Author Archives: ladys-magazine

The Lady’s Magazine and the Minerva Press

 

The Ladys Magazine , or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex , for the Year 1780 . Engraved frontispiece by Robert Dighton ( 1752  1814 ) showing a young woman forced to choose between the Temple of Folly and the Temple of Wisdom .

Detail from the frontispiece to The Ladys Magazine , or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex for 1780 .

Last week, Koenraad posted about our project trip to the biennial BARS (British Association of Romantic Studies) conference at Cardiff. It was a brilliant event: the papers were wide-ranging, innovative and rigorous; the company was convivial and generous.

One of the great pleasures for me, beyond participating in our own project panel, was chairing another on ‘The Minerva Press and the Romantic Print Marketplace’, convened by Yael Shapira (Bar-Ilan University) and comprising papers by Yael, Elizabeth Neiman (University of Maine), Hannah Doherty Hudson (University of Texas, San Antonio) and Olivia Loksing Moy (CUNY). The pleasure was threefold: hearing the research of four scholars who used various disciplinary approaches to make clear just how important and influential William Lane’s much-derided press was; allowing me to revisit an immense body of page-turning work that I have been long interested in but realise I have only ever really skimmed the surface of; and making me think more about the relationship between the popular fiction and the Lady’s Magazine.

In some ways, the Lady’s Magazine is the Minerva Press fiction of the Romantic periodical marketplace. Both magazine and imprint are indelibly linked in the scholarly imagination with the popular (in a largely pejorative sense), the fashionable (or even cynically opportunistic), the feminine, the non-professional and the ephemeral. These are associations that we vigorously seek to interrogate and dispel on this blog and in a more sustained way in the project itself, just as the speakers at BARS did so convincingly in their papers and continue to do in their wider research.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). mage © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But I have long fantasised about more meaningful and demonstrable connections between the William Lane’s Minerva Press and the Lady’s Magazine. I’ve always been curious, for instance, by the importance of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and strongly associated with the arts and with war, to the magazine. A Minerva figure is present in almost all of the annual frontispieces to the magazine in its first three decades, although eventually she begins to be usurped by Britannia. Usually, she is figured ushering women readers who carry the magazine in their hands, along the path of, or towards the temple of, wisdom. Was this at least partly on Lane’s mind when he adopted the name for his press? Was he hoping that some of the popularity of Robinson’s magazine might rub off on his new imprint?

I’ve also wondered if Lady’s Magazine authors (especially the fiction writers) might have subsequently found their way to Lane’s door or even, more tantalisingly still, moved from Lane to the Lady’s. Minerva Press novels are not monolithic in the way the shorthand term sometimes suggests. But nonetheless, the press’s often sentimental or Gothic fiction commonly return to similar themes of affect, economics and social injustice that preoccupy writers for the magazine, although each renders them differently. We are piecing together various bits of evidence on possible authorial migration between the Minerva Press and the Lady’s, which I for one find fascinating, and we’ll tell you about that in due course.

One thing we can say now, though, was that the magazine did stick up for Minerva at a time when other magazines and, in particular, the Reviews were doing just the opposite. Nowhere is this more evident than in a wonderful article entitled ‘On Criticism’ that appeared in the magazine for November 1804. The contributor, who went by the pseudonym ‘A Lover of Candour’, targeted the old-boy networks, shady credentials and self-interest that s/he saw as underpinning contemporary reviewing practices.

We simply do not know who ‘A Lover of Candour’ was, but s/he claimed to be ‘in the secret’ (577) of the trade and wanted to disabuse readers of the Lady’s of any fantastic notions that they might have that reviewers might be objective or even qualified to pronounce, with such authority, on the relative merits or demerits of the texts on which they opined. Writers who hoped their books might get ‘noticed’ needed some ‘interest’, that is to say, connection with potential reviewers or Reviews to ensure their work would appear on their radar (577).

Even if that interest could be relied upon, however, no author could be guaranteed a fair hearing. How could they be when their works were vulnerable to the whims of ‘a self-created dictatorship […] of anonymous individuals, subject to no dissent, no controul, no examination’ (577)? Reviewers might be people of ‘great learning’, but book learning was no guarantee of ‘genius’ or ‘taste’ after all (577). Authorial ‘merit’ was scarcely enough to secure a favourable review: ‘ for if the author is known, it is frequently rather him than his work that is reviewed’ (578). And readers were simply not trusted to make up their own minds on such important matters. The common long eighteenth-century reviewing practice of printing extracts of the reviewed work might seem to allow readers to ‘judge[e] for themselves’, but only on the basis of strategically excised passages, decontextualised and calculated for particular effect (578).

This general invective against reviewing conventions achieves a sharper focus when ‘A Lover of Candour’ turns to a particularly egregious abuse of privilege as s/he sees it, in the form of a recent issue of the Monthly Magazine. In it, ‘its editor or editors’ in a ‘half-yearly review’ ‘condescend[ed] to pass upon poor authors, whom they do not even deign to read’ by damning a class of the profession through cursory attention to a few examples: ‘A short article, under the head of Novels, concludes with saying, that “probably Lane might furnish a list of a hundred more but that they have names all, or perhaps more than all, that are worth reading”‘ (578).

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LM, XXXV (Nov. 1804): 578. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This tendency towards ‘damning books in the lump without naming them’ – of homogenising books and authors (the notorious and ever multiplying body of circulating library trash) so as to avoid having to read them  – is strikingly likened by the Lady’s contributor to ‘the revolutionary system of government, imported by our French neighbours’ (578).

We don’t have to believe the ‘Lover of Candour’ when they say that they had ‘no connexion with Mr. Lane’ (578). And we know that some writers for the magazine did, in fact, have dealings with Lane and the Minerva Press. But regardless of whether this particular author did or did not have personal reason to defend Lane, what interests me most is that s/he felt that they could defend Minerva and expose the ‘tyranny’ of reviewing in this particular periodical. No doubt this was, in large part, because the Lady’s Magazine strikingly did not publish regular reviews of novels with the regularity of even usually in the form that most of its rivals did (but that’s a topic for another blog post). Surely, though, it must also be because s/he recognised that the magazine embraced different ways of thinking about contemporary fiction; that, foreshadowing chapter five of Northanger Abbey (published in 1818 but originally sent to Crosby in 1805, a year after this article appeared), it railed against the ‘abuse’ of reviewers who dismissed the ‘labour of the novelist’ despite the ‘wit’ and ‘taste’ they displayed or the ‘pleasure’ they elicited in their readers.

The ‘Lover of Candour’ may not have been Lane’s friend, but the magazine to which s/he sent ‘On Criticism’ was undoubtedly sympathetic to his press and the many popular writers who published with it. One of our many tasks, BARS reminded me, was to see how far such sympathy extended in the Lady’s Magazine promotion of the careers of individual authors.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

 

An Alarming Fire

LM L. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XL (Aug 1799). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

As Koenraad noted on the blog last week, one of the (many) frustrations involved in working on the Lady’s Magazine is the lack of a publisher archive for the Robinson family who published it. Various correspondence between George Robinson Sr (1736-1801) and many of his authors, including Phebe Gibbes, William Godwin and Charlotte Smith, has survived, of course. Then there is the Manchester City Library Robinson ledger archive we featured last week. But, sadly, the sum of these documents seems to be pretty much all that is extant.

