Tales of Political Economy by Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau wrote over 20 different stories commenting on various aspects of political economy. Martineau commented on population growth and birth control in 

“Weal and Woe in Gerveloch”, financial stability in “A Manchester Strike” and the deserving and undeserving poor in“Cousin Marshall”. In all three, Martineau had principles that she wanted the reader to take away, that are still very relevant to society today. 

“Weal and Woe in Garveloch” is about a small community on the Hebrides islands in Scotland that mainly focuses on fishing. Through this story, expresses her opinions on marriage and having children, [a married couple] have no right to provide for a diminution of its resources;and therefore, when they marry, they form a tacit contract with society to bring no members into it who shall not be provided for, by their own labour or that of their parents. No man is a good citizen who runs the risk of throwing maintenance of his children on others (112). 

Through this story, you can see Martineau’s opinions on marriage and children through the character of Ella. Martineau herself was never married and did not have children. She often advocated that people should wait to get married and have children until they could afford it. 

A painting of a small fishing village in the 1800’s, I pictured Garveloch similarly

“A Manchester Strike” is about the gathering of a strike because of wages steadily decreasing and the consequences of said strike. While the factory workers are trying to get signatures from the masters for their petition, they talk to Master Wentworth, who says,“‘Do you know no Irish hand-loom weavers who make only four schillings a week?’ ‘Poor creatures! Yes; but how do they live? Crowded together on straw, with mere rags to cover them, and only half as much food as they could eat. It is dreadful!’” (173). Wentworth tries to get the point across that there are people who make less than these men and are content, even if the wages are decreasing. However, the men point out that they are not living very well, covered in rags and their stomachs are never full. Through “A Strike in Manchester” Martineau expresses her views on strikes and how she believes they effect the economy. She is anti-strike because they reduce capital growth which means, when the strike is over, the factory owners cannot hire everybody back because they too lost money in the strike. 

What I picture the Manchester Strike to look like

“Cousin Marshall” is about a woman who is forced to take in four of her sisters orphaned children; however she can only afford to take care of two of them because she already has children of her own. So she sends the other two, Jane and Ned to the workhouse. By the end, Jane and Ned are examples of the undeserving poor and the deserving poor. The undeserving poor are people who use the system so that they do not have to attempt to take care of themselves on their own; Jane is the example of the undeserving poor because she takes advantage of the system because she is unmarried and pregnant and just want to stay at the workhouse. The deserving poor are people who want a handout temporarily to help pick themselves back up so they can begin to support themselves again, Ned is the perfect example of this because from every paycheck he gets from the workhouse, he puts all that he can into his savings.

A photo of children from a workhouse in London

Works Cited-

Martineau, Harriet. Illustrations of Political Economy: Selected Tales. Edited by Deborah Anna Logan. Broadview Press, 2004.

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