Is “The Wisest Thing” a Moral Responsibility? Martineau and Benefit Clubs

In Cousin Marshall, Martineau refers to Benefit Clubs as a viable alternative to reliance upon parish relief several times, especially because of John Marshall’s use of this financial option. When the widowed Mrs. Marshall writes to Ned about his money, she says, “I quite approve your wish about the Friendly Society, knowing how my husband did the wisest thing in belonging to one, and at times could have got through in no other way” (123). Earlier, the narrator characterizes John as “a slow and dull, though steady workman” of whom his friends say “that his club served him instead of a set of wits” (73-74). Furthermore, the narrator indicates Mrs. Marshall does not fully recognize that he is not particularly bright because of this one wise choice that enabled them to be self-sufficient when his hard work was not enough to keep them financially afloat: “His wife, who never seemed to have found out how much cleverer she was than her husband, put the matter in a somewhat different light. She attributed to her husband all the respectability they were enabled to maintain…She gave him the credit, not only of the regularity of their little household…but of the many kindnesses which they rendered to their neighbors” (74). Mr. Marshall’s responsible character and Mrs. Marshall’s careful stewardship of their resources also receive attention in these passages, but Martineau stresses how the Benefit Club played a major role in their abilities to be financially responsible and stable. Additionally, Martineau makes a point of clarifying that John is not actually a smart or talented man but rather a good but average man who just had the good sense to listen to the advice of his father and invest in this safety net (73). Martineau considers wise financial decisions as being within the grasp of all the working class that are not severely disadvantaged through disability, as even an allegedly dim-witted fellow like Mr. Marshall could make that choice.

Despite the support the Benefit Club provides the Marshall family in their times of need, Burke, the doctor who presents explanations and solutions for England’s political economy, does not think that Benefit Clubs are inherently the solution and therefore should not be made compulsory. When Effingham asks him what he thinks of the idea of requiring people to join Benefit Clubs, Burke responds,

No man approves such societies more than I, as long as they are voluntary; but fellowship of this kind would lose its virtue, I doubt, by being made compulsory. There are no means that I know of, of compelling a man who will not earn to store his earnings; and the frugal and industrious will do it without compulsion, as soon as they understand the matter: so that in fact the worst classes of society would be left as free to roam, and beg, and steal, as if the institution did not exist. (115-116)

For Burke, and seemingly for Martineau, as her concluding summary echoes much of Burke’s other ideas presented in the narrative, the good, hard-working people will do the common-sense thing once they know its benefits, and the people associated with the term “undeserving poor” would not act sensibly even if they could afford to do so.

Martineau’s characterization of the Marshall family and the contrasting Bell relatives, as well as several other conversations and characters, reveal her strong belief in the difference between deserving and undeserving poor. This is best represented by Louisa Burke’s conversation with Mr. Nugent, in which she expresses her concern for the lack of separation between “blameless and culpable indigence” (29). Of course, Mr. Nugent considers her categories “somewhat too nice,” for Martineau acknowledges that this is indeed an oversimplification. However, though her views are likely more nuanced than her characters’ explanations, she considers a major difference between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor to be the willingness and wisdom to save up resources through these Benefit Clubs. By associating John Marshall, a man who is not especially educated or even smart, with the wisdom of benefit clubs, which then in turn allows him to benefit other people and his relatives, the Bells, whose financial decisions are clever but unwise and often even unethical, with those who would not have the foresight to save through Benefit Clubs, is Martineau suggesting that though Benefit Clubs ought not to be legally required, that there is a sort of moral imperative to make such wise decisions?

While financial responsibility and frugality are certainly admirable qualities that allow for greater participation in the moral responsibility of charity toward neighbors, it seems that Martineau’s fairly clear distinctions between the deserving poor and undeserving poor move financial wisdom from an admirable quality to a characteristic that helps separate the virtuous from the unvirtuous and the deserving from the undeserving in troubling ways. What about those who would have joined the Benefit Clubs had they not already been receiving relief as children or who were trying to be self-sufficient in caring for their aging parents and therefore could not set aside the necessary earnings? Ned is an extreme example of the hard-working poor, but would Martineau find those in similar situations who did not break the cycle of poverty as he did to be undeserving? While she does not explicitly portray failure to plan ahead financially as a moral failing, her characters present limited examples of virtuous people who are not able be fairly self-sufficient through wise financial decisions, and thus, she seems to ignore the possibility of those who do not clearly fit in one category or the other.

Worlds are Colliding: Authorship, Gender, and Self-Formation in the lives of Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell


In their articles dealing with self-hood and the authorial voice of the Victorian woman writer, Iain Crawford and Alexis Easley tie the role of the author and the way they are perceived by society directly to gender. Such a connection holds particularly true in the nineteenth century, as gender itself was a large determinant for individual agency. A commonly held belief of the period concerned “the two spheres”, in which the sphere of vocation was gendered as male, while the sphere of the domestic was gendered as female. In their articles, Crawford and Easley show how both Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell complicate the separation inherent to the ‘two spheres’ by attempting to move from one to the other through authorship. Though the move is successful, how does it impact the selfhood of the two women and the way they are perceived by their society?

Crawford’s article on Martineau and authorship contextualizes the selfhood of the author in relation to a very heated disagreement Martineau herself had with Charles Dickens. At the time, Martineau was writing for Household Words, a periodical conducted by Dickens. After a difference of opinion regarding government legislation of factories, the two began a heated disagreement, resulting in Martineau’s decision to cease contribution to Household Words. Interestingly, Crawford positions the two authors in their ‘very public spat’ not in terms of ideology (the progressive Dickens vs. the conservative Martineau), but in terms of gender: “Dickens’s reliance upon his male friends and colleagues, together with his creation of an alternative home in the bachelor domestic space of the Household Words office, suggests powerfully the ways in which the lines between the professional and the personal blurred” (462). Crawford suggests that because the authorial space is gendered as male, a type of ‘boys club’, Martineau had no place in it once her opinion clashed with Dickens the conductor. Crawford may be suggesting that if Martineau had not been a woman, a disagreement with Dickens may not have met with rejection from the male sphere of authorship.

