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Like a Retired Madam

Rosemary Dinnage: Entranced!, 4 February 1999

Mesmerised: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain 
by Alison Winter.
Chicago, 464 pp., £23.95, December 1998, 0 226 90219 6
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... partly on his own encounters with mesmerism, and probably also on the famous case of the writer Harriet Martineau. Even his modest invalid knew enough to know that she was living in an age of prescientific ferment. One of Alison Winter’s main points in Mesmerised is that, in an age when so much of what was being discovered seemed extraordinary, a ...

Too late to die early

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Virginia Woolf and Harriet Martineaun in the sick room, 5 February 2004

Life in the Sick-Room 
by Harriet Martineau, edited by Maria Frawley.
Broadview, 260 pp., £8.99, March 2003, 1 55111 265 5
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On Being Ill 
by Virginia Woolf, edited by Hermione Lee.
Paris Press, 28 pp., £15, October 2002, 1 930464 06 1
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... Greenhow, a retired surgeon, published an article in the British Medical Journal on the case of Harriet Martineau, who had died in her house in Ambleside the previous summer. Greenhow hoped to settle a heated debate about Martineau’s medical history that had been ignited – or rather, reignited – by some ...

In a Box

Deborah Friedell, 3 January 2013

... prizes, Alfred Nobel also required that his arteries be opened after his death, just in case. Harriet Martineau bequeathed ten guineas to the doctor willing to decapitate her; for others, the amputation of fingers or toes would do. Premature Burial: How It May Be Prevented, first published in 1896 and now reissued by Hesperus Press (£9.99), is a ...

Adulation or Eggs

Susan Eilenberg: At home with the Carlyles, 7 October 2004

Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Pimlico, 560 pp., £15, February 2003, 0 7126 6634 6
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... thro’ with prejudices and bits of injustice, as thick as tipsy cake with almonds’, Harriet Martineau observed) were compelled by his quick and ferocious intellectual energy, his belligerence (‘honesty’) and his histrionics (‘sincerity’) to admire what they could not approve. Perhaps his savageness was really an ‘intolerable ...

Oh, My Aching Back

Roy Porter, 2 November 1995

The History of Pain 
by Roselyne Rey, translated by Elliott Wallace and J.A. Cadden , and S.W. Cadden.
Harvard, 394 pp., £25.50, October 1995, 0 674 39967 6
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... we can vicariously share that horror. But what of that dauntless early Victorian intellectual, Harriet Martineau? She took to her bed for five years, complaining of unbearable abdominal agonies whose roots were quite obscure. Can we even guess what she was going through? ‘Language has not yet been adjusted,’ reflected the physician, Thomas ...

A Stick on Fire

Gillian Beer, 7 February 1985

Clarkey: A Portrait in Letters of Mary Clarke Mohl 1793-1883 
by Margaret Lesser.
Oxford, 235 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 211787 4
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George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form 
by Suzanne Graver.
California, 340 pp., £22.70, August 1984, 0 520 04802 4
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... Thiers, Renan, Turgenev. Her English friends included not only Mrs Gaskell but George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, the Thackerays, the Brownings, the Trollopes, the Stanleys, the Russells ... To Florence Nightingale she was much more than a friend.’She did not fall into the trap of identifying women with nature and nurture. To her, women were the ...

Write to me

Danny Karlin, 11 January 1990

The Brownings’ Correspondence. Vol. VII: March-October 1843 
edited by Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson.
Athlone, 429 pp., £60, December 1989, 0 485 30027 3
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... Lady Olliffe,’ Robert Browning wrote in March 1877: I have just been reading my old friend Miss Martineau’s protest against the publication – and indeed, retention – of all correspondence. Here, now, is a sample of mine: be assured I shall never demand it again, from any apprehension that hereafter the friendliness in it may be at variance with ...

