Early in 1877, the publishing house of Smith, Elder issued posthumously the Autobiography of Harriet Martineau. Except for the three-volume format, it was an unusual sort of Victorian work: Martineau had written her account in 1855 on what she thought was her deathbed, and the printed and bound volumes had lain dormant in her publisher's safe for over twenty years, awaiting her death.' The autobiographer, too, was not the usual sort: a deaf woman from the provincial town of Norwich, she had made her reputation as a writer of popular tales of political economy, illustrating with cheerful goodwill the doctrines of Bentham, Mill, and Malthus, and doing it so successfully that by the age of thirty she had become one of London's foremost literary lions. The most unusual thing about the Autobiography, however, was that Harriet Martineau had written it at all. For during the nineteenth century few women wrote and published their autobiographies, and virtually no women wrote within the main tradition of the spiritual autobiography or, like Martineau, attempted one of the secular variants so common for male writers.

William Matthews' standard bibliography of British autobiographies lists, for instance, twenty-seven examples of spiritual autobiography written during the nineteenth century: twenty-two by men, [120/121] five by women.2 The accounts by men are fairly conventional narratives of spiritual waywardness or malaise, conviction of sin, and eventual redemption—lesser or secular versions of autobiographical classics like Bunyan's Grace Abounding. None of the accounts written by' a woman is, in fact, a true spiritual autobiography: one is a memorial for the minor poet Francis Ridley Havergal, assembled from biographical and autobiographical documents by her sister Maria; two others are diaries of spiritual meditation, written during periods of illness and doubt and later re-arranged by a friend; the fourth begins with an account of conversion, which an anonymous editor amplifies with a selection of personal letters but which soon becomes a daily record of "spiritual blessings" (including such benefits as a present of "dried buffins" from "dear brother S—" and "a plum pudding and sausage rolls" from "my dearest B—"); the fifth recounts a conversion to Catholicism, but it was written in 1926 and thus mistakenly included in the list of nineteenth-century autobiographies.3

Matthews' bibliography is not fully accurate or complete: his objective in compiling it, as he states in the preface, was "not completeness, but comprehensiveness" (x). Its representative evidence suggests, however, that women avoided the form of the spiritual autobiography—or perhaps, to use the passive in an appropriate context, that women were avoided by the form. Generally, they did I not compose retrospective accounts of spiritual or psychological progress, they did not use principles or patterns derived from biblical hermeneutics to interpret their lives, and they did not attempt to substitute other systems of interpretation to create secular variants of the form. This absence of women from the ranks of spiritual autobiographers seems peculiar, given the abundance of self-writing they otherwise produced: the autobiographical novels of major writers like Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, the memoirs of lesser known poets and storytellers like Elizabeth Missing Sewell, Mary Cholniondeley, and Mary Kirby, and the diaries of countless women who, like the mothers of the autobiographers Butler and dosse, considered the practice of spiritual record-keeping a sacred duty. If women did not write the traditional form of autobiography, in other words, it was no lack of literary talent or introspective diligence that prevented them; these they possessed in full measure.

Most of the critical and historical discussions of autobiography ignore this absence of female participants during the nineteenth century, treating only the main (male) literary tradition and tacitly assuming the existence of a lesser literature written by women authors.5 Several recent feminist studies attempt to redress the neglect, but add another error in literary history by suggesting that women, too, began to write spiritual autobiographies in the seventeenth century and continued to write them, uninterrupted, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Assuming this approach, Estelle Jelinek's collection, Women's Autobiography', places essays on the emergence of women's autobiography in England and America before a study of Martineau's Autobiography, as if the spirirual accounts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lead naturally to works of the nineteenth, Martineau's autobiography becoming the representative, if also the finest example. The volume by implication suggests an unbroken literary tradition (21-70).6

Englishwomen of the seventeenth century did indeed compose retrospective accounts of their spiritual lives that resemble those of male contemporaries, but it is an inaccurate literary history that supposes women's participation in the subsequent autobiographical tradition from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Of the spiritual autobiographies that William Matthews lists for the seventeenth cenrury, nearly a third were composed by women, and unlike the nineteenth-century examples, all are genuine versions of the form. Four are narratives of spiritual struggle and conversion written by women as diverse as Elizabeth West, an Edinburgh servant girl; Jane Turner, a sea captain's wife; and Mary Rich, the fourth Countess of Warwick.7 Two others relate the conversion and religious service of a Quaker and a Scottish Reformed minister (see bibliography). The Quaker account, Alice Hayes' A Legacy, or Widow's Mite, is, moreover, a classic of the genre—thoroughly retrospective in approach, every bit as hermeneutic in method as Bunyan's Grace Abounding, and far more engaging than George Fox's Journal. [122/123] When Hayes describes her conviction of sin, it is "the Day of Jacob's trouble" witnessed upon her. When she receives no assurance of salvation, she "roars" "like David" in Psalm 22: "I was ready to say, my Bones were all out of joynt, and and in the Depth of Distress', the Enemy was very strong with his Temptations." She disputes with her husband and priest, who oppose her attendance at Quaker meetings, by quoting the Scriptures: "It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in Man." She defies opponents like her father-in-law, who threatens to chain her to a tree and starve her, by taking to heart the account of "what Israel of old passed through while in Egypt's Land, and by the Red Sea." Hayes is thoroughly intenrt upon interpreting her experience in terms of scriptural patterns, and she articulates the typological basis of her interpretation as forcefully as any male spiritual autobiographer. "We have all these great Benefits which do accrew to both Soul and Body," she writes, "in learning of Him who was the Pattern in every Age":

Moses in the Mount, did his work according to the Pattern, by rhe Wisdom of our God, and David His Servant, gave Orders unto his Son Solomon and the Elders, how to carry on, and build that great House which was in its Time. But now how much more Glorious is this Dispensation of Light and Grace, which shines from the Son Himself, the express Image of the Father, into our Hearts, whereby we may now see our Way, and follow the Pattern, and need not to stumble where Thousands have fallen.8

These biblical precedents are the same as those Bunyan cites, and like him, Hayes draws upon the same hermeneutic tradition of self-interpretation.

By the end of the eighteenth century, women like Alice Hayes had ceased to write spiritual autobiography, just when men like Cowper, Newron, Whitefield, and Scott were revitalizing the genre. The bibliographical evidence suggests, moreover, that nineteenth-century women did not attempt to create secular versions of the form to suit their particular needs; they did not write, for example, autobiographies of de-conversion like Edmund Gosse's Father and Son or a diary, feeling certain that it never would or could be a strictly faithful picture of a passing soul-life; yet I think an account of the/ w/, in a bird's-eye view, would be far easier to live in a true and uncoloLired light than any memoranda of a/w.ic///, which would be tinged with the prevailing hues of the moment, morning, noon, or twilight." Here a Victorian woman articulates the virtues of the traditional form of autobiography: its retrospective stance ("in a bird's-eye view"), its coherent self-interpretation ("a strictly faithful picture"), its consistency in judgment ("in a true and uncoloured light"). Yet her attempt to embody them in a spiritual account produced only a truncated narrative other first twenty years. Even that was dismembered by her sister, who took a more conventional view of women's (auto)biography and "re-arranged" the original document. What remains in the /Memorials is a more typically "feminine" form of self-expression, and it seems as discontinuous as the typical woman's diary of the period.

