Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical 9781138804197, 9781315753171, 0415012228

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Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical
 9781138804197, 9781315753171, 0415012228

Table of contents :
Original Title
Original Copyright
1 'Fair-sexing it': an introduction to periodical literature and the eighteenth-century construction of femininity
The problems of ideology and the middle class
Thinking about women in the eighteenth century
The periodical and the 'rise of the novel'
2 Early periodicals and their readers
The establishment of the periodical press
The reconstitution of the reader
Literacy and the practice of reading
The reformist agenda and the woman reader
Audience complicity in the early periodical
The community of the text
The periodical and the representation of the woman reader
3 Readers as writers: the female subject in the Athenian Mercury
Audience-building in the Athenian Mercury
Correspondence and narratives
Anonymity and self-revelation
Epistolary parody: the London Mercury
Epistolarity and authority
Athenian iconography
The intervention of the text into private life
Reading the Athenian Mercury
4 'A sort of sex in souls': the Tatler and the Spectator
Correspondence and audience-building: Women as letter-writers in the Tatler and the Spectator
The structural function of letters in the Tatler
Women as correspondents of the Tatler
Letters in the Spectator
The life and fortunes of Jenny Distaff
Jenny as writing subject
Educating Jenny
The figure of domestic womanhood from the Tatler to the Spectator
Supplementing Jenny Distaff: the further configuration of the domestic woman in the Tatler
The Spectator
Sentimentality and didacticism
5 Gender specialization and the feminine curriculum: the periodical for women
Women as readers and readers as women: the specialization of the women's periodical
The gallantry of a philosopher: the Free-Thinker
Defining the territory of the women's periodical: the Visiter
Feminine authority and the essay-periodical: the Female Spectator
The periodical as syllabus: the early women's magazines
The Lady's Museum and the feminine curriculum
Later magazines and the instruction in femininity
Works cited

Citation preview

Routledge Revivals

Women and Print Culture

With the growth of popular literary forms, particularly the periodical, during the eighteenth century, women began to assume an unprecedented place in print culture as readers and writers. Yet, at the same time, the very textual practices of that culture inscribed women within an increasingly restrictive and oppressive set of representations. First published in 1989, this title examines the emergence and dramatic growth of periodical literature, showing how the journals solicited women as subscribers and contributors, whilst also attempting to regulate their conduct through the promotion of exemplary feminine types. By enclosing its female readership within a discourse that defined women in terms of love, matrimony, the family, and the home, the English periodical became one of the main linguistic sites for the construction of the eighteenth-century ideology of domestic womanhood. Based on the close scrutiny of the popular periodical press between 1690 and 1760, this study will be of particular value to any student of the relationship between women and print culture, the development of women’s magazines, and the study of literary audiences.

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Women and Print Culture The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical

Kathryn Shevelow

First published in 1989 by Routledge This edition first published in 2014 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 1989 Kathryn Shevelow The right of Kathryn Shevelow to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Publisher’s Note The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality of this reprint but points out that some imperfections in the original copies may be apparent. Disclaimer The publisher has made every effort to trace copyright holders and welcomes correspondence from those they have been unable to contact. A Library of Congress record exists under LC control number: 88026370 ISBN 13: 978-1-138-80419-7 (hbk) ISBN 13: 978-1-315-75317-1 (ebk)

WOMEN AND PRINT CULTURE The construction offemininity in the early periodical KATHRYN SHEVELOW


ROUTLEDGE London and New York

First published 1989 by Routledge II New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001


1989 Kathryn Shevelow

Set in I0/12pt Baskerville Linotron 202 by Columns Ltd, Reading. Printed in Great Britain by Biddies Ltd, Guildford All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Shcvelow, Kathryn Women and Print Culture: The construction of femininity in the early periodical. l. \Nomen's serials in English. Special themes. \Nomen, history. Sociological perspectives I. Title 302.2'324 ISBN 0-415-01222-8

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Shevclow, Kathryn, 1951\Vomen and Print Culture: The construction of femininity in the early periodical. Bibliography: p. Includes index. l. Women's periodicals, English-History-18th century. 2. WomenGreat Britain-Books and reading-History-18th century. 3. English prose literature-18th century-History and criticism. 4. English prose literature-\Vomen authors-History and criticism. 5. Women in literature. 6. Femininity (Psychology) in literature. 7. Women and literature-Great Britain. I. Title. PN5124.W6S5 1989 305.4 88-26370 ISBN 0-415-01222-8

For Ed

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'Fair-sexing it': an introduction to periodical literature and the eighteenth-century construction of femininity The problems of ideology and the middle class Thinking about women in the eighteenth century The periodical and the 'rise of the novel'

I 6 I0 18

2 Early periodicals and their readers The establishment of the periodical press The reconstitution of the reader Literacy and the practice of reading The reformist agenda and the woman reader Audience complicity in the early periodical The community of the text The periodical and the representation of the woman reader

37 43 49

3 Readers as writers: the female subject in the Athenian Mercury Audience-building in the Athenian Mercury Correspondence and narratives Anonymity and self-revelation Epistolary parody: the London Mercury Epistolarity and authority Athenian iconography The intervention of the text into private life Reading the Athenian Mercury

58 61 66 71 74 78 82 86 89


22 24

27 29 32


4 'A sort of sex in souls': the Taller and the Spectator Correspondence and audience-building: \Vomen as letter-writers in the Taller and the Spectator The structural Junction of !etten in the Tatler Women as correspondents of the TatltT Letters in the Spectator The life and fortunes of Jenny Distaff Jenny as writing subject Educating Jenny

The figure of domestic womanhood from the Tatler to the Spectator Supplementing Jenny Distaff: the further configuration of the domestic woman in the Tatler The Spectator

Sentimentality and didacticism

5 Gender specialization and the feminine curriculum: the periodical for women

93 101 101 107 113 116 119 124 129 130 132 140


as readers and readers as women: the specialization of the women's periodical The gallantry of a philosopher: the Free-Thinker Defining the territory of the women's periodical: the Visiter Feminine authority and the essay-periodical: the Female Spectator The periodical as syllabus: the early women's magazines The Lady's Museum and the feminine curriculum Later magazines and the instruction in femininity

149 !53 !59 167 174 180 186





Works cited







Many people have helped me to write this book. First and foremost, I wish to thank the members of my writing group, who have fortified me throughout with advice, criticism, support, and friendship: Page DuBois, Stephanie Jed, Susan Kirkpatrick, Lori Chamberlain, Lisa Lowe, and Julie Hemker. Other friends and colleagues gave me important help: Andrew Wright and Edwin Fussell, both of whom carefully read the entire manuscript, were particularly generous with their assistance and encouragement; N arrey Armstrong, Jon Klancher, Fred Randel, and the late Robert C. Elliott all gave me the benefit of their attention and advice. I would like to thank the Affirmative Action Committee and the Committee on Research of the Academic Senate, the University of California at San Diego, for supporting my research and writing with grants and travel awards; and, in particular, I want to acknowledge the contribution of many of my colleagues and students in the Department of Literature towards maintaining its stimulating, diverse, and supportive intellectual environment. I also want to thank the staff of the University of California at San Diego Department of Literature for invaluable assistance on many occasions; the University of California at Los Angeles for a Clark Library fellowship; the staffs of the University of California at San Diego Library, the Clark Library, the Huntington Library, the British Library, and the Bodleian Library for their assistance over several years. The Huntington Library has graciously extended permission to reproduce the illustrations used on the cover and discussed within the text. I am most grateful to Avril and John l'vlarcus for providing me with a home in London on so many lX


occasions, and to Janice Price of Routledge for her advice and encouragement. My stepdaughter Susanna Lee contributed considerable energy and enthusiasm. Finally, I want to extend special thanks to my companion Edward Lee, whose love and support, both editorial and domestic, sustained me in the writing of this book. La Jolla, California August 1988


1 'Fair-sexing it': an introduction to periodical literature and the eighteenth-century construction of femininity

I'll not meddle with the Spectator - let him fair-sex it to the Uonathan Swift, Journal to Stella)

wo~ld's end.

