Monthly Archives: March 2016

Acrostic Poems, Love and Life in the Lady’s Magazine

One of the fascinating, yet easily overlooked, genres of the Lady’s Magazine is that of the acrostic (or, as they are often termed, ‘acrostick’) poem. Readily dismissed as amateurish attempts at poetry, the acrostic holds a special place in my heart. The acrostic offers much potentially valuable information about contributors’ names, locations, and names of their beloved/friends/family. The form also depends more on writers’ — and readers’ — ingenuity than it usually receives credit for.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 20.44.55The acrostic poems in the magazine were exploited by the contributors in deliberately revealing ways. Their use is often not merely an attempt to highlight the contributor’s cleverness, but a means of interacting with members of a local geographical community – most often (and this is why I love them) with the object of the writer’s affection. Contributors could give voice to questions, desires, apologies and declarations to those closest to them in their personal lives through the pages of the magazine. The medium of the periodical provided a veil that allowed, in particular, women to voice their desire to men without the danger of being directly observed by a social circle and consequently condemned for forward or coquettish behavior.

Within the pages of the poetry section, women were able to enjoy a flexible anonymity through which they could literally spell out their desires yet remain obscure enough to avoid any positive proofs of their declarations. 1789 was a particularly fruitful year for acrostic poems and one frustratingly elusive couple in particular drew my attention. A contributor who signed herself ‘Anna’ wrote an acrostic poem in September 1789 entitled ‘An Acrostical Prayer, on the much-lamented Illness of Mr. — of Au—y Ch—l’ (LM XX [Sept 1789]: 495) The poem spells out ‘Griffiths’. Anna’s prayer that Mr. Griffiths recover his health is repeated in November of the same year when she contributes the poem ‘Absence’ (LM XX [Nov 1789]: 604), lamenting the ongoing lack of ‘G—s’ whose health is unrestored.

Immediately following Anna’s poem ‘Absence’ appear ‘To Anna’, a short poem that is signed by ‘W. G.’ and states ‘my health returns, again I live’ (LM XX [Nov 1789]: 604) – perhaps the mysterious Griffiths of Au—y Ch—l? In April of 1790 Anna returns to the magazine to offer ‘A Thanksgiving for the Recovery of Mr. G —s’ which offers thanks and praise to God, to whom the poem is addressed. Yet Anna’s hopes for Griffiths’ recovery seem ill-founded. Seven months later, in November of 1790, over a year after her first poem appeared, Anna writes in again. This time the poem seems less joyful and more mournful; less certain and more doubtful. Anna’s poem is less focused on prayers and thanks to God, and more on Griffiths and his impression.

This final poem, ‘An Address to a Seal’, sees Anna turn away from prayer and Christian fortitude and turn to metaphor and imagery. Anna writes ‘As thy soft wax the deep impression takes, Which G—in thy sable surface makes: So doth my heart his image still retain, where his idea ever will remain’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609). It is not, perhaps, the most original or well-written poem to grace the pages of the magazine. But I think it is honest, and the testament of a woman’s love to a man she knows she may never see again. She is no longer coyly writing his name out in the acrostic; this is a different Anna indeed, who no longer begs ‘O Lord, my prayer receive’ (LM XX [Sept 1789]: 495). Anna in November 1790 addresses Griffith’s seal, not God, writing ‘And I will ever keep thee for his sake. To thee I will impart each doubt and fear’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609) – almost as though she has turned away from the God to whom she had once offered thanksgiving for Griffiths’ recovery, only to see him fall ill again.

Anna never writes about ‘G’, ‘G—s’, or ‘Griffiths’ again. Her final lines in ‘An Address to a Seal’ that ‘O may my hopes no more delusive be, then every anxious doubt and fear will flee’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609) remain, for us, unanswered. In spite of having spent hours searching for traces of a W. Griffiths or Anna (possible Anna Griffiths) of Au—y Ch—l, I’ve yet to find anything definitive. Even though Anna is not one of the magazine’s most prolific or talented contributors, she is characteristic of the magazine’s many nameless, faceless writers: she voices her hopes, fears and love; she evolves through the pages of the magazine, she shares a little bit of her heartbreak and her world, and then she disappears.


Jenny DiPlacidi

Stitch Off participant Lucie Whitmore on embroidering for research

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

Sometimes there are benefits to spending far too much time on Twitter, and I was so excited when earlier this year I saw tweets about the Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off pop up on my feed. In this short blog post I will describe my Stitch-Off experience, working with embroidery patterns from a 1796 edition of the Lady’s Magazine.

I am currently working on a PhD related to academic dress history , but my first degree was in textile design with embroidery. I have created small embroidered pieces intermittently over the past few years, though often struggling to find the time or motivation without a set project. The Stitch-Off, so perfectly linking research with the opportunity to try out some historical patterns for myself, was the ideal project to get me sewing again. When Jennie told me about the Chawton House / Jane Austen connection, the incentive was even greater!

2. Stitch off samples

© Lucie Whitmore

I have had a go at three of the Lady’s Magazine patterns. I decided to think of them as trials, using different materials and stitches to see what worked best. My pieces will not be the most polished or accomplished in the exhibition, but I like to think they represent the eighteenth-century lady who loves embroidery, but was perhaps a little rusty when she started, and too impatient to go out and buy materials so made do with what she had already in her sewing basket! My method was simply to copy the patterns by eye, though I did sketch some details onto the fabric first with chalk pencil. The first two samples come from the pattern for a gown or apron, and the pattern for a gentleman’s cravat. I used white cotton thread on white muslin, I thought the combination was the most historically appropriate. The muslin has quite an open weave, which made for some fiddly moments, but I was pleased with the historical look when finished. The sprig from the gown or apron pattern worked much better, carried out in satin stitch, split stitch and French knots. For the cravat pattern I used chain stitch to imitate tambour work, but I don’t think it worked quite as well.

3. Stitch off sample

© Lucie Whitmore

I wanted to introduce some colour (and some of my own taste) into the next pattern I tried, the pattern for a gown. I used a lovely (but small, which I later regretted) piece of silk linen that I had lying around, and a combination of cotton and linen threads from my very messy embroidery cupboard. I started out thinking I’d just do a little bit, but over a couple of weeks I managed to complete the whole design! I used a combination of split stitch, chain stitch and whipped running stitch. When a couple of my colours ran out halfway through I decided to be resourceful, eighteenth century stitchers must have had these problems too – and they couldn’t just go online and order more! I was in agonies about how to finish the piece. It looked very rough and ready left un-mounted, but was too small to do much with. After a discussion with the lovely lady in my local fabric shop, I decided to mount it onto some beautiful white linen and add a little more white on white embroidery. Though this means that you can no longer see the back (I was sad about this as I love to look at the back of other people’s work, it can teach us so much), it completes the piece and gave me the opportunity for a little more creativity.

