Chaotic Interruptions in the Economy: Droughts, Monsoons and Hurricanes in Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy

Dr Lesa Scholl, University of Queensland


Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy series (1832-34) gained her an unprecedented international profile as a populariser of political economy. Both lauded and condemned for her mission to make the precepts of classical political economy accessible to all, Martineau was established by her contemporaries as a proponent of political economy. However, such renderings must be interrogated through the strong counter-narratives of chaos, dispossession and conflict within the series that unflinchingly challenge the tenets espoused by early political economists.

This paper seeks to draw out Martineau’s much more complex relationship to political economy by focusing on the dialogic nature of her tales, specifically in the way she uses the chaotic force of weather disturbances to critique the seeming stability of economic theory. I argue that her characters who express political economy‚Äôs ideals become increasingly problematic figures in light of environmental devastation. Engaging with three volumes of the series, French Wines and Politics (1833), Sowers Not Reapers (1833) and Cinnamon and Pearls (1833), I build on earlier work I have done regarding the relationship between physical and social hunger by focusing respectively on the intervention of the hurricane, drought and monsoon in the narratives. The advent of uncontrollable climatic forces mirror economic turbulence and, most crucially, speak to the visceral trauma of the community.