During the eighteenth century, as upper- and middle-class Englishwomen increasingly began to participate in the public realm of print culture, the representational practices of that culture were steadily enclosing them within the private sphere of the home. That is, at the same historical moment that women were, to a degree unprecedented in western Europe, becoming visible as readers and writers, the literary representation of women- whether as members of an intended audience, as writing subjects, or as textual objects - was producing an increasingly narrow and restrictive model of femininity. These simultaneous and interrelated processes may seem to constitute a paradox, but they are only contradictory if we insist upon equating access to the mechanisms of print exclusively with metaphors of enfranchisement and inclusion rather than those of restriction and containment. In fact, the access that literate women gained to the print culture developing in eighteenth-century England had mixed consequences for their representation in and by writing. For many of the very agents that were enabling, even actively promoting, women's participation in print culture were also those engaged in containing it. The growth of popular literary forms such as the periodical played a key role in this simultaneous process of inclusion and restriction. The periodicals' characteristic attention to women and 'women's concerns' (the editorial policy that Swift sneeringly labeled 'fair-sexing it') served an emerging ideology that, in the act


of making claims for women's capabilities and social importance, constructed women as essentially - that is, both biologically and socially - 'other' than men. Although many of the features of this construction, such as the particular associations of women with love and romance, matrimony, children, and the household, were by no means new in the eighteenth century, their representation in popular literature contributed powerfully to a developing discourse surrounding women that was reformulating sexual relations and the family based upon new criteria. My purpose in this book is to delineate the process of simultaneous enfranchisement and restriction that marked women's visible entrance into print culture by tracing the early stages of the development of the popular periodical, as it emerged in the late seventeenth century. By 'popular' I mean to indicate the relative breadth or inclusiveness of the early periodical's intended audience rather than its position on a hierarchical scale: I use the term to signify a general publication intended to interest an audience relatively heterogeneous in regard to social class and educational status, and to this end I want to differentiate my use throughout this book of the term 'popular' to describe certain types of periodicals from other connotations connected with 'popular' (as opposed to 'elite') culture. Though such an opposition between popular and elite does play a part in the early periodicals' projection of an audience, the terms themselves are indeterminate, not only because they were undergoing transformations m eighteenth-century Europe, but also because they are open to a variety of competing constructions. Some analyses would categorize the audience of the popular periodical as belonging by orientation if not class to a new literate, enlightened 'elite' evolving in the eighteenth century. 1 Indeed, the periodicals often acted as agents for the transmission of 'genteel' codes of conduct, thus aligning themselves with values explicitly associated with the upper classes. Yet they addressed readers represented as being in need of such instruction in manners. In fact, though literate and often upwardly mobile, a good segment of the intended audience for the popular periodicals, and indeed some of their editors, were and perceived themselves to be marginal to many of the practices of upper-class culture (which they tended to construct as more monolithic than it was); they did not view themselves as participating in its forms of social and political power, its



educational institutions, and its classically-based literary traditions. In this book, the notion of the elite will signify this dominant upper-class culture. Though elite readers were indeed part of the popular periodical's audience, for the most part the periodical either sought to appeal to, or directly solicited, readers perceived as marginal to this dominant group. The popular periodical was initially directed at a readership which included a mixture of classes and both sexes. It became instrumental in forming a female reading audience organized around the literary representation of women as readers, writing subjects, and textual figures situated within a reformist discourse designed to instruct and entertain. Through its topicality and appearance of direct engagement with its readers' lives, the popular periodical attempted to exert influence as a purveyor of values. As one recent study of the periodical argues, it 'provided implicitly normative accounts of social structure and behavior' (Botein, Censer, and Ritvo 468). In regard to the representation of women, the periodical, as it developed throughout the eighteenth century, played a decidedly normative role. For it was in the periodical that one particular formulation of femininity most persistently manifested itself on the popular level: the notion of women as different in kind rather than degree from men, possessing in the household a 'separate but equal' area of activity and authority. Thus as the popular periodical developed as a genre, it was instrumental in articulating and refining a conception of gender relations gaining currency in the eighteenth century. The early periodical was one of the principal linguistic sites for the production of a new ideology of femininity and the family. The ideological orientation of the popular periodical can be traced most immediately to the self-consciously 'progressive' attitude to 'the fair sex' shared by the earliest producers of that literature - such men as John Dunton, Peter l.Vlotteux, Daniel Defoe, Richard Steele, and Joseph Addison. In the periodicals they edited between 1691 and 1713, they issued numerous invitations to women to read, to write for, and to correspond with, the periodical; they declared the 'equality' of women to men; they crusaded with varying degrees of intensity for improvements in women's education, coupling them with sometimes more vigorous crusades for improvements in women's behavior; they proclaimed their intention to use their periodicals to defend and serve women; and they



variously represented women, as readers, as writers, as correspondents, and as illustrative figures, in their periodical texts. Granted, these author-editors differed somewhat in their attitudes toward women, as Rae Blanchard's classic article on Richard Steele points out. 2 Still, their periodicals shared the considerable common ground of popularity in which, as I shall argue in chapter 2, the address to women was a decisive factor. Under the mantle of a progressive orientation towards women lay a range of motivations and goals. For our purposes, they are most revealingly arranged along a continuum of reformist intentions. The early popular periodicals' reformist agendas tended to collect around the interrelated purposes of 'learning' (the periodical as an informational tool in itself, as well as a force exhorting women to gain knowledge) and the modification of behavior (the periodical as social critic and conduct book, exposing vice and modeling virtue). These reformist agendas coexisted within the same periodical - indeed, they were inseparable - but in the space of twenty years between the major periodicals of Dunton and Steele, the emphasis shifted from reform-as-knowledge to reformas-behavior-modification. (Later periodicals, particularly the magazines specifically designed for women which appeared in midcentury, returned to and greatly expanded the instructional agenda, as chapter 5 will show, but in a way that revealed that the conflation of knowledge with behavior modification, always implicit in the popular periodical, had become explicit.) The shift from Dunton to Steele involved a change in both the frequency and the type of representation of women; the amount of printed space occupied by women increased, offering a more extensive elaboration of a category of representation labeled 'feminine,' a category formulated in the periodicals of Dunton but greatly refined in those of Steele. The periodical was a public disseminator of prescriptions for private behavior: it constructed, for public consumption, normative images of 'private life' closely identified with women. In this way, the popular periodical, as it established itself throughout the eighteenth century, became a primary locus of the 'feminization of discourse,' Terry Eagleton's term for that contradictory process by which 'feminine values,' increasingly assigned to the private realm, were emerging as influences upon public culture. 3 The popular periodicals validated certain types of feminine experience, insisted



upon the significance of certain feminine concerns as literary material and social agenda, and asserted women's intellectual capabilities and potential equality. Their program of bringing women into literary culture tended from the beginning towards an overdetermination of one feminine figure: the domestic woman, constructed in a relation of difference to man, a difference of kind rather than degree. This figure was a highly idealized construction of femininity, one situated within a long tradition of the literary representation of women, but here newly formulated in such a way as to involve the woman both as reader and as writer, as subject as well as object, in the service of an as yet unestablished but coalescing ideology.

In investigating the formation of this overdetermined phenomenon, the construction of the domestic woman in and by print, this book will focus predominantly on the early developmental stages of the popular periodical, tracing a trajectory of representation from early formulations of this figure to its remarkably rapid formalization. l'viost of the book will concentrate on the first two decades of periodical publication, 1691-1712, with particular emphasis upon John Dunton's Athenian lvfercury, the first major popular periodical, and Richard Steele and Joseph Addison's Tatler, which in many senses defined the genre, particularly in relation to its representations of women. In the rest of this introductory first chapter, I shall discuss the class context of the early periodical, sketch out some of the main themes of eighteenth-century thinking about women, and situate the book in relation to other accounts of women, representation, readers, and the study of the eighteenth century. In chapter 2 I shall give an account of the birth of the popular periodical press, its sphere of influence, its audience-building strategies, its means of production and distribution, and its ideological orientation. Chapter 3 will look closely at the Athenian A1ercury, whose social agenda and epistolary format made writers out of readers in a regulatory context, with important consequences for the production of the feminine writing subject throughout the eighteenth century. Chapter 4 will focus on the influential essayperiodicals, the Tatler and (to a lesser degree) the Spectator, both of which manipulated the developing conventions of the popular periodical, most particularly its mission as a regulator of readers'



lives, in order to promulgate an increasingly prescriptive figure of the sentimental family 4 whose center was the woman. Chapter 5 will trace out the legacy of the earliest periodicals by looking at several publications that emerged between the 1720s and the 1760s. As the periodical developed it specialized according to gender, a process that began in the 1720s and accelerated in midcentury with the creation of the women's magazine and the introduction of women as periodical editors. Throughout all of these chapters, I shall be tracing the representation of women in the periodical as indicative of the complementary processes of inclusion and containment that governed their entrance into print culture. The periodical played a key role in expanding women's participation as readers, as writers, and as textual figures; and in so doing, the periodical was simultaneously a principal site of the normative construction of femininity in writing. THE PROBLEMS OF IDEOLOGY A:'IID THE MIDDLE CLASS