In the twentieth century, women writers have learned to exploit the diary's sense of the discontinuity of experience and its capacity for a multiplicity of interpretations. In so doing, they have created works of lasting literary merit, and critics are right to praise these "honest records of the moment, whitehot, which do not impose the order of the next day on the record of the previous day.'" ' One might see the achievement of twentieth-century women writers, however, as a proverbial instance of making virtue of necessity, and inquire more fully into the frustration of nineteenth-cencury women for whom such achievements were impossible. Victorian women often turned to their private journals not because they desired to produce whitehot records of the moment, but because they were judged incapable of writing autobiography in its standard form.

This judgment came indirectly through religious, psychological, and biological observations on the capacity of the female mind. English Calvinists, Anglicans, and humanists had debated the issue of women's capacities for over two hundred years, disagreeing about whether women's inferiority was a matter of nature or simply of tradition.14 Even late in the eighteenth century, Hannah More's [126/127] Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799) reflects a view of women's mental capacities as fundamentally limited:

In summing up the evidence... of the different capacities of the sexes, one may venture, perhaps, to assert, that women have equal parts, but are inferior in wholeness of mind, in the integral understanding: that though a superior woman may possess single faculties in equal perfection, yet there is commonly a juster proportion in the mind of a superior man: that if women have in equal degree the faculty of fancy which creates images and the faculty of memory which collects and stores ideas, they seem not to possess in equal measure the faculty of comparing, combining, analysing, and separating these ideas; that deep and patient thinking which goes to the bottom of a subject; nor that power of arrangement which knows how to link a thousand connected ideas in one dependant train, without losing sight of the original idea out of which the rest grow, and on which they all hang.15

More's comments appear in the context of advice to young women with literary aspirations and seem to derive, especially the final clause, from a popular application of David Hartley's associationist theory in Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749).16 But whether More meant her comments to be fully descriptive of the female mind or merely prescriptive of the kinds of literature that women ought to attempt, their implications for the composition of autobiography are devastating. The genre demands precisely the qualities that More believes the female mind to lack.

While More allows women a measure of fancy "which creates images," she denies rliem the power to arrange the images into a coherent, causal sequence; while she admits that women possess rhe faculty of memory "which collects and stores ideas," she denies them both the patience for deep thinking" and the analytic capacity to compare or combine their ideas. One can scarcely imagine an autobiographer who could nor arrange memories into a coherent sequence or who could not combine a series of experiences to delineate a pattern of [127/128] growth or who could not compare ideas at two points in life to chart that growth. Such a writer—in the Victorian period at least—would be necessarily restricted to the diary form, which allows the recording of images and ideas of the moment but does not demand the synthesizing incellecr chat More thinks women lack.

If More is correct, in other words, women are generically unfit to write autobiography. Even if she was only believed to be correct, an absence of retrospective spiritual or psychological autobiographies by women could be a result. The latter seems to have been the case. More's Strictures were reprinted in thirteen editions of 19,000 copies, and they dominated attitudes coward female education well into the nineteenth century. Even as discerning a young woman as Harriet Martineau treated More as an authority in religious and educational matters, praising in an 1822 essay on female writers More's "perspicuity and accuracy" and signing herself "Discipulus." ("Female Writers of Practical Divinity" 747).

In an uncanny way, the second form of self-writing by Victorian women exhibits the qualities that Mrs. More describes as typically feminine, and thus seems to testify again to the incompatibility of the female mind and the traditional autobiography. William Matthews lists these works, most of them written by clergymen's wives or daughters, as a sub-category of spiritual autobiography, liur they are in fact memoirs—vaguely religious, usually morally edifying. In subject, they range from Mrs. William Peter Griffith's Reminiscences of her work in Canada and New Zealand as the wife of a Methodist minister; to Mary Cholmondeley's Under One Roof, four character sketches oi a family recrory in Shropshire; to Mary Kirliy's Leaflets from My Life which, as its title suggests, tells a series of discrete tales of clerical life in the provinces, some involving the author, others merely recollecting the conversations of friends. In method, the accounts make no attempt to describe an individual struggle against sin or against the temptations of the world, flesh, and devil or against any more modern obstacles to spiritual well-being. Rather, they are [128/129] deliberately communal accounts of experiences shared with a husband or, more frequently, a family.

The proliferation of these memoirs, peculiar to the mid- and late nineteenth century, demonstrates the need of Victorian women to find an alternative mode of self-remembrance and self-expression. What seems uncanny, however, is that even with an alternative to the direct presentation of the self, with the necessity of personal testimony to spiritual progress removed, the writers still seem incapable of composing anything more than fragmentary documents. They seem unable to discover or impose a coherent pattern in or upon their materials. They seem unable to engage in the act of interpretation. Typical of this failure is Mary Kirby's Leaflets, which she calls a "narrative autobiography" but which is really a potpourri of anecdotes about her sisrer and their acquaintances. The table of contents reads like a list of the children's tales that she and her sister wrote for their livelihood—"Carnival of St. Valentine," "The 'Whipping Toms and the Vicar of St. Mary's,' " "The Fates are adverse to Elizabeth and her Lover"—and, titles aside, these do not represent a coherent sequence of episodes in her spiritual life or professional career.18 Similarly, Mary Chomondeley, a skilled writer with over a dozen novels to her credit, gives portraits of her father, mother, nurse "Ninny," and younger sister without attempting to describe their interrelations or suggest their influences upon one another. Cholmondeley initially states that she has chosen to draw these portraits precisely because sh? wants to present "in context" the writings other sister, who died in late adolescence. Bur the reader must infer the context and relationships, for Cholmondeley describes only the individual family member whose portrait she is drawing. '^ And a third Mary—Mary Lisle, a silly woman who claims to write for moral edification and to "lose the sense of my own loneliness"—tacks together a series of reminiscences that become ludicrous in their unmeditated juxtapositions: she follows her memories of an aunt's gruesome death by fire with the delights of a pet squirrel, for example.20 It is as if these autobiographers had read Hannah More—or some theorist of her ilk—and been convinced that they possessed no capacity for arrangement, no power [[/] to compare, combine or analyze, no ability to shape their own lives or their family histories into a coherent pattern.

Such women are, it is rrue, minor figures in the ranks of religious autobiographers and memoir writers, and the tendency to narrate anecdotes rather than interpret history is common among male memoirists, whether religious or secular. Even the best of the female Victorian memoir writers, Mrs. M. O. W. Oliphant, resists imposing a comprehensive self-interpretation on her experience, preferring to tell familial or literary anecdotes and only in the end suggesting a pattern for her literary career.21 This difficulty with interpretation should have been less troublesome for writers of the religious memoir, which include the women quoted above. The familiar biblical patterns of interpretation, derived from typological hermeneutics, could as easily have been used in the memoir as in the spiritual autobiography (or in other forms that require an interpretation of religious experience: the spiritual diary, the funeral sermon, the religious biography). These patterns women knew but seemed not to use.

The difficulty lay not so much in the act of interpretation, I think, as in the method that the autobiographical tradition imposed upon them. If women wished to write autobiography, they had to use the language of the spiritual autobiographer. Male writers like Carlyle, Ruskin, Newman, and a host of others used this language with a confidence that only experience and authority can bring. In Newman's case, a formal theological education and extensive theological publication gave the experience; ordination gave the authority. In Carlyle's case, experience and authority came from an intense Calvinistic upbringing and a thorough reading in English and German theology, as well as from his vocation as philosopher.

