The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre
“The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre” is a two-year Leverhulme Trust project run out of the University of Kent by Jennie Batchelor, Koenraad Claes and Jenny DiPlacidi. Its aims are to make this enduringly popular, influential but neglected periodical accessible to students, scholars and readers interested in the history of women’s writing, women’s reading or the magazine.
The seeds for the project took some time to germinate. Jennie Batchelor (Principal Investigator) started working on the Lady’s Magazine; or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, a monthly magazine that ran from 1770 to 1832, while working on her PhD (completed 2002) on dress in eighteenth-century literature.
The battle to look only at the fashion plates and to read only those articles principally about dress was frequently lost. In part, this was because the magazine was – is – so unwieldy. At 50-60 pages per issue, the archive comprises well in excess of 40,000 pages of content authored by a heady combination of known figures and often pseudonymous or unidentifiable reader-contributors. Each issue of the magazine has a table of contents and each year an (often idiosyncratic) index, but these guides are frequently unhelpful. The titles of submissions range from the usefully descriptive to the downright elliptical or misleading. Thus, to read everything in the magazine on dress means also having to read almost everything on female education and vanity as well as trial reports and theatre reviews. And even then, you will have only exposed the tip of the iceberg.
Another key impediment to such single-minded research is how distracting the magazine’s vertiginously diverse contents are. Start reading it with one research area or genre in mind and we bet it won’t be long before you are fascinated by another, from its sentimental or Gothic fiction, to essays on education, science, the arts, politics or travel.
Everyone working in eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century studies will find material – lots of it – that pertains to their research in the Lady’s Magazine. So why, then, is the publication so underrepresented in existing scholarship? There is no simple way to answer this question. A cursory but still convincing reply would at the very least point out that no copyright library holds a complete run of the periodical; that its contents have only recently been digitized as Adam Matthew’s Eighteenth Century Journals V; and that the magazine is multi-genre, multi-media and the work of many, largely unknown hands.
As individuals, we ponder the logistical and methodological conundrums these facts present in conference papers, publications and our project blog. But as Jennie realized a long time ago, addressing them fully could only be achieved by approaching the magazine as it was originally produced: collaboratively. With the development of digital technologies that were only in their infancy in the noughties, disseminating these responses to make the magazine newly accessible to the modern reader is possible for the first time. It was this realization that led her to approach the Leverhulme Trust to support this work.
The project’s most ambitious output is an open-access index for the around 14,000 items in the magazine’s First Series (1770-1818). An Excel interface will allow users to effortlessly retrieve effortlessly specific items that they are looking for, and the entire file can be downloaded for offline usability. The index is designed to be a precise and complete research aid for use with either the digitization of the magazine or with the original copies. However, our work for the index is much more than editorial: each entry is also annotated with the results of our ongoing research into the authorship and contents of the magazine.
Characteristically for periodicals at the time, only a minority of the contributions in the Lady’s Magazine was signed with the author’s full legal name, or, to borrow the term coined by Genette, “onymous”. Most appeared anonymously or with a pseudonymous or abbreviated signature. The predominance in the magazine of obscure reader-contributors, about whom little information can be found, usually makes it difficult to identify these non-onymous items, but for a significant number we have been able to provide a conclusive attribution. With each attributed entry, the author’s full legal name is given together with the signature as it appeared in the magazine, to accommodate the often confusing reality that several authors operated under the same or similar signatures, and that a signature referring to one author could appear in several variants.
Authors are divided into two distinct categories: “original authors” who had the first hand in the item and “intermediate authors” who submitted material found elsewhere (often with a prefatory headnote) or who furnished English translations of work originally in another language. For example, in 1771 the magazine published a translation signed “T. H.” of an extract from Denis-Dominique Cardonne’s Mêlanges de Littérature Orientale (1769). For this contribution, the index states that the “original author” is Cardonne, and the “intermediate author” is T.H. The specific roles of intermediate authors are always clarified. Some contributions have a dateline giving the author’s location at the time of writing that will be of interest to scholars who wish to focus on contributions from specific regions. When the magazine stipulates the age and sex of contributors (a significant percentage were men or schoolchildren), then this will appear in the index too.
Many contributions to the magazine have unhelpfully generic vague titles such as “Letter to the Editor”, “Lines” or “Anecdote”. Our index elucidates these and all items within the magazine by assigning each a genre and, where applicable, a subgenre, to allow users to highlight specific content types. “Keywords” represent central topics (e.g. “female education”), names (character or historical) and locations (e.g. “Arabia”).
“Tags”, unlike “Keywords”, represent a discrete number of extra-generic structural or stylistic characteristics. When an item bears a direct relation to content elsewhere in the magazine, such as with replies to previously published letters, it is tagged “response” or if it is a “letter to the editor” it is tagged as such. Likewise, if an item is an “extract” from a previously published work or has a “first-person narrator” or other distinguishing feature that is important to its function or reception, it is accordingly tagged.
Finally, a column with “Notes” contains details not immediately obvious from the information entered under the abovementioned headings. Although the Lady’s Magazine relied to a great extent on reader-contributors for copy, it also follows standard eighteenth-century practice in its abundant inclusion of reprinted material and often does so without ascription to a source. We are cross-checking every single item with a number of online databases in order to determine, if possible, which were reprints from other periodicals or extracts from books and will provide bibliographical references for all sources that we manage to identify. Of course the magazine was pirated in turn. Noteworthy reappearances of items that most likely originated in the Lady’s Magazine are cited here too.
Using the index
We envisage that researchers will use the index for many different ends (including many not yet anticipated). What follows are just some examples of the kinds of work the project might facilitate.
