Harriet Martineau Lecture, 26 May 2017, Norwich

The Harriet Martineau Lecture is held in Norwich annually, celebrating the legacy of this remarkable, world-changing woman by inviting globally-renowned radical writers to respond to her life and work.

This year’s Harriet Martineau Lecture will be given two of Mexico’s finest journalists, Lydia Cacho and Anabel Hernández, who will describe their international campaign to lay bare the shocking corruption and violence of the government. Their work has resulted in the persecution of their families, attacks on their homes and a persistent threat to their lives; in fact, almost one hundred Mexican journalists have been murdered for trying to speak the same truth to power.

Cacho and Hernández’s determination to change the world’s view of Mexico and heal the country’s many sorrows draws strong parallels with Harriet Martineau, who wrote openly against discrimination, slavery and corruption in Britain and the US.

Click here for details

Encounters with Harriet Martineau, seminar, March 8th 2017, Birmingham

This is a Cadbury Research Library event for International Women’s Day. Our very own Stuart Hobday will look at the personal side of Martineau’s life and her influence on other Victorian luminaries such as Charles Darwin and George Eliot, drawing on his new book ‘Encounters with Harriet Martineau’ (Unbound, 2016)

Please click here for information about  the seminar .

Martineau Society Conference 2017

This year we shall be going to Hull, a place which doesn’t have any direct Martineau connections, but which does have a fascinating eighteenth and nineteenth-century history, and important links with the history of slavery through one of its most famous sons, William Wilberforce. As you know, abolition of slavery was a major interest of Harriet Martineau. You may also have noticed that Hull is the UK City of Culture for 2017; so it’s an ideal year for you to see the city at its liveliest.

The conference will, as usual, be a mixture of papers, trails and social events. It will also be a good opportunity to learn about other people who visited the area or lived here for a while. These include Lewis Carroll (who may have been inspired by the ‘Messenger Rabbit’ figure in St Mary’s Church), Charles Dickens (who gave readings in the main theatre), Queen Victoria (who stayed in our conference hotel in 1854 and whose statue is in Victoria Square), Mary Wollstonecraft who grew up in Beverley, and sensation novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon who performed on stage in both Hull and Beverley.

For further details and a registration form for the 2017 conference click here

Terrific new play about Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing: Newcastle’s Live Theatre (12 November 2016)

For Observer and Times Reviews (thanks to Geraldine Locise for sending them in), please click here and here

A few of us from the Martineau Society went to the opening – indeed ‘world premiere’, this weekend, of a tremendous production entitled Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing at Live Theatre, Newcastle (just near the Millennium Bridge). Written by Shelagh Stephenson who comes from the North East although she’s now based in London, it is set in Harriet Martineau’s rooms in Tynemouth in 1844, where she is recovering from a long-term illness.

It is either a serious play with some comic interventions or a comedy with serious intentions, but whichever way around, it’s brilliant – funny, informative, well-acted, and with a definite feel-good element. It portrays Harriet as I would recognise her – with all her passion and certainty – yet also with a satirical and comic edge. I’ve always felt that she must have been more sympathetic and humorous than many of her critics and some of her ‘friends’ have portrayed her, and this certainly seems to be the viewpoint of the playwright.

I do suggest that anyone who is able to, goes to see the Newcastle production. It’s only on this month (November 2016) and for a couple of days in early December.

For further details of the play and how to book, please go to:

Gaby Weiner


We travelled 400 miles to the performance. We didn’t know what to expect. There are few, if any, plays that feature the ideas of Harriet Martineau. The house was full for the opening performance ; and included members of the Society, the Martineau family and, not least, the owner of the Martineau Guest House in Tynemouth. We were not disappointed. ‘Harriet Martineau’s Dreams of Dancing’ was a resounding success. It focuses on a period of time when, in Tynemouth, Harriet took to her bed and adopted a housebound life style – an opportunity that the author, Shelagh Stevenson, exploits to the full.  The result is a witty and sharp narrative building on the comedic and satirical possibilities of the 1840s – a time when political reform, phrenology, mesmerism and slavery figured in the circulation of ideas. Our journey was not wasted – a view generally expressed by the members of the audience who stayed on to discuss the play with the author. In short, another Martineau highlight in 2016.

David Hamilton


I must say I never thought the day would come when someone would write a play about Harriet Martineau, or that when they did it would be about her friendship with a widowed artist whose husband was killed when a pig fell on him from an upstairs window. This summary makes Shelagh Stephenson’s play Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing sound more farcical than it was. In reality it reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s dialogues, or of Tom Stoppard’s in Arcadia, which also plays games with historical characters. In spite of the pig, Harriet Martineau was still recognizably there, in her Tynemouth sickroom, with the chaise-langue, and the telescope pointing towards the ruined abbey. Her brother-in-law, Thomas Greenhow, kept stepping in to feel her pulse, and her maid, Jane Arrowsmith, aspired to do something more with her life than bring the tea in and out. As for Martineau herself, played by Lizzy McInnerny, she retained her dignity and strong-mindedness, as she rejected her doctor’s attempts to make her walk and go outside. She introduces herself as a writer , who writes to ‘change the world,’ and referencing her abolitionist stance, works with Impie (the widowed artist) to liberate the mixed-race character, Beulah Grey from her disciplinarian protector. The play was full of surprises, ranging from Beulah’s extraordinary transformation from a silent bystander dressed like a wedding cake, to a boyish escapee in jumper and trousers. Harriet, however, remained constant: determined to be ill and strong-minded, only wavering towards the end in favour of trying mesmerism…and we know what happened after that.