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

I have a long-standing interest in historical embroidery, but this is the first time I have tried following a pattern. After graduating the first time round, I worked in textile design for a while but was also the research assistant on a historical embroidery research project centred on the collections of the Needlework Development Scheme. The purpose of the NDS was to promote interest in embroidery and raise the standards of embroidery education. The project involved spending a lot of time with embroidery samples dating from the 16th century right up to the 1960s – which was obviously wonderful – but also interviewing people about their experiences of the NDS. We travelled the country talking to women who had been involved with the scheme, which ran from 1934? to 1961, and usually ended up discussing women’s unique relationship with embroidery, the importance of hand skills, and how much you can learn from these objects created with such care and craftsmanship. Hand embroidery is a timeless skill – and when I stitch I love to think how little the practice has changed. It links me straight back to the embroiderers involved with the NDS, and to the women who first attempted the Lady’s Magazine patterns in 1796.

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

This has been a wonderful project and I am definitely going to have a go at some of the other Stitch Off patterns. It has been especially exciting to see how many people of all different standards and backgrounds have had a go and shared updates on Twitter, and it is great that the efforts are going to be on show for the public at the Emma at 200 exhibition. While my own research centres on a very different period (the First World War, 1914-1918), I rely heavily on women’s magazines in my research, so working with these patterns has led to some interesting thoughts about women’s relationship with printed media and the possible material outcomes. For my next project, I may have to try out one of the dressmaking patterns from the war period!

Author Biography

Lucie Whitmore is a PhD researcher at the School of Culture and Creative, University of Glasgow.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.

For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

Shoe Conversations; or, what the Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off taught me about eighteenth-century footwear, embroidery, and community.

I study and write about eighteenth-century literature, and one of my areas of interest is representations of footwear and movement in fiction of the period. I have spent hours poring over artefacts from the era, so you can just imagine my excitement when Jennie Batchelor and the Lady’s Magazine project made these shoe embroidery patterns available, which appeared in a 1775 edition of the magazine now belonging to Penny Gore. I had to try my hand at them.

But what did I learn? What special insights did I gain into the objects I spent so much time thinking and reading about? Well, I learned that I had to try it out for myself, which tells me something about the need to physically and mentally place myself in another’s shoes in order to really understand material culture and its relationship to literature. What the Stitch Off patterns meant for me, then, was that I now had the chance to do more than just wish: I could also experience what it felt like to embroider an upper.

1And what did it feel like? The thing is, it didn’t feel that foreign. It actually felt pretty familiar and when it didn’t, there was a whole community I could turn to for help and encouragement in the form of the Stitch Off participants (including Jenny DiPlacidi’s post). Choosing my silks and colour schemes turned out to be a lesson in local needlepoint knowledge and resources, as shop employees helped me choose materials and became invested in the project. And I think that the sense of community and identity that it created for me and that the Stitch Off itself has brought to the surface also perhaps existed in different ways in the eighteenth century, but this is a trickier question to ponder.

Of course, the way I’d like to ponder it is with the assistance of the fiction I couldn’t help thinking of as I was choosing the materials and stitching the patterns. In Northanger Abbey (1818) Henry Tilney famously claims, ‘muslin always turns to some account or other . . . [it] can never be said to be wasted’, [1] and I thought of Tilney’s words when I realized how little of the silk material I’d need to create the two shoe uppers, as well as when the clerks at the fabric store told me that the silks I purchased were remainders from someone’s wedding clothes. I also realized just how easy it would have been to create silk uppers to match one’s gown; I didn’t buy very much silk, and yet I have so much left that perhaps I will make fellows for each of my uppers so that they don’t exist in such solitude.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Embroidering the uppers also made me think about the relationship between community and solitude. In Frances Burney’s The Wanderer (1814) the heroine (known as Ellis early in the novel) manages to find protection in Mrs. Maple’s household because her needlework is so valuable. However, when Mrs. Maple wants to bar Ellis from the rest of the community and considers casting her out of the house, the housekeeper protests because ‘some fine work, which the young woman had just begun, would not look of a piece if finished by another hand’. [2] This use of Ellis’s needlework first to make her part of Mrs. Maple’s household, and then to prevent her from becoming friendly with neighbours shows how needlework can be both community-building and a solitary activity used to control women. [3] I also like how it points out that one’s handiwork is like a signature, with individual styles and choices that cannot be replicated by another. If I do decide to make matching uppers for the ones I’ve already stitched then they will not be exact pairs either, as my stitches will not match my earlier ones.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Indeed, one of the reasons I became so engaged with the project is because the act of choosing what sorts of stitches to use and where (and being either pleased with or distressed by the results) was so engrossing and addictive. I can sort of see why, in Richardson’s novel, Pamela doesn’t want to leave off stitching Mr. B’s waistcoat, writing to her parents: ‘I never did a prettier Piece of Work; and I am up early and late to get it finish’d’. [4] I, too, felt a sense of ownership and personal connection to my work and stayed ‘up early and late to get it finish’d’.

Another proud and talented needle-woman appears in the 1754 it-narrative, The History and Adventures of a Lady’s Slippers and Shoes (written by themselves, as it-narratives were told from the perspective of the objects). The shoes describe the woman who embroidered them:

The whole town did not afford a neater work-woman, nor a prettier girl, than she, whose delicate hand, performed the needlework of me, —especially she had not her equal for cross-stitch—and she made her boasts with the lasses of her acquaintance, that she had never done any thing neater, and with so much expedition. I am sure, says she, they cost me many a prick’d finger, and broken needle. [5]

 I can relate to this! I did prick my finger a few times while I was stitching, and although the results are not exactly neat, I still have a certain amount of pride in my work and personal investment in it, not unlike the unnamed work-woman.

I also noticed that stitching is an activity that becomes associated with the physical context that one is working in; whether having a conversation, watching the television or sitting in a quiet room, the physical space becomes tied in one’s memory to the physical object. The shoes in the History and Adventures also take in the activities and conversations that occur while the girl does her needlework: ‘Whilst she was at work upon us, her tongue moved as nimbly as her fingers, with hymns, and love-songs, stories, jests, and all the effusions of female prattling’. (38)

How wonderful to think about all of the conversations that have happened over the embroidered shoes that museums and archives currently hold! It adds a significant cultural layer to the object and makes me think of the way, as Jennie Batchelor argues, the Lady’s Magazine encourages conversation and complex dialogue, especially about fashion. The young woman in History and Adventures similarly reproduces multiple and often clashing verbal texts while creating her material one.