Much of the Lady’s Magazine’s content has recurring themes, character names, imagery or plots. At times the similarities are glaring, and this is one instance where the “Keywords” section of the index can be particularly useful. February 1773, for example, saw the publication of “Colin and Colinette”, a short, moral anecdote about a couple who celebrate their wedding day before losing their home and money when a fire destroys much of their village. Their appeal for help from the nobleman who owns much of the property in the village is unsuccessful as he claims to have lost his money whilst gambling at loup (wolf). The tale ends with the farmer’s wife, from whom they had purchased their cottage, forgiving their debt and offering them work.
The anecdote seemed uncannily familiar to us when we read it. A quick search of the index’s list of contents showed no other article published under that title. A search of the keywords “wedding” and “fire”, however, revealed an anecdote that had been published a year before. In June 1772, the anonymously authored “Anecdote of a Village” featured the worthy Colletta and Colin who celebrate their wedding and then suffer the loss of their cottage after a fire breaks out in their village. The nobleman to whom they appeal is likewise unwilling to help them due to losses sustained in a game of wolf.
The appearance of the same anecdote, with slight alterations, twice within a year is intriguing, especially as such self-plagiarising was rare. Seemingly derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s one-act opera Le Devin du Village (1752), the moral anecdote was likely already in circulation before its appearance in the Lady’s Magazine. Its afterlife certainly continued long afterwards as it appeared in truncated form in George Wright’s the Lady’s Miscellany (1793) under the same title and with the identical opening phrase as the 1773 “Colin and Colinette”, and additionally as a pastoral song or tale in various reformulations throughout the next century.
“Colin and Colinette” index entry:
“Anecdote of a Village” index entry:
“Keywords” are useful not only when specific items or looking for similarities or reformulations of them, but also in order to identify items of particular interest. For example, the “Sketch of the Character of Eleonora Gonzaga” from the 1774 Supplement is indexed generically as a “character sketch”. Neither the title nor genre may initially spark the interest of a researcher working on the history of sexuality, but the keywords supplied with its entry – “chastity, rumour, suspicion, prostitute, punishment, shame” – clearly signal its subject matter.
Using the index to analyze the composition of the magazine’s genres is also fascinating in identifying long-term shifts in the magazine’s content. It demonstrates, amongst other things, that traditional understandings of the periodical as reproducing rather than originating fictional material are, at best, misleading. Consulting the “Genre” category in the index for 1780, for example, allows us to identify 40 pieces of fictional content – moral and oriental tales, epistolary fiction, and so forth – published that year, not counting fiction heavily excerpted in “anecdotes”. By reading this statistic in conjunction with the index’s “Tags” that identify material as “extracts” (that is: extracts from previously published work), the ratio of original to unoriginal fictional content can be identified. Of the 40 fictional contributions in 1780, only five appear to be unoriginal: three translations of Marmontel, a moral tale by Elizabeth Rowe, and an extract from Samuel Jackson Pratt’s Emma Corbett (1780), all of which are identified within the magazine as translations or extracts. In 1780, then, almost 90% of the tales and serialized fiction seems to have been original. Around 40% of the fiction was unsigned and over half of the fiction published that year took the form of serials.
The index thus not only makes it easier for individuals to search through the magazine’s thousands of items and identify items of particular interest, but it also provides a clearer picture of the content of the periodical and of the individuals from the likes of George Crabbe, Mary Russell Mitford and Clara Reeve to the now largely obscure Mrs. A. Kendall, George Moore and Elizabeth Yeames, who contributed material and kept readers clamouring for the next issue.
Extrapolations of the data thus far, about which we have written on the project blog, have provided fascinating insights into individual contributions and the networks amongst contributors, editors, and publishers both within and outside of the magazine. But we know that we can only scratch the surface of this phenomenally successful periodical. With the launch of our index to the first 48 years of the magazine’s run in September 2016, we hope that we will animate conversation about what made the Lady’s Magazine such an enduring and important title and make its impressive band of contributors and their equally impressive array of contributions available for analysis by a new generation of readers.
For more information and updates on the project, please visit our webpages, follow us on Twitter, or read our blog.
Before joining the Kent School of English, Koenraad Claes lectured at Ghent University (Belgium), where in April 2011 he also obtained his PhD with a dissertation on late-Victorian literary magazines. He has published on a number of topics in nineteenth-century literature and print culture, with an emphasis on periodical studies. His role within this research project is to devise methodologies for the attribution (when possible) of anonymous and pseudonymous contributions to the Lady's Magazine, and to work out prosopographical profiles for the many obscure reader-contributors who submitted unsolicited copy. He will hereby add to our understanding of who read the Lady's Magazine and of how its content was being received and engaged with by these interactive readers, who fall outside the much-discussed trend towards professionalization in authorship during the long eighteenth century. Because of the commercial success and the inferable wide readership of the magazine, this approach will also provide further insights into public opinion on topical political issues as well as contemporaneous literary fashions.
Jenny DiPlacidi is a Research Associate in the School of English at the University of Kent. Her monograph Gothic Incest: Transgressions and Counter-Hegemony is forthcoming with Manchester University Press and challenges traditional feminist understandings of incest in the genre that have tended to rely on psychologically or sociologically informed readings of incestuous relationships. She is also co-editing an interdisciplinary volume of essays, entitled After Marriage in the Long Eighteenth Century with Prof Karl Leydecker. Her role in this research project is to work on tagging (by genre and keyword) all of the content in the Lady's Magazine in the first 48 years of its run and to analyse how the magazine shaped and responded to shifts in the literary landscape in this period.
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- The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre - September 24, 2015