Harriet Martineau



A woman before her time. Martineau was an opinionated, outspoken, often sickly, nearly deaf old maid of an Englishwoman who lugged around an ear trumpet. Charles Darwin said he, "was astonished to find how ugly she is." Not content with self-pity, she maintained her deafness was "about the best thing that ever happened to me." Of being unmarried in Victorian England, she said, "I am in truth very thankful for not having married at all." Through her often polemical writings, Martineau kicked against the status quo of Victorian England. Born into an upper-middle class strongly Unitarian family, she grew up in a self-proclaimed miserable childhood. Nevertheless, throughout this childhood she received a rigorous home education almost equal to the boys' education at the time. In young adulthood she was engaged, but (for reasons unknown) her fiancé suffered a mental and emotional breakdown. She never married. Nearly coincident with the dissolution of her engagement, her father and brother died, which caused the dissolution of the family's textile manufacturing and wine importing businesses. She was forced to support her mother (with whom she always had "issues") by needlework, but soon started writing. She first wrote religious tracts for publication in Unitarian periodicals, but she found her voice in social issues, liberal religion issues, and feminist issues. She brought ire upon herself for her strong feminist, political, and abolitionist views (especially in America where she toured during the 1830s). Not always successful in persuading others of her views, she received strong support from a circle of literary friends including Charles Babbage, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Malthaus, Florence Nightingale, and William Wordsworth.

(Compiled by Lara Burton)

See also

Essays by Harriet Martineau

Experience and progress

It is possible that we human beings, with our mere human faculty, may not understand the scheme, or nature, or fact of the universe!

Household education

I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the most ignorant women I have known have been the worst housekeepers; and that the most learned women I have known have been among the best.

On marriage

The degree of the degradation of woman is as good a test as the moralist can adopt for ascertaining the state of domestic morals in any country.

Spirit of religion

Religion is not an affair of occupation and circumstance, but of principle and temper.


How fearfully the morals of woman are crushed, appears from the prevalent persuasion that there are virtues which are peculiarly masculine, and others which are peculiarly feminine.
Patrick Madden's New Book
Quotidiana by Patrick Madden

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