Harkive: ‘“John Law” and the Labouring Classes’

This feature piece appeared in the Australian Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser and may be inspired by the details provided in the Evening News interview.


Source: The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Tuesday 6 May 1890, p. 6. Accessible through the National Library of Australia: <http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18996383&gt;.


“John Law” and the Labouring Classes.

A correspondent sends some particulars about “John Law”:—It may as well be said at once that the name is the nom de guerre of a woman, and that woman Miss Margaret G. [sic] Harkness, who began her career of authorship about three and a half years ago, when, happening to become interested in the East End poor through her own sufferings, she conceived the idea of arousing public sympathy with their condition. A story entitled “A City Girl” was the result. Half of it was written on the spot—that is, in the midst of the slum-life she depicts. It is a sombre picture, faithful to the life it describes, and unrelieved save by here and there a touch of quiet humour. It sold largely, and was quickly followed by “Out of Work.” This dealt with the male side of the shield, with the dock labourer and those of his class, who may be said to be out of work every night, but not in work always the next day. “Out of Work” had a very large sale, and attracted attention on the Continent. It was translated and published in several languages, notably in Russian, Swedish, and German. While Miss Harkness was busy on this work she was trying to organise a corps of porters (Dienstmänner) similar to what she had seen in Berlin; but her committee of doctrinaires utterly failed her, and she was obliged to give   up the attempt. It may be said, however, that she spent a considerable amount of money in the effort, as she has since done in other ways in furtherance of her desire to help these helpless people. After the publication of “Out of Work,” Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton asked the authoress to write a story for their British Weekly, and “Captain Lobe” was the result. This has been considered the best of her stories. It had the largest sale of any of her works, though perhaps not the same amount of influence as “Out of Work,” which, it should be   noted, had a large sale in Australia, and was being extensively noticed by the Press there just before the outbreak of the now historical docker’s strike;   and it is more than probable that it had much to do with the practical sympathy manifested by the Australian colonies, which did so much towards bringing the dispute to a satisfactory termination. Miss Harkness’s sympathy was altogether with the dockers, whom she aided in every possible way, giving freely both time and money, and finally bringing Cardinal Manning, with his great influence, upon the scene. Her fourth and last story, “The Manchester Shirtmaker,” deals with the conditions of the labouring poor. The authoress spent several months in Manchester, studying the social question and judging for herself before she put pen to paper. That the story is gloomy the authoress herself confesses, but, she says, so is her subject;   and that is her justification. These stories are, after all, only like her trial efforts; they are the   ‘prentice work to get her hand in. She is still young, with plenty of energy, with a great human sympathy too, and we may hope for still greater work from her pen.


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