Harriet Martineau was a major figure in the Victorian period and a prominent speaker in a number of contemporary cultural debates, including racism, atheism, abolitionism, and the status of women. Her various novels, essays, and articles generated tremendous controversy in their reception as they forced such topics of debate into the public realm.
Caroline Roberts's The Woman and the Hour provides an engaging examination of seven of Martineau's most contentious texts: Illustrations of Political Economy (1832-34),Society in America (1837), Deerbrook (1839), The Hour and the Man (1841), Letters on Mesmerism (1844), Eastern Life, Present and Past (1848), and Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development (1851). Building on the premise that these works serve as an important gauge of prevailing beliefs, opinions, and attitudes in Victorian society, Roberts situates Martineau's writing in its historical context and presents a sophisticated scholarly analysis of their predominantly hostile reception. Moreover, Roberts integrates close readings with meticulous archival research of periodical reviews, offering a valuable resource and stimulus for both the literary critic and the cultural historian.