It is also interesting to note that in this debate, both Martineau and Dickens seem to take on stereotypes belonging to the opposite gender. Martineau is the voice of logic divorced from emotion, arguing in favor of free enterprise and the necessity to keep government out of market regulation – a typically ‘male view’. On the other hand, Dickens is full of pathos, and writes pieces for Household Words (‘Ground in the Mill’) that describe the horrors of factory conditions – a perspective filled with ‘feminine emotion’. Crawford even states that Martineau regarded Dickens as “someone whose brilliant emotional range she could admire in his work as a novelist while simultaneously suggesting that this very emotionality rendered him quite incapable of the dispassionate objectivity essential in an editor who claimed to shape the public sphere” (478). Moving from the vocation to the domestic, Martineau must also sacrifice the public perception of what her gender should be.

However, the same does not seem to hold true for Gaskell. Though a vocal champion of social causes also attempting to break into the vocational sphere as an author, Gaskell seems able to bring her sense of selfhood as a woman and wife into her role as author. Gaskell beautifully ‘marries’ her vocation and domestic identity together, and the society of her time seems to accept this more willingly. As Easley tells us: “Gaskell’s image of sympathetic middle-class femininity was reinforced by her public appearances in London … she came to be seen as a model of the useful middle-class woman author – the charming ‘Mrs. Gaskell’, whose domestic moralism could be converted into new forms of gendered literary activism” (98). Rather than hiding or subverting her gendered identity, Gaskell used it to give a greater voice to her cause. Incidentally, Gaskell also wrote for Household Words, and in a letter date Nov 25th of1851 Dickens addresses her as ‘My Dear Scheherazade’ – perhaps Dickens does not ‘feel threatened’ by an author who has ‘embraced her female identity’ .

Gaskell’s bringing together of her identity as author and woman makes even more sense when considering her biography of Charlotte Bronte. It is easy to believe that the traits she admired in the author she so loved were attempted by her in emulation. As she says of Bronte, “… nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents that were ever bestowed. And yet she must not shrink from the extra responsibility implied by the very fact of her possessing such talents” (272). For Gaskell, both ‘gendered’ forms of identity must be at work.

Both Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell attempt to cross from one sphere to the other. In Martineau’s case, this move leads to collision of the two spheres, along with a collision of selfhood and identity; for Gaskell, the two spheres and identities cohabit with one another.

Generality in Theory and Specificity in Fiction

In her chapter “Going Along with Others: Adam Smith and the Realists,” Rae Greiner explores the idea of realism in fiction as an effect that the novel has upon the reader. She argues that “realism in the nineteenth-century British novel … is best understood as ‘sympathetic realism,’ not simply because the novels promote or are about sympathy … but because they employ forms designed to enact sympathetic habits of mind in readers” (15). She understands sympathy to be not purely emotive, but cognitive, with emotional response brought about by cognitive assent to and entrance into the mental state of another. She suggests that realist fiction is the best platform for sympathy, for “fiction alone grants ‘nobodies’ … specificity that distinguishes them from the (fictional) generality out of which they emerge” (47). That is, only in the context of fiction is the other able to gain selfhood in the mind of the reader, for in fiction alone does the individual other become distinct from the general, typical other.

It is interesting to consider Greiner’s theory of sympathetic realism in relation to Harriet Martineau’s sociological observations in How to Observe Morals and Manners in comparison with her novel Deerbrook. Does this idea of a notion of the selfhood of the other as gained only through fiction hold true in Martineau’s works?

My first response, based upon my own reaction to the works and upon the conversation that we had in class way-back-when we were reading Martineau at the beginning of the semester is an emphatic yes. Martineau’s sociological treatise is interesting and provides the reader with valid points as to how to charitably observe and judge the actions of others. However, this treatise neither presents us with others to view as selfs, nor encourages us to view others in that way. Instead, it assists us in the task of scientifically categorizing and labeling others in order to further our own agenda—even if we are to do so in the most charitable way possible.

For example, Martineau writes of how “popular songs are both the cause and effect of general morals” (83). She goes on to explain how this is the case, and why it is therefore important for the observer to pay careful attention to these songs “as an index of popular morals” (83). While these instructions are good in their way, and while they do to a certain extent encourage an impartial view of the situation, they do not help the reader to see the other as a specific self. Instead, they encourage the reader to read other human beings as they would scientific data, categorizing them under a set of undefined criteria based upon the reader’s personal experience of the world. Thus, in Martineau’s nonfiction, we see not people, but data; individual others become nobodies and are consumed into the generality.

In contrast, in Deerbrook Martineau aims to help the reader to enter into the experience of the other, thereby encouraging the recognition of the specificity and selfhood of the other that Grainer suggests is attained only in fiction.

One of the most striking examples of this is in Maria Young, the invalid governess who doesn’t on the surface appear to get the happy ending that her merits warrant. Though we may be tempted to classify her under the general, stereotypical category of “unlucky single woman who is destined to become bitter and unhappy after her former lover marries her best friend,” Maria’s final conversation with Margaret suggests otherwise. Maria explains to Margaret, “you are no fair judge of my lot. … If you could, for one day and night, feel with my feelings, and see through my eyes … you would know, from henceforth, that there are glimpses of heaven for me in solitude, as for you in love” (599). In this passage, supported by the several instances of Maria’s heavenly solitude that are provided throughout the book, the reader is encouraged to see Maria as removed from the generality in her actual peace with the lot that she has been granted. Though throughout the book these instances may seem unrealistic and idealized, in this final passage the reader is given one last encouragement to read Maria as actually unique within the category of invalid single women. Maria becomes through this work of fiction a nobody who ahs been granted “specificity that distinguishes [her] from the (fictional) generality out of which [she has] emerge[d]” (Greiner 47).

Thus, Martineau’s works support Greiner’s theory of sympathetic realism as ultimately aimed at arousing in the reader an emotional sympathy with the reader through cognitive entrance into their experience of the world; it is indeed through fiction that one is best able to cognitively enter into the emotional state of another and thereby to view that other as another specific self.


Works Cited

Greiner, Rae. “Going Along with Others: Adam Smith and the Realists.” Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012. 15-49. Blackboard. Web. 2 April 2015.

Martineau, Harriet. Deerbrook. 1839. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.

