WOMEN ADVISING WOMEN
Advice Books, Manuals and Journals for Women, 1450-1837
Part 1: Early Womens Journals, c.1700-1832, from the Bodleian Library, Oxford
This new project fills an important gap in the provision of source materials for Women’s Studies. For whilst much has been done to make available women’s journals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there has hitherto been very little available concerning the eighteenth century.
This lacunae is significant because between the emergence of the first women’s periodicals in the 1690’s and 1700’s and the appearance of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 it has been said that there was a fundamental shift in perceptions and attitudes towards women. Conventional chronology points to a decline of early modern intellectual and economic independent-mindedness and the rise of breathless, wilting Victorian femininity.
An examination of original source material enables such theories to be tested. Were eighteenth century women regarded as equals in intellectual debate? Were they more outspoken than their Victorian counterparts? When did the image of woman as home-maker actually emerge? Was modesty a Victorian virtue? When did the glorification of Womanhood begin? When did the cultivation of appearances assume a central role? How radical was the shift in perceptions and attitudes towards women between 1690 and 1860? Did men and women perceive the role of women differently?
The first part is largely based on the Collection of Early Newspapers and Essayists formed by the late John Thomas Hope which is now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Our principle focus is on 40 major titles covering the period 1577-1832.
The 40 titles chosen embrace a whole variety of genres, many of which come together in particular journals. The genres include prescriptive literature – describing the qualities of an ideal woman to which all should aspire; practical manuals dealing with cookery, the home, marriage, childbirth and child rearing; advice literature – in which self appointed moral censors respond to reader’s letters; literary journals – offering original poetry and prose and/or literary and theatrical reviews; tatlers – giving society news and gossip; fashion journals; general instructional journals; entertainments; and, political literature concerning either general issues such as poverty and education, or particular feminist causes.
This project enables scholars to see the development of these genres from the late sixteenth century to the start of the Victorian era. It enables an analysis of changing concepts and language patterns and an understanding of the impact of developments in printing on women’s periodicals.
The earliest title included is The Courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio (1577), (on Ree1) translated by Henry Denham. Together with The Ladies Behaviour, A Dialogue, written in Italian above an hundred and fifty years ago (1693) (also Reel 1), this details the required qualities and behaviour of a woman at court and of an ideal woman in general. It is interesting to compare the courtly ideal with the notion of an ideal woman portrayed over two hundred years later in, for instance, Essays on the Art of Being Happy (Reel 14) or in Victorian prescriptive literature.
The Ladies Cabinet Enlarged and Opened (1655) (Reel 1) belongs to a completely different genre. It is an early example of a plain-speaking manual dealing with cookery, housewifery and matters physick, including advice on childbirth and women’s ailments. Manuals and encyclopaedias such as this implicitly define the woman’s sphere and alert us to issues such as the real dangers faced by women in childbirth.
The Ladies Mercury (1693) (Reel1) has been described as “the very first periodical for women” (by Cynthia White, in Women’s Magazines, 1693-1968). Published by John Dunton, it takes the form of questions to the paper from distressed readers, followed by the editor’s answers. Nearly all of these questions deal with sexual and social mores and the correspondence is revealing and forthright. Women openly discuss issues ranging from a fiancée who wonders whether she should reveal to her planned husband that she is no longer a virgin, to extra-marital affairs.
A Legacy for the ladies (1705) (Reel 1) returns to the prescriptive model but is equally forthright, offering sketches of “a Wanton Woman”, “a Modest Woman” “a pretended Godly Woman”, “a Religious Woman”, “ a Witty Woman”, “a Prudent Woman”, “a House-Wife”, or Penurious Woman”, “a Good House-Wife”, “a Gaming Woman” and others, together with poems such as “A Satyr upon a Fart” and “The Character of a Barren Adultress, a Poem”. These sketches and poems are intended to be comic, but also reveal a great deal about attitudes and the behaviour expected of women.
The Female Tatler (1709-1710) (Reel 2~), written allegedly by Phoebe Crackenthorpe was, as its name suggests, a “Tatling” journal – full of social gossip, fashion news and opinions. It was so outspoken with its political and social commentary that it invoked a Grand Jury indictment. It followed the style of The Tatler by Isaac Bickerstaffe and The Tory Tatler, runs of which are both included allowing comparisons to be made between all three.