We live in hopes that someday, somewhere we will find an equivalent to John Nichols’s meticulously documented index to the Gentleman’s Magazine  (1821) which will explain everything we want to know and more about the day-to-day running of the Lady’s Magazine or even the Robinsons’ concern more generally. We may be waiting a rather long time, however.

Fleet StreetConventional wisdom has it that one of the reasons why there might be little by way of a Robinson archive is the devastating fire that broke out on 2 February 1803 at the Falcon-court, Fleet-Street, printing office, warehouses and home of the publishers’ printer, Samuel Hamilton. According to the New Annual Register for 1803, ‘in the short space of two hours’ the fire, which was ‘supposed to have arisen from the carelessness of a boy’, ‘entirely consumed the whole of [Hamilton’s] valuable and extensive premises’. No one was killed, mercifully, but the ‘loss of property (printed books)’ was noted to be ‘particularly severe’.

The loss was all the worse because Hamilton’s insurance had at least partly lapsed. Although the ‘manuscripts of the most important works’ were claimed to have been saved, including ‘those of the CRITICAL REVIEW, and […] the Lady’s Magazine’, which were said to be with their respective ‘editors’, many others were lost (24: 26). (In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that the New Annual Register was published by G. and J. Robinson and printed by one S. Hamilton.) Amongst the greatest losses was ‘part of the works of the late learned and much respected rev. Gilbert Wakefield’, the thousand pounds insurance on which had just expired (24: 26). Publisher bias or not, this was a substantial loss.

The fire was clearly devastating for Hamilton, who soon afterwards moved his business to Weybridge. It was also a real blow for the Robinsons. The Robinsons and Hamiltons’ connection preceded the New Annual Register collaboration by a long way. The Edinburgh printer and publisher Archibald Hamilton Sr (1719-93), Samuel’s grandfather, and Archibald Sr’s son, Archibald Jr (Samuel’s father), both owned a sixth share in the Lady’s Magazine from 1770 as well as in the Town and Country Magazine (another Robinson concern). Samuel and his brother (a third Archibald) inherited their father and grandfather’s business and Samuel appeared on the title-page of the Lady’s Magazine as its printer from August 1799. George Robinson Jr (d. 1811) and his uncle John (1753-1813) invested in Samuel’s business and the financial loss the fire occasioned them is often held to be largely responsible for the Robinsons’ bankruptcy on 8 December 1804. The fact that the firm (and indeed the Lady’s Magazine) survived this difficult time by many years is testament to the talents of these resourceful and well-connected men [1].

It’s not at all clear to me why the warehouse fire is often assumed to account for the lack of a more complete Robinson archive, however. As the New Annual Register makes clear, only some of the magazine’s contents were even in the printing house at the time as the majority of manuscripts and presumably associated correspondence were held by the magazine’s editors. As so often in our research, the shards of evidence we find about the day-to-day administration of the magazine pose more questions than they answer. Except that the coverage of the fire and the magazine’s references to it in its own pages do offer some useful research leads and insights.

LM XXXIV (1803). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXIV (1803). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The ‘unfortunate’ fire is first mentioned in the magazine in the February 1803 issue, which likely appeared in early March. Contrary to the report in the New Annual Register, the magazine’s editor noted that the fire consumed ‘several contributions of different correspondents’, but seemingly only those intended for ‘insertion in this [month’s] number’. The magazine only mentioned three of these by name: the continuation of the picaresque novel-cum-memoir, the Life of Robert McKenzie; E. W.’s The Eastern Slaves; and the month’s instalment of John Webb’s  serial poetic reflections, A Morning’s Walk in February. These correspondents were asked to ‘send other copies’ as soon as possible’ (LM XXXIV [Feb 1803]: ‘To our Correspondents’).

John Webb wins the prize for the speediest response. His ‘Morning’s Walk for February’ was re-sent in time to appear alongside the next instalment in the March 1803 issue, while E. W.’s narrative appeared under the altered title ‘The Slaves – an Eastern Tale’ in April. Robert McKenzie did not resume until June, but then again its skittish author was not the most reliable of contributors at the best of times.

When I have relayed this information in talks about the Lady’s some audience members have been surprised that authors would have been able to produce multiple copies of their works at such short notice in a pre-digital age. But of course in a pre-digital age, dependent on unreliable postal services, magazine editors who almost routinely mislaid items submitted to them and candles that weren’t counteracted by smoke alarms, such practices were only prudent. What interests me more about this anecdote is its research potential. If, as we know, correspondents kept copies of their submissions in case they were required to re-send them or because they opted to send them somewhere else if their efforts were rejected by their first-choice outlet, then might there not be a chance that we might find some of these manuscripts one day?

Another insight comes from a series of references to the fire in 1804 that accompany some of the magazine’s serial fiction. The original fiction published in the magazine has often, and in our view often erroneously, been given short shrift by scholars who dismiss all amateur contributions as unfit for publication elsewhere. Such a view depends on dismissing the inconvenient fact that some of this fiction (such as A. Kendall’s Derwent Priory [1796-97] or the sketches that became Mary Russell Mitford’s Our Village [1824]) was published in volume form after publication in the Lady’s and wore its origins as magazine fiction loudly. The process rarely worked the other way round. The Lady’s frequently published extended extracts of works of history, philosophy or travel writing, but usually only reprinted novels that had been previously published elsewhere if they were new translations of foreign works (such as the magazine’s long-running translation of Madame de Genlis’ Adelaide and Theodore (1784-89). The copyright laws surrounding novels evidently engaged periodical editors’ attentions much more than those surrounding other genres.

LM XXXV (March 1804). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXV (March 1804). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

In 1804, though, we find two exceptions to the general rule governing the non-reprinting of previously published fiction. In both instances, the Hamilton fire was the occasion for the deviation from business as usual, and copyright infringement was, in any case, no issue. In January of that year, the magazine began its serialisation of Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive; or the Life and Adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill, Six Years a Prisoner among the Algerines. (Tyler’s fiction had been only the second American novel to appear under a British imprint when the forward-thinking Robinsons published it in two volumes in 1802.) This was followed, in February, by the first instalment of The Romance of the Pyrenees, a novel published anonymously in 1803, and later attributed to Catherine Cuthbertson, although at least one reader of the later French translation (1809) wrongly assumed its author was Ann Radcliffe. Both were originally published by the Robinsons and printed by Hamilton. What these novels also had in common was their near destruction by the fire, which seems to have consumed ‘nearly the whole of the impression’ of both runs left in the printer’s warehouse (LM XXXV [Jan 1804]: 37). Evidently lacking in confidence that a second impression of either would be financially viable, the novels were repackaged, with chapter breaks reorganised, to fill the pages of the Lady’s Magazine.

LM XXXV (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXV (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This was more than a gesture of pragmatism or an opportunistic attempt to get two novels off their hands without throwing good money after bad. Throughout its history, the magazine was canny about using its popularity and reach as a way of opening up audiences for other of its published works, even while it promised reams of original essays, fiction, poetry and other works that could be found nowhere else. The publication of The Algerine Captive and The Romance of the Pyrenees was just the most self-conscious example of this decades-long practice.

