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

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

3

THE QUEEN, THE BEAUTY AND THE WOMAN WRITER
The Belle, the Belle, the Monthly Belle,
That does its thousands quickly sell…
Where every week does Modish shew
What bonnets are worn what caps are 'the go'

(New Monthly Belle Assemblée I 1834:1)


THE ANOMALY OF A QUEEN ON THE THRONE

So much was invested in the idealised domestic woman. She was the ground on which the social and political system was understood and regulated and, in her biological difference, she guaranteed that such a system was natural. In 1832, when the Reform Act extended the vote to middle-class men, the legal exclusion of women from politics drew little comment. One of the radical papers of 1832, the Isis- a sixpenny weekly publication-was 'edited by a lady'. But Eliza Sharples was an exceptional 'lady' and, insofar as it named a female editor, this was an exceptional political paper. By the 1840s, even the Chartists' demand for 'universal' voting rights meant male suffrage. The designation of public politics as a masculine realm spanned the entire class spectrum, and its separation from the feminised private had become axiomatic across legal, political, economic and domestic space. It structured popular print in the 1830s and 1840s. Yet that separation was not monolithic but marked by exceptions which constantly threatened its designation as natural.

The most overt of these was Victoria's presence on the throne. Her accession in 1837 produced what Caroline Norton called the 'grotesque anomaly' of a country 'governed by a female sovereign' in which gender alone was sufficient grounds for exclusion from legal and political existence (quoted in Poovey 1989:6). The Queen was indeed a potentially disruptive figure and the meaning of her power an important locus of debate across the spectrum of popular genres (Homans 1993). Women's publications like the Christian Lady's Magazine devoted considerable space to the meaning of her accession for women (CLMX X 1838:11-12, 68-9, 405-6). This evangelical magazine was unusual in that it consistently offered articles on 'important public events' in a form which it jokingly described as 'Politics made easy or every woman her own representative' (CLM I 1834:74). But this

-36-

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