The term 'ideology' suggests a body of coherent or cohering interests that the ideology serves, but these interests are particularly difficult to define at a time of historical shifts in ideologies. The representation of women in the popular periodical can be directly implicated in the normatizing of one construction offemininity, but it is a simpler matter to identify the process as ideological than it is to pin down the interests represented by the ideology, or even to fix upon an accurate, historically specific, descriptive category in which to contain them. If we assume that 'ideology works to appear as a natural, unprejudiced truth ... while it actually constitutes a motivated, class-oriented rationalization' (L. Davis 220-1), 5 and that it 'both epitomizes and itself influences broader social relations of power' (Sedgwick 13), we face the problem of characterizing ideological orientation in an historically precise way. And if we assume that 'Ideology is inscribed in discourse in the sense that it is literally written or spoken in it ... [it is] a way of thinking, speaking, experiencing' (Belsey 5) /i we need to situate a given discourse complex historically as well. We shall find the process of representing women in the early eighteenth-century periodical to be an increasingly normative one, constructing a feminine area of influence, authority, and experience- the home-



and creating a corresponding picture of feminine nature, and we must ask what identifiable cultural group or class these representations serve. A class-based account of these representational phenomena (though, I think, indispensable) raises certain problems. The most pressing of these is the difficulty of delimiting precisely the relation between the historical experience and social identities of people and the construction of ideology. Authoritative accounts of the expansion of printing and the development of such popular forms as the periodical and the novel in this period have approached them through a notion of 'the rise of the middle class.' Raymond Williams summarizes the widely-held assumptions about this interrelationship as it influenced the growth of a new middle-class audience: It is from the 1690s that the growth of a new kind of middle-class reading public becomes evident, in direct relation to the growth in size and importance of a middle class defined as merchants, tradesmen, shopkeepers, and administrative and clerical workers. New forms of reading, in the newspaper, the periodical and the magazine, account for the major expansion, and behind them comes the novel, in close relation from its beginnings to this particular public. ( 182) And Ian Watt, whose history of 'the rise of the [English J novel' established the groundwork for all subsequent discussions of middle-class influence on literary development, charts the widening of the 'intermediate class' (40) of readers to include 'the increasingly prosperous and numerous social groups concerned with commerce and manufacture.' This development, he argues, represented a moment of transformation in literary history: it is probable that this particular change alone, even if it was of comparatively minor proportions, may have altered the centre of gravity of the reading public sufficiently to place the middle class as a whole in a dominating position for the first time. (48) Since Watt, many accounts of the social and historical context of early ejghteenth-century literature have stressed the significance of women readers (usually the 'new' middle-class women readers) upon the growth and the shape of literary practices. They have emphasized the profound infiuences of female literacy and leisure



(discussed further in chapter 2); they have seen the feminine 'cult of letter-writing' (Watt 189) as an influence upon and product of the period's fascination with epistolary genres (including the epistolary periodical); they have noted a relationship between the formal 'domesticity' of the novel and the culturally-enforced domesticity of the women who read (and wrote) them and seen women as an important target audience for popular literature like the periodical. Yet the adequacy of the term 'middle-class' as a demographically accurate model for describing these developments is very problematic, as is the notion that the normative representation of women is a middle-class construct. For one thing, as has often been said, 'the middle class is always rising': the history and conditions of the middle-class's upward trajectory have been the subjects of much wide-ranging debate. Arguments have been offered for a coherent middle class since the early Renaissance, if not before; on the other hand, scholars have challenged the notion of the economic dominance and cultural authority of the middle class in the early eighteenth century, placing the point of middle-class emergence, and certainly of its hegemony, closer to, if not well into, the nineteenth century. And, particularly for the early eighteenth century, there are difficulties in distinguishing characteristics and ideology of the middle class from those of the aristocracy and particularly the gentry, since these were also undergoing significantly rapid changes in this period, were also served by the new popular literature, and to a certain degree participated in the 'progressive' literary and social agenda announced by the periodical. 7 The demographic distinction between 'the gentry' and 'the middle class' has long been a focus of controversy, and attempting to assign separate ideologies to each continues to be a vexed problem. And finally, such literacy statistics as do exist, statistics that I will examine in more detail in chapter 2, are subject to debates both methodological and interpretative. Although my examination of the periodical literature draws upon some of the same information as the historical studies just mentioned, and even makes use of some of the studies themselves, I am less concerned with the historical dimension of class structures than I am with delineating certain cultural codes in the makingthose which governed the dominant representations of women. These codes carried certain markers which many of us have come



to associate with 'middle-class consciousness.' The periodicals I examine, for instance, demonstrate a sometimes aggressively articulated complex of beliefs and a marked social agenda formulated in opposition to what is presented as an alterable, upper-class-dominated status quo; and they do so in relation to an audience that, in so far as it is described or figured textually, includes readers who are not among the educated elite. Furthermore, a number of the periodical editors, such as Dunton and Defoe, were by birth, profession, or association situated outside of the elite, and lacking the marker of male elite culture, a classical education. The literature they produced reveals an ambivalent view of the landed classes that seems to be consolidating a perspective in opposition - be it antagonistic or admiring - to them: it includes vociferous attacks upon values defined as traditionally aristocratic and corrupt (whose feminine manifestations, for instance, include frivolity and conspicuous leisure) along with a strong impulse to admire and emulate the aristocracy, though often one rewritten through the idealized vislOn of a 'natural aristocracy' that would possess an inward virtue commensurate with its outward status. Michael McKeon's recent study, The Origins of the English Novel (1600-1740), argues for a dialectical theory of genre and society that suggests how we might handle the 'problem of the middle class' without dismissing the category entirely, recognizing both its imprecision and its taxonomic value. He argues that during this period the emergent categories of 'the novel' and 'the middle class' coexisted with the older dominant categories of 'the romance' and 'the aristocracy' that they were beginning to replace; the conceptualization of the traditional categories was part of the same process as the production of the new ones ( 19). Thus, he argues, the task for a theory of the novel and the middle class is not to explain away traditional categories, but to situate them dialectically as components of the new categories' processes of consolidation, for they are 'incorporated within the very process of the emergent genre and are vitally functional in the finely articulated mechanism by which it established its own domain' (21). McK,eon's reconceptualization of the 'rise of the novel' - 'The origins of the English novel occur at the end point of a long history of "novelistic usage'" ( 19) - suggests how we might speak, usefully if less felicitously, of a kind of 'middle-class usage' to indicate



certain representational practices. By this, we could designate usage or practice historically prior to the social categorization of the middle class and the articulation of 'middle-class consciousness' as such. That is, through this model we can use the notion of 'middle class' to designate a particular representation of cultural values, beliefs, and practices that existed prior to, or simply apart from, their eventual conceptual coalescence into a social category. As McKeon explains it: Not yet (if ever) embodied within a delimited social class, middle-class ideology slowly suffused different segments of the reigning status groups and gained its first expression through a network of beliefs that were themselves in the process of a critical mutation. (174--5) Though the term is in some way attached to an empirical economic organization of people, 'middle class' here will refer primarily to an agenda or social program; to an ideology in the process of formulation. The early periodical provides an important perspective from which this process can be studied, particularly in relation to its rewriting of gender. THINKING ABOUT WOMEN IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

The familiar paradigm that we generally associate with the nineteenth century - the 'feminine ideal' or so-called 'Victorian woman' - was, in fact, an earlier construction that we can see emerging in a definitive way in the post-Restoration period. Increasingly throughout the eighteenth century, the interrelated categories of masculine and feminine, public and private, home and 'world,' assumed the shape of binary oppositions in which the meaning of each category was produced in terms of its opposite. Gender was constructed through the naturalizing of this system of oppositions; women were represented as naturally possessing qualities that rendered them unfit for the masculine public realm, but endowed them with considerable authority within the private context of the home. Viewing such gender constructions in a larger framework of historical change, Ruth Bloch has argued that the emergent, late seventeenth-century construction of femininity as part of a bipolar 10


oppositiOn, whose other pole was an equally constricted and ideological notion of masculinity, seems to constitute a historical shift in definitions of gender. Bloch locates two important moments of transition in the development of middle-class gender roles in the last 500 years: the first took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the second in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Within the historically constant framework of the subordination of women to men, these transitional moments evolved with different emphases. In the former period, an older notion of the separate domains of the sexes gave way to a ncoAristotelian 'vertical, hierarchical definition' (238) that stressed that women were fundamentally similar - though biologically inferior and socially subordinate - to men. Then, in the latter period, that notion was replaced by a return to an emphasis upon the essential difference between the sexes (238). That is, the notion that the difference between women and men is one of degree gave way to the idea that the difference is one of kind. 8 A reading of the periodical literature which was published between the late seventeenth century and the mid-eighteenth century supports at least the second half of Bloch's thesis: we can trace the evolution, programmatically set forth in the periodical, of a concept of gender which stressed difference at the same time that it (albeit less forcefully) stressed a kind of equality. As Richard Steele conceptualized it in Tatler No. 172, 'there is a sort of sex in souls ... [men's] minds have different, not superior qualities to [women's].' This study will look in some detail at the Tatler which, along with its successor the Spectator, was perhaps the most influential proponent of this notion of gender and the social roles which were held to accompany it. But this construction to varying degrees underlay the popular periodical as a genre. The new concept of gender roles was closely tied to changes in thinking about the family, and implicated in the institutionalization, as a social arrangement and a cultural ideal, of that family configuration of wife, husband, and children we have come to call the 'nuclear family.' Marlene LeGates well observes that 'ideology can precede and even cause behavioral changes, specifically, that the new ideology of the nuclear family constituted a new set of expectations to which people responded and are still responding' (36). With this observation in mind, we can study the development of the popular periodical as an important textual manifestation of that ideology. II


