- Response: Looking Back on A Magazine of Her Own?
The summer number of Victorian Periodical Review (VPR) in 1996 was a special issue on nineteenth-century women and periodicals. Edited by D. J. Trela, it included articles by Tamara Hunt, Solveig Robinson, and Linda K. Hughes, among others. Putting himself firmly in the tradition of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” Trela saw his task as seeking to inspire Woolf’s “sisters to discover their mothers’ histories.”1
In the following year, the winter number of VPR carried a review by Andrea Broomfield of two recent books: Helen Damon-Moore’s Magazines for the Million: Gender and Commerce in “The Ladies’ Home Journal” and “The Saturday Evening Post,” 1880–1910 and A Magazine of Her Own?2 As Broomfield made clear, these two volumes were very different in approach, focus, and style. Looking back now, however, it is clear that, taken together along with the previous year’s special issue, they were evidence that the task of recovering the history of the foremothers, or at least of the foremothers’ magazines, was now well established.
Laurel Brake and Maria DiCenzo in their contributions to this round table indicate the pioneering work on women’s magazines on which I and others built. This ranged from the bibliographies by E. M. Palmegiano and David Doughan and Denise Sanchez to the broad histories written by journalists like Alison Adburgham and Cynthia White. White, in particular, had not been afraid to deal with a wide historical sweep and provided one model for this work. These were our immediate foremothers, as were literary scholars like Elaine Showalter, whose pioneering 1977 volume, A Literature of Their Own, paid homage to Woolf and gave my later homage a double resonance. Meanwhile, doctoral students at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, notably Janice Winship and Angela McRobbie, were writing on contemporary women’s magazines for the centre’s series of “Stencilled Occasional Papers” while other students contributed articles to feminist magazines like Spare Rib.3 In short, the years preceding the publication of A Magazine of Her Own? were characterised [End Page 616] by a ferment of work both in periodical studies and in histories of women’s reading and writing.
Propelling all this research and writing was the women’s movement, sometimes called second wave feminism, which washed late into the academy. Feminism provided a way to engage with the wide range of material available: bibliographical documentation, scholarly work on periodicals, and more journalistic histories, along with new ways of reading and evaluating “low culture.” These made the seed bed for A Magazine of Her Own? Looking back, I see that the diversity of these sources may have led to those aspects of the work which annoyed Andrea Broomfield, who complained in her review that “Beetham’s argument is often disconnected and hurried,” that the distracted style “substitutes headings and subheadings for much-needed transitional paragraphs,” and finally, that the book failed to offer a formal conclusion or make explicit important points of argument.4
These criticisms follow a very full and fair account of the book’s contents and they now seem to me just. It is perhaps significant that the first review of the book was not in an academic journal but in the weekly Sunday Times, though the reviewer was as interested in taking a pot shot at feminism as he was in discussing the book. The wide scope of A Magazine of Her Own? owed as much to serious journalists like Cynthia White as it did to the scholarly work undertaken by the scholars Brake names.
All of us who write on periodicals know the feeling of frustration involved in making sense of the range and mix of material even a single magazine can present. Taking on a variety of magazines multiplied the problem many times over, as I was finding out. It was this which produced the somewhat frenetic “Oh, look! Here’s another one” aspect of A Magazine of Her Own? of which Broomfield complained. The book does indeed lack a conclusion. I struggled with that at the time. The question mark in the title...