—. How to Observe Morals and Manners. 1838. N.p.:, 2010

The EQ of Harriet Martineau


One of the aspects of Martineau’s writing that made me go “hmmm…” was my initial perception of major difference between the voice and content of Deerbrook, as compared with her nonfiction and journalistic writing. How to Observe Morals and Manners and Society in America demonstrate a concern with the appropriate methodology of interacting with cultures unfamiliar to our own, based on a theoretical basis of philosophy and moral awareness, recognizing, as Martineau points out in How to Observe, an individual’s inability to rightly judge and understand the “morals and manners of any hamlet” of even our own home country (8). This text emphasizes the important of distance, rationality, and charitability in our interactions with others, because, really, we are doomed to fail in our judgments, so we might as well be nice about it. Deerbrook, on the other hand, is all about the emotional involvement of two sisters within an almost incestuously close neighborhood that doesn’t seem to have a proper understanding of personal space. Rational or emotional, charitable or judgmental—the works seem at first to be directly contradictory.

Martineau’s critique of Dickens, as depicted by Crawford in “Harriet Martineau, Charles Dickens, and the Rise of the Victorian Woman of Letters,” clarifies the perceived dichotomy somewhat, while illuminating Martineau’s position within Victorian society. Her critique of Dickens falls primarily on his role as an “unrealiable agent of public instruction,” due to what Martineau believed to be overly manipulative emotional rhetoric (478). Martineau feels that Dickens fails in his attempts to educate, supplying “half educated readers” instead with “mischief” and “sentiment” (Martineau qtd. in Crawford 456). Crawford implies, however, that it is this “brilliant emotional range” that Martineau admires in Dickens’s novels (478). This distinction suggests that while Maritneau felt journalistic and theoretical writing should be dispassionate and detatched, she considered emotion and its attendant rhetoric important in fiction.

What, then, does this observation regarding the differing roles of journalism and fiction, then, mean for the differences between How to Observe and Deerbrook, and for Martineau herself?

Beyond clearly utilizing emotion more in Deerbrook than her earlier treatise, both works ultimately argue the same fundamental point: It is impossible to wholly know another. Just as we are challenged in How to Observe regarding our true understanding of our own neighborhoods, so Deerbrook delves into the inability to even fully understand a beloved sibling. In addition to this, both provide a suggestion that we should also treat each other more charitably because of this; How to Observe emphasizes the need to judge a community based on their own terms and merits, while Deerbrook illustrates how wrong judgments have very material effects on the individuals subjected to them. The differing texts, then, are not antithetical regarding their content, and the differences of tone can be attributed to genre.

The differences, however, could also affirm Martineau’s role as a woman in the highly competitve field 19th century journalism required her to break stereotypical gendered boundaries. She has to be detatched and almost overly rational in her journalistic and theoretical prose, as many of her era would view her as having the handicap of being female and thus overly sensitive and emotional (whereas Dickens, being a man, could be as emotional as he wanted, pretty much), but also because her role as tutrix to the masses demanded an even-handed, unemotional, unbiased portrayal of the issues she presented. The Victorian press required her to “unsex” herself, in some senses. Fiction, though, provides an outlet not only culturally more acceptable for a woman and thus more free for Martineau, but also an outlet in which she can use the emotional rhetoric she challenged in Dickens’s journalism to provoke reader response.

Influence of Martineau on Eliot’s “Natural History of German Life”?

George Eliot’s “The Natural History of German Life,” which appeared in the July 1856 Westminster Review, has long been considered one of her more important essays—an early statement of the novelist’s artistic creed. While introducing her subject, Riehl’s work of German sociology, Eliot elaborates on the importance—and difficulty—of a writer rightly observing human beings. As opposed to a writer “of wide views and narrow observation,” who would merely spread prejudice, Eliot calls for writers who will truly contribute to social reform:

If any man of sufficient moral and intellectual breadth, whose observations would not be vitiated by a foregone conclusion, or by a professional point of view, would devote himself to studying the natural history of our social classes, especially of the small shopkeepers, artisans, and peasantry…and if, after all this study, he would give us the result of his observations in a book well-nourished with specific facts, his work would be a valuable aid to the social and political reformer. (112)

I wonder whether Eliot is drawing—consciously or unconsciously—upon Harriet Martineau’s sociological treatise How to Observe Morals and Manners. Eliot moves beyond Martineau by more clearly acknowledging the limitations of language to express the “real”—and even glorying in these limitations. However, Martineau’s message is certainly framed in similar terms. Like Eliot’s “moral and intellectual breadth,” Martineau’s observer of other cultures must also have adequate moral and intellectual training in order to record valuable observations. Like Eliot, Martineau warns observers vehemently against hasty generalizations. To avoid generalizing, she advises travellers to withhold judgment, except for certain “safe means of generalization within the reach of all,” by which writers can “[inspire] men with that spirit of impartiality, mutual deference, and love” (9, 11).

A large portion How to Observe Martineau then devotes to detailing the various kinds of facts observers can chronicle—in order to, in Eliot’s terms, write a “well-nourished” book. Eliot, too, records subjects to particularly observe, which almost parallel those of Martineau. Martineau lauds the merits of observing as a pedestrian traveller. Eliot praises Riehl for observing the German people in just this way: “years ago he began his wanderings over the hills and plains of Germany for the sake of obtaining, in immediate intercourse with the people, that…which he was unable to find in books…. He was, first of all, a pedestrian, and only in the second place a political author” (127). Finally, they share an end goal for socially observant writers: to provoke (key word) progress. This fits in with the Westminster Review’s goal of “the Law of Progress,” as stated in the Prospectus written by Eliot and the Review’s editor.

Interestingly, both Martineau and Eliot write for the Westminster. As Fionnuala Dillane points out, during the period in which Eliot wrote “A Natural History,” Eliot wrote with varying tone for different publications, modifying her presentation for each outlet. This suggests that publication venue influences how she expresses views, and perhaps even which views she puts forth (Dillane 247). The Westminster certainly has its own “critical vocabulary emphasizing sympathy and common humanity” (247).  Is Eliot’s view colored by conformity to the Review, as Dillane’s provocative article suggests? I don’t doubt the sincerity of Eliot’s desire for books “well-nourished with specific facts” that will help social reform. But, based on the similarity between Martineau’s and Eliot’s wording—which Dillane does not address—it’s clear that the vocabulary of the Westminster is strongly influencing Eliot. According to Dillane, Eliot may not have even selected Riehl as her subject; her editor assigned the review to her. Could this famous essay, rather than the statement of artistic mission to which we elevate it, be the product of a weary author borrowing and adapting her colleague Martineau’s work to fill page space?