The Ladies Journal (1727) (Reel 2), printed in Dublin, is an early example of a journal intended “for the Instruction and Amusement of the Ladies, and argues strongly for the improvement of female education. In addition to allegories, verse and songs it is notable for the inclusion of an excellent series of readers’ letters.
The Mirrour (1719) and The Parrot (1728) (both Reel 2) continue in the vein of ‘tatling magazines. Under the careful guidance of “Mrs Prattle” The Parrot spared no effort in unearthing vice and scandal in contemporary society, in order to amuse the readers and point a moral.
The Female Spectator (1744-1746) (Reel 3) is the first of a number of items from the pen of Eliza Haywood. Others are The Parrot (1746) (on Reel 4, a different title to that mentioned above), The Wife (1756) (Reel 8) and The Invisible Spy (1759) (Reel 9). The Female Spectator contains a mixture of amusement, gossip and instruction and includes warnings of the dire consequences that result from the pursuit of pleasure, as well as exhortations to women to open their minds to learning. The Lady’s Weekly Magazine (1747) (Reel 14), published under the direction of Penelope Fry, continues in this tradition.
The Midwife (1751-1753) (Reel 4), by “Mrs Mary Midnight”, offers maxims and wit “for the Benefit of the Present Age” and includes essays, poems, reviews, notes of travels and readers letters. The Ladies Library (1751) (Reel 5) is supposedly a collection of essays giving general rules for conduct in all the circumstances of the life of woman. Published by Sir Richard Steele, it resonates with ‘Victorian’ attitudes concerning chastity, modesty and meekness.
The promotion of learning is the chief aim of The Student (1750), (Reel 6) incorporating The Female Student. All manner of subjects are dealt with including Arabic language, Castle-building, the expulsion of John Locke, and the fate of Old Maids.
Roxana Termagent and Priscilla Termagent are respectively given as the authors of Have at You All; or, the Drury Lane Journal (1752) (Reel 6) and The Spring – Garden Journal (1752) (Reel 7). The popularity of journals containing readers’ letters is proven by both of these, and these are amongst their liveliest features. In contrast, The Lady’s Curiosity (1752) (Reel 7) consists of essays on subjects such as “the miserable consequences of being overruled by Persuasion, Interest or Authority of Friends, to marry contrary to inclination”, “A surprising desire of Death” and “Deadly Vapours”. It is beautifully illustrated with designs “curiously engraved on copper”. It is tempting to think that Jane Austen was influenced by volumes of this kind.
The Inspector (1753) (Reel 7) was written by Dr John Hill and whilst it is not a women’s journal as such, it is useful for comparative purposes and to see how male essayists treated women. There are items concerning billets-doux, duels, marriage, modesty, parents, a prostitute, and bizarre stories such as the report of a Toad in the belly of a young woman.
The Matrimonial Preceptor (1755) and The Wife (1756) (mentioned above) (both Reel 8) return to the tradition of direct, instructional books, principally concerning marriage. Headings covered include “the causes of disagreement in marriage”, “on the tyranny of husbands”, “the duties of a good wife”, “on the brutality of husbands”, “the honey-moon”, “talkativeness and taciturnity”, “on being over-fond of animals”, “Falsehood” and “Separation”.
The Old Maid (1755) and The Young Lady (1756) (also Reel 8) both offer advice, instruction and entertainment. The first is from a spinster (Frances Brooke writing as Mary Singleton) the second by a young lady known as Euphrosyne. They both range over many subjects and also feature readers’ letters.
Essay collections such as The Friend (1774), An Essay on Laughter (1769) (both Reel 9), The Pharos (1786-1787), The Female Mentor (1793), (both Reel 10) and The Parlour Window (1795) (Reel 11) are testimony to the continuing popularity of this format. All relate directly to women’s issues, whether concerning “woman, the chief source of human happiness”, “Female Education”, or “romance”. The Female Mentor blends together readers’ letters and prescriptive advice and is especially rewarding. Items include “The misery of a disgraceful marriage – Letters from Harriet ****** and her husband”, “On the views with which young females are now educated”, and “Fashionable Sensibility”.