Women possessed neither experience nor authority. They rarely had the formal education chat would have allowed them to use a system of biblical hermeneutics with confidence (although some might, like Carlyle and Ruskin, have learned its principles through long church attendance and private study). More important, Victorian women did not have the authority to speak the language of biblical types. By Pauline injunction, they had been admonished to "learn in silence with all subjection." "I suffer not a woman to teach," [130/131] St. Paul had written, nor to usurp authority over the man" (I Tim. 2.11—12). By ecclesiastical decree, they were denied ordination in the Church of England during the whole of the nineteenth century, prohibited from interpreting the Scriptures to a congregation in most Dissenting sects, and banned from Methodist pulpits by the Convention of 1803. John Wesley's comments to Sarah Crosby, a woman who felt the call to preach, are instructive: "Even in public you may properly enough intermix short exhortations with prayer; but keep as far from what is called preaching as you can; therefore never rake a text; never speak in continued discourse without some break, about four or five minutes."23 For Wesley the crucial issue is nor public speaking but taking a biblical text—and, worse yet, expounding upon the text in "continued discourse." That sort of entry into hermeneutic territory was forbidden to women.

Wesley's comment is nor as nasty as Samuel Johnson's, which compares "a woman's preaching" to "a dog's walking on its hmd legs": "It is not well done; bur you are surprised to find it done at all."21 But ultimately it is Wesley's comment that is the more inhibiting for women who would engage in the kind of interpretation required for spiritual autobiography, for Wesley removes the source from which autobiographical interpretation proceeds. Moreover, Wesley represents the stance that became increasingly common during the eighteenth century as biblical hermeneutics came to be regarded as a privileged endeavor, one that required knowledge of the original biblical languages as well as a systematic use of interpretive principles and procedures.

No woman was denied, of course, the right to appropriate the lessons or models of the biblical text privately; indeed, from the pulpits that denied women the right to expound that text publically» they were encouraged to apply it to their personal lives. But such encouragement, delivered from the same mouths that repeated the Pauline injunction, implicitly told women they could handle the text only after a priest or a man (the Pauline text gave husbands a priestly authority over their wives) had interpreted it for them first. They were themselves unfit to deal critically with the text—that is, to expound or interpret it on their own.

That this judgment perplexed and provoked Victorian women is evident from the prose writing of the period, fictional as well as autobiographical. In her first novel George Eliot makes the Methodist decision to ban women from preaching the subject of familial controversy and the "resolution" to her heroine's career.25 Charlotte Brontë makes the male authority to interpret biblical models for women a tacit concern in Jane Eyre, an explicit theme in Shirley. Harriet Martineau makes a male's refusal to explain a theological dilemma the crisis of her autobiography and the impetus for her search for a non-theological hermeneutics. For these women and others, the hermeneutic prohibition represented a historical fact which was, legitimately, a subject for prose writing. Their treatment of the fact, moreover, suggests that they understood its implications for the writing of autobiography—or, to put it more generally, for the shaping of their lives, whether in reality or in literature. For them, as for us, the two were intertwined.

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f Victorian women writers, Charlotte Brontë was perhaps the most sensitive to the barriers that prevented women from entering the domain of spiritual autobiography—just as Harrier Martineau was the most eager to surmount the barriers. Before turning to Martineau's response to the female autobiographer's dilemma, therefore, we might consider Brontë's exploration of the generic problem. It is no coincidence chat Brontë chose to write autobiographical novels. They (were, of course, the third alternative to traditional autobiography chat women might take. As fiction, the novels provided Brontë with a means of interpreting the experiences of her past without exposing her private self or violating social and theological taboos. As novels that mimic the form of autobiography, moreover, they allowed her to explore self-consciously the conventions of a genre she found prohibitive and the implications of the hermeneutic prohibition for women who wanted to be autobiographers.

Jane Eyre is an experiment in the autobiographical mode: Brontë subtitled the novel "An Autobiography," presents it as a work edited [132/133] by another (as women's accounts usually were), and makes her narrator's primary concern that of interpretation: interpretation for selfunderstanding and self-direction.26 Critics of the novel have pointed out, moreover, that Brontë uses biblical types "to describe the moral and spiritual condition of [her] character[s]."27 But Brontë does more than use types to delineate character. She discriminates nicely between when a woman may apply types and when she may not, between what aspects of a woman's life are accessible to typological interpretation and what aspects are beyond (or beneath) interpretation.

In the first third of the novel, Brontë allows her protagonist only to narrate her experience—without system, without interpretation. For these chapters, Jane's experience at the entrance to Lowood School becomes the emblem of her difficulty as autobiographer. She can see the name of the institution and read the biblical inscription below it: r "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Jane cannot, however, make interpretive connections between what her eyes read and what the biblical text says: "I read these words over and over again: I felt that an explanation belonged to them, and was unable fully to penetrate their import. I was still pondering and signification of'Institution,' and endeavouring to make out a connection between the first words and the verse of Scripture, when the sound of a cough close behind me, made me turn my head" (V, 42). The hermeneutic impulse is present (Jane feels the need for "explanation" and ponders "the signification"), but in this section of her autobiography, the biblical text provides no means of self-interpretation. Indeed, unlike the authorities at Lowood, she believes that it does not illumine her experience.

It is only when Jane falls in love with Rochester, discovers his mad wife in the attic, and flees Thornfield to avoid what she fears might become a moral bondage, that the biblical types be^m to apply. Then the system of hermeneutics traditional in the spiritual autobiography gives meaning to her experience, and she attempts an interpretation other narrative. On the morning she flees Thornfield, she reads in her ^perience a repetition of the tenth plague of Moses: "My hopes were all dead—Struck with a subtle doom, such as in one night, fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing: they lay stark, chill, livid corpses that could never revive" (XXVI, 260). She recognizes this plague as a spiritual warning: she has made Rochester "an idol," "almost my hope of heaven," and has substituted an earthly Canaan for a spiritual one, in her dreams imagining beyond the "wild waters" of an "unquiet sea" "a shore, sweet as the hills ofBeulah" (XV, 133). As she flees her Egypt and wanders (literally) in a wilderness, she continues the interpretation: "I could not turn, nor retrace one step. God must have led me on" (XXVII, 283). Moreover, as she views her life retrospectively some months later, she still recognizes a providential exodus: "Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment. God directed me to a correct choice: I thank his providence for the guidance" (XXXI, 316).

If Brontë allows a female autobiographer to interpret her experience with the traditional patterns ofche spiritual autobiography, she at the same time makes us understand that Jane's interpretation is subversive: it violates hermeneutic rules. First of all, the male characters of the novel also use types to interpret Jane's character: Rochester calls her a vexatious Delilah over whom he "long[s] to exert a fraction of Samson's strength (XXVII, 266), and St. John Rivers says he suspects in her "the vacillating fears of Lot's wife" which "incline [her] to look back" (XXXI, 318). As these men would have it, the types appropriate to delineate Jane's character are only those of Old Testament women—the lovers, wives, and mothers of the Bible who offer limited autobiographical models. Jane's attempt to apply the types universally (sexlessly), while in theory sound, becomes in practice subversive of cultural codes.