Dillane, Fionnuala. “Re-reading George Eliot’s ‘Natural History’: Marian Evans, “the People,” and the Periodical.” Victorian Periodicals Review 42.3 (2009): 244-66.

Eliot, George. “The Natural History of German Life.” Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings. Ed. A.S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Martineau, Harriet. How to Observe Morals and Manners. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010.

A Tale of Two Authoresses

Once upon a time in a land far, far away lived two women named Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell. Though these women were not intimate friends, they each decided to take upon themselves the similar task of recording the events of the past: Martineau, the events of her own life, and Gaskell, those of the life of her recently deceased friend Charlotte Brontë. After months of hard labor and gallons of ink, these women succeeded in their attempt and published their works.

For years their histories were viewed as an accurate account of the events that they recorded. However, one day some literary critics, who had been influenced by the postmodern understanding of the inaccessibility of the past, took it upon themselves to show that the narratives that the authors provided were perhaps not as factual as the readers had supposed. Instead, they argued that the narratives that Martineau and Gaskell presented were respectively “factually inaccurate” (Liddle 57) and supportive of the “[r]eaders’ construction of the Brontës as authors” that is “an important part of the Brontë myth” (Stoneman 216). That is, these critics recognized Martineau’s Autobiography and Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë as mythologized biographical pictures of ideal writers and women, rather than as factually accurate historical accounts of the authors’ lives.

The rather anticlimactic ending of this tale opens up an interesting question. Granted that Martineau and Gaskell were biased and at times factually inaccurate in their presentations of the past, is it possible to look beyond that inaccuracy and perhaps gain an understanding of Martineau’s and Brontë’s experience of the recorded events as they occurred?

Though it may seem that the one who actually experienced the events would be the best authority on that experience, it seems that between the two accounts Martineau’s Autobiography provides the reader with the least accurate recording of her experience of the events. As Liddle points out in her chapter “The Authoress’s Tale,” Martineau carefully crafted her account of her life to show herself to be the natural journalist that she wished to be remembered. As a result, we loose a good deal of how Martineau experienced the events at the time they occurred. Though we are given a glimpse into how Martineau viewed her life in 1855, we do not see what she actually experienced at the time of, for instance, the publication of her first essay in 1822.

Of course, Gaskell also manipulated her account of Brontë’s life to show her as an idealized woman and author. However, Gaskell’s account comes closer to providing us with an account of Brontë’s experience of her life as it occurred. Given that her Life is based upon Brontë’s letters, and indeed contains many of those letters, we are able to get a more accurate picture of what Brontë thought or felt about the events that she experienced as she experienced them. Though Gaskell herself crafts her account of Brontë’s life in order to support “the Brontë myth,” because she bases that account on letters written by Brontë at the time that the events occurred, the reader is able to understand how those events were experienced by the young Brontë.

Thus, because of her extensive use of letters, Gaskell’s Life is able to convey a better idea of Brontë’s actual experience of the events of her life at the time at which they occurred than Martineau manages in her Autobiography. Though both are mythologized, there is perhaps more factual accuracy available from a distanced perspective than from the one living through the Happily Ever After and into The End.

Maria Young: Observer and Novelist…and Heroine?

Maria Young is one of the noble figures of Harriet Martineau’s Deerbrook—noble in her aspirations for forming her students’ characters, in her patient bearing of misfortune and pain, and in her intelligent, sympathetic role as an observer of humankind. After reading Martineau’s How to Observe Morals and Manners, I am most interested in Maria’s aptitude for observation. Martineau seems to form Maria’s character in line with the rules for sympathetic observation in How to Observe. However, Maria is not only like a wise traveller from a treatise on travel writing; she is also an image of the observant novelist, embedded in the novel itself. In Maria, then, the author unites two of her own roles: observer of real people, and observer of an unfolding plot in the novel. If Maria is the figure of the observer and the novelist, though, why does she practically disappear about halfway through the novel—and show little insight into the unfolding plot and its characters—until the last chapter?

Early in the novel, Maria is of great interest to the novelist and to her heroines. Margaret and Hester are intrigued by Maria. Margaret, especially, pursues Maria’s company and learns to admire her greatly. Even apart from these attachments, though, Maria stands on her own in the novel. Martineau allows Maria to even narrate her thoughts at length (Vol. 1, Ch. 5). At this time, Maria clarifies her role: “What is it to be alone, and to be let alone as I am? It is to be put into a post of observation on others…. Without daring to meddle, one may stand clear-sighted, ready to help” (47). Martineau thus exalts Maria’s character in the midst of her sufferings from being lame, poor, and without family. Maria remains actively involved in the plot, mainly as Margaret’s confidante and one who wisely perceives the troubles and joys of those around her.

After about the mid-point of the novel, however, Maria retreats. She is closed off in her own rooms in the town, and she ceases to have her own voice. In the final chapter of the novel, Maria returns to the forefront to reflect on her solitary life and offer gems of wisdom. The final scene is of the two lovers, Margaret and Philip, walking and talking about Maria. Hers is the last proper name in the book.

If Maria is a figure for Martineau herself, then does Maria’s retreat from the storyline reflect Martineau’s own lack of confidence in her plot? Could Martineau, a first-time novelist, be signaling an uncertainty or lack of control over the problems she has created in Deerbrook? Why does Maria return to Martineau’s interest at the end, rather inconclusively?  Couls she be the real heroine?

Ms. Martineau the Skilled Rhetor

With such extreme characters such as Mrs. Rowland and absurd plot points such as burning effigies, it is clear that with Deerbrook Harriet Martineau is having some fun. She has created quite the cast of characters in a quintessential English village, and in this novel we see Martineau exploring many of the same ideas that she treated in the other genres we’ve read. With Deerbrook, we have yet another rhetorical strategy at work, as Martineau uses the realist novel to prod at her different political, social, and philosophical ideas.

In “On Female Education” Martineau adopts a pseudo-male persona, crafting her argument for women’s education in a manner that would likely appeal to a 19th century middle or upper class man. However, once one knows that she is writing from this assumed identity, the language takes on even more of a tongue in cheek quality. I wrote last week about Martineau pushing at the weakening social spheres with this essay, and I would argue that she is taking a similar tactic with Deerbrook. That is, when reading Martineau’s novel, we should keep this subversive rhetorical strategy in mind as she approaches the topics of marriage and—more broadly—women’s roles.