The production of footwear in the eighteenth century similarly required different artisans to contribute parts to a completed project that was then shaped and individualised by the consumer. [6] In History and Adventures the ‘neat girl’ passes her work on to a shoemaker, who feels that he must match the standards of the embroidery, as the shoes put it: ‘that my other parts might be answerable’. Shoe-making required a communion between parts, and I do feel a little strange that my uppers will not be used to vamp any shoes; however, the fact that they are at Chawton House for the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition makes them part of a bigger project and conversation in a similar sense.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Here are the finished products. One upper has been washed and ironed and the other only ironed (I learned that Douppioni silk does not wash well), while the undersides are quite embarrassing. I somehow never managed to get all of the stray threads neatly tucked under my stitches. I could not be called a neat ‘work-woman’ as in the fictional examples above. All of this shows my inexperience with the materials but also gives me something to consider the next time I am looking at surviving examples of footwear.


© Alicia Kerfoot

And speaking of surviving examples, I discovered yet another layer of community when I found these eighteenth-century shoes in the Victoria and Albert Museum digital collections with the 1775 Lady’s Magazine pattern adorning them. I was so excited! Suddenly the pattern became even more alive than it already was.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Left: Details of shoes in the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections, juxtaposed against my interpretation of the design.

The embroiderer had made so many different decisions from mine that I felt like we were having a conversation across time. She (perhaps the owner of the shoes who had spotted the pattern in the Lady’s Magazine or a professional who was hired to complete the work for another) had decided to aim the design in a different direction, with the stems pointing towards the tongue rather than the toe of the shoe and I realised that this assumes the wearer would be looking at her own feet, rather than expecting others to look at her feet. In my focus on dress as an outward expression of self, I’d forgotten Jane Austen’s narrator’s advice in Northanger Abbey: ‘Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone’ (54). But this is not entirely true for the owner of the V&A shoes either, because I certainly gained a great deal of satisfaction from this absent person’s finery.

The thrill I felt when I found an eighteenth-century interpretation of the design I had just spent weeks replicating speaks to a sort of intertextuality I think I need to pay more attention to: when object and embroiderer and text talk to one another a connection is forged that perhaps links us not only to one another, but across time and space, to the hands and minds of those who had to decide between a chain stitch and a long-and-short stitch all those years ago, and to the objects that still embody those choices.

Author biography

Dr Alicia Kerfoot is an Assistant Professor at the College of Brockport (SUNY), where she teaches Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature and culture.


[1] Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey. 1818. Ed. John Davie (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), 14, 54.

[2] Frances Burney, The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties. 1814. Ed. Margaret Anne Doody (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 104.

[3] See Rozsika Parker’s The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine for a developed discussion of this complex issue, especially page 102.

[4] Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. 1740. Ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 44.

[5] The History and Adventures of a Lady’s Slippers and Shoes. Written by Themselves. (London: M. Cooper, 1754), 38-9.

[6] For a discussion of how shoemakers and journeymen collaborated and competed with one another in the production of footwear see Giorgio Riello’s A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century (Oxford, Oxford UP, 2006).

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.
For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

The Stitch Off: A Golden Opportunity, by Mary Martin

As a hand embroiderer working out of a home studio, making new friends and contacts can be challenging. Social media is wonderful for this, but can at times be overwhelming. When I first saw that the University of Kent School of English was promoting a stitching project with historic patterns, I became so excited as this was a perfect opportunity for them to create a sense of community along with the chance to do some historic stitching. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun this has been, and how many wonderful new people I have met online. There was so much joy in working the same pattern as one of your friends, but in a different way.


© Mary Martin

The pattern I chose was the left shoe from Penny Gore‘s set, from a 1775 Lady’s Magazine, as I knew I wanted to work with gold and silk. Goldwork is a type of embroidery using metal threads that is used in combination with silk shading. For the most part, the gold is couched over the surface of the fabric instead of stitched through.


© Mary Martin

Most embroidery stitches have been used for centuries. There are new combinations and new uses with materials, but the stitches have stayed relatively unchanged. Some stitches, however, are less common, such as the detached buttonhole stitch that I used for the center pink flower and the strawberries. Both have metal thread returns, instead of silk, which is also uncommon. Other stitches used in my piece with silk threads were outline and stem, couching, silk shading. The goldwork stitches are bricked couching, outlining and chip work.


© Mary Martin

I chose to work on a hoop for this project, as it was going to be worked quickly. Normally, goldwork is done on a slate frame to stretch the fabric as tightly as possible. The linen had to be taken off the hoop every time I stopped working so it did not leave a ring.  


© Mary Martin

I did try to plan out the project as much as possible ahead of time, choosing stitches and threads beforehand. Nearly every thread and stitch choice changed as I started stitching! The top flower was stitched five times in five different ways to ensure that it went with the rest of the piece. I’ve found that for me at least, part of the process is seeing how things look as they are created. I don’t get upset anymore if what I planned doesn’t work out – generally what I take out can be used in a later project. One of my embroidery friends always tells me that if you feel something should be taken out, go with your gut and do it. I do take photos before I rip something out though, so I can keep a record of it for later use.  


© Mary Martin


The embroidery was worked with the silks done first, then the goldwork. I chose to outline each leaf with a single strand of gilt passing thread, and then filled in with shaded stem/outline stitches. The couched circles were fun to do, and I believe I counted nearly 80 of them. I saved the ornamental gold couching for the end as that is the part of any project I enjoy the most.


© Mary Martin

After the embroidery was finished, I spoke to Jennie Batchelor and we decided that it would be best to mount my piece on illustration board. I wanted the piece to be able to be picked up by the tour staff, and eventually to be framed. If I’d have made it into a household item, it might become worn or get damaged. After the mounting process is finished, I found a nice fabric to cover the lacing on the back as that part always looks messy to me, and stitched it on. It was then brought to the post and sent on to Chawton House Library.


© Mary Martin

One of the biggest challenges for me in this project was time. I found out about the Stitch Off and made the decision to participate one month before the show opened. I knew I’d need 1-2 weeks for shipping over to the UK from Houston, and really wanted my embroidery to be there on time. Overall, I spent around 75 hours from the initial plans to the finishing, over a ten-day period. Actual stitch time was 60 hours. I don’t normally work this quickly, especially not with goldwork. What kept me going and working at that pace was the constant encouragement from my fellow stitchers on Twitter and Facebook, and I cannot thank them enough.