And it clearly worked. Cuthbertson’s career proceeded outside the magazine, and The Romance of the Pyrenees would go through a handful of further editions (its fifth was published in 1822) as well as spawning the aforementioned French translation [2]. Gillian Hughes has recently remarked that this move added some ‘desirable fictional sparkle to a magazine that was by then lagging behind readerly expectations’ [3]. I remain unconvinced by Hughes’s argument about readers’ dissatisfaction with the fictional content of the magazine. The periodical, at least, did not register such dissatisfaction for another decade or more. But telling Lady’s Magazine readers that they were reading a novel that was ‘no longer to be procured’ outside its pages was clearly a shrewd and effective marketing strategy (LM XXXV [Apr 1804]: 87).

Such glimmers of insight may not seem much. But in the absence of an archive for the Robinsons or, better still, for the Lady’s Magazine more specifically, they offer us important information about the publishers’ network, which along with other evidence we are slowly piecing together, might well provide important leads in identifying contributors to the periodical. Additionally, they indirectly shed light on the murky question of how the magazine interpreted copyright law (clearly differently for novels than for other genres) and suggests some of the ways in which the Robinsons understood the Lady’s to fit into their wider publishing concern. When you’re working in the dark, even something as destructive as a fire, it turns out, can be productive in its own way.

Notes

[1] G. E. Bentley jun., ‘Robinson family (per. 1764–1830)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/74586, accessed 6 July 2015]; and Barbara Laning Fitzpatrick, ‘Hamilton, Archibald (1719–1793)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/65018, accessed 6 July 2015]

[2] F. W. Bateson, ed., The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 1800-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 392.

[3] Gillian Hughes, ‘Fiction in the Magazines’, in The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Vol. 2, English and British Fiction, 1750-1820, ed. Peter Garside and Karen O’Brien (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 472.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

 

 

 

 

 

Meaning and Magazines

The Ladys Magazine , or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex , for the Year 1780 . Engraved frontispiece by Robert Dighton ( 1752  1814 ) showing a young woman forced to choose between the Temple of Folly and the Temple of Wisdom .

Frontispiece to the bound 1780 Lady’s Magazine.

Who or what makes meaning in magazines? Publishers? Editors? Advertisers (usually, in fact, these were the publishers or editors in the era I spend my working life in)? The authors of individual contributions? Or maybe even readers?

The answer, it seems to me, is never a clear cut one. The inherentally dialogic and dynamic format of the magazine means that it cannot ever be so.

The Lady’s Magazine is no exception. Individual contributors to the magazine often had very strident views on the topics about which they wrote, whether that topic was whether men were women’s intellectual superiors, the need to abolish the slave trade, or the best cure for unwanted female hair growth. But as we have indicated many times on the blog before – usually with a mixture of frustration and admiration – it is hard to identify any coherent editorial line running through the magazine at all. Nothing in the magazine is so consistent as its inconsistency.

It would be easy to offer ready answers to the question of why this is the case. These range from the uncharitable and surely untrue – the magazine was so shambolic that it didn’t know what it was doing – to the downright cynical and misleading – the Lady’s was so keen to secure as sizeable a readership as possible that it tried to be all things to all people. The more accurate answer still lies partly out of reach of my outstretched fingertips and would certainly take more words than I have here to try to work through. But any response to the question surely has to take into account one of the most important generators of meaning in the (indeed, any) magazine: the placement of contributions.

The implications of how articles speak to and against one another were something I spent a lot of time thinking about (again) in a recent talk I gave at the wonderful Disseminating Dress conference I attended at the University of York last month. This three-day conference organised by Serena Dyer (University of Warwick), Jade Halbert (University of Glasgow) and Sophie Littlewood (University of York) brought together academics, curators and practitioners to examine how sartorial ideas and knowledge were transmitted between individuals and communities from the medieval period to the present. I was delighted to be asked to speak about what the Lady’s Magazine had to say about dress and fashion.

Of course, the magazine has rather a lot to say and in lots of different genres, from antiquarian and anthropological accounts, to moral essays and advice columns on dress, to embroidery patterns and fashion plates. But perhaps inevitably, my talk ended up being less about what individual contributions or even distinct sartorial genres disseminated about dress than about how these different contributions and genres buffetted against one another to create meanings that were much more than the sum of the magazine’s individual parts.

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LM XXIV (May 1783): 267. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Take, for instance, this juxtaposition in the May 1783 issue. A month before, the magazine’s agony aunt, the Matron, had received a letter from a correspondent who went by the initials W. G., and who had complained bitterly about the unbecomingly masculine appearance of women who sported riding habits. The animosity behind W. G.’s attack is quickly diffused by the eminently sensible Matron who urges that ‘single ladies, if they find the riding habit more compact and convenient’ should be allowed to wear it ‘uncensured and unmolested’ even if she ultimately had to concede that married women, ‘if they are truly wise’, will ‘wear only those dresses which are most becoming in the eyes of their husbands’ (267). After a brief diversion on the ridiculous revival of the fashion for feathered garments, the Matron signs off by noting that ‘Moderation […] in dress as well as in diversions, is not only most convenient, it is also most becoming.’ With this, the Matron steers her usual, pragmatic course: misogyny is checked while propriety is observed.

 

LM XXIV (May 1783): 268. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXIV (May 1783): 268. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But just when the magazine’s sartorial conservatism seems at its most surefooted, it is immediately undermined by the fashion report that follows it. Authored by an anonymous ‘Lady of Fashion’, one of a succession of early fashion journalists who graced the magazine’s pages, the report describes the latest fashions as popularized by the poet, actress (later novelist) and renowned celebrity Mary (Perdita) Robinson. The moderation called for by the Matron is flagrantly thrown off in the report in favour of sumptuous descriptions of the Rutland gown with its petticoats ‘tied back at the sides in the form of a Sultana’s robe’, the ’ made of silver or gold muslin and lined with coloured Persian’, as well as the ‘, trimmed with a wreath of white roses, and a panache of [the] white feathers’ the Matron despised, before closing with a reference to ‘Riding habits’, which are ‘much worn in the morning; the most fashionable are the Perdita’s pearl colour’ (268).

 

Whether the juxtaposition of the Matron’s column and the fashion report was a coincidence or manufactured is a puzzle that I suspect we will never solve. In a sense, though, it matters little. For this is no isolated incident and what is important about it is the range of effects the placement of such material had on readers’ experience of navigating the magazine’s content. And what is true for fashion is also true for the magazine’s conversations about marriage, class, domestic and global politics, the literary marketplace or any of the myriad subjects to which it returns. Few of these debates are ever definitively won or done with.

It would, I think, be all too easy to read these tensions as symptomatic of the mixed messages and impossibly contradictory feminine ideal that we have come to associate with the modern women’s magazine. But such views do not do justice to the complexity of the Lady’s. More to the point, they fail to acknowledge the form of the publication itself and the kinds of active reading practices it encouraged and which our blog and project as a whole seek to illuminate.

Readers of the Lady’s Magazine were far from passive. So many of the magazine’s most conservative pronouncements were actively challenged by editorial placement against articles or artifacts presenting contradictory points of view or by reader responses published in subsequent issues. The very form of the magazine – one in which every reader was a potential contributor and no one, not even respected authorities such as the Matron, could be guaranteed the final word on any subject – meant that every pronouncement it made in its pages was provisional and open to challenge.

The Lady’s Magazine’s driving principle, as we have alluded to before, was ‘conversation’, that ‘sieve that strains our thoughts of all their dross,’ as it put it in its March 1773 issue, ‘and like fire to gold, […] purifies the grosser and more unpolished ideas of our minds; it burnishes our mental magazine, and makes it fit for use’ (127). This is not to say that the magazine was entirely democratic or that some voices weren’t louder than others, but within the magazine’s community, dissent was encouraged and debate flourished.