The novel begins in a very Austen-esque manner, the focus of the novel seeming to be marriage and matchmaking. We even have a line that imitates Austen’s memorable opening line:

“It is a fact which few but the despisers of their race like to acknowledge, and which those despisers of their race are therefore apt to interpret wrongly, and are enabled to makes too much of—that it is perfectly natural,—so natural as to appear necessary, —that when young people first meet, the possibility of their falling in love should occur to all the minds present” (17-18).

Here I would argue, Martineau reveals her hand that indeed she is a rhetor who adapts and crafts language carefully and purposefully. Just as the footnote in the Penguin Classics edition notes the similarity between the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so would Martineau’s contemporary avid readers. Furthermore, also like Austen, Martineau offers this lines on marriage framed by a meddling, busybody mother in Mrs. Grey. Thus Martineau capitalizes on her reader’s associations with Pride and Prejudice to create an at times comical, but all too relatable plot revolving around the complications of courtship and marriage. However, Martineau does not simply rehash Austen’s novel, but rather introduces additional characters and conflicts that suggest that when you throw women’s roles into the mix alongside societal expectations, there are even more sides to the marriage story.

Though I don’t have space to discuss this in its entirety, I would like to draw attention to two characters in particular—two characters absent from Austen’s novel—Mr. Hope and Maria Young. Particularly in the first volume of the novel, Martineau offers an almost painful depiction of Mr. Hope’s struggle to reconcile his beliefs about love and what he perceives as his duty. Repeatedly his adherence to duty butts up against the “sin” he believes “marrying without love” (138) to be, and eventually he chooses Hester—a decision unequivocally deemed a mistake by the narrator. In this initial struggle and indeed through the remainder of the novel, Martineau seems to condemn Mr. Hope’s predicament and thus the societal struggle as a whole. In penning this absurd situation in a realist novel, Martineau suggests that the 19th century reality is in fact that absurd as well.

Briefly, in Maria Young, we have yet another of many perspectives on love and marriage, this time given through the perspective of a ‘spinster’ rendered inadequate for marriage. Though she is harder to pin down, it seems to me that with Maria, Martineau is again questioning contemporary views on love, marriage, and women’s roles. With all of the critiques Martineau offers of the other characters and situations, I hesitate to take Maria’s views as the ideal, even as the narrator seems to present them as so. Maria’s own pain at her situation would seem to complicate the situation.

Thus it would seem that Martineau has yet again taken an intriguing rhetorical approach to exploring a hot topic in 19th century England’s middle-class. I for one am impressed with her sass and rhetorical prowess as she demonstrates just how skilled and entertaining a female writer could be tackling issues quite relevant and important to her. We ought to take as discerning an eye to her novel as we do to her essays and political treatises.

Harriet Martineau: Does she Philosophize or Womanize?

In the elusive and abstract world called academia, sweeping generalizations are a grave faux pas, tantamount to standing on a chair in a five star restaurant and belting out “Friday” by Rebecca Black. Nonetheless, I believe I can safely claim that Harriet Martineau was an exceptional woman. Not only did she step out of the approved domestic sphere by becoming a published author, but she also voiced progressive opinions about the inherent equality of women to men. She loudly declaims against the abuses of women in Society in America, and in her Autobiography, she celebrates her escape from the traditional role as a wife and mother, responsible for a husband’s happiness. With these liberating professions reverberating in my mind, I eagerly began reading Martineau’s novel, Deerbrook. I expected to find the same views Martineau expresses in her nonfiction work reflected in the lives and characters of her novel, but the correlation wasn’t nearly so exact. Do the egalitarian ideals expressed in her nonfiction manifest in her novel or does the novel proliferate the subjugation of women in the nineteenth century? Does Martineau philosophize ideally but womanize in reality?

In her Autobiography, Martineau clearly expresses the fulfillment she has found in her life as a single woman: “My business in life has been to think and learn, and to speak out with absolute freedom what I have thought and learned. The freedom is itself a positive and never-failing enjoyment to me, after the bondage of my early life” (120).  This conviction that her life has been full with thinking and learning apart from any domestic roles indicates Martineau’s belief in the broad range of spheres women are capable of entering. In Society in America, she declares that only women have the right to decide which duties they are capable or incapable of performing: “Some . . . oppose representation [of women], on the ground that political duties would be incompatible with the other duties which women have to discharge. . . . God has given time and power for the discharge of all duties; and, if he had not, it would be for women to decide which they would take, and which they would leave” (“Political Non-existence of Women” 1.3.7).  Martineau could not make a clearer case for the equal intelligence and equal right to choose a role for women.

I did not expect to find an exact duplication of Martineau’s unorthodox lifestyle in Deerbrook, but I anticipated a stronger push for women’s rights within her characters. The closest any woman comes in Deerbrook to enjoying the same intellectual freedoms as Martineau does is depicted in the life of Maria Young. Maria lives in the privileged singleness Martineau trumpets, but she does so by necessity rather than desire. The narrator’s comments on Maria’s existence lack the contentment Martineau expresses about her own position: “. . .but to Maria, liberty and peace were holiday, and her mind was not otherwise than peaceful. She was serious, but not sad. . . . She had been so long and so far banished from ordinary happiness, that her own quiet speculations were material enough for cheerfulness” (“The Meadows” 17).  A few pages later Margaret states Maria would be called “philosophical” if she were a man (“The Meadows” 23). A few chapters later as the narrator comments upon the unsurpassable happiness of true love, the life of a philosopher is diminished in comparison to the life of a person in love: “. . .but this philosopher, solitary seraph, as he may be regarded, amidst a myriad of men, knows at such a moment no emotions so divine as those of the spirit becoming conscious that it is beloved” (“A Turn in the Shrubbery” 58). In light of these thoughts, Maria’s single existence is in no manner as desirable as the life awaiting Hester and Margaret in their respective marriages.

The contrast between Martineau’s views of women’s rights expressed in her nonfiction and fiction seems to render her inconsistent at best and a womanizer at worst. But I wonder if Martineau tempered her views in Deerbrook because of the genre she was working in and the expectations her audience might have for that genre. Martineau was certainly not the first to write a social realism novel, and that genre carried expectations for plot and character. Perhaps Martineau took a softer approach to advocacy in Deerbrook because her audience was more receptive to a subtler call for change within that genre. I do not think that tactic compromises Martineau’s integrity, but rather it might demonstrate her authorial sophistication.