Author biography

Mary Martin is a contemporary hand embroiderer who works out of her studio in Houston, Texas. She has more than 40 years of experience in all forms of needlework, embroidery and sewing, and specialises in hand embroidered jewellery featuring goldwork and blackwork.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.
For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

Penny Gore, the ‘Good Enough’ Stitcher and the Lady’s Magazine Stitch-off

The spine – once leather-bound and gilded, now torn for a quarter of its length – has ‘1775’ inked onto it in an old-fashioned hand. Inside the front cover a much more recent pencilled addition reads ‘February onward only. Lacks some of the plates. £5’.

1775 patterns

Shoe and waistcoat patterns from the 1775 Lady’s Magazine. © Penny Gore

I can’t remember where I bought this sorry-looking copy of the Lady’s Magazine, but I would have grabbed hold of it instantly thanks to the discovery of several folded sheets of embroidery patterns nestling towards the back of the volume, survivors of the binder’s knife. That must be at least 20 years ago: the book has accompanied me through two house-moves and, while not exactly forgotten, has sat largely unnoticed on its shelf ever since. Sheer chance led me to Jennie, to the Lady’s Magazine project, and to the Stitch-Off, and finally (about time too, you may say), those patterns have not only seen the light of day, but are being brought vividly, beautifully back to life by stitchers from all over the world.

Happy though I was to share the patterns, I wasn’t going to be one of those stitchers, I reassured myself. Definitely not. Although I’ve always knitted, sewed and quilted, any embroidery I’ve ever done was in the deep, dark past, forever associated with tray-cloths bearing outlines of crinolined ladies and the transfers on tissue paper that my mother used to buy from the local haberdashery shop (where I later had a Saturday job). But a little voice niggled away at me – what about that muff pattern? Huge (it opens out from the book into a substantial sheet which is still only half-size), complicated-looking and with alarmingly small motifs. But… seductive.

Muff pattern

1775 muff pattern. © Penny Gore

The discovery that I owned not only an embroidery hoop but also embroidery needles and a fairly substantial collection of Anchor threads in a surprisingly large range of colours – yes, I’m a hopeless case who also hoards craft supplies and promptly forgets about them – made me bite the bullet. I would attempt a small section of the muff pattern. It would be an experiment and not intended in any way as a ‘finished’ piece. My abilities were likely – no, certain – to be limited.

In that spirit of nothing ventured, nothing gained, I photocopied a section of pattern and enlarged it slightly. An old, much-washed, cotton pillowcase was cut up to use as the fabric; I rather liked the thriftiness of re-purposing something that had already given good service. Merrily chucking all notions of historical accuracy out of the window, I put the fabric over the pattern against a lampshade, and traced off the designs with a Frixion pen (having first tested that the pen-marks would indeed disappear, as promised, at the first touch of a warm iron). Then the embroidery could begin.

Penny Gore finished hoop (muff pattern)

© Penny Gore

Some weeks and much sotto voce swearing later, I’ve almost finished the ‘experiment’ and am feeling better about it than expected. I’m sure the average 15-year-old reader of my 1775 volume would snigger at my efforts, but I was encouraged by a comment made by another of the contributors to the Stitch-Off, Rachel of

She astutely pointed out that not every piece of eighteenth-century ‘fancy-work’ would have been perfect. The concept of ‘good enough’ must have applied widely – though I’m sure we’re often misled into thinking otherwise by the gorgeousness of historical dramas on TV, with their improbably exquisite costumes. Surely Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra, or those fashion-mad ladies of Cranford, must have turned a blind eye to the odd botched French knot or wonky bit of stem-stitching? Looking with qualified pride at my own less-than-pristine work, I’m hoping so, anyway.

Author biography

Penny Gore studied Modern History at Liverpool University and spent time working as a cook and in the costume department of Liverpool Museum before joining the staff of what is now the British Library National Sound Archive in London. From there she moved to the equivalent department in the BBC, but soon embarked on a life behind the microphone as a BBC Radio 3 presenter. She is currently a regular presenter of Afternoon on 3 and the BBC Proms. We are very grateful to Penny for so generously making available her patterns for the Stitch Off.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.

For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

Stitch Off to a Flying Start

After four months, hundreds of (wo)man hours, lots of friendly support and chat on social media and some innuendo-laden conversations about pricking, pouncing and Mr Darcy, the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off display previewed yesterday. Today the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition opens at Chawton House Library in the home that belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen (later Knight).

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 13.23.39‘Emma at 200: from English Village to Global Appeal’ is a major new international exhibition to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s brilliantly witty novel. It is the first major exhibition to be held at the Library since it opened in July 2003 and the result is frankly breathtaking. For the first time, a first edition of Austen’s novel is on display next to the first, rapidly published, French and American editions. Correspondence with Austen’s publisher John Murray is on display, alongside the work of many of Austen’s contemporaries. Early reactions to the novel are represented most spectacularly in the form of Charlotte Bronte’s wonderful (if not entirely complimentary) letter on reading Emma, which is on loan from the Huntington Library in California.

Never before have these items been gathered together in this way. Never again will they all find their way home to Chawton, to a house that Austen knew so well, in rooms in which she spent time. This is a one-off event. If you are within a hundred miles of Chawton in Hampshire, UK, any time between now and 25 September 2016 you have to see this exhibition (visitor information can be found here).


Emma at 200 preview day external shot

Chawton House Library © Jennie Batchelor


A preview event, for around 35 benefactors of Chawton House Library and the exhibition, took place yesterday, 19 March 2016, on the first day of spring. The crowds of daffodils gracing the lawns either side of the House’s driveway couldn’t quite distract people from how chilly and unspring-like the temperature was. But the atmosphere inside the House, at least, was warm and welcoming.



Joanna Trollope Emma at 200 unveiling

Joanna Trollope, Patron of Chawton House Library, opening the exhibition © Jennie Batchelor.


Now Chawton puts on a very nice cream tea, I must say, but while the crowds gathered in the kitchen to await the exhibition’s literal unveiling by author, Patron of Chawton House Library, and eloquent champion of historic women’s writing, Joanna Trollope, I snuck upstairs to the Oak Room to set up and pore over the Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off display.



