Harriet Martineau, Selected Letters by Valerie Sanders (ed) - review by Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes

Hasty Scrawls

Harriet Martineau, Selected Letters


OUP 268pp £30 order from our bookshop

The nineteenth-century journalist and novelist Harriet Martineau insisted that her letters should never be published, begging the recipients of her correspondence to throw away the incriminating evidence as quickly as possible. It wasn't that she was ashamed of them - in fact, she thought them rather good but, as she explained to the diarist Henry Crabb Robinson, 'I could no more write freely to anyone who persisted in laying by my letters, than I could talk freely to one who insisted on taking notes of my conversation.' Far from being literary affairs - measured, polished, and written with one eye on posterity - Martineau's letters represent quick staccatos of conversation exchanged without ceremony or artifice. In this most comprehensive publication of her letters to date, compiled with the permission and approval of her family, Valerie Sanders makes use of the fact that many of Martineau's correspondents dared to keep her letters - as secret souvenirs, perhaps, of one of the most celebrated women of the day.

When her merchant father lost his fortune in the mid-1820s, the young Harriet Martineau was obliged to seek her own support. Her deafness prevented her from following her sisters down the governess route, and she concentrated instead on developing her skills as a journalist, starting with contributions to the Unitarian

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