Virgin Affections and Incestuous Virgins: The Gallant Gents of “Deerbrook”

“You do not disapprove of the little hidden tokens with which a man may make his feelings secretly known where he wishes them to be understood…You do not disapprove of a more gentle and mysterious way of saying, ‘I love you,’ than looking full in one another’s face and declaring it like a Quaker upon affirmation?”

“My Margaret!”

“Innocent in soul and conscience, I know, but no longer with virgin affections — you give her to me for your mutual security and consolation.”

“If you pollute and agonize her imagination with these vile fancies…you…deprive Margaret of all that life contains for her…you may turn Margaret’s brain.”

stealing hearts Literally. #mrhope

Let’s be honest. The men of Deerbrook…they’re a little shady. Hope is an incestuous bastard who spends the entire length of the novel attempting to develop the hots for his wife and to cease having the hots for her sister. Philip? A man intent on “virgin affections.” Not only must his wife be as virtuous as the Day I dawn of Creation, but she must also not have had any significant crushes. Ever. She must not have ever made sheep’s eyes at the boy next door. Must never have accepted “little hidden tokens” from any man but him *snicker* and — not only that — she must not be told who she is suspected of having once loved because God Forbid Philip and Margaret should be as honest and open as Quakers!

These men point, however, to a success in Martineau’s writing, a cleverly subversive depiction of human foibles, for both men and women. Hester — the beautiful one — is temperamental and weak, a paragon of virtue in strife and the apex of annoyance in luxury. Martineau refuses to equate full beauty with full virtue. Margaret, the slightly spacey, intellectual sister, is frustratingly virtuous, which makes Philip even more ridiculous. Throughout the entire novel, we can sense that Hope really, truly made the wrong decision when he allowed himself to be manipulated into marrying Hester. Philip is a hypocritical player (virgin affections, anyone? Poor Maria), and Hope changes from a young, passionate doctor to a woman tamer, a man who spends the entire novel calming the nerves and “ssshhhh”ing the sisters he married. Not one reader is convinced he loves Hester even a little bit as much as he loved Margaret at the end, but…that’s what he says.

I think that these men are Martineau’s anti-heroes (but not the good kind). Martineau purposefully rewards the wrong men and punishes the wrong women to show readers that though domestic happiness can be achieved, it happens outside of marriage. The affection and passion Philip and Margaret feel for one another is shown to be imperfect and secondary; Philip plays Maria, shows himself entirely imperceptive in regards to women’s feelings and affections, and is cowardly to the point of being incapable of conversing with a woman when he believes she does not have “virgin affections,” as if her tainted heart should not be allowed to express itself in his direction.

Hope, on the other hand, pays for his social and constitutional weakness by receiving the lesser woman. And it is true — Martineau depicts Hester as a lesser woman, though the more beautiful. Hester is capricious and temperamental, lacking the philosophical rigour and maternal warmth of her sister. He is damned by his emasculated decisions, and suffers the consequences of becoming…normal. Unremarkable. Unheroic. Uninspired, and un-passionate.

Martineau uses these men and their imperfections to point to happiness and fulfillment outside of marriage. It is clear by the end that Hester is happiest as a mother and Margaret is best fulfilled by social duties. Industry, communal support, and maternity in a variety of forms is what leads to happiness for women, not marriage.

And the men?

Don’t hold your breath, Ladies. Martineau holds no illusions for her heroes in marriage, and by the end…neither do they.

The Trouble with the Sublime Sufferer

I find Hester’s response to the riot in the middle of Deerbrook troubling. Here is a woman of the most changeable moods, whose reason had very little effect on her feelings, who battled jealousy in happiness and tears when her snow boots were late. Yet when a mob threatens to kill her husband, and burns him in effigy before her very door, then she is noble and cheerful. She seems nearly to equal Maria Young who suffers with philosophical patience.  Yet I think that Hester cheerfulness cannot come from the same place as Maria’s.

I grant that there are places where they seem similar.  Maria tells Margaret earlier in the novel to “set [a governess] free from hankering after happiness in her work, and you have a happy governess.”  We may infer from this that one who pursues suffering would also be happier.  And this is certainly Hester’s philosophy – Margaret comforts Mr. Hope that when the trial grows hot enough for action, Hester will act nobly.  So Mr. Hope wishes for trouble.

But when Hester’s great trial finally comes, her suffering makes an almost absurd comparison to Maria’s.  Maria, by the time of the riot, had suffered bereavement, crippling, poverty, loneliness, unrequited love, friendship with her rival, and finally a broken leg as a result of the mob that left the “family in the corner house” with only a destroyed garden and broken windows.  Maria did not even have a garden to be destroyed, yet her philosophical views make her more concerned with the trials of her friends than her own.  Hers is a quiet, unconscious (though not unacknowledged) suffering.

Harriet must make more of her suffering to work it up to the level of Maria’s.  She is actually more like petty Mrs. Grey who equates her trial of an unpleasant neighbor to Mr. Hope’s trial of impending poverty and loss of reputation. But Harriet is only a little better than this. In comparison to Maria, her sufferings are light, yet she makes them larger in order find a pressure that will sooth her moody soul.  In fact, the entire Hope household is afflicted to great an appreciation of persecution – or at least, of the appearance of persecution.  “People who are persecuted are considered great, you know,” Margaret encourages the maid.  And later, Mr. Hope admonishes his family that, “we have no business to quarrel with our trial because it is not of a grander kind.” How Maria would smile if she heard such a lament as she lay with a broken leg in her pokey room.

Could it be, in fact, that because Hester so values suffering, she seeks it before her time? Could it be that all her angst in the first half of the novel is more than self-reproach, but also an attempt at self-purification through suffering?  Is her torture self-inflicted? At the very least, Hester’s fascination with the self-conscious grandeur of suffering sets the Hope household too close to the Deerbrook interest in appearances for the comfort of this particular reader.

