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

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

6

THE FEMALE BODY AND THE DOMESTIC WOMAN, 1860-80

Be natural but firm.

(Advice to reader, Young Englishwoman IV 1873:414)

Dear Mrs. Englishwoman, I beg-I pray-that you will not close your delightful Conversazione to the Tight-lacing question; it is an absorbing one: hundreds, thousands of your young lady readers are deeply interested in this matter.

(Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine N.S. 2 IV 1868:109)

In 1860, buoyed up by their success, and determined to seize commercial advantage from the lifting of tax on paper, 'Beeton' (i.e. Isabella and Sam) embarked on an ambitious expansion of their magazine empire. 1 This began with a relaunch of the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine in a new and larger format, followed by two new ladies' weeklies: the Queen in 1861 and the Young Englishwoman in 1864.

The New Series EDM had more space for fiction and better quality illustrations, especially for fashion and needlework. The fashion coverage was extended first by Isabella and, after her death in 1865, by her friend Matilda Browne, who created a new and confident feminine editorial persona. The re-making of the magazine meant the re-making of 'the Englishwoman' it addressed, a process fraught with anxiety, as the regularly expanded 'Conversazione' attested.

Freeman, in her useful double biography, argues that the new EDM was the result of Isabella's interest in creating a fashion journal, of which an increasing number were coming onto the market (Freeman 1977:164). But the EDM was caught up in several different economies and discourses. Fashion and the growth of the press were crucial, but so was the new gender politics of the 1860s. 'Women' were increasingly defining themselves as a group and demanding civil, economic and political rights, demands which the EDM often supported (Levine 1987:80; EDMN.S. 2, III 1867:279, 332-3; VII 1869:279; but see N.S. I 1865:256). Its fiction, however, was inspired by female novelists such as Mary Braddon and Mrs Henry Wood, who defined female desire in terms of 'sensation' rather than rights (Braddon 1862). These different discourses of desire and female sexuality

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