Whether editorial placement was dictated by design or simply a happy accident matters little. Except to say, that the space that such placements opened up for readers to navigate the magazine’s content, to reflect on its import, to craft their own response, and perhaps to choose to share that response within the magazine’s pages, was surely one of the magazine’s greatest achievements and sources of its success.

 

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

The Monster and Other Not So Guilty Pleasures

Our research project will generate a range of publications. Aside from our main research output (our annotated index of all of the content of the Lady’s Magazine from 1770-1818), we have this blog of course, and a series of journal articles and book chapters planned or already underway.

I am also engaged in a longer-term project to write a book about the Lady’s Magazine. Its completion is some way off, but it’s had a working title for some time. The bit after the colon in the title changes every couple of months, but the bit in front of the punctuation mark hasn’t changed for some years. Of course, I might reconsider things at the eleventh hour, but for now at least I feel pretty certain I want to give it the main title Guilty and Other Pleasures.

I have so many reasons for wanting to call it this. I want the title to reflect the slight sense of embarrassment I once but less regularly feel when people ask me what I am reading and working on and I say early women’s magazines. I want to rehearse in order to subvert stereotypes of women’s magazines as trivial (trivial because pleasurable) froth. And I want ultimately to make clear that neither I nor the magazine’s original readers really have anything to feel guilty about when reading it. The magazine took itself very seriously. It took its readers’ pleasure very seriously.

Even so, I do sometimes feel my conscience being pricked when reading the magazine. Should work really be such fun?

These feelings are most intense when the magazine manages to combine more than one guilty pleasure at once. For Charlotte Bronte, who wrote in a letter to Hartley Coleridge dated 10 December 1840 of furtively sloping off as a child to read old copies of the Lady’s Magazine instead of minding her lessons, fiction was a guilty pleasure. For me, it’s crime.

Crime fiction – my regular non-work guilty pleasure of choice – is not an established genre in the late eighteenth century, of course, although, novels of the period are full of nefarious deeds (murders, blackmail and so forth). But accounts of true crime were popular in the eighteenth-century press and although the Lady’s Magazine did not indulge such interests as frequently as many other contemporary newspapers and periodicals, when it did so, the result was invariably arresting.

LM I (Feb. 1771). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM I (Feb. 1771). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

For the most part, crime is confined to the back pages of the Lady’s Magazine where the monthly  home and foreign news sections appeared. These monthly digests of important events regularly included snippets on thefts, murders, fraud and arson. But sometimes the crime was so noteworthy or shocking that it spilled out of these densely printed, tightly constrained columns to occupy pages of the magazine itself.

Many of the biggest trials of the day were rehearsed in the magazine, often with an accompanying engraving. In April 1776, for instance, the magazine devoted several pages to an account of the Duchess of Kingston’s infamous bigamy trial, or as it subtitled the article: ‘An impartial and circumstantial Detail of the Trial of the Duchess of Kingston’. Nodding to the perceived impropriety of the magazine’s inclusion of the trial, the editors pointed out that since the trial had ‘engrossed the ears of curiosity’, it was their ‘duty to give a summary account of it’ for their readers (LM VII: 171).

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LM VII (Apr. 1776): 171. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But of course, subscriptions and sales must have played a part in such decisions as well as this perhaps spurious sense of duty. Had the magazine not covered the Duchess of Kingston’s trial or that of the Countess of Strathmore and her despicable husband Stoney Bowes (documented in Wendy Moore’s very readable 2009 Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met his Match) or that of Warren Hastings (which the magazine serialised over many months), it would have been out of step with its competitors and missing a commercial trick.

What is so strange about the trial accounts – with their matter of fact style, their lack of sensationalism or the kinds of editorial gloss we expect today – is that they are one of the few aspects of the magazine that remain closed off. One of the most exciting things about reading the Lady’s Magazine, as we have nodded to before, is knowing that the authority of any individual pronouncement or contributor was open to question. Readers could and frequently did exercise a right of reply on all manner of content, from advice on marital infidelity, to views on the behaviour of servants, or wives or children. But not so on criminal cases where the voice of the law was final. The trial verdict was irrefutable and not open to debate.

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LM XXI (July 1790). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This was true even of the most extraordinary and disturbing of cases. I was reminded of this the other day when flicking through the July 1790 issue of the magazine when I came across this portrait engraving (instead of the the one I was looking for) of Rhynwick (here Rynwick, but also sometimes referred to as Renwick) Williams, commonly known as ‘The Monster’. The monster first came to notoriety in 1788 in the first of a series of incidents in which women were verbally harassed and then their clothes and bodies slashed or stabbed while walking through London.

 

The phrase media frenzy is an anachronism, but it’s hard to find one that more accurately describes the press’s and public’s reaction to these strange and appalling crimes. There was intense speculation about the Monster’s identity and motives and numerous contemporary engravings were produced of him attacking women in the streets with large knives. You might have seen a version of these events fictionalised in the BBC’s Garrow’s Law (2009) but would be advised, if your interested in similarly sinister things to me, to read the fascinating chapter on the events in Robert Shoemaker’s  The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England (2004). In any case, in June 1790 a trial was successfully brought against Williams after an attack on Anne Porter in St James’s. A summary of the trial in which Williams was found guilty appeared in the July issue of the magazine, the first time the crimes had been documented in it. Williams’s subsequent retrial – there were many reasons not to be convinced by the original prosecution – failed to overturn his conviction but was not reported in the Lady’s. 

The story of the Monster – with its pre-Ripper undertones – has fascinated many since it was first reported in the 1780s. But arguably what’s most fascinating about the Lady’s depiction of it is its refusal to accede to the temptation to indulge in sensationalism or prurience when many of its competitors were seizing such opportunities with relish. The engraving it published was of Williams, not of an attack. The events described, while unsettling, are presented in the manner of a brisk trial transcript, not dissimilar to those with which readers of this blog might be familiar from trawling through the records digitised on the indispensable Old Bailey Online.

With crime as with all else, then, there is evidence that the editors of the Lady’s Magazine took their readers’ reading pleasure very seriously so that neither party had anything to be guilty about. And so I for one have decided that I shan’t feel guilty either.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

 

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Patterns and Posterity: or, What’s not in the Lady’s Magazine

I’ve started to notice a bit of a theme in our recent posts for the blog, most of which have been about the difficulty of writing them. Many of these difficulties arise from the challenge of trying to make sense of what is before us when we read the magazine. How on earth can we even begin to work out who Camilla or J. L-g was, for instance? How can we make sense of the periodical’s editorial policy when articles  – sometimes articles placed right next to one another – directly contradict each other? Do such moments exhibit a lapse of editorial judgement? Or are they an accidental juxtaposition? A strategic spur to debate and controversy? Even as we start to find answers to some of these questions, more and more problems present themselves to us. It certainly keeps us on our toes, that’s for sure.

In the past few days I have been working with yet another interpretive conundrum that I have been very aware of it for some time: How can we write about parts of the magazine that are no longer there?

