The Voice of Harriet Taylor Mill is a work about collaboration: Harriet’s life with her lover, friends, and members of her family; Harriet’s joint work with John Stuart Mill; and the author’s interaction with the reader. Jo Ellen Jacobs explores and expands the concept of biography using Salman Rushdie’s analogy of history as a process of “chutnification.” She gives Harriet’s life “shape and form—that is to say, meaning” in a way that will “possess the authentic taste of truth.”
In the first chapter, the first 30 years of Harriet’s life are presented in the format of a first-person diary—one not actually written by HTM herself. The text is based on letters and historical context, but the style suggests the intimate experience of reading someone’s journal. The second chapter continues the chronological account of HTM until her death in 1858. In an interlude between the first and second chapters, Jacobs pauses to explore Harriet’s life with John Stuart Mill; and in the final chapter, she argues persuasively that Harriet and John collaborated extensively on many works, including On Liberty.