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Breaking news:

This is far too exciting not to share. In a recent meeting with LC Robertson, she mentioned that she was the lucky owner of a copy of the Northern Herald Books edition of A Manchester Shirtmaker, which included a reproduction of the only known portrait of the author Margaret Harkness (John Law). It had originally appeared in the journal The Queen in 1890, alongside a biographical profile of the author.

Photo: Will the real Margaret Harkness ... ?Margaret Harkness was an accomplished novelist, particularly of working class life - writing in the late 1880s and 1890s under the pseudonym 'John Law'. She was, for a while, an active socialist - though quite a lot of mystery surrounds aspects of her life. The conventional wisdom is that no likeness of Margaret Harkness has survived - surely the most influential writer of the late Victorian era to have no enduring photo or image.But it transpires there is a likeness of her - published in a journal called 'The Queen' in 1890 to accompany a profile of her. Indeed, the image adorns a republication of one of her novels, 'A Manchester Shirtmaker' by a small imprint, Northern Herald Books, a decade or so ago.Many thanks to Lisa Robertson for alerting London Fictions to this image - and behold, Margart Harkness!

Margaret Harkness, in ‘The Queen’

Based on this image, LC Robertson and Harkness biographer Terry Elkiss analysed a group photograph of the Matchwomen’s Strike committee, taken in 1888. Harkness was known to have been involved in organising the strike alongside Annie Besant and Herbert Burrows. They reached the conclusion that the woman seated front centre may well be Harkness.

The Matchwomen’s Strike committee, 1888. Annie Besant is behind the lectern; to the left of her is Herbert Burrows. The woman seated front centre has been tentatively identified as Margaret Harkness

Many of us Harkness aficionados had accepted up until this point that no likeness of the author and social campaigner had survived. In other words, we have waited since 1890 for a portrait…

Both of these images have appeared on the London Fictions Facebook page thanks to Andrew Whitehead.

My own post on Harkness’s novel In Darkest London appeared on the London Fictions website on 25 May.

30/08/2013 Bad news: Unfortunately, further research by Dr Elkiss has shown that the figure in the committee photo above cannot be Margaret Harkness, but is instead likely to be one of the Matchwomen themselves. Then again, having found one likeness, it would not to become greedy. Terry’s research continues.

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