Margaret Harkness

Writing social engagement 1880–1921

Flore Janssen
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Lisa C. Robertson
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This volume is the first to bring together research on the life and work of the author, activist, and traveller Margaret Harkness, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘John Law’. The collection contextualises Harkness’s political project of observing and recording the lives and priorities of the working classes and urban poor alongside the broader efforts of philanthropists, political campaigners, journalists, and novelists who sought to bring the plight of marginalised communities to light at the end of the nineteenth century. It argues for a recognition of Harkness’s importance in providing testimony to the social and political crises that led to the emergence of British socialism and labour politics during this period. This collection includes considerations of Harkness’s work in London’s East End at the end of the nineteenth century, but moves into the twentieth century and beyond Britain’s borders to examine the significance of her global travel for the purpose of investigating international political trends. This collection gives substance to women’s social engagement and political involvement in a period prior to their formal enfranchisement, and offers insight into the ways this effected shifts in literary style and subject. In offering a detailed picture of Harkness’s own life and illuminating the lives and work of her contemporaries, this volume enriches critical understanding of the complex and dynamic world of the long nineteenth century.

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‘Margaret Harkness: Writing Social Engagement, 1880–1921 is both a testament to the importance of Harkness for our understanding of political writing at the end of the nineteenth century and, because of its richness and broad insights, an assurance that recognition of that importance will only grow. ’
Victorian Periodicals Review
June 2020

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