Binder's directions

LM XII (Supp. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Call any magazine, especially the Lady’s, ephemera in my earshot and I’m afraid I won’t be able to let it go. The longstanding association of historical women’s magazine’s with the ephemeral, the frivolous and the disposable could not seem further from the truth behind such titles. The Lady’s was a magazine that always had an eye to futurity. Monthly issues, like those of many of its rivals, were intended to be preserved in bound annual volumes and the last issues of each year published binder’s instructions on how to organise the material for posterity, especially non-paginated items, such as the handsome illustrations the magazine provided each month. Whether you read the magazine today in digital or hard copy it will almost always be in this annual bound format for which we owe a debt of thanks to the collective efforts of binders who curated them and the readers who agreed with the magazine’s editors that the publication was worth preserving in the first place.

But not everything was preserved. Many surviving bound volumes are missing the Supplement or Index. Others are missing (whether by error or design is usually hard to tell) odd pages of text, engravings or fashion plates. (I always like to think the latter might be missing when they are because their owners had taken them to their dressmakers Barbara Johnson style, but of course, we cannot be sure.)

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LM XIV (April 1783). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Then there are those parts of the magazine that were never designed to be preserved, not even by the editors who boasted of their inclusion. This is especially true of song sheets and embroidery patterns, both of which were regular features of the magazine in its first decades. Neither of these types of material are to be found in the annual ‘Directions to the Binder’ and in fact when they are mentioned at all, as in the note that appeared under the advertisement for the 1771 second volume, it was to confirm that they had no place in the bound versions of the magazine at all:  ‘Note. The Patterns to be taken out’ (LM II [July 1771]: n. p.). Such features of the magazine were clearly meant to be pulled out and used. And evidently they were.

Nonetheless, we are fortunate that some owners and binders ignored these dictates. Indeed, song sheets can be found fairly frequently in the bound volumes of the magazine for the first two decades digitised on the Adam Matthews Eighteenth-Century Journals V database that is our main source for our project, as they are in other, less systematically digitised runs of the periodical that can be found online as well as in variously located hard copies yet to be scanned.

Embroidery patterns, however, are much less common. This has been a recurrent source of disappointment to me in the years I have been reading and working on the magazine. As I set about writing a paper I am giving at the Disseminating Dress conference at York at the end of the month, it has begun to really vex me.

LM XII (Feb. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XII (Feb. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The inclusion of a monthly pattern was an important feature of the magazine from its first issue in August 1770. In its inaugural Address to readers, the editors placed dress and fashion at the heart of the magazine’s mission and identified the inclusion of patterns as an important part of its utility and appeal to readers. The ‘subjects’ the magazine would alight upon were designed to render readers’ ‘minds not less amiable than [their] persons’, the editors declared: ‘But as external appearances are the first inlet to the treasures of the heart; and the advantages of dress, though they cannot communicate beauty, may at least make it more conspicuous, it is intended in this collection to present the sex with the most elegant patterns for the Tambour, Embroidery, or every kind of Needlework.’ Taking advantage of ‘the progressive improvement made in the art of pattern-drawing’, the magazine could boast for just sixpence an issue for the first three decades of its run: ‘[e]very branch of literature’, ‘engravings designed to adorn the person’, as well as ‘a pattern’ that alone ‘would cost them double the money at the Haberdashers’ (LM I, [Aug. 1770]: 1).

In part this is a masterpiece of marketing, the eighteenth-century equivalent to a television shopping channel telling you that not only will the advertised purchase price get you X and the Y you never even knew you wanted, but a free (yes: absolutely free!) Z into the bargain. But my strong feeling is that the patterns represented much more than simply a commercial ploy.

Patterns served various ends within the magazine. Some were educational. I think I would feel as if all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once if I ever came across one of the patterns for embroidered maps of Britain and the Americas published in 1776 and 1777 and intended to supplement the fascinating series of essays on the history and geography of these nations published in these years. I haven’t seen any in copies of the magazine I have consulted.

LM XVII (Mar. 1786). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XVII (Mar. 1786). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The vast majority, though, were for decorating garments and other household objects, from watch cases and fire screens to sleeves, pockets and gentleman’s ruffs. These patterns can potentially tell us a great deal about the magazine and its understanding of its female readers. At the very least, their inclusion is a strong indication that for all its interest in the elaborate and extravagant fashions worn at court and by contemporary celebrities such as Mary Robinson or Sarah Siddons, the Lady’s expected its middling readers (lady does not mean aristocratic, here) to fashion themselves in a  modest and simple style. Ornamentation, in all things, merely for ornamentation’s sake was to be despised. In  both their intellectual and sartorial pursuits,  the magazine’s readers were instead supposed to be characterised by a considered elegance, marked by grace and cultivated through reflection and practice. I strongly suspect that the embroidery patterns the magazine published played an important part in shaping this ideal.

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LM XII (Supp. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Every single one of the patterns that appeared in the magazine is briefly described in the table of contents for the month in which it appeared. Quite what the existence of more of the physical patterns would add to this picture is uncertain. What is clearer to me is that their absence is not a sign that the magazine was frivolous or disposable. In matters sartorial as in all things, the Lady’s saw itself as both attractive and useful to the lives of its readers. The fact that so few of these patterns have survived to this day – that many were presumably used – suggests that it may well have been right.

 

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious J. L-g from Market Lavington

John Legg 3

LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

A frequent contributor to the Lady’s Magazine in the 1770s and 1780s bore the signature J. L-g from Market Lavington, a small town in Wiltshire. Some of the items provided by the writer, such as ‘A Caution to the Ladies’ in the 1778 supplement, are opinion pieces designed to advise women against the dangers of fortune tellers, female vanity, and indolence. But other works were meditations and reflections penned whilst walking through the town’s surrounding fields and forests. Describing the prospects, flora, and fauna, the works focus on the emotional and spiritual states the writer experiences in nature.

It was whilst reading the October 1779 contribution entitled ‘A Description of October’ that I began to develop that sympathy and liking for the subject that can so quickly send an archivist on a wild and time-consuming chase to identify the person behind the mysterious signature.  This reflective work revealed more of the author’s personality, demonstrating his love of animals and environment and an empathy with the hares and pheasants pursued by hound and hunters.

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LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

J. L-g describes the hare, ‘poor timid creature’, that ‘perplexed, and in the utmost distress […] pours all his soul in flight’ (Oct: 542) before he ‘falls a victim to his numerous enemies’. The writer then turns to the ‘murdering gun’ of the fowler and the pheasants who are killed for the ‘luxurious appetite of man’, lamenting: ‘poor creatures! How hard is your fate!’ (542).

In spite of his conservative advice (that, frankly, rankled me at times), J. L-g identified so deeply with the persecuted prey that I reluctantly began to like the author who hitherto seemed cantankerous and moralizing. Feeling a peculiar kinship to a long-deceased writer is not such a bad thing for archivists working with so much anonymous and pseudonymous literature. It is easy when reading so many items by the same person to develop an idea of who they were and what they were like, to create a name to fill the blanks in the signature, and to imagine the person behind the persona. Though my research role on the project is to focus on the magazine’s content, it was this sense of kinship, that sneaking fondness for the self-described shy and reclusive writer, that made me so interested in the man behind the contributions.

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LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

When other items from the same town began appearing signed ‘E. L-g’  or ‘Eliza L-g’ or ‘E-h L-g’ I began to feel I had at least a few possibilities to send on to the project’s attribution research associate, Koenraad Claes. But Koenraad’s research skills would have been wasted on this because in one quick google search for the keywords ‘18th century’, ‘Elizabeth L’ and ‘market lavington’ I was directed to the Market Lavington Museum blog that made it clear the signatures belong to John Legg and Elizabeth Legg, siblings, of Market Lavington. A quick email to the very helpful museum curator, Rog Frost, supplied me with a memoir of John Legg and photographs of the gravestones. These can be viewed on the museum’s blog.

