Monday, December 03, 2007

Richard Reeve biography of Mill

The John Stuart Mill bandwagon goes on. A review here of the latest biography of John Stuart Mill by Richard Reeve, who I've quoted on this blog before. It looks like a fair and entertaining read. I'll have to order it from my library.

It seems to pick up, yet again on the old Harriet Taylor chestnut. I don't know what it is about this poor woman, but so many people have it in for her. I think it's Gertrude Himmelfarb's fault. She wrote a whole book on On Liberty, which featured very (very) heavily her views on Harriet Taylor, which are none too flattering. There are two JS Mills, she says. One before and one after Harriet Taylor got her claws into him.

It all seems remarkably unfair on the woman (and on Mill). They were both exceptional people and seemed, indubitably, to find in each other the sort of soul partner all of us yearn for in our lives. It is certainly true that Mill was inconsolable after her death. And yet she is treated almost as some sort of Jezebel.

I find it curious that Mill and Taylor managed to live a quite unconventional life in the middle of the Victorian era and yet, today, in our so-called permissive society, we expend so much energy and so many words on it, and call into question the motives of a woman who appears to me to have done nothing worse than fall in love with John Stuart Mill.