Elise Linn Prentis

Document Type



Winter 1975


Harrier Martineau, Victorian Era, travel, women authors, travel writing, New York State history




American Studies | Arts and Humanities | History


In August, 1834, a most extraordinary and yet, in some ways, quite ordinary Englishwoman named Harriet Martineau set sail for the United States where she intended to travel for two years. Thirty-two years old and already famous on both sides of the Atlantic, she was, in her own phrase, "Lafayetted" wherever she went. Famous statesmen hastened to calion her, six carriages were placed at her disposal, hostesses vied for her presence at social events. But one year later, in August of 1835, a spontaneous and courageous action on her part caused the doors which had been open to her to be abruptly slammed shut.

Her extensive peregrinations were recorded in two books, Society in America and Retrospect of Western Travel. Society in America is a peculiar book in which she attempted to take the Declaration of Independence as her yardstick and to measure against it institutions in the United States as she actually found them. The results are highly theoretical, disorganized, and except for certain flashes of insight, virtually unreadable today. Retrospect of Western Travel, which she herself says she wrote hurriedly, is a straight travel book and, probably because it was a less serious endeavor, it has a quality of ad lib freshness, particularly in the first volume.


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