After the performance we enjoyed a question and answer session with the author, who was, I think, fairly dumbfounded to find so many members of the Martineau Society present (a hint of ‘Is there one?’ Whatever next? from the audience’s response to Gaby’s mention to the Society). We were delighted to find some Martineau family members there, including James and Meg, whom we met at the summer conference. James graciously thanked Shelagh Stephenson for her play, triggering another visible sigh of relief that she hadn’t offended the family.

By a strange coincidence I was at another Martineau performance the evening before by the leading piano accompanist Malcolm Martineau in concert with the soprano Sarah Fox at Hull University’s newly-refurbished Middleton Hall. Accompanists are usually overshadowed by the soloist, but Malcolm unexpectedly chipped in with lines from the final piece, Cole Porter’s ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare,’ which certainly endeared him to the audience. Altogether this was a weekend of Martineau performances full of humour and vitality – in each case presented to an enthusiastic public keen to know more.

Valerie Sanders


My introduction to the Martineau Society was at the 2011 conference when it was held in Tynemouth.  We booked into the Harriet Martineau Guest House there for the duration of the conference and were delighted to be given a room occupied by Harriet during her extended convalescence in the town.  It was very comfortable and we were allowed to show it off to the other conference-goers – four at a time up the narrow staircase!

How delightful then to discover that ‘Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing’ is set in that same guest house room, towards the end of the five years she spent in Tynemouth.  The storyline is entertaining and allows the views expressed in her writing and campaigning on slavery and women to feature in the exchanges between Lizzie McInnerny, playing Harriet, and the five others in the cast.  Also featured is a soundtrack to the play by local folk band The Unthanks.  Their music is subtly in the background throughout and very much in the foreground for some nicely choreographed dream dance sequences in which all the cast members take part.  Altogether entertaining!

Dee Fowles



Some views on the 2016 Martineau Society annual meeting

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the Martineau Society, held this year at the Eaton Hotel in Birmingham.  As well as the usual set of interesting papers (see conference speakers for details) and good atmosphere, we had a fabulous set of Martineau-linked trails round the city, a mind-boggling pub quiz designed by Stuart Hobday and an auction of Martineau writing and ‘memorabilia’ which raised £270.  Another  high point of the meeting was the new (to most of us) portrait of Harriet Martineau which had hitherto been known only to the inner Martineau family, brought in by James Martineau. For a photograph of the new portrait, click here.

Gaby Weiner


Each year I ask myself the same question about the Martineau conference.  Why do I go every year? The 2016 conference provided several answer.  First, I found the talks beguiling – almost always triggering further thoughts about topics that are unresolved in my mind.  For instance, a key idea in the Birmingham presentations was the fact that Harriet Martineau’s view of economics or, more accurately ‘political economy’, was not only steered by the writings of her (male) peers but also by the fact that she sought to incorporate a view of women’s labour (housework, child-rearing etc.).  Thus, as Keiko Funaki made clear at the conference, Harriet was a not merely a populariser of classical economic ideas but also a prescient source of much later ideas about socioeconomics or feminist economics, both of which focus on economics as the collective workings of human beings rather than the independent working of market mechanisms.

A second insight, relates to the relationship between Unitarian thought and municipal socialism (a feature of the 19th century politics of Birmingham).  In the nineteenth century, socialism was contrasted with individualism – and, it seems to me that there was a close affinity between associations such as congregations, cooperatives and unions and varieties of political organisation that, individually and collectively, sought to ‘progress’ society.  Indeed, the humanist aspiration of such organisations flourished until it was undermined by the idea that any group is merely the sum of its parts, a viewpoint remembered, more recently, in the form ‘there is no such thing as society’.

My third insight came with the presentation by a present-day Martineau family member, James Martineau, of an unknown portrait of Harriet Martineau (still in private hands) and the reference, in the Cadbury Archive at the University of Birmingham library, of a further portrait of Harriet in the Fruitlands Museum, Harvard (USA).  Although a welcome surprise for Martineau scholars aware that the pool of illustrations suitable for book covers and frontispieces has been near-exhausted in recent years, these finds were also, for me, a salutary reminder of the iron law of inquiry and research: there is always more material to be found.  Thus, as one of the founder members of the Martineau Society, Elizabeth Sanders Arbuckle, has come to realise, her two-volume, manuscript biography of Harriet Martineau will, we hope, soon be published but it will never be complete. She will be back next summer from the USA rummaging in the British Library to further ‘polish’ her text. And she’ll attend the annual conference in Hull.  I’ll be there to recharge my intellectual batteries. Will you?

David Hamilton