For the duration of the exhibition, the Oak Room (always my favourite room in the house, since I began my own working life there back in 2002) has been given over to the theme of ‘female accomplishments’. At the centre of the room is a large table focusing on the Lady’s Magazine and the work of our Stitch Off participants.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off (where on earth have you been, people?) this is a non-competitive needlework project or international sewing bee for which we have made available 10, rare embroidery patterns published in the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) – a publication we are pretty sure Jane Austen read and we know Charlotte Bronte read – for people to recreate or reimagine as they wish.


Lucie whitmore

Lucie Whitmore’s 3 pieces for the Stitch Off. Lucie was one of the first people to join the Stitch Off. © Jennie Batchelor.

Our Stitch Off participants have been so generous in sharing work in progress on our Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few months and I am keeping a log of all of their work in progress in possibly the most gorgeous desktop folder anyone could possibly have. However, not even months of picture filing could prepare me for the complete joy and delight of seeing and handling the actual items themselves.



Stitch Off table

The Oak Room. Chawton House Library. © Jennie Batchelor.


Staff at Chawton had laid the items and their associated captions out for me on a beautiful wooden table around some exhibition boards I had drafted copy for and an 1811 bound volume of the magazine from the Chawton House Library collection. Everything was wrapped in the original packaging it had arrived in to protect it. Yep: I had the best Christmas morning any 39-year-old has had on a spring afternoon ever. I gently unwrapped everything and started crazily taking and tweeting pictures of all these wonderful items.




Writing desk with show patterns

Writing desk display featuring left to right: shoe uppers by Alicia Kerfoot; shoes by Nicole Rudoplh; kissing ball by Maggie Gee; and gold work shoe upper by Mary Martin. © Jennie Batchelor.

Every single piece and object was at least 3 times more stunning in reality than in the photos I had seen. I soon realised how much pictures (fabulous though they are for record keeping) distort colours, the size and finish of stitches, the weave and sheen of fabrics, the lustre of beads and gold thread. Mostly of course, pictures also completely distort size. Some items were so much smaller and more delicate than I had imagined them to be. Others were much, much larger. The picture to the left will give some sense of scale.




Stitched pot plant by Corinne Young and pashmia by Rachel Wright. © Jennie Batchelor.


I had so much fun arranging the items on various pieces of furniture including: a writing desk adorned with some of the pieces inspired by the 1775 shoe patterns donated by Penny Gore (above); an occasional table on which stands Corinne Young’s stitched plant pot; and an antique armchair, which looks as if it was made solely for Rachel Wright’s pashmina to grace it. But at 3pm I realised I would actually miss the opening of the exhibition if I didn’t step to and run downstairs.



Gillian Dow opening exhibition

Gillian Dow © Jennie Batchelor.

The exhibition opened with a wonderfully passionate and eloquent speech by Dr Gillian Dow, Executive Director of Chawton House Library, who reminded us that Jane Austen’s most renownedly local novel (structured around those now proverbial ‘three or four families in a country village’) was, from the get-go, a global piece of fiction. It circulated as part of a thriving international print network in which it competed for and won its readers’ attention.

Gillian joked that she had hoped to open the exhibition by breaking a bottle of champagne over an exhibition case in the Great Hall. Much to everyone’s relief Joanna Trollope stepped in instead to do the honours by unveiling the case in a suitably ceremonial gesture. The exhibition goers then moved on to a recital of variations of Robin Adair (a piece of music that  will be recognised by readers of Emma) introduced brilliantly and wittily by Professor David Owen Norris.

After that, I dashed back up to the Oak Room ready to welcome exhibition goers to the Stitch Off display and to talk all things needlework and Lady’s Magazine with people once they had made their way through the several other exhibition rooms.

The response to the Stitch Off display was phenomenal. Just phenomenal. I spent a good hour talking to many people about individual items, about the magazine from which the patterns came and reminding people that they can still join in. The room was buzzing with excitement, with people reflecting on childhood experiences of needlework at school, of the embroidery their mothers or grandmothers did, of the desire to get their needles and hoops out of storage and have a go themselves.



Top: Caroline Hack’s embroidered map. Below: Regency girls by Ruth Zanoni Roskell. © Jennie Batchelor.

Every single item in the display prompted comment and admiration. I mean it. Every. Single. One. The refrains of the room were: ‘stunning’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘beautiful’, ‘so creative’, ‘delicate’ and ‘astounding’. Exhibition goers loved the variety of items on display, from Rachel Whitechurch’s reticule (pictured below) to Maggie Gee’s exquisite kissing ball (pictured above). They loved that the items ranged from faithfully reproduced originals using eighteenth-century techniques, such as Nicole Rudolph’s shoes (pictured above and made from scratch in Colonial Williamsburg), to modern interpretations such as Ruth Zanoni Roskell’s Regency girls and Caroline Hack’s map of nineteenth-century Hampshire overlaid with a 1775 waistcoat pattern.


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Sue Jones motif (left); Angela Snape (right). © Jennie Batchelor.


People loved how one design could look so different in different recreations, such as Angela Snape’s and Sue Jones’s equally beautiful but quite different renderings of a motif from a 1796 gown pattern.



Pleydell, Buchan, Roberts

Hoop by Bethany Pleydell; handkerchief by Melissa Roberts; ‘Emma’ embroidery by Pamela Buchan. © Jennie Batchelor.


They couldn’t believe that some of our participants were novice stitchers, as Bethany Playdell is. Honestly, Bethany, I’m not sure I believe you either. You are way too good. Other eagle-eyed exhibition goers got very excited when they spotted patterns that weren’t part of our original collection, such as Pamela Buchan’s beautiful embroidery of a pattern from Ackermann’s Repository and Melissa Roberts’ indescribably delicate plain sewn pocket handkerchief (about which Melissa has blogged – see link below – and which was inspired by one of her own Lady’s Magazine patterns).



Megan's bowl

Fabric bowl and textile jewellery by Megan Brown. © Jennie Batchelor.


And then there was the great hand versus machine embroidery conversation. Several of our items are machine embroidered, and one item in particular occasioned a long conversation in which I tried to persuade someone that Megan Brown’s gorgeous fabric bowl was not made by fingers alone. I think I said this three times, but I couldn’t shake the person’s faith. The bowl was so beautiful, so fine, and so precise it just had to be hand embroidered! It is all of those things, but it is not hand embroidered. I promise.



After the exhibition, and after filling a camera and phone full of photos, I made my way home. I had barely seen any of the rest of the exhibition, but I will return and not least because there are new Stitch Off items arriving all the time.

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Gentleman’s cravat pattern by Jennie Batchelor. © Jennie Batchelor.

