Friday, May 23, 2014
Norwich Playhouse was an apt venue for the Second Norwich Writers’ Circle Annual Harriet Martineau Lecture. She was born in 1802 in Magdalen Street, not two hundred yards away. With her equally respected brother James, she stands as a distinguished representative of the intellectual radicalism that sprang from our Huguenot traditions to transform England.
After ill-health in early years, she travelled in Egypt, Palestine and the United States, and made a home in the Lake District. The author of a couple of good novels, she also wrote on contemporary history and the social issues of her time, winning recognition as the world’s first female journalist. It is not difficult to see why she attracted the interest of Kate Mosse, OBE, herself a best-selling author with her much-admired Languedoc trilogy and one of today’s leaders of opinion.
Speaking, with Helen Wilson in the chair, for three quarters of an hour in a relaxed and charming fashion, she did not set out to tell us about Martineau’s life and works. Her aim was rather to draw out themes revealing her place in nineteenth-century developments in progressive attitudes. These she related to her own novels and also to changing attitudes to women, which she saw within wider human perspectives.
Kate Mosse also commented on the role of fiction as a means of changing opinions. Over-arching her lecture was a belief that if perfection was perhaps beyond our grasp, there was every reason to seek gradual improvements. At the end she disclosed a little about her next publication, The Taxidermist’s Daughter. It sounds very promising.
• The annual Harriet Martineau Lecture is part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.