The family is the chief concern of both The Female Guardian (1787) (Reel 9) and The Parental Monitor (1796) (Reel 11). Whilst the former discusses parental watchfulness, thoughtless cruelty and “the negligent mother”, the latter takes the form of an instructional manual from a mother to her children.
The Lady’s Miscellany (1793) (Reel 11) is a literary compendium intended to both instruct and amuse. It is a rich source of women’s writing about women and includes verse and prose items such as “On the Danger of Female Beauty”, “On the Educator of a Tradesman’s Daughter”, “Flora’s Lessons to Young Ladies”, “Lines written in a Grotto” and various epitaphs to young ladies. The Masonic Mirror (1797) (Reel 11) discusses one of the chief patriarchal organisations and was originally published as an essay in The Lady’s Magazine.
The Lady’s Monthly Museum (1798-1832, the Hope Collection run is for 1798-1800 only) (Reels 12 & 13) was one of the first long-lived, professionally undertaken, women'’ periodical publishing ventures. Written by “a Society of Ladies” it combined reviews, poetry, essays, romance and gothic tales. Women writers such as Hannah More and Maria Edgeworth are discussed, as are issues such as Celibacy, Ghosts, Grottos and Seductions. Periodical features within the journal include Old Woman and The Inspector. The improvement of the mind is a perennial issue. The literary content, especially the romances and gothic tales, once again brings to mind the writing of Jane Austen.
Further essay volumes such as Essays on the Art of Being Happy (1803) by Eugenia de Acton and, Essays and letters on important and interesting subjects (1806) by Juliana Yonge (both Reel 14), can be compared in style and content with their earlier counterparts. The first includes excellent items on “contrasted Female Education”, “Novels” and “the recipricocity of Duty between Parents and Children”.
Two early nineteenth century titles, The Scrinium (1822) (Reels 14 & 15) and The Isis (1832) (Reel 15) can also be usefully compared to earlier counterparts. The Isis is certainly not less outspoken than earlier journals as its opening announcement makes clear: “of politics! politics from a woman! some will exclaim. YES, I will set before my sex the example of asserting an equality for them with their present lords and masters, and strive to teach all, yes, all, that the undue submission, which constitutes slavery, is honourable to none….”
This first part concludes with two miscellaneous volumes containing short runs of 181 titles published between 1807 and 1837, the year of Victoria’s coronation. Not all are relevant to women, but many are, and the others show the breadth of magazine publishing in this period of which women’s journals were a part. The angry tone of The Isis can be compared with the angry tone of contemporary radical magazines, in contrast to the submissive tone of Christian and moralising magazines. Women’s employment in industry is a substantial feature of The Briton’s Friend, (1807), whilst titles such as The Family Gazette; or Literary and Philanthropic Journal (1821-22) and The Maids, Wives and Widow’s Penny Magazine, and Gazette of Fashion (1832-1833) illustrate the growing numbers of magazines focussed on particular market segments.
The research undertaken to develop this project has revealed that Eighteenth Century Women’s Periodicals were much more numerous than has generally been supposed. Further selections from the hundreds of titles identified will appear in future parts of this project together with a wide variety of advice books and medical/house-keeping/letter-writing/travel manuals for the period c1700-1850.
Research and teaching in the area of eighteenth century women’s history has suffered from a lack of basic source materials. These sources allow us to better understand the ways in which women were regarded in this period and the way in which they regarded themselves. Social historians will also find much of interest in these journals as will literary scholars wishing to examine the cultural context of literary production. It will enable scholars to undertake much new research and challenge existing ideas.
Thanks go to Amanda Vickery, Lecturer in Modern British Women’s History, Royal Holloway, our Consultant Editor, who has helped conceptualise the series and select the titles, as well as correcting many infelicities in the text.
We are also grateful to Isobel Grundy of the Research Institute in Women’s Writing, University of Alberta, who has made a number of corrections and attributions concerning journal editors.
Two books which readers may find especially helpful are:
Women’s Magazines, 1693-1968 (London, 1970) by Cynthia L White.
The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (London, 1990) by Virginia Blair, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy.