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

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

10

ADVANCING INTO COMMODITY CULTURE

These papers live mainly by their advertisements.

('Women's Newspapers', Evelyn March-Phillips, Fortnightly Review N.S. LVI 1894:663)

[Advertising] enables us to give every week for one penny what without advertising would cost five pence to produce.

(Woman, 6 Jan. 1892:2)

The periodical was a crucial site of the struggle over the meaning of women's work but it was also at the centre of an industry which gave employment to increasing numbers of women. Very few were able to make a living in journalism, though their number was growing as it became increasingly accepted that 'A press life need not disqualify a woman from home life' (CR LXIV 1893:362-71; H&HI 1891:22-3; Cross 1985:164ff). There was also increasing demand for secretaries and typewriters in the offices of the press and its associated industries, such as advertising (Cross 1985:166; Read 1979:244). These were important gains. The periodicals' main economic role, however, remained-as it had been throughout the century- to position its readers as consumers of commodities. In the first instance these were the products of the print industry itself but, as press advertising became crucial to the distribution of commodities of all description, readers were defined as 'consumers' in a more absolute sense.

Advertising had always had a dual role in the press; underpinning its finances and entering into the meanings publications constructed for their readers. In the new press of the 1880s and 1890s both the material and symbolic importance of advertising grew. This was especially true in the women's press where consumption and the control of spending were inseparable from the ideological project of defining the female reader.


ADVERTISING IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE CENTURY

In 1759 Samuel Johnson's complaint about the extent of advertising instituted a critical tradition which has persisted ever since (Turner 1965:27). For Thomas Carlyle, writing in the 1840s, advertisers with their promises of easy solutions to

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