The eighteenth-century view of women's domestic roles had its roots in the 'secular and contractual model of family relationships' (Rendall 7) developed by 'Enlightenment' writers on natural law such as John Locke. 9 Locke's arguments provided a basis for the 'rationalist feminist' critiques of patriarchy which gained some currency in the late seventeenth century. But his attacks on patriarchal political philosophy, along with developing theories of liberal individualism, also helped to formulate a conception of the family that implied the 'separation of social and political worlds,' and conceived the family as 'a web of natural relationships' (Rendall 9). Such a conception contributed to developing an ideology of family relationships that, granting women authority within the 'natural' realm of the family, also restricted them to that realm. Locke's attack on the patriarchal family as a political model and his liberal, secular arguments for individual rights contributed to the concomitant rise of what Lawrence Stone calls the 'companionate family,' a new organization of the nuclear family around bonds of affection, companionship, and privacy. Characterized, Stone argues, by a 'rather more equal partnership between spouses' (221), the companionate family emerged as part of a more general social restructuring. Stone's argument locates in the late seventeenth century a shift in various representations of relations between the sexes. The shift was more slowly followed by changes in practice, at first among the landed classes and the upper bourgeoisie, but extending as the century went on into the ranks of the lower middle classes. As this shift occurred, Stone and others argue, patriarchal family structure declined and gave way to a greater 'egalitarianism' between husband and wife, a change registered by the increasing importance placed upon bonds of affection, esteem, and love in marriage and upon the rights of children to have some say in the choice of their marriage partners. 10 These developments were connected with new thinking about the equality of women to men, displayed for instance in the public attention paid to the effort to educate women better to fulfill their important social roles as companions to their husbands and educators of their children. Extension of the liberal emphasis upon individual freedom and autonomy into the area of political rights and social roles, however, for the most part stopped short of women. Recognizing the 12


limitations of liberal social theory and practice, recent scholars have questioned the degree of the egalitarianism within the companionate family, both in its historical manifestations and in its interpretation by modern historians. These scholars argue that the possibility of women's benefitting from individualist ideas about equality was undercut by the very configuration the family was assuming, 11 based upon the notion that women were essentially different from men. Such a notion contributed to sentimental constructions of sexual relations and the family that greatly limited the extent to which the implications of liberal social thought were extended into the private sphere of the home. Roy Porter observes, for instance, that the application of eighteenth-century liberal ideas about sexual freedom to women was curtailed by their sentimental idealization within the family: 'The more Enlightenment sentimentality enhanced woman's special role as mother, the less her sexual independence would be' ( 16). The idealization of the 'sentimental family,' the term with which Susan Moller Okin replaces Stone's 'companionate family,' fostered a very restricted notion of spousal egalitarianism indeed. Predicated upon paternalistic conceptions of gender roles and responsibilities, the sentimental family, rather than encouraging a new equality for women as Stone would have it, in fact 'had catastrophic implications for the future of women's rights and freedoms' (72). The eighteenth-century celebration of 'families as private sanctuaries of sentiment,' argues Okin, acted 'as a reinforcement of patriarchal relations between men and women': First, women's spheres of dependence and domesticity are divided from the outside world more strictly than before. Second, women increasingly come to be characterized as creatures of sentiment and love rather than of the rationality that was perceived as necessary for citizenship. Finally, the legitimacy of male rule both within and outside the family is reinforced despite the challenges to it that arc inherent in individualism on the grounds that the interests of the family are totally united, that family relations, unlike those outside, are based only on love, and that therefore husbands and fathers can be safely entrusted with power within the household and with the right of representing their families' interests in the political realm. While some women may have benefited in their personal lives from the



increased emphasis on affect within marriage, the claims of the female sex to equal recognition as persons, to freedom, and to political representation, can only be seen as having suffered from the newly idealized family type. (74) As the oppositional configuration of gender maintained the depoliticization and subordination of women within the sentimental family, textual representations of domestic femininity did assume a particular specialized 'authority.' As Okin's account of the patriarchal underpinnings of the centralization of women within the idealized family indicates, the notion of feminine authority in regard to the written discourse of this time, whether it be the authority exercised by representations of the wife-mother or the authority of the feminine writer to produce her own text, needs to be carefully contextualized and qualified. I use the term 'authority' to designate the process through which a print culture sanctions certain linguistic representations and gives credibility to certain textual constructions of the writing subject, the object of writing, and the readers of writing - all as indices of representational practices. 12 In regard to the representation of women, feminine authority signifies a process of cultural empowerment of a very restricted - and restrictive - kind. Such authorization within writing not only docs not contradict women's political powerlessness but actually reinforces it. It is predicated upon the cultural reaffirmation of a conception of feminine values that, as the product of a patriarchal ideology, 13 gives women a kind of literary visibility, a place in print culture, but a place defined within the terms of that ideology. 14 Any discussion of the cultural empowerment of women, within the home or on the page, must deal with the context of patriarchal, early capitalist culture in which the language of 'separate' spheres, regardless of its rhetorical presentation, never describes a condition of 'equal' spheres. Okin's analysis reveals the power relations embedded within the philosophical and political construction of the sentimental family from its inception. And Catherine MacKinnon points out that the equation of women with the private sphere is another form of the patriarchal empowerment of men: 'Privacy is everything women as women have never been allowed to be or have; at the same time the private is everything women have been equated with and defined in terms of men's ability to have' (656) Y' 14


The terms upon which the popular periodical authorized the representation of private women within the sentimental family contain a paradox intrinsic to print culture. Defining the private and the public spheres of activity and experience as separated according to gender, the periodical represented the private as the feminine, reproductive, apolitical area of home and family in opposition to the masculine, productive, political realm of work and society. Paradoxically, however, the periodical figured women's natural place within the private realm by representing them in print, not only as idealized domestic figures but also, to some degree, as writing subjects of their own discourse, published as a discourse of private life. By the very means of its production, then, the discourse of the private is a public discourse. In this book, I am most concerned with the public construction of private life in the form of textual representations. This study will investigate the ways in which the construction of femininity in writing helped to encode a form of feminine authority that defined - that is, both enabled and delimited - a place for women in print culture. The early popular periodical is a particularly revealing site of this construction, for reasons of both genre and historical development. Through its quotidian engagement with its audience and its historical situation as a 'new' form, organizing a 'new' audience, helping to produce a newly coalescing ideology of middle-class liberalism, and rewriting gender, the early periodical was engaged in situating itself culturally. It formulated a cultural position in relation to an audience which in some senses, as a selfreflective body of periodical readers, did not exist prior to its organization by the periodical. As the periodical developed, it was constantly engaged in negotiating a relationship to its audience, a relationship variously composed of a mixture of consumer-oriented solicitousness, dependence upon audience complicity in textual production, and assumption of authority to prescribe readers' behavior. On these terms, the early periodical collected, influenced, and was influenced by, its audience. And, as I shall show, it represented that audience textually, not as an undifferentiated mass, but as an organization of specific, 'individual' readers and groups of readers. My discussion here stresses the multiple ways in which the periodicals addressed and figured their women readers, and in so doing constructed a normative definition of femininity. So that



reading the periodical not only brought readers into engagement with 'images of women' but also implicated them in a process of reading which itself was gendered and ideological, exerting a normative force. This process was certainly defined by authorial or editorial intention, but it also was shaped by the historical position and generic properties of the periodical text itself, as I shall show. The periodicals constructed an intended 'reading situation' for women which we can interpret today, for to some degree it is textually manifest, available within these pieces of writing produced at a different historical moment from our own, but still accessible to our modern rereading and reconstruction of them. What is not accessible, of course, are those historically distant readers themselves, aside from whatever evidence may survive in letters, diaries, and essays, of how they experienced their lives, their personal and cultural histories, in their engagement with the texts they read. Wherever we as modern readers and writers situate the production of 'meaning' in the engagement between the reader and the text, we cannot know with any degree of certainty how historically distant readers read. Here we confront the limitations of all discussions of reading practices, the boundaries of what we can know and what we can conjecture. Surely there must have been readers, both women and men, who 'read against the grain,' who 'resisted' the normatizing strategies of the texts they read, the ideological attempts to constitute readers as subjects '"spontaneously" and "naturally" integrated into the existing social formation' (Belsey 134). 16 My discussion here can only acknowledge those resisting readers by delineating part of what they might have resisted - the emergence of a very powerful ideology of gender inscribed within the materials they read. The idealization of the domestic woman coexisted in the eighteenth century with other representations of women which ranged from the traditionally misogynist emphasis upon women's frailty and viciousness to proto-feminist social critiques of women's subordination. A woman reader of the early eighteenth century could have confronted a variety of textual constructions of femininity: Rochester's poetic satires against women's fickleness, rapacious sexuality, and hypocrisy; Swift's vivid evocations of the foulness and decay of the female body; or, later, Pope's belittling and condescending pictures of society women. Popular conduct 16


