Harriet Martineau Criticism - Essay

Valerie Kossew Pichanick (essay date 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pichanick, Valerie Kossew. “An Abominable Submission: Harriet Martineau's Views on the Role and Place of Woman.” Women's Studies 5, no. 1 (1977): 13-32.

[In the following essay, Pichanick examines Martineau's views on women's place in society and the home as well as her advice on how women should achieve equality in every area of life.]

I fully expect that both you and I shall feel as if I did not discharge a daughter's duty, but we shall both remind ourselves that I am now as much a citizen of the world as any professional son of yours could be.

With this admonition Harriet Martineau (1802-76)...

(The entire section is 7530 words.)

Mitzi Myers (essay date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Myers, Mitzi. “Unmothered Daughter and Radical Reformer: Harriet Martineau's Career.” In The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature, pp. 70-80. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Myers examines the connection between Martineau's private life and her writings.]

“We have very little of correctly detailed domestic history, the most valuable of all as it would enable us to make comparisons. …”1

Francis Place's remark anticipates a key concern of the new social historians, a concern of particular relevance to women, so much of whose history has...

(The entire section is 4542 words.)

Gillian Thomas (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Gillian. “Martineau as a Fiction Writer.” In Harriet Martineau, pp. 87-116. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

[In the following excerpt, Thomas analyzes Martineau's fiction.]


The utilitarian philosophy which offered the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” as the ultimate social goal attempted to provide a remedy for all social ills through the doctrine of “political economy.” Most notably, Adam Smith's Inquiry Concerning the Wealth of Nations (1776) provided an economic counterpart to the utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham by arguing for free trade and...

(The entire section is 11771 words.)

Valerie Sanders (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sanders, Valerie. “‘The Cotton-spinners' Romance of Real Life’: Harriet Martineau and the Poor Man's Tale.” In Reason Over Passion: Harriet Martineau and the Victorian Novel, pp. 30-57. Sussex, Eng.: The Harvester Press, 1986.

[In the following excerpt, Williams comments on the economic themes in Martineau's work.]

Harriet Martineau's Illustrations of Political Economy grew out of turbulent times:

The year 1831 opened gloomily. Those who believed that revolution was at hand, feared to wish one another a happy new year; and the anxiety about revolution was by no means confined to anti-reformers. Society was...

(The entire section is 11798 words.)

Diana Postlethwaite (essay date spring 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Postlethwaite, Diana. “Mothering and Mesmerism in the Life of Harriet Martineau.” Signs 14, no. 3 (spring 1989): 583-609.

[In the following essay, Postlethwaite considers the impact Martineau's illness and her relationship with her mother had on her writing.]

On the surface, Harriet Martineau's life (1802-76) offers a radical challenge to the stereotype of the Victorian woman writer as a subjective, emotive novelist or poet, a Lady of Shalott weaving her web of words in isolation from the larger concerns of the masculine world. In a career that spanned fifty-five years, Martineau produced thirty-five books and scores of periodical essays. Well respected,...

(The entire section is 10782 words.)

Trev Lynn Broughton (essay date autumn 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Broughton, Trev Lynn. “Making the Most of Martyrdom: Harriet Martineau, Autobiography and Death.” Literature & History 2, no. 2 (autumn 1993): 24-45.

[In the following essay, Broughton examines what Martineau's Autobiography reveals about Victorian beliefs on death and the practice of autobiography.]

In her Autobiography, Harriet Martineau twice claims, using almost identical phraseology, that she ‘hoped for, and expected early death till it was too late to die early’.1 This has long struck me as a most elegant, economical way of expressing the autobiographical dilemma facing mid-Victorian, middle-class Englishwomen; indeed...

(The entire section is 9996 words.)

Ann Hobart (essay date winter 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hobart, Ann. “Harriet Martineau's Political Economy of Everyday Life.” Victorian Studies 37, no. 2 (winter 1994): 223-51.

[In the following essay, Hobart examines portions of Martineau's works that deal with economics and capitalism in England.]

In her celebrated Autobiography, Harriet Martineau traces the real beginning of her literary career to the collapse of her father's firm in 1829. Before that happy “calamity,” Martineau claims to have effaced the signs of her professional ambition in compliance with the conventional standards of domestic propriety on which her mother insisted: Jane Austen-like, she wrote only “before breakfast or in...

(The entire section is 11290 words.)

Shelagh Hunter (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hunter, Shelagh. “Social Criticism.” In Harriet Martineau: The Poetics of Moralism, pp. 148-94. Aldershot, Eng.: Scolar Press, 1995.

[In the following excerpt, Hunter discusses Martineau's social criticism, including Society in America.]


Society in America is Harriet Martineau's most extensive and sustained social criticism. A three-volume survey of the politics, economy, civilization and religion of America, it is based on the observations of a visit lasting two years, from September 1834 to August 1836. They were crowded years. She went as far south as New Orleans, west to...

(The entire section is 25991 words.)

Sarah Winter (essay date spring 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Winter, Sarah. “Mental Culture: Liberal Pedagogy and the Emergence of Ethnographic Knowledge.” Victorian Studies 41, no. 3 (spring 1998): 427-54.

[In the following essay, Winter examines to what extent some of Martineau's works can be considered ethnographic studies.]

No one seriously doubts that teaching is educational only in as far as, by its very nature, it has the capacity of exerting a moral influence on the way we are and the way we think; in other words, in as far as it effects a transformation in our ideas, our beliefs and our feelings.

—Emile Durkheim, The Evolution of Educational...

(The entire section is 11479 words.)

Deborah Logan (essay date April 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Logan, Deborah. “Harriet Martineau and the Martyr Age of the United States.” Symbiosis 5, no. 1 (April 2001): 33-49.

[In the following essay, Logan considers Martineau's tour of the United States and the inspiration it provided for a body of work about repression and slavery.]

The accident of my arriving in America in the dawning hour of the great conflict accounts for the strange story I have had to tell about myself.1

(AB 2:61)

She was born to be a destroyer of slavery, in whatever form, in whatever place, all over the world, wherever she saw or...

(The entire section is 7204 words.)