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Hypatia 16.1 (2001) 94-97

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Book Review

The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill

The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Edited by JO ELLEN JACOBS, assistant edited by PAULA HARMS PAYNE. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill (1998) promises to shed light on Taylor's status as a thinker. Its editor, Jo Ellen Jacobs, fosters this hope, writing [End Page 94] that "An assessment of Harriet Taylor Mill's contribution to the history of philosophy must commence [by reading all of her work]" (xxxv). So far most discussion of Taylor has addressed her influence on her second husband, John Stuart Mill. On the one hand is the eloquent testimony Mill pays to her intelligence and sensitivity in his Autobiography (1969) and On Liberty (1989). On the other are attempts by some Mill scholars to attribute his exaggerated praise of an ordinary intellect to the excesses of uxoriousness. Reading Taylor's 1851 essay "Enfranchisement of Women" in Alice Rossi's collection Essays on Sex Equality (1970) inclined me toward Mill's assessment of her abilities. This incisive and finely written piece obviously informed Mill's subsequent arguments in The Subjection of Women (1989).

This new collection presents some of Taylor's other published writings as well, but as most are collaborative, it is difficult to distill her particular contribution. The joint works include a series of newspaper articles analyzing court cases about domestic violence. The remarks on the Fitzroy bill regarding appropriate punishment for perpetrators are striking. Although usually abhorring corporal punishment, Taylor and Mill recommended flogging rather than just incarceration for these "crimes of brutality" (Mill 1998, 128). They defend this by arguing that only if the offender experienced some of the pain and fear he had inflicted on dependent family members would he be deterred from reoffending. It is noteworthy that this pamphlet was published anonymously and distributed privately. Most of these writings on domestic violence are available in Sexual Equality: Writings by John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor Mill and Helen Taylor (1994). Yet despite its recent publication date, this collection, edited by Ann P. and John M. Robson, is not mentioned in the volume under review.

A chapter from Principles of Political Economy (1884), "On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes", is reproduced because the editor treats it as another joint production. She refers to Mill's account in his autobiography of Taylor's enormous contribution to this chapter and discusses the dedication to her that was to preface the book. The dedication, which ultimately appeared only in copies circulated to friends, was suppressed because Taylor's then-husband, John Taylor, objected. Their correspondence about this appears in the third part of the volume. He writes that "no one would more rejoice than I should at any justice and honour done to you," but fears that the dedication will betray "a want of taste and tact . . . [and] revive recollections now forgotten and will create observations and talk that cannot but be extremely unpleasant to me" (1998, 472-73). This is a powerful reminder of the problems of decorum Taylor faced through much of her life. Married to, but separated from, one man, she shared her life with another and had always to balance the demands of propriety against those of personal happiness and individual freedom. A mirror-image dilemma faced her when John Taylor died. Should Mill [End Page 95] attend the funeral? Might his absence be read as a lack of respect for her late husband? Or would an out-of-sight Mill be an out-of-mind one, reminding none of the delicate, unorthodox situation Taylor had negotiated for sixteen years?

The chapter from Principles of Political Economy attributed to Taylor argues that there is more to economic progress than economic growth. It predicts that the private ownership of property will diminish as more workers and eventually owners see the benefits of association and co-operation. Industrial democracy is touted as the way of the future. Despite sharing many of the socialists' criticisms of capitalism, the author argues that competition...


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