This essay revisits a public dispute between Harriet Martineau and Charles Dickens during the winter of 1855–56. It argues both that the nature of their quarrel has been largely misunderstood and also that its wider implications for understanding nineteenth-century intellectual and literary culture have been overlooked. The essay thus reexamines the dispute, its origins, and its aftermath, and places the event within the context of recent critical readings of Utilitarianism, the experience of industrial society, and the emergence of the professional woman writer. In so doing, it shows that a deeper exploration of the relationship between Martineau and Dickens adds considerably not only to our knowledge of the two authors themselves but also to our understanding of the ways in which nineteenth-century intellectual history interacts with the gender politics of Victorian literary culture and publishing.

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