Carlyle, Martineau, and Eliot: The Importance of Organization


In her discussion of the role of government and its influence on women, Harriet Martineau makes the assertion that the governments of the United States have the power to enslave certain women and seize their property all “without the consent of the governed” (Martineau, paragraph 4). Mary Wollstonecraft also comments on this notion that women are slaves in Rights of Women, where she explains “When, therefore, I call women slaves, I mean in a political and civil sense” (Eliot, paragraph 10). The lack of political representation for women (specifically white women) reduced them to the slaves of their oppressors (white men; husbands and fathers). During this time period, women did not exist as citizens and therefore did not reap the benefits of citizenship. Women were barred from leaving the domestic sphere and had limited exposure to public life. Martineau goes on to question how “obedience to the laws can be required of women, when no woman has, either actually or virtually, given any assent to any law” (Martineau, paragraph 6). This expectation that women ought to obey the laws of land regardless of their agreement with or approval of the law reminds me of Thomas Carlyle’s assertion in “Captains of Industry” that “all human interests, combined human endeavours, and social growths in this world, have, at a certain stage of their development, required organising: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it” (Carlyle, paragraph 10).

I thought it was interesting to see how this concept of organization connects to the strife shared by women who yearned for political representation. Whether it be Martineau organizing and compiling her observations of American society and the role of women within a limited government or George Eliot organizing and constructing her essay that bridges the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller, in an attempt to remove the unjust laws that restricted women from benefiting from the advantages that were solely available to men.

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