Kristen A. Pond, “Harriet Martineau’s Epistemology of Gossip” (pp. 175–207)

This essay is a fresh examination of Harriet Martineau’s only domestic novel, Deerbrook (1838). Though the novel seems like an interruption to those writings considered more typical of the author, and more successful, this essay traces the way in which Deerbrook’s preoccupation with epistemology connects it in important ways to the rest of Martineau’s oeuvre. While in most of her writing Martineau gives preference to what the Victorians considered to be empirical and rational ways of knowing, in Deerbrook she focuses on more typically feminized knowledge forms that rely on speculation and intuition, in particular the discourse of gossip. This essay argues that gossip’s main function in Deerbrook is not as plot device or didactic warning; rather, it functions as an epistemological category that challenges Enlightenment presumptions to certain knowledge. Read as a source of knowledge rather than a female vice, gossip becomes the tool through which Martineau raises the possibility of alternative forms of knowledge that might counter, or at least complicate, assumptions about what constitutes certain truth and right knowledge.

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