Click to enlarge
(June 12, 1802 -
The remarkable Harriet Martineau is famous as a defiantly independent Victorian woman who earned her living as a prolific and influential journalist and writer. In achieving this she had to overcome the misogyny of Victorian society and her own physical problems. Harriet was deaf from the age of 12 and suffered from ill health all her life.
Harriet was one of eight children born to Elizabeth and Thomas Martineau, a textile manufacturer in Norwich. The Martineaus were Unitarians who held progressive ideas on the education of girls. However, while the boys were trained for careers the girls were expected to stay at home. Harriet’s anger at this unfairness produced an anonymous article to a Unitarian journal which was well received and her career as a professional writer was born.
Many articles followed and in 1832 she became famous as the author of ‘Illustrations of Political Economy’ -
On return to England more publications followed including novels and a series of children’s stories. In 1839, while in Europe, she became seriously ill from an ovarian cyst and spent the next 5 years in a Tynemouth bedroom expecting to die. In 1845 she claimed to have been cured by Mesmerism and resumed normal life. However, during her incapacitation she continued to write, including ‘Life in the Sickroom’-
In 1846, Martineau travelled to the Middle East and while in Egypt developed a theory of ‘Philosophical Atheism’ which suggested that religion became more spiritual as mankind progressed. This caused a rift with her beloved brother James, a Unitarian minister.
Harriet continued her prolific output and wrote on a vast range of subjects including c.2000 articles for the Daily News from 1852-
Harriet died in Ambleside in 1876 and was buried in Key Hill with her mother, brother Robert and other members of the influential Birmingham Martineau family.
She was a unique figure in Victorian culture and a key contributor to its intellectual and social debates.
The JQRT would like to thank the Martineau Society for
permission to use material from their website.
Please visit martineausociety.co.uk for more on Harriet -
for as Charles Darwin described her-
‘She is a wonderful woman’