books such as Lord Halifax's The Ladys New-years Gift or, Advice to A Daughter adopted a tone of paternal concern to express a cynical acceptance of women's subordination to men and the sexual double standard. This standard was also assumed by the witty-but-chaste heroines of Restoration comic theater as produced by Wycherley, Farquhar, and Congreve, or by Behn's more self-conscious versions. The adventuresome (and mishap-ridden) heroines of romance and scandal fiction had their counterparts in the protagonists of women criminals' narratives, whose endings were much less likely to be happy. There were also analyses of women as an oppressed group, in such early feminist polemics as Mary Astell's attacks on economically-based and inequitable marriages, or her program for educating women. In these late seventeenthcentury and early eighteenth-century representations of women, they were usually categorized in some relation to matrimony: wives, past wives (widows), future wives (daughters or other young unmarried women), or ineligible (mistresses, cast mistresses, prostitutes). The domestic woman, on the other hand, was a wife-mother; as we shall see, her spousal function was mutually inscribed with her maternal function. Some of these other representations of women were eventually displaced by the domestic woman as this figure gained dominance; others persisted in contrapuntal relationship with it. One such persistence was a tradition of 'rationalist feminist' writing inherited from the seventeenth century, that, though it was to some degree appropriated and fairly soon overshadowed by the domestic ideology, did not disappear but resurfaced at the end of the eighteenth century in reactive challenge to the newly-consolidated normative structure. 17 And the eighteenth century produced women writers who, whether or not they wrote as 'feminists,' asserted other, oppositional representations of women's experience. From Aphra Behn to Mary Wortley Montagu, from Mary Astell to Mary Collier to Mary Wollstonecraft, such writers contested the shifting norms of patriarchal constructions of women even when constrained by their own difficulties in establishing a conceptual distance from them. But the popular periodical, as an agent of ideology formation, situating itself within a discourse about women which would become the dominant one, appropriated and reformulated components of the early feminist social critique to construct a new, limiting feminine norm.




While the importance of certain early periodicals, particularly the Tatler and Spectator, to the ideological construction of the woman has not gone entirely unnoticed, most discussions of women's relation to writing and literary culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have stressed the novel. With its solicitations of women readers, its celebration of the domestic woman, its representation of feminine subjects and objects, the periodical has usually been viewed as preliminary to the novel, important rather as an early rehearsal than as opening night. Such an understanding of the periodical in relation to the history of the textual representation of women is reminiscent of its traditional categorization in literary histories as a 'subliterary' or even 'nonliterary' genre: 18 its significance generally has been seen to reside in its position as one rung on the ladder of literary evolution to the novel, or, in more recent studies, as part of that matrix of print, what Lennard Davis calls the 'news/novels discourse,' which contains the origins of the novel. I do not contest the importance to the growth of the novel of the early periodical's experimentations with structure, its audience-building activities, and its representations of subjectivity. I do reject, however, the explicit or implicit hierarchy of intellectual interest assumed by most treatments of the periodical as a precursor of a more important literary form. Obviously, the periodical did not disappear after the novel 'rose.' Rather, the eighteenth-century periodical consolidated a long-lived, important print tradition that continued to play a key role in hegemonic culture, mediating the encounter of woman as reader, writer, and social actor with woman as sign throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. In treating the representation of women in the early periodical, I also wish to question the hierarchical model which at least implicitly privileges the novel, even the novel written by women, as the primary focus of feminist rewriting of literary history. Because the novel itself, at a certain point in history, was a derided popular literary form (and was derided in part because it was strongly associated with women), earlier studies that focussed on the eighteenth-century novel importantly argued its literary significance. Feminist studies have pushed further to criticize the process of hierarchization and canonization which at first belittled the novel,



and then rewrote the canon to include, for the eighteenth century, predominantly male novelists, consigning the productions of many women novelists to oblivion. But it is important to go even further, to bypass the hierarchical divisions into standard literary genres in order to gain a more encompassing view of 'writing' as a broadly cultural process implicating the entire field of linguistic representation. To take this stance is to begin to ask different questions of texts than those posited by traditional literary criticism and literary history. Michel Foucault, for instance, calls for 'the introduction of an historical analysis of discourse': Perhaps the time has come to study not only the expressive value and formal transformations of discourse, but its mode of existence: the modifications and variations, within any culture, of modes of circulation, valorization, attribution, and appropriation (137). I propose to investigate the social and historical 'mode of existence' of the eighteenth-century discourse surrounding women as it developed in the popular periodical. In so doing, I do not intend to construct a new hierarchy that privileges the periodical. Nor do I want to imply by my close examinations of certain periodicals that they did not (and do not) exist in complex interrelationships with other written and social texts. I do want to situate my account of the 'new' eighteenth-century discourse emerging in the periodicals in relation to 'new' twentieth-century reformulations of eighteenthcentury studies: recent scholarly rewritings of the eighteenth century which share the commitment to a 'critique of ideology ... fully situated in history and culture, and informed by debates concerning class, gender, and race' (Nussbaum and Brown 20). 19 My contribution to this much-needed revision of traditional eighteenth-century scholarship offers a feminist critique of ideology which calls for the elimination of a hierarchical notion of literature that devalues types of writing like the periodical as 'non-literary.' This critique also re-envisions the eighteenth century as a field of discourse in which the canonical so-called 'neoclassicists' or 'Augustans'- Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Johnson, to name a fewwrite within a minority elite literary tradition which is part of a print culture also populated by others. And those others are not only Defoe (as a novelist) and Richardson - both canonical nonneoclassicists - but also a multiplicity of other writings and writers



(many of whose names are unknown). I am not interested in replacing the study of Pope or Richardson with that of the Athenian Mercury, but in trying to reconceive the eighteenth century as a discursive field, an emergent print culture, and to imagine a multiplicity of books, broadsides, pamphlets and periodicals jostling against each other in the booksellers' stalls. These are what literate people read, and if some readers were less, or differently, educated than others, their reading situation is as crucial to understanding the discursive field that was the eighteenth century, as is the situation of those who read the Iliad, either Homer's or Pope's. I want my discussion of the periodical and my analyses of specific texts to carry a reminder of the larger field of discourse. So too I wish to remember that any focus on reading and writing, for a period in which literacy itself was a minority competence and a line of social demarcation, is automatically partial and exclusionary. In my formulation, writing exists in ceaseless engagement with multivalent social texts that help to constitute writing and that writing helps to constitute. As a result, I am not interested in positing questions of 'aesthetic value,' at least in so far as those questions involve the hierarchical ordering and canonization of literary texts and authors, and the socially-constructed judgment that only 'great' or 'good' writing, produced by 'important' writers, is worthy of scrutiny. In this regard, at least, the notion of the 'death of the author,' as expressed by Foucault and Barthes, can assist us to turn our attention away from questions of origination in order to look at texts as social formations, sites of the discursive construction of ideology, engaged in multiple and overdetermined relationships with readers. 20 My discussion of the periodicals' writing of femininity necessarily examines the productions (or purported productions) of men as well as - in fact much more than - those of women. In so doing, it turns away from the emphasis of some feminist eighteenth-century scholarship upon the work of women writers. It certainly is crucial for a feminist evaluation of the eighteenth century to continue to reclaim the suppressed and substantial tradition of writing by women, in order to recover their varied representations of experience, to understand the significant role their writing played in print culture, and also to examine the degree to which such writing received authority through its very implication in the emerging cultural construction of femininity. But it is also



important to discuss this process as part of a wider print culture that is variously determined, produced by literary and so-called non-literary genres, women's and men's writing, alike. Furthermore, women writing within the popular periodical produced constructions of women as readers, writing subjects, and objects similar to those formulated by their male predecessors. This is not to say that the social situation of a woman writing in the eighteenth century was not profoundly different in the most fundamental ways from that of a man. Gender, as well as class, variously situated writers. Just as middle-class and working-class ·writers occupied situations different from each other and from the elite (male) aristocratic tradition of letters, so too did women's writing situations differ from those of men, in a way that to some degree cut across class lines without eradicating them. But the representations produced by male and female writers, who responded also to considerations of genre and audience expectation, cannot always be differentiated from one another in relation to the beliefs and values they seem to assume. Although I do locate differences in rhetorical strategies in the periodicals edited by women, strategies attached to the differences between female and male personae, these periodicals also offered normative constructions of domestic femininity. Like those of the male-edited periodicals, these constructions both shaped and were shaped by the dominant way in which women's experience was articulated and understood in eighteenth-century England.


