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

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

4

FAMILY AND MOTHERS' MAGAZINES: THE 1830s AND 1840s

Domestic Economy, Education, Sanitary Reform, Cottage Gardening, also Social Sketches, Moral Tales, Family Secrets and Valuable Household Recipes.

(Family Economist I 1848: contents list)

My maternal readers, the sentiment of our motto is the mighty power of maternal influence for good or evil. Ponder it deeply and unceasingly.

(Mother's Magazine 1846-7 unnumbered volume: 181, emphasis in original)


THE GROWTH OF THE POPULAR PRESS

The 1830s and 1840s were years of enormous expansion in the periodical press, indeed some scholars would argue that the first mass magazine appeared in the 1840s and that in these decades the modern press began. 1 Here, too, 1832 was a turning point, for in that year appeared three cheap papers without news whose success laid the foundations for the 'journalism for the middle class…in the approaching Victorian era' (Altick 1957:332). They were Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, the Penny Magazine and the Saturday Magazine. These differed in appearance, formula and commercial strategy but they all cost a penny, sold in their tens or even hundreds of thousands and aimed to provide 'wholesome' reading for the working man (Altick 1957:335; Bennett 1982).

The discovery of a potentially vast readership for cheap papers combined with developments in distribution-particularly as the railway boom got under way-to revolutionise the periodical press in the 1830s and 1840s. From 1836 the Taxes on Knowledge began to be reduced. Illiteracy and material poverty still meant that these projects of 'pervading the whole society had limited success. Nevertheless, these magazines, even if read by the lower middle class and skilled artisans, represented an extraordinary democratisation of print (Altick 1957:335; Mitchell 1981:2; Vincent 1989: esp. 228ff; Wiener 1969).

The role of women readers in that process was, in a familiar anomaly, both central and marginal, even deviant. The new readership was defined in class rather

-45-

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