronger emphasis to the female perspective than was the norm of this period" (ODNB). In this sense, she belongs to the dramatic cohort of Aphra Behn and Susanna Centlivre, who used their platform of the stage to promote women's interests. Like her contemporaries she did her best to promote the cause of women in drama, typically having eight or nine major female characters in a play (compared to the average of two to three in works of male dramatists) (Schoenburg).
The second of her plays, produced and published in the same year as her first, The Spanish Wives is a commentary on forced marriage where "by and large, self-sacrificing women endure louts for husbands" (Combe). Encouraging the audience to see these union's from women's perspective, Pix reveals the ridiculousness of the marriage system. But she does not create tragedy, instead generating a satire that, through humor, could induce change. In this sense, Pix helped shift how the audience's gaze was defined, and she was aware "as her male predecessors had perhaps not been, that the extraordinary spectacles of suffering women offered to late 17th century audiences carried real liabilities. While embracing spectacle, Pix tended to preserve the dignity of her heroines" (Mowry). The outcome of the farce is an appreciation of women's resilience and the exposure of men's ridiculousness.
Provenance: Duke of Roxburghe; Evans for M. Giles; Sold at Giles sale (5 July 1820) to Lord Harlech' sold in his sale (28 February 1956).
Wing P2332. ESTC R8660. (Item #4020)