Posted: December 16, 2010
In the latest addition to our Eighteenth Century Journals portal – Eighteenth Century Journals V – we have included the full run of the Lady’s Magazine, a periodical that ran for sixty-two years from 1770 to 1832 when it merged with its rival, The Ladies Museum. The Lady’s Magazine was issued monthly and is significant for its longevity in a market - the periodical press - where publications were largely short-lived. Its longevity and ability to survive and endure beyond a number of its rivals in a competitive market is not its only remarkable feature. In the intellectual climate of the coffee house and the largely male dominated literary society it produced, and in the face of a print culture, which for the most part, delivered newspapers, periodicals and journals for a male readership, The Lady’s Magazine is a forerunner of the emergence of not only a targeted female consumer but also as a platform for women, as both contributors and consumers, to actively engage in the literary discourse of the eighteenth century.
The Lady’s Magazine, as suggested by its title, marketed itself directly to a middle-class female readership. The magazine’s primary objective was to provide a regular periodical that contained material designed for the entertainment and improvement of women in a manner accessible to the "house-wife as well as the peeress” (The Lady’s Magazine, August 1770). It covered a wide range of topics and genres: fashions, poetry, remarks on society, biographies of prominent men and women, culture, travel writing, moralising essays, short stories, serials, translations, advice, recipes, medicinal receipts, theatrical and literary reviews, domestic and foreign news, births, deaths and marriages. The textual content was often complimented with elegant engravings, music sheets, embroidery patterns, and later, colour fashion plates.
One of the unique aspects of the Lady’s Magazine was its heavy reliance on its readers for content. Women and men contributed essays, serials, poetry, short stories, moralising tales, travel writing and other forms of written content, free of charge. This gave women a platform for recognition and an outlet for their literary creativity. The opportunity to engage in this created reader-writer community also enabled women to enter the male dominated world of print and to engage in a wider community that was separate from their daily sphere of domesticity; a feminised space in an otherwise male-dominated genre had been created.
Women thus became active consumers and producers, readers and writers of the magazine. Journalism had yet to establish itself as a profession which enabled amateur writers of both sexes to see their work in print. The heavy reliance on contributions perhaps also helped to create a magazine that offered a variety of authorial voices and diverse content; it was a miscellany in the truest sense of the word. However, heavy reliance on contributions for the majority of content also had its drawbacks, and editors were often frustrated by unfinished serials or low quality authorship. They vented their frustration in the “To our Correspondents” column which appeared in the opening pages of each issue. The following chastisement appears in the February 1780 issue:
“The translator of Rousseau’s Emilia will excuse us for repeating the complaints of a numerous groupe of correspondents, on account of the intermission of her translation; and as we cannot much longer bear the clamours of our friends on that account, she will excuse us if we snatch the inactive pen out of her ink-stand, and employ it in completing what she is in honour bound to complete.”
The words “honour” and “obligation” were often used against writers who ceased their contributions, leaving serials unfinished and editors and readers alike, frustrated.
One feature of the magazine that I particularly like is the agony aunt column, titled “The Matron”. The ‘Matron’ was a Mrs Grey who also sat on the magazine’s editorial board. Over the course of seventeen years (1774 – 1794), Mrs Grey bestowed comforting advice, maternal wisdom and sound instruction to readers who wrote in sharing their grievances and problems. Others like the colourful ‘S. Vainlove’ whose letter was printed in the March 1775 issue, shared personal experiences to act as warnings to fellow readers that they might safeguard themselves against suffering the same slight, injustice or fate. For S. Vainlove whose suitor at a society ball turned out to be “a nasty Tallow Chandler in the city”, her experience was intended to act as a warning to other young female readers that they might not follow her example in judging a potential suitor on appearances alone – at the same ball she had rebuffed a gentleman of nobility because he was rather “plain-dressed”. Taken together, the letters submitted to the Matron offer a tantalising insight into the social conventions of the day whereby changes – and consistencies - can be traced over the seventeen year period of the feature’s existence.
Over the course of its sixty-two year run, shifts in public opinion, taste, culture and political climate can be traced; the magazine is indeed an insightful and enlightening source for the study of eighteenth and early nineteenth century social and cultural history and is significant for the part it played in advancing women as contributors and consumers in the literary marketplace.
The entire run of The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832), and other complimentary titles is available in our Eighteenth Century Journals V resource, the latest section in our Eighteenth Century Journals portal.
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