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Harriet Martineau’s Early Fiction and Hartleian Psychology

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posted on 17.07.2020, 13:03 by Maiko O. Yamamoto
Harriet Martineau’s (1802-1876) most famous work of fiction, Deerbrook (1839) has attracted critical attention as the novel which initiated the trend towards domestic realism in the nineteenth-century novel. One feature of domestic realism was its psychological insight into the hidden motives and feelings of the characters. This thesis focuses on the influence of the associationist psychology of David Hartley (1705-1757) on Martineau’s early fiction. Although associationism is known today as an archaic psychological theory characterized by its mechanistic views of the mind, the young Martineau was inspired by Hartley’s prophetic vision of the progress of humanity developed in the second part of his Observations on Man (1749), which contributed to a religious superstructure for his whole theory. Hartley’s influence is traceable in her lesser known works of fiction and essays written in her formative years from the mid 1820s to the early 1830s. These consist of short didactic tales for young readers and essays for the Monthly Repository, a sectarian periodical supported by the Unitarians within whose intellectual networks Martineau was brought up. By examining these tales and essays, one can discern not only the process of her development as a writer of fiction but also the centrality of Hartleian theory in formulating her fundamental views on human mind, which prepared the way for the major success of her Illustrations of Political Economy (1832-34). Whereas the interiority of her characters was presented much more skillfully in the Illustrations and Deerbrook than in the earlier fiction, her basic tenets concerning human mind and its proper management were unchanged. In its bold representation of the characters’ hidden passions and conflicts Deerbrook represents the culmination of Martineau’s exploration of the mind guided by Hartleian psychology.



Joanne Shattock

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Department of English

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University of Leicester

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