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Victorian Women and the Gendering of Culture Lori Ann Loeb. Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. xü + 224 pp.; ill. Claudia Nelson and Lynne Vallone, eds. The Girl's Own: Cultural Histories of the Anglo-American Girl, 1830-1915. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1994. ix + 296 pp.; ill. Diana Basham. The Trial of Woman: Feminism and the Occult Sciences in Victorian Literature and Society. New York: New York University Press, 1992. χ + 253 pp.; Ul. Thomas Prasch When department stores first opened their doors it was largely women who fiUed thefr aisles, and retaUers, recognizing that fact, geared their advertisement to female consumers. Girls may well have been reading their brothers' Boy's Own Paper on the sly, but they were not really supposed to; they had a Girl's Own Paper for themselves, and it constructed and positioned them rather differently than their male siblings. There is a reason that we see an image of a woman whenever we think of the medium at a séance, much the same reason in fact that hysteria was almost exclusively a woman's pattern of neurosis. AU three of these books focus on aspects of the gendering of culture in Victorian England, especiaUy over the last half of the nineteenth century . The half century from, say, the raising of the Crystal Palace to the death of Victoria was one of intensive change in the basic structure of English culture, with the consolidation of such long-term trends as industrialization , urbanization, class differentiation, and democratization. These changes produced new cultural forms including what Tony Bennett has termed "the exhibitionary complex," reflected in structures as diverse as the Great Exhibition and the department store1 and new cultural structures (ranging from a new middle-class consumerism to the cloth-cappub -and-footbaU working-class culture celebrated by E. J. Hobsbawm2). And, more than coincidentally, these cultural shifts coincided with the most visible phase of Victorian feminism, with its demands for public space and a public voice. It has always been apparent that a gender dynamic was at work in these developments, that these cultural shifts had a different effect on men and women of the Victorian age. The stereotyped figure of working-class culture, as a range of feminist critics have pointed out, excluded from view and voice working-class women. Because shopping was from the © 1997 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 9 No. ι (Spring) 1997 Review Essay Thomas Prasch 193 outset seen as an extension of woman's domestic role, women have always been recognized as central to the development of consumerism; the "new woman" of the 1890s can in fact be seen as the embodiment of anxieties about consumerism as weU as feminism. Shopping in turn, as Judith Walkowitz has suggested, by normalizing women's presence in pubtic spaces fed into feminist demands.3 But if the new mass culture meant department stores and rational dress for women, it also produced mass-market pornography, the variety palace, and the footbaU field—territories that remained distinctly masculine. Although the general fact of the gendering of culture in the late Victorian period has been recognized, much about the specific dynamics of these processes remains to be explored. To this exploration each of the books under review, all focused on aspects of culture dominated by women and designated as feminine, makes a contribution. Lori Ann Loeb's Consuming Angels treats the way in which Victorian advertisements addressed the women who were the primary purchasers of new consumer goods. The advertisements themselves (many of them featured in this richly illustrated book) she takes to constitute "both a mirror and instrument of the social ideal" (10) for the Victorian consumer. They reflected both the specific aims of product placement (in emphases on savings, newness, and status, as weU as in celebrity endorsements) and the more general aspirations and values of middle-class consumers (domestic tranquility, material acquisition, leisure, progress). Loeb frames the thematic treatment of advertisements that comprises the greater portion of this study with a general argument in the opening chapter for a late Victorian shift in middle-class values away from the evangelical emphasis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 192-202
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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