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Reviews75 Margaret Beetham. A Magazine ofHer Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. xvi + 242. $24.99 US (paper); $34.99 CAN (paper). Few could argue with Margaret Beetham's assertion that throughout the nineteenth-century, the woman's magazine evolved as an exclusively feminine space. Like the middle-class home, it was a space that reflected and re-enforced accepted sociaUy-constracted definitions of womanhood, female sexuality, and femininity. Hers is not the first study to recognize the role of the popular press as a powerful tool for constructing gender, and it seems an obvious point after twenty years of feminist scholarship and Foucaultian Uterary criticism. And yet, despite the hegemonic importance of die nineteentii-century women's magazine, until recently, very few studies specifically analyzed die development and ideological importance ofpopular domestic magazines for women. Thus, Beetham's work addresses a surprisingly neglected topic, offering an important contribution to the history of British women, journalism, advertising and die growtii of the popular press. This study is particularly valuable because it spans the entire nineteenth-century, enabling a better understanding of how the woman's press developed over time, and how it both reflected and reacted to changing definitions of Victorian femininity. Beetham's historical narrative and thematic discussions of class, education and employment are enlivened by the case studies of several successful Victorian women's magazines, including the Beetons' pioneering Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and Annie Swann's intimate Woman at Home. By situating the case studies witiiin their historical context she successfully explores a number ofrelated tiiemes, including die rise of Protestant evangelicalism, die spread of female education and literacy, the expansion of the popular press and die professionaUzation ofjournalism, the development of die feminine fashion industry, and die growth of the business of advertising. In both theory and method, Beetiiam acknowledges her debt to the academic disciplines ofcultural studies and women's studies, particularly Barthes' definition of cultural texts. Thus inspired, she reads the Victorian woman's magazine, not simply as a repository of historical information, but as a discursive "text" which both shapes and reflects cultural constructions of gender; it is "a place where meanings are contested and made" (5). Although the category of "woman" appeared as die natural co-incidence of gender and female sexuality, the magazines' proliferation of advice on personal grooming, dress, motherhood, marriage and housekeeping, actuaUy revealed that there was nothing at all "natural" about the Victorian woman. Even the ideal female body was literally constructed in the magazines, assembled by readers from die various advertisements for corsets, hair dye and patent medicines. The editorial debates over tight-lacing were particularly 76 Victorian Review indicative of the discursive nature of the popular press and the instabUity of that discourse (81-88). According to Beetham, women used magazines as Ulustrated guides, to make sense of their society and their Uves, as they balanced a number of conflicting and carefully constructed identities. The contradictions inherent in the meanings of Victorian womanliness were not lost on the writers of women's magazines. Nevertheless, as the corset contradictions indicated, the magazines endorsed and perpetuated these contractions. Throughout the century, as the meaning of femininity was re-made given the gradual impact of the movements for women's education, employment and legal rights, so the meaning, form and conventions of women's magazines changed as weU (5). It is this dynamic, this tension between shifting definitions of what constituted "natural" womanly behavior, as played out in the popular press, that Beetham seeks to explain. As a "feminized space," the woman's magazine did possess "a radical potential," to confront gender ideology, given the "mismatch" between the feminine ideal portrayed in the press and the reality of women's Uved experience. However, this radical potential was seldom realized, a point weU made by the topic of paid work for women. Although paid work was a necessity for many "girls," meaning unmarried young* women, and therefore included in the magazines' advice columns, headings like "What shall we do with our daughters?" impUed tiiat the information was intended, not for women readers, but to help them choose suitable employment...


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