The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Martineau, Harriet (1802–1876)

  • Robert W. Dimand
  • Evelyn L. Forget
Reference work entry


Harriet Martineau, the best-selling popularizer of classical political economy, was born in Norwich, England, on 12 June 1802, the sixth of eight children of Thomas Martineau, a Unitarian textile manufacturer, and Elizabeth Rankin Martineau. She was educated at home, except that from 1813 to 1815 she studied French, Latin, and English composition at a school run by the Reverend Isaac Perry. Her early writings were religious, beginning with an article on ‘Female Writers on Practical Divinity’ for the Monthly Repository. After her father’s death in 1826, she became engaged, but her fiancé died before they could be married. She remained single for the rest of her life. Investment losses in 1829 forced her to support herself by writing: William Johnson Fox’s Monthly Review hired her as a book reviewer for 15 pounds a year, and when the Central Unitarian Association offered prizes for essays to convert Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, Martineau won all three prizes, for 15 guineas each. These prizes enabled her to visit her brother in Dublin in 1831. While there, she planned the series Illustrations of Political Economy, stories that would expound (especially to the working classes) the principles of classical political economy, to which she had been introduced by Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Political Economy (1816) and James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy (1821). The first of the 34 tales of political economy, of the Poor Laws, and of taxation was published in February 1832 by Charles Fox (brother of William Fox), and distributed by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. By 10 February, the first printing of 1,500 copies had all been sold, and a second printing of 5,000 copies ordered.


Classical political economy Laissez-faire Marcet, J. Martineau, H. Property rights Slavery 

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  5. Mill, J. 1821. The elements of political economy. London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy.Google Scholar
  6. Orazem, C. 1999. Political economy and fiction in the early writings of Harriet Martineau. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  7. Webb, R.K. 1960. Harriet Martineau, a radical victorian. London: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Dimand
    • 1
  • Evelyn L. Forget
    • 1
  1. 1.