Land of Pure Delight

Dinah Birch: Anglicising the Holy Land, 20 April 2006

The Holy Land in English Culture 1799-1917: Palestine and the Question of Orientalism 
by Eitan Bar-Yosef.
Oxford, 319 pp., £50, October 2005, 0 19 926116 4
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... made their way to Palestine saw things differently, and were inclined to find evidence of what Harriet Martineau called ‘home-feeling’. They wanted to discover a country which was like their own, and persuaded themselves that the Holy Land fitted the bill. Dean Stanley was struck by ‘the Western, almost the English, character of the scenery ...

He ate peas with a knife

John Sutherland: Douglas Jerrold, 3 April 2003

Douglas Jerrold: 1803-57 
by Michael Slater.
Duckworth, 340 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 7156 2824 0
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... durable relics of his wit concern his fellow authors. ‘There is no God,’ he proclaimed, ‘and Harriet Martineau is his prophet.’ Dickens, he said, ‘had the showman instinct so strongly developed that if you only gave him three square yards of carpet, he would tumble on that like a street acrobat’. ‘I have known Thackeray for 18 years,’ he ...

Fear among the Teacups

Dinah Birch: Ellen Wood, 8 February 2001

East Lynne 
by Ellen Wood, edited by Andrew Maunder.
Broadview, 779 pp., £7.95, October 2000, 1 55111 234 5
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... novel-readers in the mushrooming industrial cities consumed it with fervour; but the austere Harriet Martineau liked it too, as did General Gordon, Joseph Conrad and Edward VII. Its appeal spread far beyond British readers. R.K. Narayan dwells fondly on the ‘bitter tears’ he shed over East Lynne in his 1975 memoir, My Days: ‘Reading and ...

Miss Simpson stayed to tea

Philippa Tristram, 20 April 1989

William Wordsworth: A Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 812828 2
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... at touching English soil suggests this, and his ‘little spot of earth’ was smaller still. Harriet Martineau was no doubt right in claiming that the personal state of Lakeland’s poor was ‘flagrant beyond anything I ever could have looked for’, but her ‘dear good old Wordsworth forever talking about rural innocence’ is not, as he was for ...

Carlyle’s Mail Fraud

Rosalind Mitchison, 6 August 1981

The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle: Vol. VIII 1835-1836, Vol. IX 1836-1837 
edited by Charles Sanders and Kenneth Fielding.
Duke, 365 pp., £32.95, May 1981, 0 8223 0433 3
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... easier to read than Carlyle’s. There were literary ladies about at that time. One of these, Harriet Martineau, made a great impression on the Carlyles. It is difficult not to feel that Jane might have been happier, and even healthier, as well as of more use, writing for publication rather than wringing out blankets or supervising the smoothness of ...

Slipper Protocol

Peter Campbell: The seclusion of women, 10 May 2001

Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature 
by Ruth Bernard Yeazell.
Yale, 314 pp., £22.50, October 2000, 0 300 08389 0
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... she might well fantasise about a place where a woman could be free to do as she liked.’ Harriet Martineau, half a century later, had different ideas: ‘I cannot now think of the two mornings thus employed without a heaviness of heart greater than I have ever brought away from Deaf and Dumb Schools, Lunatic Asylums, or even Prisons.’ When she ...

Saintly Resonances

Lorraine Daston: Obliterate the self!, 31 October 2002

Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England 
by George Levine.
Chicago, 320 pp., £31.50, September 2002, 0 226 47536 0
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... that title, the aesthete Walter Pater and the statistician Karl Pearson, the political economist Harriet Martineau and Dickens’s John Harmon in Our Mutual Friend – all these Victorians, real and imaginary, deliberately extinguish some aspect of their personality in order to find out a hidden (and often unpleasant) truth. Levine calls these willed ...

I now, I then

Thomas Keymer: Life-Writing, 17 August 2017

AHistory of English Autobiography 
edited by Adam Smyth.
Cambridge, 437 pp., £64.99, June 2016, 978 1 107 07841 3
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... genre’s increasing respectability. Even works written for posthumous publication like those of Harriet Martineau and Anthony Trollope were sparing in their attention to the inner life. Documenting social or professional activity, they channelled their ideas about identity into a Bildungsroman-style plot of maturation. Victorianists sometimes talk in ...

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