Hello again. Candice Hern here with Part 2 of my history lesson on ladies magazines of the Regency period. You can find Part 1 here . Today I want to get more specific about two of the most popular magazines during the Regency, The Lady's Magazine and The Lady's Monthly Museum. Both of these magazines would have been read by most of the ladies who populate our Regency novels, whether they were aristocrats or middle class, though the latter was clearly the audience.
You can click on any of the images to see a larger version.
The Lady's Magazine "or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex Appropriated Solely for their Use and Amusement" was published from 1770 through 1837. Each monthly issue sold for 6 pence for at least the first twenty-five years. By 1805, it had doubled in price to 1 shilling, and by 1828 the cover price had risen to 2 shillings 6 pence. Each issue was approximately 55 pages long, and typically included biographical and historical essays; instructional essays on natural history, geography, botany, etc; short or serialized fiction; poetry; reviews of new books and plays; and letters to the editor, with responses.
There was at least one copper-plate engraving per issue, 2-3 by the 1790s, usually including a portrait accompanying a biographical essay, or a scenic view accompanying a travelogue or geographical essay, or a theatrical scene from a current play. These were never colored. After 1800, one hand-colored fashion print was included. After 1815, there were two per issue. The fashion prints were accompanied by "Commentary on Paris and London Fashions," which is often lengthy and positively delicious to read.
Finally, each issue included Home News, Foreign News, and lists of births, deaths, marriages (which are also fun to read).
In its earliest issues, The Lady's Magazine states its aim of providing reading material designed expressly for the amusement and improvement of women, in a manner that would suit "the housewife as well as the peeress." As one of the first successful general interest magazines for women, it likely did attract readers from all levels of society. Even as new, and more elegant, publications became available, The Lady's Magazine retained its low price, and low production values. This ultimately established it as a publication aimed squarely at the middle class. It set itself against the prevailing morals of high society, but proceeded to expose its evils in titillating sketches, which must have been irresistible reading for its respectable, middle-class subscribers. Its fiction and poetry were of the most popular genres, with Oriental tales and Gothic novels making frequent appearances. It was the first publication to offer extracts, as teasers, from soon-to-be-published novels.
The Lady's Magazine was also the first publication to include any significant coverage of fashion. In the first issue, the introductory "Address to the Fair Sex" included the following statement of intent:
"The subjects we shall treat of are those that may tend to render your minds not less amiable than your persons.… It is intended to present the Sex with most elegant patterns for the tambour, embroidery, or every kind of needlework; and as the fluctuations of fashions retard their progress into the country, we shall by engravings inform our distant readers with every innovation that is made in female dress."
In the early years, through the end of the 18th century, fashion prints were few and far between – only one in the first year of publication – and only in black and white. Most early issues did include embroidery patterns and other needlework aids. Fashion reports were sporadic at first, and not a regular monthly feature until c1800. By that time hand-colored fashion prints were included in each issue, along with a much more lengthy fashion commentary. Each January and June issue included coverage of the royal drawing rooms, honoring the Queen's (January) and King's (June) birthdays. These reports provided full details of court dress as worn by the royal family and high-ranking peeresses. Most issues also included fashion reports from London and Paris, as well as a brief mention of men's fashion.
The fashion prints in the years 1800-1804 were primarily copies of plates from the French magazine, Le Journal des Dames et des Modes with engraving and hand-coloring of good quality (as shown in the 1801 print above). By 1805, the prints were original designs, but quite crude. (Compare the crude 1811 print shown here with the higher quality 1801 print above.) The quality improved by 1814, but they never achieved the high standards set by La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann's Repository.
The Lady's Monthly Museum "or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction: being an Assemblage of what can tend to Please the Fancy, Instruct the Mind or Exalt the Character of the British Fair" was published from 1798 through 1832. Each monthly issue sold for 1 shilling 6 pence. There were approximately 60 pages per issue, and typical contents included serialized fiction; poetry (in a section delightfully titled "The Apollonian Wreath"); social commentary and response to reader inquiries by the Old Woman, later by the Busy Body, one of the earliest Agony Aunts (and yes, I stole the idea for the Busybody columnist in my book Once a Dreamer from this magazine); historical and biographical essays; and reviews of new publications.
There were two hand colored fashion prints with brief descriptions in each issue. After 1807 only one print was included. After 1814, fashion plate descriptions expanded to approximately one paragraph per dress (usually two per print), and additional 1-2 pages of reports on the latest fashions were added.
The long subtitle of the magazine was followed by the words "by a Society of Ladies." That Society of Ladies, however, was actually a group of men, with only the very occasional female contributor in the first decade of publication. The first issue appeared only 5 years after the Reign of Terror in France, and it was a time of general political suppression in England, when leaders feared "poisoning the minds of the lower orders," which included women. Its historical and biographical essays frequently extolled the virtues of women who, however accomplished in their own right, sacrificed all personal ambition for the men in their lives. Women celebrated for their own accomplishments or philanthropy were those of the highest morals. Those who accomplished great things despite some youthful folly or indiscretion were only lauded with equivocation, e.g., what might the dramatist and novelist Elizabeth Inchbald have accomplished if she hadn't run away from home to become an actress?
Fiction in the LMM also served the conservative purposes of the editors, most of it being moralistic tales meant to keep young women on a straight and narrow path. For example, a story about a young woman who goes against her parents' wishes and runs away with a man she loves rather than marry their upstanding choice for her will typically end in either madness or death. The only happy endings come to those who do as they're told.
The moral tone of the LMM, along with its low price, points to a strong middle class audience. This is also born out by many of the essays that discouraged young girls from mixing with a level of society higher than their own. Some of the essays also criticized educating young women beyond their stations in life.
The fashion prints in the LMM generally depict two figures, one in evening dress and one in morning dress, and are frequently redrawn from other publications. Throughout 1811-12, for example, almost all prints show a combination of the two prints published the previous month in Ackermann's Repository, as in the print shown on the left.
I wrote a trilogy of books a few years back (Once a Dreamer, Once a Scoundrel, and Once a Gentlemen) based around a fictional ladies' magazine. The trilogy was inspired by my research into the Lady's Monthly Museum and its politics. I decided my fictional magazine would be an anti-LMM, run by liberal minded women and men!
In my next blog on September 23 I will discuss the more upscale publications: La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann's Repository.