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Reviews Barbara Onslow. Women of the PressinNineteenth-CenturyBritain. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's, 2000. xii + 297. $65.00 cloth. In her preface to Women of the PressinNineteenth-CenturyBritain, Barbara Onslow writes that the book came into focus when she realized it hadn't already been written by someone else. Indeed, this is one of those studies that one often assumes is already out there, before one recognizes in the initial stages of research on some specific figure or text, that no good, broad, book-length study has yet been done in the area. Examining the most significant platform for Victorian women's prolific literary output then, Onslow's book comes at just the right moment for researchers interested in gaining a sense of the scope and variety of women's contributions to the Victorian general and specialist presses. Covering a wide range of writers, editors, serials, markets, and genres, Women of thePressis the perfect complement to more site-specific research on single authors and journals, and to the handful of recent anthologies of nineteenthcentury women's journalism. The breadth of Onslow's research immediately impresses. The introduction provides a useful overview of the major cultural, political, and technological shifts shaping the Victorian press — changes in taxation, anonymity and signature, the impact of serialized fiction, the "rise" of NewJournalism, the spread of literacy — while subsequent chapters examine in closer detail the range of women's involvement with the press: as newspaper reporters and foreign correspondents, reviewers and critics, essayists and polemical writers, editors, experts, society columnists, illustrators and copyists, activists, fiction writers, professionals, self-promoters, and family breadwinners. Over one hundred women writers having some relationship to the press are discussed here, with attention paid to the well-known (George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Margaret Oliphant) and the relatively unknown (Fanny Aikin-Kortright, Isabella Fyvie Mayo, Margaret Gatty). A biographical appendix with entries for one hundred women journalists supplements one's reading of the Victorian Review121 Reviews book, and, together with the book's generous bibliography, will undoubtedly prove to be a valuable quick reference for future researchers. Onslow moves from the general to the particular with ease, providing a sense of broad trends and shifts throughout the century, with a wealth of fascinating source material supporting each claim. For example, Chapter 3, "A Fifth Estate," begins with the observation that newspaper journalism was generally more lucrative for women than periodical writing, but was also harder for them to break into. Whereas women could often write for the monthlies and quarterlies in the safety and comfort of their own homes, newspaper writing entailed daily, public visibility, and a gruelling work schedule. Referring to the experience and writings of several leader writers, foreign correspondents, and society columnists, Onslow demonstrates the range of opportunities in newspaper journalism available to women, while stressing the difficulties they faced in such a male-dominated job market. Other chapters eschew coverage for case study: Chapter 9, "A Press for a Purpose," concentrates on the religious and feminist presses as two specialist platforms for women's beliefs and opinions, while Chapter 10 discusses the prolific careers of Margaret Oliphant and Eliza Lynn Linton as case studies of "the professional" in women's journalism. Chapters 4 and 5, on reviewers and periodical contributors respectively, discuss the politics of style, and forms such as the sketch, the essay, and the polemic as "alternative platforms" for women's participation in public debate. The scope of Onslow's study means there is little room for a particular set of arguments to develop about the larger cultural meanings of women's involvement with the press. Sometimes I found myself wishing for more critical engagement with the body of contemporary scholarship that already exists on, say, the feminist press from mid-century onwards (Burton; Levine; Rendall), or on the construction of domesticity in ladies' magazines (Beetham). While gender is the salient category for Onslow's feminist analysis, there is surprisingly little attention given to social class, nationality, race, or religious belief as equally significant determinants of women's 122volume 28 number 2 Reviews access to the press, both as contributors and readers. No attention is given to women's involvement in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 121-124
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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