A Magazine of Her Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

2

THE 'FAIR SEX' AND THE MAGAZINE: THE EARLY LADIES' JOURNALS

[Lady's Magazine is] a production mainly feminine.

('Address to the Public', Lady's Magazine XI 1780:4)

I have heard some of my own sex lament that they were debarred from the privileges and pleasures which males freely enjoy; but in the very outset of my intended labours, I wish to caution them against indulging such ideas…. A woman entirely beloved by her husband…is the happiest of human beings.

('The Old Woman', Lady's Monthly Museum I 1798:29)

In 1798 a new magazine, the Lady's Monthly Museum or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction (hereafter Lady's Museum) was launched by 'A Society of Ladies'. They claimed it was 'an assemblage of whatever can please the fancy, interest the mind and exalt the character of the British Fair' (LMI 1798:1). This magazine flourished with only minor changes until 1832. Then it merged with an even older title, the Lady's Magazine (1770-1832) and then with another well-established rival, La Belle Assemblée (l806-32), to produce a combined title which lasted until 1847. These three journals were aristocratic not popular but, separately and together, they established the woman's magazine as the genre we recognise today.

The idea of a journal for ladies was not new in 1798. In 1709 Steele had launched the first number of the Tatler for a readership he defined as 'publick spirited men and 'the Fair Sex, in Honour of whom I have invented the title of this Paper' (quoted in Shevelow 1989:93). This installed gender as crucial to the definition of the periodical and its reading public. Moreover, it opened up a specifically feminised space within the genre, even though this remained secondary to the masculinised space of the 'publick spirited' male.

Throughout the eighteenth century, periodicals had continued to 'fair sex it', in Swift's words (Shevelow 1989:1). Women were addressed specifically as readers but they were also active as writers and editors. 'Womanliness' or femininity was installed as a crucial topic for discussion. Thus women were simultaneously positioned as consumers and producers of these texts and as objects of their analysis (Adburgham 1972; Ballaster et al. 1991; Shevelow 1989).

The meaning of this feminised space was ambiguous, however. Steele's double-

-17-

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