When the Ibbotson sisters, Hester and Margaret, arrive at the village of Deerbrook to stay with their cousin Mr Grey and his wife, speculation is rife that one of them might marry the local apothecary Edward Hope. Although he is immediately attracted to Margaret, Hope is ultimately persuaded to marry the beautiful Hester. The unhappiness of their marriage is compounded when a malicious village gossip accuses Hope of grave-robbing.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was born in Norwich into a poverty-striken and puritanical family and brought up to earn her own living. Her writing career began with a series of essays on religion and political economy and she wrote in support of the Abolitionists during her visit to America in 1834. From 1839-44 she was an invalid, but produced her only novel, Deerbrook (1839), a historical work, and some children's stories. Her other works include philosophy, travel, and autobiography. Martineau is today considered one of the forerunners of the modern sociologist and is remembered for her anti-slavery and proto-feminist stance. Valerie Sanders is Professor of English at the University of Hull. She has written on anti-feminist women novelists, Victorian women's autobiography, and has edited a selection of Harriet Martineau's letters. Her most recent book is The Brother-Sister Culture in Nineteenth-Century Literature from Austen to Woolf (Palgrave, 2002).