Margaret Harkness was a novelist of late Victorian London who produced a string of social realist books - A City Girl, Out of Work, In Darkest London and A Manchester Shirtmaker - which deserve attention as much for their style and subject matter as for their literary merit. She wrote of the lives of the poor, of poor women in particular, and of movements for social change, including both socialism and the Salvation Army.
I spent yesterday at a symposium at Birkbeck devoted to Harkness and her writings. She is a somewhat myseterious figure - the drawing above is the only confirmed likeness of her. Her relationship with the socialist former army officer H.H. Champion, also above, was close, and persisted over several years. Both are enigmatic figures - and the story of their intertwining personal and political lives, and the novel Harkness wrote about Champion some years after their friendship (it's entitled George Eastmont, Wanderer and is extremely, and I mean extremely difficult to find) featured repeatedly in yesterday's papers and discussion.
Harkness also spent time, perhaps a decade or so, in India and what was then Ceylon. The only book of hers I have ever discovered in a second-hand bookshop - at least a title published in her lifetime - is her Indian Snapshots, which I once chanced across in Hauz Khas in Delhi. Among the many mysteries about Harkness which still have to be addressed is just what she did while in India, where she lived, and how she engaged with the country. Maybe that's for the next Harkness symposium.
And a real treat for Harkness obsessives, yesterday's symposium had pencils produced specially for the occasion. Now that really is style!
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