Identifying John and Elizabeth Legg is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle of contributors and communities of writers. But it helps us to ask more questions about the correspondents and their relationships with each other and the editors of the Lady’s Magazine. It also demonstrates how essential modern day communities of researchers, curators, genealogists and bloggers are in uncovering the men and women who wrote for the periodical.

 

Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

School of English

University of Kent

The Lady’s Magazine, boarding schools and other problems

One of the great pleasures involved in working on the Lady’s Magazine is talking to people about it. I love surprising people with its diverse contents and am yet to find a subject (from the reception of Dryden to recipes for the cure of various skin disorders) about which it does not say something interesting across the course of its long run. (Keep testing me, people!)

Frontispiece to LM IV (1773).

Frontispiece to LM IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But while it is very easy to say what is in the Lady’s Magazine, characterising what it is really about is much harder. In part, this is because every time you think you have hit upon the thing that holds the periodical together (fashion, class, morals or women’s issues – whatever they might be) you read something that throws you completely. This is, in part, because the multi-authored, multi-vocal format means that the only consistent thing about the magazine is its inconsistency. Even when a contribution is not in active dialogue with another it buffets up against the articles it appears alongside, creating a range of possible meanings only some of which could have been in the control of the magazine’s editors.

I plan to say more about the production of meaning and ways of reading the magazine in future posts. Here, though, I just want to focus briefly on one of the many consistent inconsistencies of the magazine: its attitude to boarding schools. It’s a subject I have become increasingly fascinated by, not least because it speaks to one of the key things that I now am coming to think holds the magazine together: the question of women’s education.

Koenraad has already noted on the blog that a small but significant number of Lady’s Magazine contributors (particularly of enigmas, rebuses and translations in response to the monthly translation competitions that ran in the magazine’s early years) were boys and girls. We know this because their age sometimes appears alongside their contributions or because they are accompanied by the name of the school they attended.

LM, IV (May1773): 23.

LM, IV (May 1773): 23. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Pupils wore the name of their school alongside their signatures like a badge of honour. Meanwhile, the ubiquity with which the names of establishments such as Mrs Pasham’s boarding school, Northampton, Pimlico boarding school, or Brown and Reynolds’s school in Stepney, appear seems to suggest that headmasters and governesses saw their pupils sending in contributions to the magazine as an effective (and cheap) form of advertising.

It was a game that the magazine was not only willing to play but of which its editors recognised the necessity. As they acknowledged on many occasions, boarding schools were a potentially large market for their periodical, and being put on school library shelves was important for the magazine’s continued success. This was not just a matter of securing subscriptions, as the editors made clear in the ‘To our Correspondents’ column in the September 1775 issue. After boasting of the ‘infinite pleasure’ they had in acknowledging ‘the receipt of hints from the most celebrated boarding schools in six counties, during the course of th[e] month’, the editors went on to ricochet flattery back and forth between its boarding school patrons and itself. If ‘the governesses of these seminaries are the best judges of what will contribute to the amusement, polishing, and refinement of their pupils’ then their approval of the magazine could not better convince the magazine’s editors of ‘our own importance, at the same time as we shall receive an incontrovertible proof of their sincere attachment to the good of the younger part of the sex, who have the benefit of their instructions’ (LM VI [Sept. 1776]: n. p.).

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LM II (Sept 1771). Image owned by the author.

But the esteem was not always mutual. In September 1785, for instance, a correspondent who went by Modestia wrote to the magazine’s agony aunt, Martha Gray (aka The Matron), to complain about the periodical’s publication of one of its resident physician, Dr Turnbull’s, columns on male midwifery. The issue at stake was not exactly the content of the column, but its availability to young readers ‘of both sexes’. If the magazine were ‘only to be locked up in our closets with our family medicines the discussion of such subjects might be allowable’, Modestia admitted. Given, however, that it was ‘extensively perused by young ladies at their boarding schools’, it could be ‘productive of awkward situations’. The ’embarrass[ment]’ of ‘the governess’ when posed with difficult questions arising from such content is offered up as the principal source of Modestia’s unease, but she closes, somewhat elliptically, by noting that young boarding school misses are at precisely ‘that time of life when novelty strikes us in the most forcible manner, and puts our ideas into motion’. The Matron politely brushed aside Modestia’s complaint (and completely ignores her implicit suggestion that such material might make young girls sexually inquisitive or even sexually active) by noting that precisely the same impressionability her correspondent fears ensures that young girls ‘may be easily diverted from such subjects, which they cannot understand, and turned to others more suitable to their age, and more adapted to their comprehension’ (XVI: 472).  If the compliments of boarding school mistresses were gladly accepted and publicised, their complaints were hardly taken seriously.

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LM, I (1770). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

For its part, however, the magazine would regularly caution against fashionable boarding school education and the vices of socially ambitious governesses. One such example will already be familiar to readers of this blog. In December Jenny wrote about the anonymous serial fiction, ‘The History of an Humble Friend’, which ran from September 1774 to the Supplement (or thirteenth issue) of 1776. The titular heroine, Harriot West, is sent to a boarding school at the age of five, and although her governess is kind and good (unlike many others who appear in the magazine’s pages), Harriot’s fellow pupils are no advertisement for boarding school education. Sent to such establishments by mothers who are unfit for the name so that ‘they may not provoke their jealousy at home’, these girls are given an opportunity to ‘acquire more knowledge than they would have done at home’. However, this is an opportunity that is squandered owing to the girls’ interaction with other young girls whose fashionable vices they invariably contract and in the face of which governesses are powerless: ‘At home, they [these pupils] have, perhaps, only their own failings to subdue, at school, they are, by associating with young folks of different follies, too apt, from the force of imitation, to copy the very imperfections against which they they ought to be the most strongly guarded’. Knowing how reliant the magazine was on the very approval of the establishments their contributor had slighted, the editors published this instalment of the fiction with a note at the bottom of the page which stated that ‘these remarks on Boarding-Schools’ were inserted ‘ to shew our impartiality, but [we] differ from the author in opinion’ (LM V [Oct. 1774]: 521). There is plenty of evidence elsewhere to suggest that the editors are protesting a little too much here.

But where does this leave us? What does the magazine’s inconsistent account of boarding school education tell us except that the magazine contradicts itself on this as on so many other matters? Well, for one thing, it makes clear, I think, how the magazine’s ideological fault lines and the complexity of its relationship with its readers were informed by economic imperatives (nothing new under the sun, as they say…). More than that, though, I think, it points to the one thing that I feel totally comfortable saying the magazine is actually about: not fashion, class, morals, education or women’s issues, although it it is surely about all of these things, but conversation. As Modestia unwittingly noted, the Lady’s Magazine’s business was putting ‘ideas into motion’. Sometimes these ideas gained momentum and a life of their own and sometimes they collided messily. One thing is for sure, the magazine always provoked more questions than it answered. And while that presents certain challenges to those of us who want to talk or write about the magazine, it’s surely what makes the experience of reading it so very seductive.

 

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projecting outwards

We are now, somewhat unbelievably, heading towards the six-month mark of our two-year project. The index is progressing very well, the methodological quandaries its composition has posed are being worked through, and we are getting ever closer to a sense of what this magazine was really all about and why it was so popular and enduring.