One of the tremendously exciting things about the Stitch Off display is that it is not static and anyone can join us any time between now and the exhibition’s close in September 2016 (see this blog post for details). So if this has sparked your interest, please consider taking part. My own effort – I resurrected embroidery skills unused for 20 years to make up the 1796 gentleman’s cravat pattern – is on display in part to show people that if I can do it, anyone can and should feel free to give it a go.

Rachel's reticule

Crocheted and embroidered reticule by Rachel Whitechurch. © Jennie Batchelor.


A day after the preview, I can honestly say that I have rarely been as proud of anything work-related I have ever been involved in. I have been and continue to be bowled over by everyone’s enthusiasm, support for each others’ work no matter what their approach or medium, whether novice or expert, untrained or trained. In a small way, I like to think that through the project we are replicating the community that the Lady’s Magazine was so successful in creating and which was surely such an important part of its enduring appeal.



Lucy Dimmock's shoe

Shoe upper by Lucy Dimmock. © Jennie Batchelor

To make that sense of community even more real, some of our lovely Stitch Off participants (like the Lady’s Magazine’s original reader-contributors) are authoring accounts of their own experiences to share with you all. Some of these have been posted on other blogs and there is a link to these posts at the bottom of this one. Please do read them. Other Stitch Off blog posts by our Stitch-Offers, as I affectionately think of you all, will be posted later this week on our blog in an entire week in which we are giving over this site to the Stitch Off. Please read, comment and share as many of the posts as you can.



Finally, I just want to say thank you for making the Stitch Off – the result of a Twitter conversation late one evening – a reality. Whether you have made or are making something for us or cheering on from the sidelines, we appreciate it. This has been an absolutely delight!

Stitch Off blog posts

Maggie Gee’s kissing ball was such a talking point yesterday. You can read the first of Maggie’s multi-part blog post about her experiences here.

The wonderful Alison Larkin was the very first person to pick up the Stitch Off gauntlet and what a job she did for the Captain Cook Memorial Museum where her stunning shawl embroidery is currently being exhibited. You can read about it all here.

Melissa Roberts has blogged about creating her lovely pocket handkerchief based on a 1776 pattern in her own collection is here over at Two Threads Back.

Rachel Wright, who has made the glorious pashmina, has written no less than 3 fantastic posts about her process over at VirtuoSew Adventures. Here is the most recent, but we recommend you read them all.

For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent


Identifying ‘R-’, part 2: possible family connections in the Lady’s Magazine

One of the recurring themes in this blog has been our conviction that the much-slighted Lady’s Magazine occupied an important position in the literary field of its time. It offered some later successful authors with a first opportunity to get their work into print, as for instance ‘C.D.H.’ or Catharine Day Haynes who went on to publish novels with the popular Minerva Press, and, although a leading literary historian has dismissed its tales as ‘predominantly decorous, sentimental, and moral’,[1] Jane Austen may have disagreed. However, every single contributor to the magazine is worthwhile looking into, because even if they did not develop into famous authors in their own right or were the unknown toilers who paved the way for writers of more renown, through their minor literary, critical or philosophical interventions they all participated in the shaping of literary history.

   It is easy to get carried away when investigating these contributors and to romanticize them as characters in the novel of their own lives, as some did themselves. A great many of the more obscure authors to the Lady’s Magazine were amateurs and few will have received payment for their submissions, so I used to wonder what it was that they got out of their efforts. I believe now that this is a cynical question for a cynical era, that would have been duly frowned upon in the age of Evelina. Part of the attraction of amateur authorship was the sheer thrill of it, the fashioning for oneself of a separate, often hidden second identity that made a change from one’s daily routine as a shopkeeper or unchallenged Georgian housewife. Eighteenth-century periodicals can themselves be a lot like eighteenth-century novels. Readers of the fiction of this period will know that there you are often given tantalizing dashes instead of (full) names for the leading characters, who sometimes go by mysterious spurious identities at that. Investigating a magazine you soon find yourself wanting to know all about the elusive flesh-and-blood people behind the countless paper-and-ink personae, represented by so many partial signatures and pseudonyms, with as much ardour as (though with less imagination than) Charlotte Lennox’s Arabella speculates about the ‘true’ identity of Edward the carp-stealing gardener. However, when the heroes are periodical contributors instead of characters in novels, the desired dénouement is not always possible.

LM X (Jan 1779): p. 6. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM X (Jan 1779): p. 6. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

   This makes it all the more gratifying when we do find out what we wanted to know. Through our combined sleuthing we have learned a lot about quite a few contributors already, and we are adding these discoveries to our annotated index. Two weeks ago, Jenny reported on ‘R- ’, whom we now know for sure to have been Radagunda Roberts, a minor female author and translator from a family of intellectuals. Though now forgotten, she moved in prominent literary circles sufficiently to warrant her an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where she is included as “R. Roberts”. This note was very helpful for the research leads it offered on Roberts, but the fact that its immensely knowledgeable and experienced author Arthur Sherbo could only trace the initial of her first name, while her nowhere near as active and (from a literary and cultural-historical point of view) less important male relatives left more paper trails, is symptomatic for the fate of many female writers. It feels good to finally be able to fill in the gaps.

   That of course does not mean that the male members of the Roberts family would be irrelevant. Radagunda’s eldest brother Richard was the high-master of the prestigious St Paul’s School (London). She was also related to William Hayward Roberts, provost of Eton College, Anglican clergyman and religious poet, who may have been the “Rev. W. R.” who in 1785, about a year and a half after Radagunda disappears from the magazine, contributes a translated serialized extract from Juan Alvarez de Colmenar’s Annales d’Espagne et de Portugal (1741). This connection is as yet too tentative to dwell on, but will be pursued, as we are particularly interested in discovering relationships between authors outside of the magazine because this can help us to reveal networks for its many contributors. Reading and writing are social activities in this period to an extent that we are just beginning to understand.

   Another relative, present at least once in the Lady’s Magazine, was Radagunda’s youngest brother, (another) William Roberts. Jennie has located a birth certificate indicating that he was born in 1725, and an inclusion in the A biographical dictionary of the living authors of Great Britain and Ireland of 1816 which suggests that he at least lived into his nineties (if he had lived many years beyond that he would arguably be more famous). He is on record as having served in the military before settling as a tutor in Wandsworth.[2] Though not a professional author, he does have two books to his name: the essay Thoughts upon Creation (1782) and a slim volume of Poetical attempts (1784), both issued by prominent London publisher Thomas Cadell.