More important, when Jane tries to turn her interpretation into action, she meers with imperious resistance from St. John, who thinks he offers a more authoritative interpretation for her life. St. John, too, foresees an exodus—but the destiny he envisions is India, not Thornfleld or Canaan. His text for Jane is the Revelation of St. John, "the vision of the new heaven and the new earth" (XXXV, [134/135] 367), and when Jane refuses to apply his text to her life, he decrees chat she has refused "the Christian's cross and the angel's crown (XXXV, 370). Of St. John, Jane observes, 'as a man, he would have wished to coerce me into obedience" (XXXIV, 360), and as a clergyman, St. John had the authority to expect obedience. Through Jane's comment Brontë recognizes the limits placed upon the woman who attempts to become an autobiographer, and at the same time she articulates her heroine's need to exercise hermeneutic freedom, to interpret her life for herself.

If a woman is to write autobiography, she must be allowed to use the language and conventions of the autobiographer, and Jane Eyre does finally shape her own account by using the traditional language and interpretive patterns. Brontë even allows her another sort of hermeneutic victory. At the end of the novel, when Jane returns to Thornfield, Rochester no longer thinks other in gender-linked types. He has somehow learned the universal intention of the biblical models: instead of Delilah, she is now David to his Saul (XXXVII, 386). But in the world outside the novel, Brontë assumes no such enlightenmenr. Jane Eyre's autobiography makes its way into the world through the offices of a man, Currer Bell, who appears on the title page as the editor and who, according to Victorian convention, selects and arranges what a woman has to say about her life.

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t is in this historical context, then, and with these generic precedents that Harriet Martineau published her Autobiography in 1877. According to her own testimony, the early part of her life seemed much in its misery like the childhood that Brontë depicts in the opening chapters otjanv Eyre. When Brontë's novel appeared, in fact, Martineau was "taxed with the authorship by more than one personal friend, and charged by others, and even by relatives, with knowing the author, and having supplied some of the facts of the first volume from [her] own childhood" (II, 324). But anyone who understood Martineau's temperament might have realized that Jane Eyre, however similar in biographical detail, was not for her a likely form of [135/136] autobiographical expression. Martineau had little talent for Brontë's imaginative "making out"; indeed, after the age of eighteen, she claimed a total inability to invent fictions. More important. Martineau had no desire to circumvent a primary literary tradition simply because she was a woman or to write autobiographical fiction because it was a typical rorm of feminine self-expression. Throughout her career, she had consistently adopted male forms, and in writing an autobiography, that meant creating a thoroughly hermeneutic example of the genre.28

Martineau's response produced one of the few instances (perhaps the only instance) of a spiritual autobiography written and published by an Englishwoman during the nineteenth century, for the Ai/tobiography is an account of genuine moral and intellectual growth. Written as a testimony to rhc regenerative power of philosophical positivism and as an illustration of that philosophy's law of human development, it is intended as a model for others, male and female, to follow in the interpretation of their lives. In order to make the genre of spiritual autobiography expressive of her own experience and philosophy, however, Martineau had to transform some of its most basic characteristics.

Of these, the most significant was the language of interpretation winch, as Bronce so clearly recognized, depended upon a system of biblical hermeneutics that excluded women. Like her male contemporaries, Martineau understood this language and its patterns of interpretation thoroughly: as a young girl, she had been educated at the Reverend Issac Perry's grammar school in Norwich, a Dissenting academy for boys, and when her formal education ceased, she set herself a course of reading in theology and philosophy as rigorous as that other college-bound brother.29 As her autobiography recounts, she spontaneously thought and spoke in biblical patterns for over twenty years of her life. But biblical allusions and typological analogies are virtually absent from the Autobiography, at least as absent as one can imagine in a prose work written in English. Except for the discussion of American slavery, in which she repeats episodes of the Exodus as they were applied by slaves and abolitionists themselves, Martineau seems systematically to have expunged the old biblical language from her account of spiritual and intellectual development. [136/137]

Without biblical typology to give coherence to experience, most autobiographers would have found themselves at a loss—without the traditional system yet without a comprehensive substitute. Women writers necessarily began with such a loss, and as Brontë's attempt at myth-making in Shirley suggests, substitutes were difficult to create. But in 1855 Martineau had a ready alternative. In 1851, four years before composing the Autobiography, she had begun an English condensation of Auguste Comte's six-volume Cours de Philosophie Positive, and in 1853 she published a two-volume translation of the work, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. In the place of biblical types and language, she substitutes in her Autobiography the terminology of positivism and its "great fundamental law": that each race and humankind as a whole pass through three stages of development — "the theological, or fictitious; the metaphysical, or abstract; and the scientific, or positive" (I, 5).

As in typological practice, these stages apply as readily to the individual human being as to the race, an application that Martineau explains in the first chapter of The Positive Philosophy:

The progress of the individual mind is not only an illustration, but an indirect evidence of that of the general mind. The point ofde-parture of the individual and of the race being the same, the phases of the mind of a man correspond to the epochs of the mind of the race. Now, each of us is aware, if he looks back upon his own history, that he was a theologian in his childhood, a metaphysician in his youth, and a natural philosopher in his manhood.

As the final sentence suggests, Martineau believed her own life to delineate the same stages, and thus she found in Comtian philosophy a formal and authoritative system of self-interpretation. She organizes her Autobiography according to the Comtian pattern, moving from an early religious period (1802- 19) through what she calls a "metaphysical fog" (1819—39) to a final positivistic stage of thought (1839—55). Each stage encompasses roughly two books of the total six, with book V representing a transitional period between metaphysical confusion and her final positivisitic stance in 1855.

Explained this abstractly, Martineau's method sounds like a rather routine (and dull) substitution of one interpretive system for another, hardly an innovative solution to the dilemma of the woman autobiographer. But if the Autobiography is Comtian in form and method, it became so only despite obstacles as vexing as those Newman faced as a Catholic autobiographer and only because Martineau had wrestled with hermeneutic issues for thirty years. It came as the result of an intense struggle with the theological concept of predestination and an equally intense, if muted struggle with her brother Thomas over the right of young women to have such concepts explained.

At the center of the Autobiography we find a crisis in hermeneutics. This crisis represents the classic dilemma of Eve and her daughters. According to Martineau, she had puzzled as a young girl over the old theological problem of foreknowledge and free will and had finally asked her older brother to explain it: "how, if God foreknew every thing, we could be blamed or rewarded for our conduct, which was thus absolutely settled for us beforehand" (I, 44). The young man had no answer for his shrewd little sister and so did what most young men would do: he told her she was too young to understand. Balked of a solution at age eleven, she spent much of the rest other life formulating her own, a solution which she found first in Necessarianism and later in Comtian positivism. In the text of the Autobiography, the search for an adequate theological answer—indeed, for a hermeneutic system capable of explaining the intricacies of her experience—becomes the equivalent of Bunyan's search for the appropriate biblical type.

In essence what Martineau derived from Necessarianism was a principle: all action is determined by antecedent causes. That the principle might sound overly simple to those who did not embrace Necessarian is in, she admitted in the Autobiography: "Some, no doubt, say of the doctrine that every body can prove it, but nobody believes it; an assertion so far from true as not to be worth contesting.... [I]t appears to me, now as then, that none but Necessarians at all understand the Necessarian doctrine. This is merely saying in other words that its truth is so irresistible that, when once understood, it is adopted as a matter of course" (I, 110). To the young girl, nonetheless, the revelation lay not so much in the principle itself, but in its [138/139] implications for moral action. What she had discovered independently of Tom and other male authority was that there is no "selfdetermining power, independent of laws, in the human will" (I,111).

