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Reason vs Revelation: Feminism, Malthus, and the New Poor Law in Narratives by Harriet Martineau and Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna

Author:

Ella Dzelzainis

About Ella
Ella Dzelzainis is a lecturer in the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her research focuses on the relationship between women, the family, and political economy in nineteenth-century literature. She is particularly interested in the response of women fiction writers toward the increasing industrialization of English society. Key publications include ‘Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, Pre-Millenarianism, and the Formation of Gender Ideology in the Ten Hours Campaign', Victorian Literature and Culture 31 (2003), pp. 181-91, and ‘Chartism and Gender Politics in Ernest Jones's “The Young Milliner”', in Famine and Fashion: Needlewomen in the Nineteenth Century , ed. Beth Harris (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).
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Abstract

My article examines the profoundly influential presence of eighteenth-century stadial or ‘four stages' theory in industrial fiction of the early Victorian period. Axiomatic within this Enlightenment theory was the assumption that the treatment of women was a reliable index to the civilized status of any society. The two women writers studied here, Harriet Martineau (1802-76) and Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (1790-1846), took opposing sides in the debate over Malthusian political economy and interpreted stadial theory in correspondingly different ways. Martineau's enthusiastic Malthusianism in the Illustrations of Political Economy (1832-4) foresaw a feminist future brought about by illimitable progress and the spread of reason. With the deliberate aim of countering Martineau's views, the pre-Millenarian Evangelical Tonna asserted the truth of revelation in The Wrongs of Woman (1843-4) and positioned women's domestic subordination as integral to England's continued pre-eminence as a commercial nation. This essay examines the religious, social and political grounds on which these two adversaries staked their arguments, and does so through an analysis of their fictional accounts of the status, role, and treatment of working women in an industrializing society.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/ntn.443
How to Cite: Dzelzainis, E., (2006). Reason vs Revelation: Feminism, Malthus, and the New Poor Law in Narratives by Harriet Martineau and Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna. 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. (2). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/ntn.443
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Published on 01 Apr 2006.
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