   The Thoughts are meant to prove that the state of the art in natural history and archaeology was in accordance with Scripture. It is for instance explained that ‘the eternal Essence, the invisible Jehovah’ inspired the invention of writing in the Middle East rather than elsewhere so that Moses could record the Torah,[3] and that, more recently, the findings on geography by the expedition of Captain Cook merely confirm the Book of Genesis.[4] While such views may seem odd several decades into the Enlightenment, they were by no means rare. However, the fact that Roberts went to the trouble of committing his Thoughts to paper may point towards a link to the then rising Evangelical movement. More hints about his ideological stances can be gleaned from the enthusiastic dedication of the Poetical attempts to Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, who in 1775 was the object of some controversy after his resignation from the British army in protest to the impending wars against the American colonial rebels. According to Roberts, Howard had hereby ‘manifested the true feelings of virtue, in rejecting emolument, when incompatible with principle’.[5] The Poetical attempts themselves are also intriguing, and for several reasons. Besides poetry by William Roberts himself, it also contains a poem ‘by Miss Roberts’, who could be one of William’s daughters Mary and Margaret (later literary executors to Hannah More), or indeed his sister Radagunda (unmarried and therefore also still a Miss). Either possibility would be exciting, but as the poem appears never to have been publicly acknowledged by or attributed to a specific author, we will probably never know.

Thomas Howard, by unidentified artist

Thomas Howard, by unknown artist

   In a roundabout way, the attempts have at least helped with the attribution of a poem in the Lady’s Magazine. In June 1781 a poem entitled ‘Nancy. An Elegy’ appears in the magazine, with the signature ‘E. G’. After I checked this item against a few online databases I found that it was almost identical to an unsigned “Elegy” that appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in August 1758. There, however, the poem is addressed to a ‘Molly’ instead, making this one of many instances in the Lady’s Magazine of appropriated occasional verse for which only specific details were adapted in order to detach the purloined work from its original context. So, nothing unusual so far, but great was my surprise when I discovered that the poem, in the decades-old version of the Gentleman’s Magazine instead than in its more recent version of the Lady’s at that, was included three years later in a poetry collection by the brother of a regular contributor to our magazine. It seems unlikely that the fifty-nine-year-old William Roberts, who does not appear to have ever nourished strong ambitions to establish himself as a poet, would claim authorship for an unremarkable poem that he had not written himself. As he was 33 when it appeared in the Gentleman’s, he could certainly have been the original author. There is furthermore another poem addressed to ‘Molly’ among the attempts to corroborate this theory. Several scenarios can be imagined for how the adapted version ended up in the Lady’s Magazine 31 years after its original appearance. As said above, reader-contributors tacitly appropriated poems from other periodicals all the time, not rarely from sources as old as this. It is possible that Radagunda and her brother were as surprised as I was to see this poem suddenly resurface, submitted by whoever it was that chose to be known as ‘E. G.’. Alternatively, William could have been toying with the idea to collect his old poetic trials, and maybe wanted to test the waters by submitting pseudonymously an edited version of this elegy to the Lady’s Magazine, maybe motivated to change it slightly by the inconsistent attitude the magazine showed towards republication from rival periodicals such as the Gentleman’s.

Hannah More, by Henry William Pickersgill (1822)

Hannah More, by Henry William Pickersgill (1822)

   Besides daughters, William Roberts also had a son, named (again?!) William Roberts. William junior is most likely the author of “Cephalus and Procris, A Tale, by a Youth of Fifteen”, also in the attempts. Years later he would write the first biography of Hannah More (1834), and, as editor of the Tory-Evangelical British Review (1812-1825), he has the unenviable claim to fame of being lampooned by Byron in Don Juan. We have not yet found any evidence that the third and final William or his sisters Mary and Margaret contributed to the Lady’s Magazine, but this may well turn out to be the case. Whatever we find out will be waiting for you along with our many other discoveries in the index!

Dr Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Mayo, Robert. The English Novel in the Magazines: 1740-1815. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968. p. 188

[2] G. Le G. Norgate. ‘Roberts, William (1767–1849)’. Rev. Rebecca Mills. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004 [] Last accessed 14 March 2016.

[3] Roberts, William. Thoughts upon Creation. London: T. Cadell, 1782. p. 23.

[4] idem, p. 59

[5] Roberts, William. Poetical attempts. London: 1784. n. p.

Thinking Back through our Mothers: The Lady’s Magazine on International Women’s Day

Today, 8 March 2016, is International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all over the world. It is a time to look back at all our histories. A time to see where we were and to assess how far we have come. It is a time to remember (or in some cases to learn for the first time about) the work of women of the past.

It is also, of course, a time to take stock of where we are now. And it is a time to look forwards, to plan and to commit to the work that still needs to be done. It is a moment to pledge for parity –  this year’s International Women’s Day theme – to ensure that our literal and metaphorical daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins can realise their ambitions. It is reminder that we need to ‘respect and value difference’, to foster female leadership and to ‘develop more inclusive and flexible cultures’ that root out gender bias. [1]

Both as a working mother of two children (a girl and a boy) and as a teacher, I urgently feel the obligation to pledge for gender parity now for the sake of all our futures. As an eighteenth-centuryist, who spends much of her life vicariously (and very happily) living in the past, I believe passionately that looking backwards is one of the most powerful catalysts we have to propel us forwards.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 10.25.25

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


This isn’t just about assessing how far we’ve come. The very first thing that history, surely, teaches any of us is that there is no inexorable progress towards present-day, or even future, perfection. History is a game of gains and losses; of advancement and regression; of ‘uneven developments’, to borrow the words of Mary Poovey [2]. But taking the long view of that game, of its repercussions and the all-too real stakes for which the people involved have played, is more than instructive. History has the potential to let us see the present anew. It enables us to see through the fictions we have been told about how the world was, and to refract alternative possibilities for the future through the prism of the past.




It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I think that the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) offers one such generative contact point between women’s pasts, presents and futures.

Now, I’m not saying that the Lady’s Magazine is straightforwardly (or even complicatedly) a feminist publication, although I do have a habit of telling anyone who will listen that the magazine called for a ‘revolution in female manners’ a good 14 years before Mary Wollstonecraft much more famously did so in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) (LM 9 [Jan 1778]: iii).