2 Early periodicals and their readers

By the second half of the eighteenth century, many interested observers in England had begun to remark, in tones either selfcongratulatory or derisive, upon the democratization of reading in their country. James Lackington, the successful publishing entrepreneur, concluded his romanticized vision of reading among the country poor at the end of the century with the summary, 'all ranks and degrees now READ.' Samuel Johnson had earlier issued his well-known opinion that 'General literature now pervades the nation through all its ranks.' 1 These representations of the extension of reading into 'all ranks and degrees' (assertions whose accuracy is a subject of debate among modern historians), 2 were accompanied by another specification of particular interest. Boswell quotes Johnson's pronouncement that 'All our ladies read now, which is a great extension.' Lackington corroborates: 'by far the greatest part of ladies have now a taste for books.' 3 The implicit correlation between these two remarkable 'extensions' of reading, one defined by class and the other by a mixture of gender and class, suggests a confiation that indeed was central to eighteenth-century representations of literary culture. The very concept of reading was undergoing a process of change, breaking away from older, traditional significations and attaching to itself new meanings. 'The reader' as a sign was being reformulated, no longer signifying the exclusive practices of an upper-class or university-educated, predominantly male elite. Eighteenth-century observers tended to remark upon that reformulation particularly as it brought into literary culture readers who had traditionally been marginal to it. Consequently, the representation of reading as an index of social transformation tended to focus upon literate people



lowest on the hierarchies of class and gender, the 'new' -or newly noticed - readers. 4 And not all notices of the new reader were celebratory: for example, earlier in the eighteenth century, Charles Gildon's attack upon Defoe contained the disparaging claim that 'there is not an old Woman that can go the Price of it, but buys thy Life and Adventures [of Robinson Crusoe], and leaves it as a Legacy, with the Pilgrim's Progress, the Practice of Piety, and God's Revenge Against Murther, to her Posterity.' 5 He attacks the novel through its readers, and the terms of his attack conftate age, gender, religion, and class. Gildon's comment provides an example of how the figure of the woman reader, recurrently represented throughout the century, often functioned as a metonym for the newly-reconstituted reader. The image of the woman as a consumer of literary products assumed a virtually iconographic function in certain popular types of eighteenth-century literature. This usage can be traced to the popular periodical that in the late seventeenth century was extending its audience as widely as possible among the ranks of the literate population. The periodicals characteristically addressed their women readers and contributors as 'ladies,' but, particularly in the case of readers, this form was beginning to lose its class specificity and to assume its modern use as a polite (another term of decreasing class specificity) signification of gender. Although gentlewomen certainly were included among the periodicals' intended female readers, so too were women of more modest social standing. The ability to read - itself a class-based category - was generally a prerequisite for engagement with the periodicals, but in terms of their textual designation as readers, women were addressed first and foremost as women, with class associations more vaguely assumed in the rhetoric directed toward them. 6 The periodical's multiple representations of the woman reader became the key to its attempts to acknowledge and to formulate, to organize and to influence, a new readership that cut across class lines. In the periodical, textual representations of women were constructed not only as a means of defining and developing an audience, but also, more broadly, as signs conveying cultural values. From the periodical's inception, solicitations of women readers, figurations of women characters, and publication of correspondence or other forms of writing represented as women's



provided readers with normative figures. As the periodical developed, such textual figurations were often explicitly designed to play a reformist role, to influence extra-textual practices. As a consequence, the popular periodical increasingly became an arena in which women as readers and even writers encountered women as cultural signs. The earliest periodicals, f()r example, portrayed themselves as heavily dependent upon submissions from their readers, including women, representing them not only as consumers, but also as potential producers of the text. The periodical's representations of readers thus asserted a correspondence to the historical readers outside of the text, a correspondence that, purporting to speak not only to but for and as them, could be turned to didactic purposes. The history of the periodical reveals an increase in such didactic figurations of women. Initially, women appeared in these periodicals as writing subjects, as well as the objects of other writing subjects. Such representations of the woman subject, even if they were not 'authentic' (a question that I will address later), marked a moment of relative textual openness, in which the emergence of women into literary culture had not yet been contained. However, even then the mechanisms of containment, that would increasingly delimit women, as readers, writers, and textual signs, to be the conveyors of a new middle-class ideology in the making, were in the process of development. This chapter will begin to trace this trajectory ofcontainment by looking at the emergence of the popular periodical, its creation of an audience, and its earliest representations of women. THE ESTABLISH:\IE:'\T OF THE PERIODICAL PRESS

Despite the continued primitiveness of its mechanisms of literary production/ English society by the late seventeenth century saw a sharp escalation in the availability, variety, and popularity of periodical literature which marked the beginnings of the great expansion of the periodical press in the eighteenth century. 8 During the 1690s, the periodical established itself as a significant cultural force whose province began to expand beyond the concerns of news reportage and political commentary into areas of entertainment, instruction, and social criticism. Even though the end of the Civil War in 1660 to some extent diminished the wartime urgencies which had pulled many of the previously non-



reading populace into regular engagement with print, and even though the Restoration monarchy imposed various regulations to control publishing activities, the establishment of the London penny post in 1680 provided a distribution network which was conducive to the development of serial publication. Furthermore, after the accession of William and Mary in 1688 the restrictions upon publishing were relaxed and publishing enterprises began to flourish. In particular, the non-renewal of the Regulation of Printing Act in 1695 allowed publishers greater freedom and permitted the number of printing presses to increase. Moreover, the post-Civil War condition of political turmoil at home and war abroad, and the presence of a population that during the earlier tempestuous decades had developed the habit of reading - or listening to another read - for 'newes' created a fertile climate for the establishment of periodical literature. The political pamphlets, satiric papers, and news-reporting papers or 'corantos' so widely read during the Civil War were joined toward the end of the century by epistolary journals, miscellanies, and book reviews, among others, also seeking to reach a wide audience and to extend it further. These publications were not principally oriented towards reportage, but rather emphasized (ostensibly at least) 'instruction and entertainment,' an echo of the Horatian utile et dulce, over politics and news. In particular, the epistolary periodical and the miscellany (forerunners, respectively, of two major eighteenth-century genres: the essay-periodical and the magazine) directed their audience-building rhetoric at a newly expanding audience. Though at this historical point limited literacy restricted the comprehensiveness of any reading audience, these newly-emerging periodicals none the less attempted to attract as wide a readership as possible. Their frequent addresses to readers manifested the disintegration of strict hierarchical divisions between 'high' and 'low' culture, prefiguring the nineteenthcentury development of the 'mass audience.' Though distant prototypes of such popular periodicals - particularly dialogue journals, humorous-satiric papers, and political commentary serials - can be found before 1690, it is only in the last decade of the century that the instructive-and-entertaining periodicals began to establish themselves as genres and commercial successes. With the retrospect of history, we can identify them as the pioneers of the modern popular periodical industry.



The popular periodical responded to the audience of its historical moment by combining an occasional degree of newsworthiness with a continuous offering of light entertainment, witty commentary on the manners of the times, moral correction, behavior modification, advice about personal matters, and a promise to offer a substantial course of 'instruction'- all at a penny an issue for a folio half-sheet, issued twice weekly, or more for a substantial miscellany once a month. The popular periodical distinguished itself from pamphlet or serial literature by virtue of its periodicity; from newspapers, political journals, and tracts through its relative disinterest in news and its pretense of avoiding politics; and from most of the review or excerpt journals by including audience-participation features such as the printing of reader correspondence, and by pitching its appeal to an audience whose common denominator was established outside of the welleducated minority. In the two decades between the first appearance of the Athenian Mercury ( 1691) and the beginning of the Tatler ( 1709) - both important landmarks in the development of the periodicalmany popular periodicals followed the format established by newspapers and the dialogue journals: a single folio half-sheet page, issued once or twice, occasionally three times, a week, frequently scheduled to coincide with the country mails (the primary means of distribution outside of London). The lengthier miscellany, the forerunner of the magazine, did not achieve its dominance of the market until later in the eighteenth century, but an influential early example was Peter Motteux's Gentleman's Journal ( 1692-4 ), published once a month in issues of approximately thirty pages. Because of limited mechanisms of distribution, periodicals were focussed primarily on urban centers; the majority of them were published in London. They were delivered to the coffeehouses (where a single issue would be read by a number of male readers), delivered to homes (the means of access for most urban women), sold at booksellers and tobacconists, or hawked on the streets (the Athenian Mercury, for instance, dedicated Volume 11 to 'the Worshipfull Society of Mercury Women in and About the City of London'- its street hawkers). 9 Particularly popular titles might be extensively passed around by hand, sent to friends and relatives in the country, or, in a primitive version of the modern subscription, directly mailed by the bookseller. Individual issues were often subsequently collected and sold in bound volumes. 26




