Friday, 20 April 2012

Laudanum Habit Doth Detract From Lady Caroline Lamb's Complexion (pages 3-12)

Mrs Brightside posts this image, an imagined 18th-century edition of Cosmopolitan:

They're not so far removed from reality: the period saw an explosion in journals and almanacs for women. The Ladies' Mercury appeared in 1693 and promised (in a phrase you may recognise from a more modern medium), to deal with 'Love Etc.' (or indeed this). The Lady's Magazine (link includes images and text) turned up a century later and doesn't look much different to the gentler mags available now: grovelling royalty rubbish and style tips, some romantic fiction to divert a gentlewoman's attention from the Servant Problem and of course the Agony Aunt, in this case Mrs. Grey, 'The Matron'. Of particular interest to those readers contemplating, ahem, 'enhancement', there's an article on 'Wax Bosoms

In many cases, the problem pages seemed to become thinly disguised erotica for the readers - The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine (link is to images) seemed so interested in the subject of whipping one's daughters and servants that contemporary pornography started to satirise it, according to Marcus's Between Women: "Those stories in the Ladies' Magazines/ Are scarcely credible, that is to say/ They may be true, but brought behind the scenes/ The sense of being there they don't convey… It's pleasant while you're whipping!/ "I'll go and give it to the Girls!"'

Also available: The Lady’s Monthly Museum or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction, whose 'Old Woman' counselled lots of housework as the answer to pretty much all emotional difficulties. By 1859, advice had hardly changed: the Weekly Magazine informed newly-wed wives that:
Your duty now is to your husband.  No wife should have a soul above buttons nor should she ignore the fact that man’s heart lies very near his stomach, and that cold mutton dampens the flame of wedded love.  

Urbanism, fear of feminism, increased literacy and the consumer society provided the motor for the explosion in women's magazines in the nineteenth-century - the problem page was born in this era, alongside some very explicit discussions -  but the earlier ones are still remarkably similar to the modern templates (check out the Hindustan Times' magazine, Brunch!: 'Women Love Shoes!'). Titillation overlaid with moralising, moral panics and compulsory heterosexuality, all served up with a hefty dose of consumerism. And if you worry about your daughters' magazines, remember this: every generation back to the Ladies' Mercury thought that reading matter was ruining the youth!

If you're searching for good solid advice from Agony Aunts of the past, you need to read Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe - a compendium of hilarious advice. Here's a taster:

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