Necessarians contended that every man or woman is the maker of his or her own fortune. All action might be determined by antecedent causes, but one's own actions and discriminations were necessary links in the chain of cause and effect. As the Unitarianism W. E. Channing explained in a letter roughly contemporary with Martineau's discovery, "the apprehension that [men's] endeavours to promote their own happiness will have a certain and necessary effect, and that no welljudged effort of theirs will be lost, instead of disposing them to remit their labour, will encourage them to exert themselves with redoubled vigor; and the desire of happiness cannot but be allowed to have the same influence upon all systems" (quoted Webb 83). For daily life, Necessarianism gave Martineau a "new method of interpretation" which she could apply to her own behavior and to an infinite number of cases "with readiness and ease" (I, 109). In her autobiography, the Necessarian method assumes the function that typological principles and patterns hold in the traditional spiritual autobiography. In effect, she creates a new set of scriptures for the philosophical elect, defining that elect with the same exclusivity that Bunyan describes in the Bedford Christians: "[A]ll the best minds I know are among the Necessarians;—all indeed which are qualified to discuss the subject at all" (I, 110).

In conjunction with the patterns derived from Comtian positivism, then» Martineau uses a Necessarian mode of analysis to determine the influences upon the subsequent actions in her life. She begins, logically, with the early religious phase. For the first third of her life, Martineau had been an intensely pious Unitarian, a true spiritual descendant other Huguenot ancestors who had left France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and settled in Protestant East Anglia. Martineau explains her early religious phase just as one would expect a Necessarian and Comtian to explain it: not as a period of sinful error or unfortunate misdirection, but as the effect of specific circumstances and influences and as the usual phase with which intellectual development begins.

Explaining her early religiosiry, for example, she notes that as an infant in delicate health she had been sent to convalesce in a farmhouse outside of Norwich, where her nurse was "a Methodist or melancholy Calvinist of some sort" (1, 12). This stay produced an immediate effect:

I came home the absurdist little preacher of my years . . . that ever was. I used to nod my head emphatically, and say "Never ky for tyfles:" "Doocy fust, and pleasure afterwards," and so forth: and I sometimes got courage to edge up to strangers, and ask them to give me—"a maxim." Almost before I could join letters, I got some sheers of paper, and folded them into a little square book, and wrote, in double lines, two or three in a page, my beloved maxims. [I, 12]

It contributed to a lasting trait of personality as well: "It was probably what I picked up ar Carleton that made me so intensely religious as I certainly was from a very early age" (I, 12).

So, too, did other religious experiences shape Martineau's personality permanently: from the childhood practice of writing sermon abstracts, she learned "the highest use in fixing [her] attention" (I, 33); from her obsession with tabulations of moral virtues and vices, she "made out that great step in the process of thought and knowledge, —that whereas Judaism was a preceptive religion, Christianity was mainly a religion of principles" (I, 36). She also learned to rival "any old puritan preacher in [her] free use of scripture," a lesson invaluable to a woman who later wanted not only to write spiritual autobiography but transform its interpretive mode.

Martineau neither attributes these incidents to providence, as the traditional autobiographer would, nor wastes time lamenting their deleterious effects, as an autobiographer like Ruskin or Gosse might. Her attitude is strictly Necessarian. The incidents occurred; they produced effects; the effects should be understood. To Henry Atkinson, her philosophical comrade and co-author, she explained in a letter reprinted in full in the Autobiography, that the old religious superstitions actually did her good as a child: [140/141]

I have found the good of those old superstitions in my day. How it might have been with me (how much better) if I had had parents of your way of thinking, there is no saying. As ic was, I was very religious (far beyond the knowledge and intentions of my parents) till I was quite grown up. I don't know what I should have done without my faith; for I was an unhealthy and most unhappy child, and had no other resource. [II, 288]

Moreover, as a Comtian, she accepts these early incidents of religiosity as predictable stages of a child's development:

Every child, and every childish tribe of people, transfers its own consciousness, by a supposition so necessary as to be an instinct, to all external objects, so as to conclude them all to be alive like itself; and passes through this stage of belief to a more reasonable view: and, in like manner, more advanced nations and individuals suppose a whole pantheon of Gods first,—and then a trinity,—and then a single deity;—all the divine beings being exaggerated men, regarding the universe from the human point of view, and under the influences of human notions and affections. [II, 280]

Absent from her analysis is a lingering sense of failure or shame, which she certainly felt at the time, but deems irrational to express now as a Comtian autobiographer.

The Autobiography continues to detail the metaphysical and positive phases of Martineau's life—with the same Necessarian detachment, the same dispassionate tone. Beginning with three prize essays for the Central Unitarian Association (1S3 1), written to advocate the Unitarian faith 'to the notice of Catholics, Jews, and Mohammedans" (I, 150), Martineau explains that she left the theological phase behind and entered into "those regions of metaphysical fog in which most deserters from Unitarianism abide for the rest of their time" (I, 156-57). The prize essays, which won her much acclaim among Unitarians and made her their "chosen expositor" (I, 158), she judges in retrospect to be "morbid, fantastical, and therefore unphilosoph ical and untrue" (I, 157), just as she identifies "the fundamental fault" of her later Society in America (1837) as "its nu-raphysical framework, and the abstract treatment of what must necessarily be a concrete subject" (II, 103) and criticizes the final work of her metaphysical phase, Life in the Sickroom (1843), for "the débris of the theological" it includes, debris compatible with only a metaphysical, not a positive order of society. "I gave forth," she explains, "the contemporary persuasions of the imagination, or narratives of old traditions, as if they had been durable convictions, ascertained by personal exertion of my faculties" (II, 173).

Actually, much of the detail that the Autobiography includes within the metaphysical phase has little to do with spiritual or intellectual development. Martineau recounts her inspiration for the immensely successful Practical Economy Series (1832—34), recollects anecdotes about famous London figures, and describes visits to slave plantations and abolitionist meetings in America.33 Yet even amidst literary anecdotes and details of travel and disagreements with publishers, Martineau finds occasion to apply positivist principles. She uses the beginnings or endings of sections to reiterate these or the Necessarian basis of her autobiographical method. "Now the summer of my life was bursting forth without any interval of spring," she writes at the close of a period of great literary success.

My life began with winter, burst suddenly into summer, and is now ending with autumn,—mild and sunny. I have had no spring; but that cannot be helped now. It was a moral disadvantage, as well as a great loss of happiness; but we all have our moral disadvantages to make the best of, and "happiness" is not, as the poet says, "our being's end and aim," but the result of one faculty among many, which must be occasionally overborne by others, if there is to be any effective exercise of the whole being. (I, 180-81)

The stance is philosophic to the core, accepting of the influences that could not be prevented, insistent upon the responsibility of adding to them one's own positive causes.

Once she has reviewed the factors contributing to her intellectual [142/143] development between 1839 and 1844, the "five heavy years" that produced Life in the Sickroom and various controversial essays on mesmerism, Martineau has in effect brought her account of spiritual progress to its final stage. Not that she failed to grow morally and intellectually after 1844. That would have been contrary to the premise other Household Education, which argues that education—the individual's improvement in intellectual skills and moral qualities— should be a lifelong occupation (see esp. 1-10). But although she had much more to recount of her studies and literary efforts, and although the encounter with Comte's Cours de Philosophie Positive occurred a decade later, her Autobiography had already delineated the three Comtian stages of progress, and there was little more to interpret.