The popular periodical developed in the late seventeenth century partly as a consequence - and itself became partly a cause - of significant transformations in literacy and the public's reading habits. As a result of wider educational opportunities and increasing emphasis upon the importance of reading and writing, the seventeenth century experienced a general upswing in literacy rates. Moreover, accompanying this quantitative change in literacy is an apparent increase in reading activity among the literate, in part a response to the greater availability of accessible and affordable reading matter, such as periodicals. By the final decades of the seventeenth century, the reading public had expanded beyond the traditional ranks of the aristocracy, gentry, and upper levels of the professional classes, to encompass readers drawn from other walks of life, from lower-order professionals, commercial farmers, merchants, tradespeople, and skilled craftsmen, to domestic servants and even laborers. 10 The expanded reading public also included many women, who constitute virtually a separate category in readership statistics because there is historically a much less definite correlation between social class and education, reading habits, and even literacy for women than for men. At this point, women's literacy and women's education lagged far behind that of men. Even upper-class women were usually educated in a way different from and inferior to their male counterparts. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the education available to English people included the elementary schools such as the petty or dame schools and the newlydeveloping charity schools, which accounted for the degree of literacy among the poor, girls as well as boys; private tutors for the children, especially the boys, of the wealthy; the Dissenting academies that trained boys initially in classics for the Nonconformist ministry and later in a 'modern' curriculum for business; the classics-oriented grammar schools which were in the process of becoming increasingly socially restrictive; and the universities. 11 But, regardless of social class, almost all except the most rudimentary education was restricted to boys, and even on the elementary level boys were more likely to be taught to read and especially to write than girls; even the wealthier girls received less training in reading and writing than in such feminine accomplish-



ments as needlework, music, and the preserving of condiments. So pronounced was this distinction, Ruth Perry argues, that by the late seventeenth century, 'gender had become a more important determinant of educational status than social class': While the sons of rich plebeians were being educated at Oxford and Cambridge to fill the ranks of the church, it was becoming more and more commonplace for women who were their social superiors to remain ignorant and illiterate .... Increasingly it was possible and seemly for a man to move up in the world whereas for a woman the obstacle of gender was insurmountable. (lvfary Astell 104-5) While the sons of plebeians certainly constituted a distinct minority at the dominantly upper-class universities, women of even the highest classes were barred altogether from attending. This genderbased distinction operated at all educational levels, so that although women's literacy was, apparently, increasing in the urban centers, it was a more rudimentary, limited literacy than that of their male counterparts. The gap within the literate population between male and female levels of sophistication in reading and writing was recognized and accommodated by the popular periodical seeking to build an audience. According women a highly visible role in the periodical as readers, contributors, and correspondents became an important part of the periodical's pioneering appeal to an extended and therefore less sophisticated readership. As a popularizer of reading, the periodical press of the late seventeenth century both responded to and tried to encourage a profound change - and the cultural perception of a profound change - in the nature and scope of literary activity. This change consisted primarily of a transformation in the social definition of reading, in the cultural consciousness of who readers were and what they read. The late seventeenth-century reconstitution of the reader had its roots in post-Reformation Protestant encouragement of reading as a means to instill godliness and regulate conduct; reading became a means of advancing religion. Yet the notion of widespread literacy was potentially a revolutionary one, as the Civil War period briefly illustrated, with its extensive deployment of political pamphleteering and the activities of radical Puritan and Dissenting sects, whose egalitarian, 'levelling' activities found expression in print (Hill 17).





But for the most part, after the Civil War as before, the advocates of literacy promoted its role in regulation, both social and spiritual, and its increasing economic advantages. After the re-establishment of the monarchy in 1660 and the subsequent discarding of the male Stuart line in 1688, the extension of reading became a particular province of the middle classes, frequently Low Church or Dissenting, whose literary entrepreneurs encouraged the expansion of the reading public both as a commercially lucrative endeavor and as a means of shaping the public's reading habits and patterns ofbehavior. 12 The revolutionary potential of reading was channelled into a much more constrained and delimited notion of literary empowerment, one that stressed the connection between reading and the acquisition of broadly 'useful' information and that employed reading as a tool for the reformation of 'manners and morals' and agent in the crusade against social vices (such as duelling, gambling, prostitution, and adultery). In the hands of such middle-class entrepreneurs as John Dunton and Daniel Defoe, the popular periodical became an agent in that larger struggle to assert another set of Puritan-inspired, but increasingly secularized, moral and economic values against those perceived as traditional, aristocratic, and morally suspect. W'ithin this context, then, reading became a mechanism through which writers, though unconscious of the long-term significance of their work, both established the beginnings of what would later become middleclass hegemony and helped to prepare middle-class readers for their eventual hegemonic role. At the same time the practice of reading became the vehicle for dispensing a coalescing set of middle-class values to a newly expanded audience through the provision of respectable entertainment and the reformist shaping of behavior. LITERACY A"'D THE PRACTICE OF READI:\'G

Studies of literacy in the seventeenth century tend to give empirical support to the theses about the extension of active reading practices into the middle classes. 13 This activity was not only a result of a rise in literacy, including a dramatic rise in women's literacy, but, even more importantly for reading patterns in the late seventeenth century, it signified a greater degree of exercise of that literacy. Though among the country poor, for example, disuse and



the difficulty of acquiring books might have eroded what reading and writing skills they possessed (Altick 18-19), there is evidence that among the urban middle classes and segments of the working classes reading practices expanded and became regularized. Thus social historians like Lawrence Stone speak of a late seventeenthcentury qualitative, rather than a quantitative, alteration in literacy patterns ('Literacy' 129). 14 It has often been asserted that the literacy growth rate for men had stabilized by about 1675, maintaining a fairly constant rate over the next hundred years (Altick 30; Stone, 'Literacy' 109). But more recent studies indicate a contradictory fluctuation among and within various social groups. For instance, David Cressy finds that the literacy rate among yeomen and husbandmen oscillated in the late seventeenth century, but that tradesmen - particularly the commercial elite, the skilled craftsmen, and those engaged in manufacture and industry - generally gained in literacy. Those living in urban areas, notably London, had a great advantage over their rural counterparts (Order 129-41). Most significant for the study of the largely metropolitan periodical is Cressy's finding of especially high and widespread literacy rates in London; in particular, he contends, the literacy of women (as well as that of servants and apprentices) seems to have increased dramatically in the late seventeenth century within the urban population. He concludes that despite the high percentage of female illiteracy in the first half of the seventeenth century, 'By the 1690s the level of illiteracy among London women was reduced to 52%, with further improvement into the eighteenth century. London became unusually demanding of literacy among its residents and was uniquely hospitable to developing female accomplishments' (Order 129) Y Such a high literacy rate for urban women forms part of the larger pattern in seventeenth-century England that, Cressy concludes elsewhere, indicates 'an irregular transition to widespread literacy' ('Levels of illiteracy' ISO). Cressy's studies suggest that there might be a statistical explanation for some of those 'qualitative' changes in literacy patterns which manifested themselves in the expansion and increasingly visible activity of the popular reading public. In particular, a dramatic increase in the numbers of literate urban women might well provide part of the explanation for the remarkably extensive internal representation of women as readers 30


and even writers of periodical texts. At the same time, any real growth of a culture's reading public clearly represents a phenomenon different from the simple ability to read (or to sign one's name, the standard measurement of many literacy studies); it assumes, rather, a growth in the habitual practice of reading. And the habit of reading, particularly as it spreads outside of an educated elite, is finally determined by factors beyond mere literacy: by, for example, a cultural climate conducive to spreading the practice of reading, and the existence of a body of literature, like the periodical, affordable, materially accessible, and interesting to a potential reading public. 16 There is obviously some connection between the statistical growth of the reading public in the late seventeenth century, particularly in urban areas, and the proliferation of cheap, understandable, regularly available urban periodicals that announced a desire to attract 'all conditions' of readers and sent out frequent appeals in particular to the 'fair sex.' As a sociological phenomenon, the expansion of the reading public across class and gender lines was identified, manipulated, and probably also accelerated by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century entrepreneurs creating a new body of popular literature. But given the uncertainties of the collection and interpretation of pertinent data concerning literacy and reading in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it would be difficult to determine a precise cause-andeffect relationship between, for example, the numbers of literate women and their activity as readers, or publishing statistics and the size and nature of the popular audience. For the study of the representation of readers within the periodical text, however, such direct correlations are not crucial: rather, the significant factors are cultural perceptions of readers, and the periodical's influence upon and embodiment of those perceptions. Thus, the popular periodicals' commercially and rhetorically motivated constructions of their readers are textual phenomena subject to interpretation, a process distinct from the statistical investigation of literacy or readership. Within the realm of the periodical text, important cultural signs were formulated. This is not to say that the represented, textual audience can or should be separated from our information about an empirical, historical audience, but neither is it to say that the periodical's representations of its readers are accurate reflections of historical 31


readers. Rather, the periodical's representation of its audience is a textual projection - sometimes idealized, frequently ideological whose constitution and influence cannot be understood by statistical or descriptive investigation alone. To look at the periodicals' representation of their readers, then, is to examine multifaceted rhetorical and ideological written constructions. THE REFOR:\1IST AGENDA A:\D THE WO:\IA:\ READER

