Academic journal article Journalism History

The Evolving Bride in Godey's Lady's Book

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Evolving Bride in Godey's Lady's Book

Article excerpt

Today the figure of the bride in media feels ubiquitous, but this article examined the bride in a time long before TheKnot. com, Bridezillas, or Brides magazine, a time when women were expected to marry, the nineteenth century. The top-circulating magazine of the nineteenth century was the womens magazine Godey's Lady's Book, a publication that offered women a place in the public culture when they were supposed to be confined to the domestic sphere. The magazine was published from 1830 through 1898, and it offers interesting and sometimes surprising insights about the societal importance and value of being a bride during the 1800s. In a study drawing upon feminist media studies, the entire run of Godey's Lady's Book was analyzed in order to understand how media, especially media targeted at women, have historically portrayed the figure of the bride.

Bride: (n). Definition: A woman who is about to be married or is already married, who is pale, trembling, fainting, dying, beautiful. Also, a woman who is about to be married or is already married, who is educated, reserved, moral, courageous.

In the February 1857 issue of Godey's Lady's Book, publisher Louis Godey's column, "Godey's Arm Chair," reminded readers to pay their postage, advertised pearl card-cases and hair ornaments, recited tidbits about circulation, and offered a piece titled "The Bride" by Washington Irving, which opened, "I know of no sight more charming and touching than that of young and tender bride in her robes of virgin white led up trembling to the altar."1 "How beautiful is the following?" Louis Godey gushed over Irving's treatise on the bride, and then reminded readers "we have a bridal figure in our fashion plate for this month."2

Today, more than 150 years later, the figure of the bride is everywhere. Brides beam from glossy magazine covers, fret over tulle and lace dresses on one television channel, and pitch cake-smashing tantrums about their perfect weddings being not-so-perfect on another. Media are still obsessed with the bride, the figure in white. This study examines the mediated bride, but in a time long before TheKnot.com, Bridezillas, or even Brides magazine, when women were expected to be married, the nineteenth century. The top-circulating magazine of the time was the women's magazine, Godey's Lady's Book! As a publication targeted at women, during an era when marriage was essentially required for females, The Lady's Book offers insights about the societal importance and value of being a bride during the 1800s. Examining the bride of the past is also an attempt to better understand women's lives, as the bride is a distinctly female figure, and add to the history of women, a history that is still being "reclaimed."4 This study aims to understand how the bride was portrayed in Godey's Lady's Book throughout its publication.

This analysis of The Lady's Book is filtered through a feminist media studies lens, therefore always with an eye toward gender justice and always weighing how the portrayal of the bride might be working toward feminism's goals, the goals of the dominant patriarchy, or both.' Feminist media studies is a twentieth-century paradigm, deployed here by a twenty-first-century author to examine nineteenth-century ideas about the bride and women, a potentially messy project. Twentieth and twenty-first-century feminism look different from nineteenth-century feminism, but that doesn't mean the writings in The Lady's Book can be dismissed as confining women and reproducing the dominant ideology. Margaret Beetham, in a study of nineteenth-century women's magazines from Britain, stated she did not examine the century's magazines "exclusively as instruments of a pervasive domestic ideology," a perspective that embraces complexity when looking at women's magazines of the past.6 Feminist media studies assert that media representations matter and have sought to understand "how images and cultural constructions are connected to patterns of inequality, domination and oppression. …

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