This essay on Martineau was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 14.1 (April 2010) 3-18
From this Essay:
In 1834, Harriet Martineau joined a growing group of British and American authors who crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean to present themselves to their transatlantic reading public. Some, like Charles Dickens and Frederick Douglass, would engage in lecture tours; others, like Fanny Trollope and Nathaniel Hawthorne, would simply observe the visited country, collect observations for a subsequent book and, in the meantime, perhaps become the object of intense observation themselves. That so many authors felt the need to present themselves publicly, in person, to a transatlantic audience itself suggests that in the growing international mass market of the nineteenth century, authors and audiences alike were acutely aware of the difference between an author in print and a living, breathing, speaking author. These visits both grew out of and encouraged a burgeoning celebrity culture that left nineteenth-century authors peered at, mobbed, or even, as in the case of Dickens and Oscar Wilde, asked to sell cuttings of their hair. Most writers who confronted a celebrity, public version of themselves wondered how this new culture might affect them as authors and how much agency a celebrity author would maintain over his or her image and work.
Harriet Martineau, the Victorian political economist and author, struggled with these tensions, just as Charles Dickens did, for her entire career. Her 1834–36 trip to the United States, which consisted of travel, observation, and one ill-fated speaking engagement, heightened and exacerbated them, because— unlike with Dickens—Martineau’s physical presence itself already challenged the norm of what an author looked and sounded like. As a woman and as a partially deaf author, Martineau would cause an exaggerated reaction when she arrived in America and engaged in one speaking performance.
About the author
Affiliation: Temple University
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