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s Martineau substitutes a Necessarian mode of interpretation in a Comtian pattern of development for the traditional principles and patterns of biblical typology, she inevitably revises several conventions of the spiritual autobiography: conventions of form (the dramatic conversion, the Pisgah vision) and of mode (the introspective stance). As evidence of the philosophical consistency that Martineau brings to her Autobiography, these revisions are significant in and of themselves. They are also significant for the possibilities they suggest for women's autobiography and, more broadly, for the shifts they anticipate in the entire genre, particularly in late nineteenth century attempts at scientific" self-interpretation.

In both the conversion episode and the Pisgah vision, Martineau revises the conventions in order to deprive them of theological content and substitute her own philosophical principles. As she recounts her discovery of Necessarianism, for instance, she repeats the primary characteristics of religious conversion as they were understood in the nineteenth century. In The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901-02) William James lists them as (1) "the loss of all the worry, the sense I that all is ultimately well," and "the willingness to be, even though the outer conditions should remain the same," (2) "the sense of perceiving truths not known before," and (3) "the objective change [143/144] which the world often appears to undergo" (198-99). Martineau describes the same feelings: in her own words, a restoration of "peace" to her "troubled mind," a new sense of life as "something fresh and wonderfully interesting," and an astonishment at "the vastness of the view opened to me" and "the prodigious change requisite in my moral views and self-management" (I, 109- 10). Her language, too, echoes the vocabulary of religious conversion: "I was like a new creature in the strength of a sound conviction," she writes. Making metaphorical St. Paul's blinding light, she recalls that "a new light spread through my mind, and I began to experience a steady growth in self-command, courage, and consequent integrity and disinterescedness" (I, 110).

Despite these resemblances to religious conversion, Martineau takes care to label her experience a "revolution" rather than a conversion, and she avoids here as in the rest of the Autobiography any explicitly biblical allusions. (The light, for example, is self-consciously offered as metaphor or, as James would call it, an internal "photism." [201]). This combination of adherence to and deviation from the conventional episode of conversion answers a need to control, as autobiographer, the difference between past and present selves. As her former self, Martineau had understood the discovery ofNeccssarianism to be a philosophical version of the experience that Dissenting theology called conversion; at the time it occurred, she had interpreted it (perhaps recorded it in a private diary) in conventional terms—that is, in the old theological language. As her present self, she prefers to explain the experience as "revolution," a word she uses throughout the Autobiography to mean a necessary and total change, the inevitable result of antecedent causes (II, 447). Thus, the theological language is omitted, superseded by the philosophical.

The juxtaposition of past consciousness and present understanding creates what Jean Starobinski describes as stylistic "redundancy," a feature of autobiographical writing that "may disturb the message itself." Style in autobiography has the function of establishing a relation between the author and her past. "The past, "Starobinski explains, "can never be evoked except with respect to the present: the 'reality' of by-gone days is only such to the consciousness which, [144/145] today, gathering up their present image, cannot avoid imposing upon them its own form, its style" (74).

Martineau uses style in the conversion episode to establish a relationship between author and past reality (and between author and reader) that she wishes: the reality of the past self is indeed disturbed, but deliberately so in favor of the message of the present. One effect of the episode is to vitiiire the confidence of Christians who offer internal phenomena as evidence of salvation. Martineau's own "revolution" undermines the validity of internal evidence per se, for it makes clear that anyone, even a Necessarian and philosophical atheist, can experience the phenomena of conversion. Internal phenomena cannot thus prove divine election or the validity of a theological position. A corollary is one that William James was later to adopt as the premise of his work: that conversion is not exclusively a Christian experience.

Yet might we not also say of Martineau's style, to reverse Starobinski's formula, that the language of by-gone days imposes itself, too, on the reality of the present? Does not her reliance upon Pauline metaphors of conversion, however effaced in the Autobiography, disturb the message of the present that she intends to convey? Throughout her life Martineau worried about precisely this problem. In describing spiritual phenomena particularly, she feared that her use of the traJinonal language of theology might delude readers into believing that she meant something orthodox when in fact she intended to be quite unorthodox. To Henry Atkinson, she proposed inventing a new vocabulary for their joint Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature (1851), but when Atkinson argued that philosophers must use familiar language in order to communicate to their readers, she abandoned the notion.

Whether or not his argument is valid, Martineau compromises in the Autobiography between it and her original plan by resorting to some traditional language while superimposing Comtian terminology upon it. This compromise, never fully satisfactory, nonetheless becomes her working out of Comcian principles in a specifically literary context. Comtian doctrine would suggest that, just as women [145/146] and men who have reached the "positive" stage can correctly review the earlier phases of their lives, so she, as autobiographer, can review the earlier phases of the spiritual autobiography and transform or redefine the generic conventions according to a more enlightened philosophy. As Comtian philosopher, then, Martineau can maintain what she considers the valid features of the literary form, while stripping it of false theological debris. This process creates the layering of styles that Starbonski calls "redundancy."

Martineau's revision of the conversion episode achieves a subtlety of scyle in its balance between past and present selves, between repetition of and deviation from conventions of form. In contrast, her version of the Pisgah vision seems rhetorically heavy-handed. In the final episode of the Autobiography, titled "Prospects of the Human Race" in announcement of its generic intention, there is only the autobiographer's present self to deliver the message. That self is intent upon divesting its language of the theological and radically transforming the convention of autobiographical closure. Whereas Bunyan, for instance, uses the Pisgah vision to promise his readers the blessing of Canaan or Cowper assures himself of an earthly repose in God's mercy, Martineau uses the prospect vision to point out the delusiveness of the Christian doctrines of immortality and bodily resurrection and then to castigate the Church for the "moral injury and suffering" perpetrated "by the supersrititions of the Christian religion" (II, 436, 444).

What she means in the first instance is that, scientifically speaking, bodily resurrection represents an impossible reversal of natural processes: the evidence for such a doctrine or the immortality of the soul simply does not exist. What she means in the second is moreoriginal. Martineau came to believe that the Christian obsession with death and final judgment was morally injurious: it focuses attention on the self rather than on others to whom one has social and moral responsibilities (II, 436).

Martineau revises the Pisgah episode to show—both in action and in philosophy—how one ought to face death. She begins with her own deathbed scene, a convention of the spiritual memoir, and describes her repose in the prospect of death and the calm assurance of the [146/147] "cheerful,—even merry—little party we are at home here" (II, 440). In ironic contrast, she quotes the responses of Christian strangers and acquaintances who are "kind enough to interest themselves in my affairs": the one who sends a New Testament ("as if I had never seen one before"), intimating modestly that, although she may feel happy, she "ought not to be"; the one who insists "that Christian consolations are administered to [her) by God without [her] knowing it"; and the others who send her religious books and tracts "too bad in matter »and spirit to be safe reading for my servants; so instead of the waste-basket, they go into the fire" (II, 441, 443). With these lersonal anecdotes, Martineau demonstrates the superiority of her fchilosophical views for the conduct of the individual man or woman. She is also concerned, however, to show their superiority on a universal plane.

