Yesterday I got a few books in the mail. I got the five volumes of Our Village by Mary Mitford about whom I am writing a book. It is a really nice set, though the age (over a hundred and fifty years old) make reading it difficult because the bindings are leather rather than cloth. In older books cloth binding is actually much better because the hinges are much less likely to crack. Anyway it is a great set to have and incredibly rare; there is only one other complete set on the Internet and it is going for over five-hundred dollars.
Writing this book on Mary Mitford has been really interesting and I have been enjoying it. One of the things that it has really made me think about is the degree to which women writers have been ignored. Mary Mitford herself has been overlooked historically but she still has some degree of reputation in literary history. But her work and life story has led me to numerous other women writers who are incredibly interesting but who have been almost completely forgotten. Among these are Mary Howitt, Barabara Hofland, and Adelaide Proctor. But perhaps the most interesting discovery for me is a woman named Harriet Martineau. Martineau lived between 1802 and 1876 and fought through poverty and difficult health problems to become a remarkably educated and erudite author of over 50 books of philosophy, sociology, political economy, and fiction. Interestingly she often used fiction to make a very clear political point, and she did so without coming off as overly didactic. She was genuinely a good writer and a brilliant thinker. The more I learn about her the more I think that if she had been a man she would now be very well remembered and would have affected a great deal of influence.
Anyway, the other book that I got in the mail was one by Martineau that I won on Ebay for only a few dollars. It is from 1845 and is so rare that you cannot find another for sale anywhere on the Internet except as a print-on-demand version. It is a very small book of some 175 pages and is called The Charmed Sea. The remarkable thing is that not only is it very rare and interesting, it is in almost perfect condition. It looks as though someone bought it when it was first published and put it on a shelf and never took it out again for a hundred and sixty-five years.