BRONTË and MARTINEAU Autograph letter signed by Harriet Martineau, to Mrs [Julia Anne] Barkworth, enclosing Villette, [1853]
Lot 17
Sold for £750 (US$ 988) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter signed by Harriet Martineau, to Mrs [Julia Anne] Barkworth, enclosing Villette by 'Currer Bell': "Here is a treat for you! It is Currer's present to me; & with it, the publisher sends me, – Esmond ! Very kind! I know you will not be long about Villette. The Arnolds are to have it next; & then two other families", one page, 8vo, autograph direction to Mrs. Barkworth to reverse, two corners neatly clipped, a little foxed and creased, tipped to card, "Monday morng" [?1 or 8 February 1853]


  • 'CURRER'S PRESENT TO ME': although Harriet Martineau's bent was more for what was to become known as sociology rather than fiction – indeed she has been hailed as the first woman sociologist – she was, in Winifred Gérin's assessment, 'indisputably, the leading woman writer of the day' and her friendship meant a great deal to Charlotte Brontë who after their first meeting in 1849 told a friend: 'when I walked into the room and put my hand in Miss Martineau's, the action of saluting her and the fact of her presence seemed almost visionary'. For her part, Harriet Martineau recognised her visitor's extraordinary gifts, writing for example of Jane Eyre: 'When I read it I was convinced that it was by some friend of my own, who had portions of my childish experience in his or her mind' (Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë, 1969, pp. 408-412).

    Villette was to be published on 28 January 1853, and on the 21st Charlotte Brontë wrote to Harriet: 'I know that you will give me your thoughts upon my book as frankly as if you spoke to some near relation whose good you preferred to her gratification'. Harriet Martineau did indeed give her thoughts frankly upon the book, but unfortunately in public, by way of a review in the Daily News of 3 February 1853. While acknowledging the author's stamp of originality, she complained: 'All the female characters, in all their thoughts and lives, are full of one thing, or are regarded by the reader in the light of one thought – love', adding: 'It is not thus in real life. There are substantial, heartfelt interests for women of all ages, and under ordinary circumstances, quite apart from love'. She reiterated this complaint in a letter to Charlotte Brontë, receiving from her the reply: 'I know what love is as I understand it; and if man or woman should be ashamed of feeling such love, then there is nothing right, noble, faithful, truthful, unselfish in this earth, as I comprehend rectitude, nobleness, fidelity, truth, and disinterestedness'; bringing their friendship to an end (for a summary of the whole episode, see Gérin's Additional Note, 'Charlotte Brontë and Harriet Martineau', p.598; and Juliet Barker, The Brontës, 1994, pp. 719-720).

    Charlotte Brontë had been a visitor not only to Harriet's house in London, but also to the Knoll, her house at Ambleside, near Matthew Arnold's house at Fox Howe; and it is to the Arnolds that Villette, as per this letter, is to be sent next. The letter itself makes it explicit that it is the advance copy of the book as sent by 'Currer Bell' that is being passed around. Our letter is dated only as having been written on a Monday. Charlotte Brontë had sent her Villete on Thursday 21 January. Allowing a day or so for posting and time for reading and writing the review, it seems that our letter could have been written on Monday, 1 February; if not then, on Monday, 8 February: if written much later, the point of the letter gets lost. Smith Elder, publishers of Villette, had also published Thackeray's History of Henry Esmond (1852); Thackeray, incidentally, had much the same reservations about Villette, but kept them private.

    The recipient of the letter can be identified as being Julia Anne, wife of Alfred Barkworth of Tranby Lodge, Ambleside, a next-door neighbour of Harriet Martineau and close to the Arnolds at Fox How. Harriet Martineau herself describes the neighbourhood in A Complete Guide to the English Lakes (1855): 'These falls seen, the tourist need alight from his car no more, for he is only a mile and a-half from Ambleside. He presently passes Pelter Bridge, which spans the Rothay on the right. That is the way to Fox How: and he presently sees Fox How, – the grey house embosomed in trees, – at the foot of Loughrigg... To the left, there are good views of Rydal Park. Approaching Ambleside, the first house to the left is Lesketh How, the residence of Dr. Davy: the white house to the right is Tranby Lodge, the abode of Alfred Barkworth, Esq.: and the house on the rising ground behind the chapel is the Knoll, the residence of Miss. H. Martineau'. See illustration overleaf.
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  1. Luke Batterham
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