This intention she initiates (strangely) by transcribing a letter written in 1849 in which she virtually predicts the Crimean War. In , the letter Martineau divides Europe into two opposing forces ("Asiatic despotism" versus the enlightened nations of western Europe) and prophesies "a long and bloody warfare" for 'the first principles of social liberty." "It is my belief," she writes, 'that the war has actually begun, and that, though there may be occasional lulls, no man now living will see the end of it" (II, 45 1, 454). Apart from its obvious interest to a mid-Victorian audience, caught up in the Crimean War, quoting such a letter makes no sense at this point in the Autobiography'. Indeed, it seems to be a lapse in an otherwise careful revision of the Pisgah convention. Why should a letter predicting war be Martineau's choice to demonstrate the superiority of Necessarianism and Comtian philosophy? And why should she prefer an old letter to a direct statement of her current views?

What Martineau seems to have intended is an illustration on the historical level of Necessarian and Comtian principles in their prophetic function and, by illustration, of their superiority to Christian prophecy. Typically, at the close of a spiritual autobiography the author looks ahead with his readers to the joys of Canaan—by which he means an immortal life in heavenly bliss. To Martineau this sort of prophecy, with its claim to know by divine revelation the unknow able, is spurious. A "prophecy" that uses antecedent causes to foresee future events, however, is possible. A Necessariiin, through astute analysis of the European political situation, might follow the causes to their necessary result and hence predict a conflict of Asiatic despotism against western enlightenment or, more specifically, of Russia and her allies against England and hers.

Written before the outbreak of the Crimean War, the letter additionally serves as a formal validation ofMartineau's authority as prophcr, and it confers more generally the right to prophesy about the future of the human race. This prophecy closes the Autobiography as a restatement of the Comtian philosophy that has informed the entirework; in its pure exposition, it repeats the formal closure that we have seen before in Bunyan's "Conclusion," Carlyle's Book Third, and Newman's "Religious Opinions since 1845." Martineau notes "the successive mythologies" that have arisen and then declined. Shedeclares that the last, Christianity, "is now not only sinking to the horizon, but paling in the dawn of a brighter time. The dawn is unmistakable; and the sun will nor be long in coming up. The last of the mythologies is about to vanish before the flood of a brighter light" (II, /\(^\). That flood is, of course, the light of scientific fact and positivist philosophy. In that light "the immoralities which have attended all mythologies" will disappear, humankind will arise "to a capacity for higher work than saving themselves," and the race will be "trained in the morality which belongs to ascertained truth" (II, 461).

If Martineau writes here with a heavy hand, she does so consciously to make her intentions obvious. No reader can miss the intensity with which she attacks Christian morality and denigrates the spiritual autobiography, with its emphasis on individual conversion, for its fundamental selfishness. The obviousness results from a singleness of voice, from Martineau's fear of verbal ambiguity, and from the expositional mode itself. We should also nore, however, some less than explicit intentions. The closing prophecy allows, I think, an Otherwise muted expression in the Autobiography ofMartineau's deep frustration as a woman and woman writer. In its strident tone and assertive prophecy, the passage is unusual. It fails to view universal [148/149] history with the same absence of blame or censure that Martineau maintains in her personal history, and it singles out Christian rheologv specifically for the devastating moral and psychological effects it has had upon human lives, including her own and those of other women.

We should remember that the initial hermeneutic crisis of Martineau's Autobiography focuses on the theological question of foreknowledge and free will: "how, if God foreknew every thing, we could be blamed or rewarded tor our conduct, which was thus absolutely settled for us beforehand" (I, 44). As a young girl, Martineau had felt the impact of Christian theology assigning blame and reward for her actions, yet she had found this theology unable to explain its authority for doing so. We should remember, too, that she identifies Christian theology (in the guise of an older brother) with arnale authority, which is insistent upon its rights but ungrounded in its assertions. Martineau's anger at this alignment of power and ignorance does not express itself directly here or elsewhere in the } Autobiography because of other decisions she has made about autobiographical conventions. Rather, the "Prospects of the Human Race" n section becomes her response to patriarchal Christian authority. It envisions a better world, tree of gender restrictions; through its Necessarianism, it answers the questions of predestination and free will; and, most important, its answer is formulated by a woman.

In such revisions of autobiographical conventions of form, Martineau embodies an implicit argument about the approach women should take to convention and authority general!) whether social, religious, or literary. Rather than confront conventions angrily or reject a dominant literary tradition out of hand, Martineau's example suggests first an understanding of the forms and then a revision according to an enlightened philosophy. Her position may seem, in Elaine Showaker's terms, more like a "feminine" than a "female" response, involving an "imitation of the prevailing modes of the dominant tradition." But in no sense does Martineau represent an internalization" of the dominant tradition's "standards of an" or "its views on social roles" (13). Her example suggests, in facr, rliat the best wav to avoid such internalization is through self-conscious literary revision. And her Autobiography demonstrates the possibility of creating, through revision, a thoroughly original work.

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Martineau's originality as a woman writer displays itself throughout the Autobiography in its confrontation of a dominant male tradition and its insistence upon gender-free patterns of human development. In the history of autobiography as a genre, Martineau is original in another respect: in 1855, she may well have been the first English autobiographer to substitute a scientific model of self-interpretation for the traditional patterns of biblical hermeneutics. Moreover, her revision of a major autobiographical convention of mode— the introspective stance—marks a third innovation within the genre which had significant effect upon subsequent autobiographers' treatment of the "self."

As a Comtian, Martineau had committed herself to a form of autobiography chat depicts "the growth of a human mind" (I, 52), but not to one that focuses obsessively on the self. Indeed, she rejects traditional notions of the self, which she considers merely metaphysical substitutes for the theological concept of the soul. Metaphysicians find it necessary, she explains in her redaction of Comte, to preserve "the unity of what they [call] the I, that it might correspond with the unity of the soul, in obedience to the requisitions of the theological philosophy, of which metaphysics is... the final transformation" (Positive Philosophy, II, 463). Instead of detailing the minute fluctuations of an inner bein^ in which she does not believe, or despairing as later writers would about the impossibility of inscribing the self in the text, Martineau chooses to trace in the Autobiography the forces that contribute to the growth of a mind—and these forces, while including the internal, consist in greater proportion of the observable and external.

Tracing external influences is not in itself an innovative act for the writing of spiritual autobiography. Bunyan discusses the influence of the Ranters upon his spiritual belief, to cite only one instance from Grace Abounding, and Newman makes "the circumstances in which I had been placed" one of two primary influences in his conversion to [150/151] Roman Catholicism.40 But Newman also acknowledges opinions I that were "the birth of my own mind" as the second primary influence— assuming, as he does, that the Spirit of God participated in such births. Martineau will have nothing to do with Newman's second source of knowledge. In her estimate it produces a faulty interpretation of life, the sort a "captive" might make "from the gleams and shadows and faint colours reflected on his dungeon walls. " When she discovered Necessarianism and positivism, she explains, she "got out of the prison of my own self, wherein I had formerly sat trying to interpret life and the world" (II, 333). "To form any true notion whatever of any of the affairs of the universe," she insists, "we must take our stand in the external world,—regarding man as one of the products and subjects of the everlasting laws of the universe, and not as the favourite of his Maker" (II, 333~34).