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LM I (Apr 1771): 418. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Early feminist polemic certainly had its place in the Lady’s Magazine. The first of many times the periodical referred to womens ‘rights’ was in an essay ‘On the Strength and Bravery of the Female Sex’, signed Lucinda, which appeared in its fourth issue in January 1771 [LM I (Jan 1771): 261]. Extracts of Wollstonecraft’s work appeared in the periodical in the 1790s, alongside memoirs of and observations on the works and lives of the likes of Mary Astell, Madame Dacier, Emilie du Chatelet, and Damaris Masham. The political and cultural achievements of women from antiquity to its present and from all over the world were celebrated every month in the magazine in one-off biographies and biographical serials such as ‘Memoirs of Remarkable Ladies of Great Britain’ (1774-1776) and ‘The Lady’s Biography, Or the Lives of celebrated and illustrious Women, ancient and modern; adapted particularly to the Amusement and Instruction of the Fair Sex’ (1771-1772) .

The women remembered and celebrated in these columns excelled in classical learning, in literature, in the arts, on the stage, and in politics. They included notable women from Cleopatra and Empress Athenais, to Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Nell Gwynn, Sarah Siddons, and bluestockings Elizabeth Rowe and Elizabeth Carter. The magazine was always international in focus. It acknowledged and helped further to entrench the influence of important French women writers including Madame de Genlis and Madeleine de Scudéry, while it brought to readers’ attention via translations of works such as Geronymo Feijoo’s  Defence of Women (1726) the lives and work of Greek, French, German and Italian women (serialised 1810-1811).

The magazine was frequently passionate in its advocacy of women’s right to education and argued that historical precedent urged its necessity and efficacy. To quote from Lucinda’s aforementioned 1771 article

Women formerly had the supreme command at Lacadaemon. These brave people were always virtuous, [… and] conceived so high an idea of the prudence and wisdom of women, who had shown amazing judgment and penetration in a a thousand important affairs relative to the public welfare, that at length nothing was determined without their advice. At Athens also, the school of wisdom, and seat of the arts, women were consulted in the most critical circumstances, and the preference was always given to their opinion. Nicaulin, the famous queen; Semiramis, empress of Assyria; Elizabeth, queen of England; and many others have rendered it doubtful, whether it is more advantageous for a state to be governed by a male or a female administration. (LM I [Jan 1771]: 261)

Benito Feijoo

Portrait of Feijoo y Montenegro by Juan Bernabé Palomino.

Culture’s insidious masquerading as nature, or to use Lucinda’s own words, ‘bad education’ and ‘the malice of man[‘s]’ corruption of the ‘intentions of nature’ in degrading women and denying them parity of opportunity, would be a recurrent refrain of the magazine for its next six decades. Women were equally as educable as men. The history of women teaches us, above all, to quote Elenir Irwin’s extraordinary translation of Feijoo’s Defence of Women that: ‘the excellencies of men cannot be denied to women’ on any rational grounds (LM 41 [Dec 1810]: 531).

Despite such claims, the magazine’s until recent reputation as a conduct book by another name and association with gender conservatism is not wholly unwarranted [3]. The Lady’s Magazine could be deeply condescending towards women, and misogyny finds its home in many articles that tried to police what women wore, could talk about or even read. The opening line of the sanctimonious 1788 serial ‘Letters from a Brother to a Sister at a Boarding School’ speaks for many of the magazine’s bluntest male contributors: ‘Do you know, Mary, that you are very ignorant?’ (LM 39 [Mar 1788]: 107).

Men, in fact, have a lot to say about women in the Lady’s Magazine. Indeed, two of the things that most surprise first-time readers of the periodical are how many men clearly subscribed to and enjoyed it, and how much of its contents seems to have been authored by male authors from schoolboys to married men and elderly bachelors. While many female contributors challenged men’s right to attempt to police their lives and behaviour, calls to ‘bar the male creatures’ from the magazine were never heeded. (LM 31 [Mar 1780]: 125).

But despite the presence of men in the magazine and despite the misogyny that pours out in a number of contributions by men and women in its pages (misogyny never was nor ever will be an exclusively male preserve), I would argue until my last breath that the Lady’s Magazine has an important place in the history of women’s writing and in women’s history more broadly.

To document all the reasons why would take much more space than I have here. It’s partly why I am writing a book about just this subject. But suffice it to say for now, that the magazine provided an important space and place for women’s writing (current and past, British and international) that had significant impact. Careers were launched in the magazine’s pages, from those of George Crabbe to Gothic novelists Catherine Cuthbertson, George Moore, Mrs A. Kendall. Later writers such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, who wished ‘[w]ith all my heart … I had been born in time to contribute to the Lady’s Magazine’, were undoubtedly influenced by it [4].

LM IX ( Jan 1779): 148. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Cambridge University Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM IX ( Jan 1779): 148. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Cambridge University Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Most of all, though, the magazine’s greatest achievement, as I have argued before, was its creation of a community of readers and reader-contributors in which women and what we might now call women’s issues took centre stage. They did so by never taking as read that any issue, topic or pursuit was inherently gendered. Mathematics, philosophy and astronomy were widely understood as male preserves at the time, but the magazine would argue forcefully for women’s right to access and practice these fields. It was, after all, not ‘astonishing’ that ‘a Newton should not have sprung up from our [the female] sex’, the pseudonymous Sukey Foresight argued, when ‘no lady […] ever experienced an education similar to Sir Isaac Newton’ (LM 31 [Apr 1780]: 181). By the same token, traditionally feminine subjects such as fashion, to which much page space in the magazine was dedicated, were widely discussed in and disseminated by the magazine, but their politics and place in women’s lives was always open to debate and always presented as only adorning those women equally committed to the ‘cultivation of their minds’ (LM 32 [Oct 1781]: 506).

Today, of course, communities for articulating and debating women’s issues have proliferated thanks, in large part, to the growth of the internet and social media. The conversation has expanded exponentially; its current reach would have been unimaginable to readers of the Lady’s Magazine whose own circulation seems to have been around (a still quite astonishing) 15000 copies a month at the height of its popularity. Just in our the online Twitter and Facebook communities focused around this research project, I regularly talk to hundreds of followers in the US, Tasmania, Russia, Japan and India. But as the conversation grows about gender parity there is also a danger that it could more splintered or more local in focus.

Today, the example of the Lady’s Magazine, no matter how conflicted its own gender politics is, reminds me that we need to hold on to the bigger picture. We need, I firmly believe, to keep an eye on the long view, on what women have gained and lost in recent decades and even over the course of centuries. We also need to look beyond national boundaries to advocate women’s access to education and their right to live lives of opportunity without prejudice and fear wherever they live in the world.


[1] <Accessed 7 March 2016>

[2] Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

[3] See, for instance, Kathryn Shevelow, Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 188-89.

[4] Letter to Hartley Coleridge, 10 December 1840, The Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë: Vol. I, 1829-1847, ed. Margaret Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 240.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent