- Sympathy, Madness, and Crime: How Four Nineteenth-Century Journalists Made the Newspaper Women's Businessby Karen Roggenkamp, and: Women, Work and the Victorian Periodical: Living by the Pressby Marianne Van Remoortel
Since at least the 1970s, literary scholars have engaged in an ongoing project of recovery that has placed neglected women writers within their historical contexts in order to restore their cultural value and, in some cases, bring them into the literary canon. The nineteenth century has been a particularly vital period for this work as scholars of both British and American literature such as Nina Baym, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, Elaine Showalter, and Jane Tomkins have demonstrated. More recent studies such as Susan Coultrap-McQuin's Doing Literary Business: American Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century(1990) and Linda H. Peterson's Becoming a Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship and Facts of the Victorian Market(2009) have not only brought forgotten women authors to our attention but have also mapped the techniques and networks they developed to get their work published. Most of this scholarship has focused on fiction writing, though there are notable exceptions that examine women's work as magazine editors and newspaper reporters, including Barbara Onslow's Women of the Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain(2000), Michelle Elizabeth Tusan's Women Making News: Gender and Journalism in Modern Britain(2005), Jean Marie Lutes's Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880-1930(2007), and Beth Palmer's Women's Authorship and Editorship in Victorian Culture: Sensational Strategies(2011). Increasingly, scholars are considering the women who toiled anonymously to produce non-fiction essays, needlework patterns, illustrations, and investigative reports for the mass market. Karen Roggenkamp's Sympathy, Madness, and Crime: How Four Nineteenth-Century Journalists Made the Newspaper Women's Businessand Marianne Van Remoortel's Women, Work and the Victorian Periodical: Living by the Pressare welcome [End Page 206]contributions to our understanding of the legions of women who published in popular periodicals.
In her book, Roggenkamp provides a succinct and compelling account of the rhetorical strategies used by both well-known and more obscure women journalists. Focusing on Margaret Fuller, Fanny Fern, Nellie Bly, and Elizabeth Jordan, she explores the ways in which they struggled to make their writing about women palatable to newspaper editors and readers. The book begins with a useful discussion of the challenges women journalists faced in the rough-and-tumble newspaper industry. Even though the United States "boasted the world's highest newspaper circulation," women's contributions lagged well behind men's until the 1880s and 1890s (p. 3). The late century wars between media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer spurred the hiring of more women contributors as a way to attract a wider audience. Roggenkamp offers interesting insights into how women used "highly gendered sympathetic language" to "excavate professional space within a masculinized landscape" (pp. 6, 5).
Fuller was hired by Horace Greeley in 1844 to write for the New-York Tribune, which focused on the arts and social reform. In Fuller's reporting on Bloomingdale Asylum, Tombs Prison, Blackwell's Island Asylum, and Sing-Sing Prison, she advocated for more charitable treatment of inmates. According to Roggenkamp, Fuller "characterizes fiction reading as a luxury, a pointless exercise of pity" while contending that the "characters she draws … would actually benefit from the reader's tears" (p. 48). Roggenkamp argues that Fuller used the "language of sympathy" not only to help imprisoned or entrapped women but also to "speak as a woman with authority" (p. 52). Fern, likewise, used sympathy to her advantage in her writing for the mass-market paper the New York Ledger. Fern "became the highest-paid newspaper writer in America," as her contributions helped the...