But up until this point, we have have mainly been talking about the magazine amongst ourselves. Enjoyable though this has been, we felt the time was right to start taking the project to people to gain feedback and to see what questions about the magazine people  most wanted answered. In the past couple of weeks we have been doing just that and it has been truly illuminating and a good deal of fun.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 10.47.40Our first big public presentation of the research project took place on the 4 March at the University of Kent as part of the School of English’s ongoing research seminar series. Trying to whittle down our respective roles in the project to just 12 minutes each was quite a challenge, but it certainly focused the mind. I began by talking about my 15-year fascination with the magazine and my sense of why it had not yet received the scholarly attention or been accorded the critical literary-historical importance I felt it deserved. I then handed over to Jenny who talked about and demonstrated a part of the index in action and elucidated her herculean efforts to catalogue each and every one of the many thousands of items in the magazine over its first 50 years by genre, subgenre and keyword. Finally, Koenraad delivered fascinating insights into the methods he is using to profile individual contributors (the vast majority of whom go by pseudonyms) and to make attributions where they might be possible. We were delighted with the feedback we got and the genuine interest the magazine and project seemed to generate from colleagues working in all periods and across different genres. Its a talk that we will be giving in a slightly different form at Chawton House Library in May if you would like to come and hear it then.

Then just two days later we got an opportunity to revisit the project from a different point of view by participating in a wonderful Material Witness workshop series for CHASE (Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England) doctoral training initiative at Kent. Our topic was ‘Text as Object’ and our focus was working on and between digital copies of eighteenth and nineteenth century periodicals and the originals. The event was co-run by our colleague Professor Cathy Waters and we were very fortunate to have been joined by Professor John Drew from the University of Buckingham and founder of the groundbreaking Dickens Journals Online. A dedicated post on the day as a whole will follow soon on the Material Witness blog, but I couldn’t resist sharing some of our experiences from the day here.

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Kent has very few copies of the Lady’s Magazine in its Special Collections, but it does have one fine bound volume and, incredibly, one unbound monthly copy. In fact, it is the only unbound monthly copy, with its original covers, I have seen in 15 years of working with this material. The workshop participants – all doctoral students from across the CHASE consortium – could handle this material, alongside copies of La Belle Assemblee (with which handsome title the Lady’s Magazine would eventually merge) and all had complete access to the Adam Matthews digitisation of the magazine’s complete run.

We had one dedicated slot in the day to get students working with the magazine in its digital form (after an earlier session handling the originals). The question was what to do with it. We have lots to say about the magazine, of course, and could easily have filled 30 minutes telling everyone how important we think the magazine is. Instead, we opted for a different approach. Much to the bemusement of many of the participants we set them up with a laptop each and gave them a simple instruction. They had 10 minutes to read the Lady’s Magazine and tell us what they thought about it.

Of course we were interested in their thoughts and observations (most of which were about the magazine’s readers and writers) but the exercise was a sleight of hand on our part designed to find out how individuals (chose to) read the magazine in digital form. Where do you start? Which year? And once you have a year, do you read from front to back or do you go to the index at the back of the bound volumes or the contents pages at the start of each month? Or do you search for particular keywords? Is this anything like we imagine the reading experience would have been for eighteenth-century readers or even our own if we had the original material copies in our hands? Do the differences matter and why? It was a fascinating conversation and we could have continued for much longer than we had time for.

IMG_5942We’ll take up some of these questions and lines of conversation in a future post. But the thing that I will most happily take from the day is something I hadn’t really thought about in advance of it. As we sat there at the front of the room watching nearly 20 people sat reading the Lady’s Magazine, some furiously making notes, some smiling, some talking to colleagues about particularly interesting content, it struck me: we had a group of nearly 20 people reading and engaging with the content of the Lady’s Magazine! I whipped out my iPhone and started taking lots of photos to commemorate the occasion.

Because ultimately this is what this project is about. Yes we have articles we want and need to write and I have a book I want and need to write, but our main goal is to get people reading the magazine again and to help them navigate it. It was a great moment and one I hope we will get to replicate again in the near future.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

Confessions of a Periodicalist

Working on The Lady’s Magazine can be a pretty heady experience. Take one magazine that ran for 13 issues a year for over six decades. Add a generous dose of content representing pretty much every single prose, poetic and dramatic genre you have ever heard of (and some you don’t like to admit you haven’t). Finish with the zest of a sprightly community of readers, almost none of whom used their own names within the magazine’s pages. The result: one dizzying cocktail that brightens up your day right up until the moment when the room starts spinning before your very eyes.

Today, after my latest binge on the magazine in preparation for two still not-yet finished papers I’m giving in quick succession next month, I feel it’s time to confess my sins.

My name is Jennie Batchelor. And I am a periodicalist. I sometimes say one thing and think another. I am beyond help. In fairness, though, it’s not really my fault. I mean, I know that old saying about workmen and their tools, but have you seen what I have to work with? I mean, come on!

LM, XV (Oct 1784): 547. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XV (Oct 1784): 547. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But I digress… This is how it happened. A couple of weeks ago I was sat at my desk having read through a big stack of interesting journal articles, chapters and monographs on anonymity and pseudonymity from the Early Modern period to the present. The goal was to contextualise and theorise my reading of the practice of pseudonymity in the Lady’s Magazine for a paper I am giving at an eighteenth-century studies conference in the US on a panel on the study of women’s writing now that we are in a ‘post-recovery’ moment. The abstract, which I sent off last year, promised to develop an argument that I had begun to sketch elsewhere: that anonymity and pseudonymity pose huge challenges not just to literary scholars but to feminist or women’s writing academics, in particular, and that we need to embrace these challenges enthusiastically. I maintained that the many hundreds of unknown women – the Constantia Marias and Lucindas – who wrote for the Lady’s Magazine and possibly had no more lofty career aspirations than publication within the periodical’s pages demand to be understood as an important part of women’s literary history, even if all we know about them are the presumably mostly false names they adopted.

As Virginia Wolf pointed out ‘Anon’ was all too often a woman. Of course, sometimes she was a man, too. And as the Lady’s Magazine suggests with dizzying frequency, sometimes she was a woman pretending to be a man, or man pretending to be a woman. Its readers commonly wrote in when articles by ‘A SPINSTER’ seemed more likely to have emerged from the pen of the most curmudgeonly of bachelors, or when the spirited defences of the fair sex by male wits seemed to speak more of insider knowledge than of chivalry. Nonetheless, as I contended in my abstract for the conference, I wanted to argue for the importance of the magazine in the history of women’s writing, even if some of its women were pretending to be or actually were men. The identities of individual authors interested me much less than their collective endeavours in the creation of a mixed-sex, but female dominated, dynamic writerly community which was not in the least hung up on the Romantic conception of the author as solitary genius and which set the agenda for the public discussion of women’s lives across the decades in which it thrived. (That’s the short and slightly simplified version, anyway.)

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LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 252. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Yet for all my anti-Romanticist impulses (I told you this was confessional, didn’t I?), I still managed to spend about 6 hours on the day I had marked down in my diary as ‘anon research day’ trying to track down the identity of two women who I have become completely absorbed by in the past few months: Catherine Bremen Yeames and Elizabeth Yeames  (although every single one of their Christian and surnames is spelled or abbreviated in multiple ways in the magazine’s pages). They started writing for the Lady’s in the 1800s and as I was re-reading the issues from those years, I became intrigued by their many, varied and distinctive contributions, just as I was tantalised by the fact that they shared a name and both resided in Norfolk, which seemed to indicate that they were related to one another.

