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MASCULINITY, 1560-1918: MEN DEFINING MEN AND GENTLEMEN

Part 3: 1800-1918, Sources from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

"The overwhelming impression left by the voluminous Victorian and Edwardian literature is that manliness was above all a moral attribute, requiring adherence to a stringent ethical code. It encapsulated the virtues of industry, self reliance, sobriety, chastity and family affection."


John Tosh, Consultant Editor
School of Humanities and Cultural Studies, University of Surrey

Concepts of Masculinity are complex and contradictory. Shaped by society, they are influenced by class and race, gender relationships, and the control of power within society. Part 1 of our series on Masculinity focuses on the period 1600-1800 with conduct, advice and educational literature, including works of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of chivalric and courtly behaviour, and a selection of scurrilous ballads of archetypes, such as the cuckold, the fop and the knave. While texts from the eighteenth century chart the discourse of politeness and refinement of manners required to fashion the gentleman. Part 2 provides a wide range of printed sources from which to assess changing attitudes of manliness during the Hanoverian, Victorian and Edwardian periods, including literature on education, the roles of the Public School, the impact of Business and Industry, Victorian domesticity, and the adventure of emigration.

Part 3 of our series Masculinity looks at the emergence of the popular boys' magazine from c1850 to 1920, which played a major role in shaping ideas of masculinity in the youth of the period. The boys' story paper enjoyed a huge readership, and is thought to have provided the central core of young male reading from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The magazines were cheap, easily purchased, traded, abandoned, lost, and were an important leisure activity for boys. Written in a non-didactic style the papers were informative, uplifting and entertaining. They contained adventure tales from home, and from exotic colonies abroad, exciting accounts relating the brave deeds of Boer War heroes, like General Gordon and Baden Powell, as well as informative articles on sports and hobbies, and history. These papers were both fun and educational.

In our publication, to illustrate a broad overview of boys' magazines published during this period, we have used incomplete runs, which will allow for contrast and comparison between the competing papers. We include:

  • Every Boy's Stories
  • Boy's Own Journal and Youths Miscellany
  • Boy's Own Magazine
  • Every Boy's Magazine
  • Empire Annual for Boys
  • Boy's Own Paper

We also include two publications for both boys and girls to assess any differences in tone, style or content to those papers specifically published for boys. These are Young England, and Chatterbox. In addition, a selection of miscellaneous youth periodicals further illustrates the variety and scope of papers available during this period, and their influence in shaping ideas of manliness.

The Boy's Own Magazine was the first gender specific periodical published in 1855 by Samuel O Beeton, who had a vision for his magazine as moulder of empire builders. Priced at 2d monthly it was aimed at the youth of the middle classes, it was not intended for the working class. With an editorial team including Mayne Reid, W B Rands, Tom Hood and James Greenwood it was a successful and popular magazine with a circulation of 40,000. Non-fiction was its largest element, and skilfully written articles provided exciting and imaginative reading for its youth readership. In its first publication items included:

  • The Printers Boy, the story of Benjamin Franklin from the series Poor Boys Who Have Become Great Men a short, instructive biography for boys to aspire to.
  • Catching a Caymen in the Philippine Islands a natural history adventure about crocodiles, from a far-off place.
  • The Tools of War weapons from around the world used throughout history.
  • The Thousand and Second Tale a story by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Famous Places a travel series, featuring Naples and Vesuvius

By contrast, Empire Annual for Boys, first published in 1909 with splendid colour illustrations both on the bound cover and inside, contained lots of adventure tales, sports heroes, as well as some more serious articles, such as Why I became a Missionary by Rev G T Manley. In the foreword J E K Studd (Captain of the Cambridge Eleven, 1884) tells his young male readers, never lose heart it is the man who can keep a stiff upper lip and an even temper when things go wrong that has the true spirit of the first-class man.

Tales of adventure, with recognisable heroes can be found in stories like, A Gallop for Life The story of a Texas Ranger by Captain Edwin Flack. When the Republic of Texas was annexed to the US, powerful and warlike Indian tribes Comanches, Apaches, and Lipans roamed the country, harrying the settlers. Regular troopers were ineffectual against them, but the Texas Rangers, raised locally, proved more than a match for the men. These were the heroes of Edwardian fiction, men from a lower social scale, and while physical bravery was still important, personal sacrifice was now seen as an important moral virtue.

In the early years of the First World War boys magazines featured articles relating to the current political situation in Europe, for example:

  • How Airmen Learn to Fly
  • War pigeons. All about the wonderful mile-a-minute feathered Marconigram
  • War notes and pictures - a regular feature
  • On Dangerous Service. A Story of Blockade Running - an adventure story.

However, such articles ceased to appear when the reality of the horrors of the war became known, and did not reappear until c1918 in items like, Great Players Fallen in the War. War fiction did not re-emerge until the 1930s.

From this broad selection of boys magazines the ideals of masculinity can be explored. Why did the image of the hero change from the Victorian elite aristocrat to the Edwardian hero, democratised and broadened to include school teachers and factory lads? What were the attitudes and ideas towards race, and the treatment of colonised peoples? How were women and girls portrayed as the female heroine capable of looking after herself, or as the girl heroine who acquiesced gracefully to being rescued? How were significant and important events written about in the magazines, for example Queen Victorias Jubilee, 1887, or the construction of the Suez Canal, 1869? How did editors shape their magazines in this highly competitive market were they driven by the youth readership? These magazines offer an insight into the period which will enable research into the complex and contradictory concepts of masculinity.

Students will be able to use this material in conjunction with Women Advising Women, 1450-1837 and Women and Victorian Values, c1837-1910 to compare the type of literature and advice being offered to boys and girls, and men and women.



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