- Harriet Martineau: Authorship, Society and Empire ed. by Ella Dzelzainis, Cora Kaplan
Harriet Martineau: Authorship, Society and Empire, edited by Ella Dzelzainis and Cora Kaplan, is an eminently useful collection that manages both breadth and depth. Originating from a one-day conference on Martineau, the fifteen chapters are relatively short, but they make sophisticated arguments about Martineau’s always complex, often contradictory positions on privacy, authorship, disability, labor unions, women, poverty, education, race, and empire, just to name a few. The broad range of topics and easily digestible length of the chapters make it an accessible introduction to this lesser-known Victorian thinker; it would be an invaluable companion to a course on Martineau, British economics, or the empire in the mid-nineteenth century. It also offers profitable reading to scholars investigating the nuances of Martineau’s work. As a testament to the editors’ good work, this book is readable cover-to-cover with a natural progression of interrelated topics that produces remarkable cohesion for an edited collection.
The book is divided into three parts: “Authorship and identity” (six chapters), “Political economy, technology and society” (four chapters), and “Empire, race, nation” (five chapters). Though the scope widens from the self to the empire, certain aspects of Martineau’s beliefs—freedom of expression, trade, and self-governance—reoccur and link to form a relatively complete, though certainly complex, understanding of Martineau’s writings. The introduction sets the stage for this understanding, not by providing a simple biographical overview, but by contextualizing Martineau’s place in the academy. Dzelzainis and Kaplan address the paucity of scholarly attention until relatively recently when interest in Martineau’s work on sociology, feminism, liberalism, and imperialism has converged to bring her contributions to light. Dzelzainis and Kaplan make the rather usual claim that to study an individual figure is to illuminate the issues of the era, but the subsequent chapters more than justify their assertion that [End Page 711] “[b]y placing Martineau at the centre of nineteenth-century public discourse and interrogating her social and political views, this volume intervenes in the wider analysis of the tensions in Victorian social and political reforming thought” (4).
Lucy Bending writes in her chapter, “Self-presentation and instability in Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography,” that “[w]hat emerges from Martineau’s extensive body of writing is this strong sense of someone determined to project a firm and self-critical self-image” (64). This self-constructed image is the focus of the chapters in part 1. Linda H. Peterson in “Harriet Martineau, woman of letters” explores Martineau’s role in the emergence of women as professionals of letters and her Autobiography as constructing a “public identit[y]” of the female author as “heroic,” in part based on Thomas Carlyle’s image of the hero (30). A. Laura Stef-Praun further defines Martineau’s self-image in “Harriet Martineau’s ‘intellectual nobility’: gender, genius and disability” through an examination of Martineau’s construction of a new version of genius that is moral, nourished by disability, and contrasted to the Romantic notions of genius. Felicity James, in “‘Socinian and political-economy formulas’: Martineau the Unitarian,” looks to her Unitarian background for “insight into the complexity of her character and some of the paradoxes of her early writing” (74). According to James, Martineau’s early Unitarianism accounts for her difference from Thomas Robert Malthus in her “optimistic belief in human progress,” a view that reappears in the chapters of part 3 (75). Martineau’s image creation even extends to her work as a translator, as Lesa Scholl explores in “Provocative agendas: Martineau’s translation of Comte.” Scholl questions how much Martineau manipulates the text to present the image she wants and to “[critique] political economy in yet another voice and genre, without having to claim full ownership or acceptance of the views expressed in the text” (96). In addition to creating an authorial image, Martineau had a strong sense of the rights of an author. Martineau’s indefatigable work as a vanguard in the campaign for authors’ claims to...