Who am I kidding? I also was gripped by the thought that they had to be traceable given that they had such an unusual surname, untypically given in full in the magazine, and that they were tied to a specific locale. If I couldn’t find these women then I may as well give up the attribution ghost entirely.

LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 253. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 253. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Needless to say, I found them. A typo I made in the last Google search I was going to allow myself of the day set me on a chain of web searching that led me to the baptismal records of the sisters (because they were sisters after all), details of their parents’ names and wedding date (not in Norfolk, but rather pleasingly for this project, just a few miles from my University in Dover) and the birth and christening dates of their many other siblings.

I became lost in the websites complied by resourceful and generous family genealogists, who with little interest in the sisters nonetheless gave off hints of important information that led me to understand that Catherine’s contributions to the magazine stopped because of her premature death as a young woman (the family trees I had seen her mentioned in wrongly assumed she died at birth), while her younger sister Elizabeth continued to write for the periodical for many years afterwards and looked expressly to it for help to support her family after the death of her oldest sister and her naval father overseas. Three months after this appeal, Elizabeth married, I discovered, and regardless of whether this helped her financial situation, she continued to write for the Lady’s under her married name (the connection to her unmarried self is not openly acknowledged in the magazine’s pages and would have been known to me had I not made the connection this way). It was a fascinating journey that took me to the will of the sister’s mother (unbelievably available online) and to Elizabeth’s own resting place, in a grave with her mother and another of her sisters. I even managed to get a photograph of her tombstone emailed to me later that day through another website for genealogists.

There is a lot more to tell about the Yeames sisters and a good deal more to say about their writing. I’m not done with them, that’s for sure. So watch this space, as they say. Yet I confess, that on my ‘anon research day’ I felt bad rather than amused by the irony that I spent so much time obsessively trying to find out exactly who two women periodical contributors were that I forgot to eat lunch and only remembered to pick up my kids with five minutes to spare.

 

But this is what working with periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine is all about, isn’t it? You see, here’s my big confession. I like working with periodicals because they are so infuriating. I like them because every time I think I may be starting to understand what they are about they wrong-foot me and suggestion other, equally plausible, possibilities.

I really don’t believe that our research project needs to attribute huge swathes of articles to known or important writers to put the Lady’s Magazine on the academic map. Even to attempt to do so would, as I’ve already hinted, be rather at odds with what I think the magazine was about and trying to do. Nor do I believe any less in the importance of pseudonymity to the magazine or to the history of women’s writing for all my determination to seek out the identities of some magazine contributors.

I like historic periodicals and I believe that many of them are deeply important because they keep me people like me on toes by forcing me to question my and ‘the disipline’s’ logic and familiar crutches – of genre, gender, politics, period, and ‘the author’ – at every turn. Ephemera indeed!

Dr Jennie Batchelor

University of Kent

 

 

 

 

Addressing the Public or Dressing the Facts?

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LM XII (Jan 1781): iii. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

We couldn’t let the first month of the year come and go without reflecting on one of the constants throughout Lady’s Magazine‘s long print run. Every January from the early 1770s right through 1818, where our project ends, the magazine opened with an Address to the Public. The column’s title sounds rather grander than the editorial leader familiar from today’s monthlies, although its function was largely identical: to thank readers for their patronage in buying the magazine; to divert them to content of which the editors were especially proud; and to persuade subscribers that their money had been well spent.

The sheer quantity of puffing that takes place in the Addresses to the Public is more than enough to power any one of the many ‘aerostatic voyages’ (balloon flights to you and I) about which the Lady’s Magazine routinely raged. Indeed, to read the editors’ annual announcements you would be forgiven for thinking that the Lady’s Magazine was the first magazine ever to have catered for a female audience, or to have celebrated female writers, or that it was the only, and certainly the most popular, periodical to have solicited reader contributions.

 

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LM, XXXIV (Dec 1803). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Yet for all its hyperbole, the Addresses contain vital information about this most enduring, yet elusive, of publications. They chart, for instance, the important shifts in style, composition and politics that characterise the magazine across its long print run and ensured its longevity. They document how a magazine, one of the main attractions of which in its first decades was its encouragement to reader-contributors to provide ‘original pieces of merit’, gradually gave way to a miscellany format in which the bulk was formed of ‘selections from the most valuable publications of the day’ for ‘those who have neither leisure not inclination to peruse voluminous and expensive works’ themselves, (LM, XXXIII [Jan, 1802]: 3). They signal the magazine proprietors’ and editors’  developing sense of who their audience was or could be. The mistresses and pupils of boarding schools, so important in the first two decades of the title’s history become marginalised post-1790, for example, while the need to produce elegant coloured fashion plates to keep up with reader expectations is taken as a given by 1800 . And they mark the shifting sands of the periodical’s aspirations as its call for a ‘revolution in female manners’, some 14 years before Wollstonecraft used the term only somewhat differently (LM XXVIII [Jan 1778]: iii), gave way to more modest hopes to satisfy ‘the delicacy and refined taste of the Fair Sex’ (LM, XXXIV [Jan 1803]: iii)

They also, in the absence of any known surviving publisher archive, offer up clues to such important and complexly related matters as: how many people read the magazine (in fact the only statistics we have to go on are those cited in the magazine itself); how the magazine was run; who wrote for it and why. Take just one of these questions by way of illustration. The identities of most of the magazine’s editors over the course of its nearly 70-year run remain obscure to this day. Editorial practice, however, becomes much clearer when the Annual Addresses are read, especially when they are read in conjunction with the monthly Correspondents columns. From these we see anecdotal evidence that what we might strongly suspect must, in fact, be the case: that a work so eclectic and yet, peculiarly, so coherent, had to be the work of multiple hands. We get glimpses of a succession of editorial boards, whose members were not always in agreement with one another, but the majority of whom believed in the magazine and had its best interests at heart.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). mage © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). mage © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Mostly, they testify to the powerful sense of community that the magazine held to be synonymous with its name. The Lady’s Magazine was, its editor or editors declared in 1781: ‘a Collection which is supplied entirely by Female Pens, and has no other end in view, than to cherish Female ingenuity and to conduce to Female improvement’ (LM, XII [Jan. 1781]: iv). Any reader of the Lady’s Magazine in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries or now would struggle to dispute the centrality of and importance given to women’s lives, writing or wit to the periodical and these factors were surely two of the title’s principal attractions to its readers and contributors.

And yet almost every point made in this extract from the 1781 Address to the Public requires qualification. ‘Female improvement’ was undoubtedly a mainstay of the magazine, but the question of what constituted an improved woman and the best means to cultivate her talents were two of the most hotly debated topics throughout the magazine’s history. And if ‘Female ingenuity’ was cherished, as it certainly was by the magazine, then so too was that of men and boys, whose ‘Pens‘ provided a good deal of the content of the magazine’s pages, in fact rather more than we might feel comfortable with given its name.

Our project, amongst many other things, is working away in the interstices between the magazine’s rhetoric and what is recoverable about its reality. In this fascinating, if sometimes frustrating ongoing work, our best and most misleading resource is the magazine itself.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English, University of Kent