Striking Similarities: Harriet Martineau’s Autobiographical Novel

By Richard Evans (died 1871) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Richard Evans (died 1871) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“…Creating a plot is a task above human faculties…. The only thing to be done, therefore, is to derive the plot from actual life, where the work is achieved for us: and, accordingly, it seems that every perfect plot in fiction is taken bodily from real life.” – Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, p. 189

Reading Deerbrook alongside Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography highlights just how much she followed her own advice, drawing her plots from her everyday life. In fact, each of the main female characters in Deerbrook pick up pieces of Martineau’s own life story and personality. Of course, all characters are inextricably tied to the character and life experiences of their authors, since they are products of the author’s mind. However, Martineau seems to take this idea a step further, fracturing aspects of her identity into the characters of Margaret, Hester, and Maria. These “identity-fragments” persist, even when they go against the character’s own nature, and can only be explained when compared to the Autobiography.

Margaret’s case is the most striking. At the beginning of the story, she is the mature one; her sister Hester is the one given to fear, jealousy, and mood swings. Hope describes her wisdom, stability, “without question, without introspection, without hesitation or consiousness,” unselfish, with “not a morbid tendency…to be discerned” (37). Yet, merely halfway through the story, we get a different picture of Margaret:

“Her mind sank back into what it had been in her childhood…. when, to get rid of a life of contradiction, she had had serious thoughts of cutting her throat, had gone to the kitchen door to get the carving-knife, and had been much disappointed to find the servants at dinner, and the knife-tray out of reach. This spirit, so long ago driven out by the genial influences of family love… now came back to inhabit the purified bosom” (104).

This passage does not seem to fit with what we already know about Margaret’s character. However, it could have easily been lifted from Martineau’s own suicide story in the Autobiography:

“No doubt, there was much vindictiveness in it. I gloated over the thought that I would make somebody care about me… One day I went to the kitchen to get the great carving knife, to cut my throat; but the servants were at dinner, and this put it off for that time… My temper might have been early made a thoroughly good one, by the slightest indulgence shown to my natural affections” (45).

The similarity of the anecdotes is telling, as is the final part of the passage: while Margaret had the “influences of family love,” Martineau apparently did not. One wonders if the adult Margaret’s predilection to suicide after losing Enderby bears any resemblance to the adult Martineau, dealing with the sudden insanity and death of her own love.

Miss Young, too, bears similarities to Martineau’s own personality. Hampered by disability, single, and not wealthy, Miss Young turns to teaching instead of writing, but bits of Martineau’s personality peek through. “What is it to be alone, and to be let alone, as I am?” Miss Young speculates to herself. “It is to be put into a post of observation on others: but the knowledge so gained is anything but a good if it stops at mere knowledge, — if it does not make me feel and act… Without daring to meddle, one may stand clear-sighted, ready to act” (Deerbrook 16). Such a passage could easily have been lifted from How to Observe Morals and Manners, and one could picture Harriet Martineau speaking them on her American journey.

Martineau’s experience also parallels Hester’s struggles with irrational fear, her “sick heart”: “I thought I had got over it,” she tells Hope just before the wedding (67). Yet her change is gradual, not immediate; it is finally the intrusion of poverty that begins to change her character. One wonders if this is what Martineau desired to achieve from her own poverty and trials. However, she is cut short in this achievement. Unlike Hester, she does not have her Hope: “Just when I was growing happy, surmounting my fears and doubts, and enjoying his attachment, the consequences of his long struggle and suspense overtook him. He became suddenly insane; and after months of illness of body and mind, he died” (Autobiography, 119).

Each of the characters in Harriet Martineau’s Deerbrook appear to bear an idealized fragment of their author’s identity. Even their names– Hester, Maria, and Margaret– each start with and include letters in common with Harriet Martineau’s name. Margaret is what she might have been in a loving family; Hester is what she imagined herself without the death of the man she loved. Miss Young, perhaps, is closest to the actual Harriet in all but occupation; perhaps this is who she might have been if she possessed a more longsuffering peace with the world.

To speak or not to speak?

Given the many miscommunications that drive the plot of Deerbrook, I rather expected the art of speaking truly and earnestly to be upheld as one of the highest virtues of the novel. Martineau is certainly not hesitant to offer moralistic proclamations throughout this work; even though it is a fictional forum, there are several passages that read like nonfiction as they strive to educate readers. Throughout Deerbrook though, Martineau espouses the complicated tension between speaking and silence instead of proclaiming a clear moralistic rule. Because words are so overwhelmingly powerful, characters are often compelled to silence as their only method for control, and, as readers, we are left asking “what is the role of speech? Is it better to speak or to remain silent?”

There are certainly instances throughout the novel in which the act of speaking is affirmed. Early on, Mrs. Grey explains that what could be called “love at first sight…passes away with a name, without a record” if no one comments on its existence (52). Hester and Margaret’s closeness is also based on a pact to be honest with each other, sharing deeply of their feelings by telling each other what they really think. And Hester’s admission that she “poisons everyone’s lives” and her desperate statement that she “shall never anyone happy” is the start of her redemption, as well as the deepening of Hope’s affection for her (171). Her silence in this instance would have kept her husband from knowing the roots of her pain—indeed, from knowing her as a person.

 However, in most painful situations, silence is upheld as the only method of control: it becomes a matter of honor to bear one’s pain alone. Hope explains early on in the novel that “grief which reveals itself is very endurable,” suggesting that true pain is unspeakable (55). Hester discovers the truth of this when she discovers “a great sad secret” about herself: she has been unconsciously in love with Hope. But she comforts herself by the fact that “no one else knew it or need[ed] ever to know it…[a]ll was not lost” (117). Maria further explains that “there is not on earth a being stronger than a woman in the concealment of her love” (190). We are also prompted to think that Morris truly felt pain upon leaving the sisters, for we are told that “she could not speak” (526).

The notion of silence becomes further complicated, however, in light of failed love relationships. Maria, Margaret, and Hope all pointedly decide to remain silent about their feelings, as if a lack of speech will unable them to bear their circumstances. When Margaret decides that “I must live wholly within myself now…as far as he is concerned. I can never speak of him,” her silence is seemingly rewarded: she trusts the ring sitting silently on her finger until Enderby returns (477). But Maria’s silence, a silence which she maintains for her entire adult life, is not rewarded in the same way: her closest friend is the very woman who marries the man she loves. And the two friends never speak of it (though Maria’s sending word of her engagement by mail signifies that she knows of Maria’s previous attachment). Hope’s final silence about his love for Margaret also remains potentially problematic. All knowledgeable characters enter into a pact never to reveal his initial feelings about the sisters, but the text notes that when Hester speaks happily about Margaret’s final engagement, “he made no reply” (577). Thus, while Martineau champions silence at many points in the novel—the narrator explains that “true lovers do not want to talk together in company” and Margaret gives Enderby “a look which said what words cannot” at one point—silence can also be a mysterious cover for lasting sadness. Finally, in the direst of times, “the choice of suicide” can also be read as a silence–a controlled silence that will last (189). While the novel does not necessarily support this form of silence, it sits in the back of characters’ minds as a consistent option. Silence, then, potentially promises more power even than speech.