In the Autobiography, Martineau takes hei: stand in the external world by regarding herself as the product of universal laws. This shift in perspective anticipates a general shift within the genre that becomes noticeable later in the century with Darwin's Autobiography, Butler's The Way of All Flesh, Spencer's Autobiography, the American Education of Henry Aaams, and numerous lesser autobiographies that approach the individual man or woman as scientific specimen. In these accounts, as in Martineau's, it is the principle of antecedent causes that determines what materials the autobiographers select from the past and what interpretations they make of their lives.

We might describe this new stance in traditional narrative terms as the assumption of a new point of view, but Martineau would approve the terminology only so long as it is "point of view" and not simply "view." To her, "views" are for those "still within the dogmatic circle or the metaphysical wilderness." "Point of view" represents "the grand difference" between "the dogmansts, the metaphysical speculators, and the positive philosophers": The first take their stand on tradition, and the second on their own consciousness. . . . We, seeing the total failure in the pursuit of truth consequent on {the latter) choice of a standpoint, try to get out of the charmed circle of illusion, and to plant our foot in the centre of the universe, as nearly as we can manage it, and, at all events, outside of ourselves" (III, 324—25). Although she does not articulate the difference, this assumption of a new "objective" stance places the autobiographer in a position once occupied by God. In Augustine's Confessions, it is only God who can stand outside the self and view man objectively; man is bound to the "narrow mansion of the soul" (13). Martineau might have accepted the metaphor (substituting "prison" for the euphemism "narrow mansion"), but disagreed with Augustine that God could "enter in" and "enlarge it"—or, for that maner, that enlarging the soul could improve man's perspective on himself.

In the Autobiography the assumption of an objective point of view follows logically from the scientific method Martineau chooses. It follows also from a personal rejection of the self-laceration that conventionally accompanies the introspective stance and from a deep understanding of the means by which women could gain authority as writers. As a Unitarian, Martineau had never shown much tolerance for the evangelical plea of utter worthlessness: as R. K. Webb neatly sums up her attitude, "to her Cowper was a mere slave to God" (71). As a Necessarian, she considered it requisite to deny any 'morbid appetirc for pathological contemplation,—physical or moral" (II, 148). Castigating oneself for physical and moral deficiencies or treating them, in the Christian sense, either as trials or temptations about which to feel shame was a waste of time. Necessarians simply accepted their condition as the natural result of antecedent factors and did their best in future actions to add beneficial factors to those over which they had no control.

In the writing of autobiography, Martineau's attitude encouraged a shift away from episodes of failure toward experiences of moral and intellectual growth; it encouraged, too, an elimination of blame, either of oneself or others. Her autobiography achieves, as a result, an evenness of tone and almost scientific detachment—and the authority chat both of these bring. It is a rare autobiographer who can look back on a childhood and youth, as emotionally stunted as that described in Jane Eyre, and observe calmly that her life "began in winter" and "had no spring," but still be "satisfied in a higher sense than that in which the Necessarian is always satisfied" (I, 180-81).

It is a rare woman autobiographer, too, who understands the [152/153] importance of such a Statement. The satisfaction of the Necessarian, of which Martineau speaks, is not that of emotional expression or personal justification, but that of analyzing the separate pieces of a life, of seeing how they fit, of interpreting their relationships and thus life itself, in a "positive" spirit—that is, according to "what can be rigorously demonstrated from and sustained by facts" (III, 308). The testimony to such satisfaction by a woman writer is the best evidence against the claim, made fifty years earlier in More's Strict //res on Female Educatiini, that women have not the capacity "of comparing, combining, analysing, and separating ideas," nor that "deep and patient thinking which goes to the bottom of a subject." Martineau's Autobiography testifies not only to women's capacity, but to their power to use it.

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f Martineau's autobiography represents a solution to the dilemma of the woman autobiographer, it was not the only solution nor one that all Victorian women writers considered satisfactory. In fact, during the nineteenth century women writers introduced a debate, implicitly if nor explicitly, over the forms and modes of self-interpretation they should attempt. Martineau's position in this debate seems clear: women should engage the main tradition of autobiographical writing, and they should adopt universal patterns of interpretation, systems that apply to all humankind. Charlotte Brontë's position seems less certain. In Shirley, the novel after Jane Eyre, Brontë again explores through autobiographical fiction two methods ofselfinierpretretation: the culturally accepted method of Caroline Helstone, the more imaginative attempt of Shirley Keeldar.

Caroline Helstone takes upon herself the role of the benevolent spinster, adhering closely to biblical models of women but hoping all the time that someone will say she need no longer follow them. Caroline wants the biblical text itself to change. When Joe Scott reminds her of the Pauline injunction to silence, for example, she responds with an ill-founded hope that the words don't mean what they say: "I dare say, if I could read the original Greek, I should find that many of the words have been wrongly translated, perhaps misapprehended altogether. It would be possible, I doubt not, with a little ingenuity, to give the passage quite a contrary turn; to make it say, 'Let the woman speak out whenever she sees fit to make an objection" (371). While Caroline engages in wishful thinking, lacking the hermeneutic skills to effect her desire, Shirley chooses to ignore the traditional biblical types and instead creates her own self-interpreting myth. Outside in the evening air, away from the parish church, she envisions the first woman, whom she calls alternatively "Eve," "Eva," and "a woman-Titan," and whom she imagines "bore Prometheus," from whose breast was "yielded the daring which could contend with Omnipotence: the strength which could bear a thousand years of bondage,—the unexhausted life and uncorrupted excellence, sisters to immortality, which, atter millenniums of crimes, struggles, and woes, could conceive and bring forth a Messiah" (360). The syntax of her vision re-constructs biblical and mythical history: while the parallel phrases logically seem to describe the hero Prometheus and hence masculine achievements, they culminate in feminine acts of conception and birth and thus in effect describe "Eva," the woman who is the focal point of history and the mother who nourishes these two young would-be autobiographers.

Shirley never completes the myth within the novel, but one can sense the possibility for women's self-writing that Brontë imagines. Instead of attempting autobiography in the primary tradition with universal models, as Harriet Martineau did, women writers might create their own patterns of interpretation—and a separate autobiographical tradition.

As far as literary history goes, Charlotte Brontë and Harriet Martineau never discussed the problem of women's autobiography face to face. They did, however, have a rather serious falling out over Brontë's final novel, Villette, and the point of disagreement connects directly to their different approaches to women's autobiography. Responding to Brontë's request for criticism on Villette but without realizing that the work was autobiographical, Martineau complained that in the novel "all the female characters, in all their thoughts and lives, are full of one thing, or are regarded by the reader in the light of [154/155] that one thought,—love. It begins with the child of six years old, at the opening . . . and it closes with the last page." According to Martineau, this view was not only obsessive but false: "It is not thus in real life. There are substantial, heartfelt interests for women of all ages, and under ordinary circumstances, quite apart from love." Martineau refers to "real life," but as she understood quite well, the real lives of women were in large measure created by the autobiographical lives that women writers chose—or had the power—to cell. To create an autobiography in which the interests and hence the shape of a woman's life were presented as fundamentally different from those of mankind was to approve a separate autobiographical tradition for women and thus finally to acquiesce in the exclusion of women from a primary literary tradition. Unlike Brontë's autobiographical novels, Martineau's Autobiography allows no such distinctions.

Both writers agreed, then, that women needed to abandon the hermeneutic system of the traditional spiritual autobiography. But they disagreed about what should replace it. The difference their works represent is the legacy that nineteenth-century women left for their successors to resolve. [155/156]

Last modified 10 February 2014