Given our discussions about how Martineau views writing and speaking (especially in different genres), how does her depiction of the power of the spoken word vs. the power of silence figure into her understanding of speech in general? Do her novels leave room for the kind of speech that Martineau herself engaged in as a news writer? In what ways did she as a writer value silence over speech?

Faulty Observations, Untrained Observers

Could the unhappy domestic situations in Deerbrook have been prevented? Or, what exactly brought them about in the first place?

The small town of Deerbrook in Harriet Martineau’s novel of the same name seems to be filled with unhappy families. Even with the exception of Hester and Mr. Hope, the older families in the village do not seem particularly happy with their lot. Is Martineau telling her readers that domestic bliss is simply not attainable? What exactly went wrong here? We may actually find a clue to Martineau’s thinking, not in Deerbrook, but in her advice to travelers in her sociological treatise How to Observe Morals and Manners. At the very beginning of this text, Martineau tells us that “There is no department of inquiry in which it is not full as easy to miss truth as to find it, even when the materials from which truth is to be drawn are actually present to our senses” (7). In order not to miss truth, Martineau insists that “the power of observation must be trained, and habits of method in arranging the material presented to the must be acquired before the student possesses the requisites for understanding what he contemplates” (7). In Deerbrook, the failures of marriage and relationship come from the fact that the characters in the novel to not follow Martineau’s advice – there observations are faulty and incomplete, and they are untrained observers and ‘readers’ of others.

And we see this throughout the novel. When Mrs. Grey tells a convalescing Mr. Hope about Hester’s love for him, Hope asks her if she could be mistaken: “’No, Mr Hope, it is not possible.’ And being for it, as she said, Mrs. Grey gave such a detail of her observations … as left the truth indeed in little doubt” (136). What may have, for Hester, ultimately been a temporary flood of affection rising from concern about Mr. Hope’s condition (like a nurse “falling in love” with a patient), was interpreted by the untrained observers of the village as genuine love. It could also be argues that Hester, who really does lack a great deal of emotional maturity and is at times quite selfish, is an untrained observer of her own feelings. Even Margaret, who is a much more careful reader of character than Hester, fails to observe correctly. When Philip returns, he critiques her for not relying on her own observations of his behavior rather than the others in the village: “I thought that you knew me enough and cared for me enough, to understand my mind, and trust my conduct through whatever you might here of me from others” (321). Of course, the least trained observer is the one who also causes the greatest domestic discontent, even in her own home – the town gossip Mrs. Rowland. She is almost single-handedly the cause of the town’s castigation of Mr. Hope, and spreads the rumors about Philip and Miss Bruce.

Faulty observations and untrained observers bring domestic discontent to Deerbrook. Through this, Martineau is telling us a few things – first of all, she is warning us to not lose objective observation when strong emotion comes into play (this seems to make sense when the most objective and careful observer, Maria Young, is also the character for which domestic attachment is seemingly impossible). More than this, however, Martineau is showing the readers of the age of social media and mass communication just how important it was to be a trained observer of people and personal character in the Victorian Era – a skill we may be losing in the 21st century.

Sympathy at its Finest

After a protracted account of Mrs. Rowland’s malicious exploits and of the suffering that she has brought upon nearly every character in the novel, Deerbrook offers an assessment of her conduct from the novel’s two most admirable characters. In a conversation with Margaret and Hester, Mr. Hope says, “In a city, Mrs. Rowland might have been an ordinary spiteful fine lady. In such a place as Deerbrook, and with a family of rivals’ cousins incessantly before her eyes, to exercise her passions upon, she has ended in being…” (589). Margaret supplies him with the undeservedly gentle phrase, “What she is” (589).

Hope’s assessment is problematic in its apparent justification of the conduct of ordinary spiteful fine ladies who abide in the city, where they are able to get away from those they dislike and where the trouble that they can cause is relatively insignificant. He almost seems to suggest that it does not matter what one’s habits are so long as those habits do not negatively affect one’s neighbors. How is it that Mr. Hope, and perhaps Martineau through Mr. Hope, can so readily excuse Mrs. Rowland’s abominable behavior?

I think the key to answering this question lies in Martineau’s conception of sympathy. The Oxford English Dictionary describes sympathy as “the fact or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings of another or others; fellow-feeling.” In How to Observe Morals and Manners Martineau argues that if a person is without this ability to enter into the experience of another, “there is no point of the universe … where he can meet with his fellow” (31). Thus, she sees sympathy as necessary to any genuine human interaction.

It is not surprising, then, that the hero of Martineau’s novel should demonstrate this essential quality, even toward the novel’s villain. In his assessment of Mrs. Rowland’s behavior, Mr. Hope does not jump to conclusions about her character that are as drastic as the effects of her conduct seem to warrant. Instead, he exercises sympathy toward her, taking her location into consideration and recognizing that her gossip has been so incredibly destructive only because she lives in such a small and intimate community. Mr. Hope’s capacity to enter into Mrs. Rowland’s feelings allows him to explain the behavior that led to otherwise unaccountable consequences.

That being said, Mr. Hope by no means excuses Mrs. Rowland’s malice; he still recognizes that she has inflicted upon Margaret “a cruel injury” (589), and is no doubt aware of the effects that her behavior has had on the whole Deerbrook community. However, Mr. Hope’s sympathetic assessment allows him to see that the magnitude of the damage Mrs. Rowland has caused is owing rather to the smallness of the community than to the enormity of her ill will. In so doing, Mr. Hope provides the reader with a means of understanding the almost comically dramatic effects of the Deerbrook rivalry: not as a grossly exaggerated representation of the power of gossip, but as a critique of gossip and of rivalry in general, even where the situation of those involved keeps it from having so universal an effect.