The popular periodicals acted upon their self~proclaimed mandate to instruct as well as entertain by providing information on a variety of 'useful' topics. To this purpose, the lvlemoirs for the Ingenious; or, the Universal Afercury ( 1694) described itself as a compendium of 'Choice Collections, and Curious Observations in History, Philosophy, iVlathematicks, Physick, Philology, and other Arts and Sciences.' In its first issue, the editors promised to 'endeavor a Familiar Style,' and to write plainly, 'being willing to consult the Capacity of the Meanest, and chuse such Subjects as may not only be Pleasant, but the Knowledge of them really Profitable to the Vulgar.' Their publication, they continued, would enable their readers, 'with a very small Expense, either of 1v1oney, Time, or Pains,' to 'reap the Fruits of the Studies of the most Learned in all Faculties.' Even the more serious Afonthly lvfiscellany; or, 1Hemoirs for the Curious ( 1707-9), before it became after its first year primarily a collection of learned abstracts, promised to 'please the Ingenious and Instruct the meaner Capacities,' s.:eking an audience of 'all Sorts and Conditions of J'den'; its title indicated that its abstracts of scholarly books would be 'Interspers'd with several Discourses on Trade, Botany, l\1athematicks, Law, Physick, Poetry, and other Useful and Diverting Subjects.' Although the popular periodical did not neglect the more educated readers attracted to relatively highbrow (though sometimes eccentric) serials such as the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Socie£y (begun in 166.5) or the various book-review journals such as the Universal and Historical Biblioteque (1687) and the Works of the Learned ( 1691-2), its rh.:torical focus emphasized those readers who lacked the resources of education that the former required. The popular periodical usually employed a style pointedly shorn of elaborate grammatical constructions and unexplained classical allusions, and avoided the appearance of a



scholarly orientation. For instance, as an indication of responsiveness to a less-educated audience, the Memoirs for the Ingenious (1694), a continuation of an earlier periodical of the same title, promised to atone for the exclusiveness of its predecessor: 'And seeing that it was the chief Complaint against Monsieur de Ia Crose's J1;femoirsfor the Ingenious, that they were too Speculative, and calculated only for Scholars; we shall take all possible Care to avoid that Objection' (No.l)Y As part of its instructional program, the popular periodical also launched an attack against 'vicious' behavior (even when it profited from its sensational value). The very early Mercuri us Infernus: or, News from the Other World: Discovering the Cheats and Abuses of This ( 1680) pledged to serve as a 'looking-Glass in which the Vicious may see their Vices, and the Vertuous may shun them.' And John Dunton's the Night-Walker: or, Evening Rambles in search of Lewd Women, with the Conferences Held with them, etc, to Be published monthly, 'till a Discovery be made of all the chief Prostitutes in Englandfrom the Pensionary Miss down to the Common Strumpet (1696-7) presented woman-on-the-street interviews with prostitutes in the service of 'publick Reformation.' Though a periodical like the Night- Walker clearly served public titillation more than public reform, Dunton's Athenian Mercury often took a more soberly reformist stance, and other publications, such as the 'Advice from the Scandalous Club' of Defoe's Review, not to mention the highly touted Tatler and Spectator, attempted to present themselves convincingly as guardians of public morality. Despite their relatively small representation within the literate public, women readers were associated with characteristics that rendered them a logical target audience of the popular periodical: their limited educational background, the leisure with which, accurately or not, they were widely perceived to be endowed, and their reputed responsiveness to the utile et dulce formula, that appeared to combine the characteristics of the few genres previously associated with women readers, the romance, the sermon, and the conduct book. It quickly became common for a new periodical to pause in one of its early issues in order to apostrophize the 'Fair Sex.' Peter Motteux, for instance, declared in the first issue of the Gentleman's Journal ( 1692) that 'The fair Sex need never fear to be exposed to the Blush, when they honour this with a Reading; 'tis partly writ for tpem, and I am too much their



Votary to be guilty of such a Crime ... this is no less the Ladies journal than the Gentlemens' Qanuary, 1692). Indeed, Motteux elaborated upon that sentiment by entitling one entire issue the Lady's journal (October 1693), and filling it with the poems and essays of women. The first issue of the Diverting Post ( 1704-5) repeated Motteux's association of female readership (invoking women as both muses and contributors as well) with the assurance of an irreproachable moral tone: And here I cannot forbear owning my great Obligations to those of the Fair Sex, to whose Inspiring Charms, or Poetick Genius, no small Part of these compositions is owing; and, upon their Account on particular, Care has, and will be taken to make this Collection as inoffensive, as pleasant. The Athenian Mercury (1691-7) acknowledged women as a 'Strong Party in the \Vorld,' frequently answered women's letters in its regular issues, set aside monthly 'ladies' issues,' and may have sponsored the spin-off, the Ladies Mercury. Likewise, the Athenian Mercury's most successful imitator, the epistolary British Apollo (1708-10), printed much correspondence from women, declaring, in response to one female reader, 'Madam, Our society resolves to pay a particular veneration to the fair sex, in whatever they shall think fit to communicate to us' (No. 13). Even Daniel Defoe's Weekfy Review of the Affairs of France ( 1704-13), which consisted primarily of essays upon trade and politics, contained a question-and-answer feature, the 'Advice from the Scandalous Club,' that printed letters from women. Several factors probably influenced women's importance as readers of periodicals: their growing literacy, particularly among the urban middle-class population, the possibility that a relatively high percentage of them regularly exercised that literacy, the accessibility of periodicals to a range of incomes and educational levels, and the serial publication and topicality of periodicals that allowed them to engage social issues of immediate interest to women. Whatever lay behind their reasoning, periodical editors certainly perceived women as an economic interest group that it was advantageous to attract, and this they did by characterizing them as a social group necessitous of the periodical's oversight. In addition, by orienting their publications to what was generally perceived to be women's typical reading levels, the editors



established a common denominator of all reading levels, male and female. Ignorance of classical languages and literature, signifying lack of access to higher forms of education, became a frequently employed sign of the common denominator. Though submissions written in Latin were occasionally printed in the popular periodicals, they were often translated in explicit deference to the ladies and implicit deference to non-classically educated men. Defoe translates two letters (Review 53 and 99) written in bad Latin, 'that the Lad yes, for whose Instruction they [the Scandalous Club] Write this, may not be at the trouble to enquire the Meaning.' Motteux translates a Latin story, with the explanation, 'I have endeavor'd to make it speak English as well as I could, merely for the sake of the beautiful Sex' Qune, 1692). And the British Apollo informs its correspondents that 'We desire a forebearance also of sending Questions in Latin, since we think ourselves equally oblig'd to inform all our Subscribers, which may be done in the English tongue; but not in another' (No. 19). Eschewing the classics, a pronounced class marker, was an ideological gesture: not only did it define a readership, but it established and celebrated an alternate, popular literary tradition in explicit contrast to an elite one. The periodicals' attention to women was based upon an attempt to identify and make coherent a component of the reading public that was probably increasing, but that also to some extent was already established as a consumer force by the end of the seventeenth century. Altick thinks that the success of the early novels in the eighteenth century 'revealed the extent of the female audience which for several decades had been waiting for something [more stimulating than romances and less boring than improvement books] to read' (45). But before the novel developed as a genre which would tap that audience, the periodical had for several decades been soliciting women readers by using arguments rather similar to those employed by Altick. That is, the periodical presented itself as a solution to a perceived need: the need to provide women with respectable, educational entertainment as an antidote to the potential problems widely believed to be posed by empty female leisure. The promises of respectability and 'improvement' which can be found in the authorial prefaces to much early eighteenth-century fiction - including the most romantic and fantastical - echo a rhetoric well established in the periodical. 35


The popular periodicals were not, of course, the first publications to write for women. Authorial awareness of the individual 'woman reader' certainly antedated the seventeenth century, and the early periodicals were to some extent adopting an already-established rhetorical mode of addressing that reader. 18 However, differing in both kind and degree from earlier books, the popular periodicals' address to women helped to construct a category of writing aimed at an audience explicitly diflerentiated from traditional audiences. By selecting women - and often specifying middle- rather than upper-class women - as metonymic of the non-elite public, the periodicals established their literary territory outside of the aristocratic and upper-class circles in which women as readers and dedicatees had traditionally been located. At the same time, the periodical editors acknowledged women in their own right as a significant consumer group for their product; hence the recurrent promise in periodicals to provide material 'of interest to the fair sex.' So by pitching their language to an educational level consistent with their female readers, the popular periodicals rejected the exclusiveness characteristic of elite literature, thus acknowledging their general expanded audience. But at the same time, the notion of presenting material particularly designated for female readers began to establish categories, within the periodical, of gender-defined 'interest.' The early periodicals' specific address to their women readers, while acknowledging the increasing importance of women as consumers of literature, began to construct an image of female readers as separate and distinct from male readers. Along with targeting women as a useful representative audience to avoid overexclusiveness, the periodicals also characterized as 'feminine' a narrow range of particular concerns. Thus the Athenian i\1ercury's 'ladies' issues' concentrated on romantic or matrimonial topics, the Ladies Journal issue of the Gentleman's Journal addressed love, marriage, women's education, and conduct, and these elements became central to the incorporation of feminine concerns in the Tatler and Spectator. These representations of women's roles and spheres of influence conf1ated the newly emerging figure of the female reader with these particular categories of experience and interest. Characteristic of this construction from its beginning was the merging of the description of 'natural' feminine concerns with the prescription that certain concerns were 'naturally' feminine. 36


The earliest periodicals, less overtly didactic than their successors, for the most part balanced description and prescription of feminine interests; later periodicals, beginning with Addison and Steele's publications, began more overtly to emphasize prescription. But description itself is not neutral. Both description and prescription were ideologically charged: though the former was implicit and the latter explicit, both contributed to the construction of a feminine norm. AUDIEi\ICE COl\fPLICITY IN THE EARLY PERIODIC\L

The most convenient date to mark the beginning of the popular periodical is 1691, the year of the f1rst issue of John Dunton's Athenian A1ercury, which strongly influenced the course of periodical publication. 19 An epistolary periodical, the Athenian A1ercu~y (more fully discussed in chapter 3) established a new trajectory of seventeenth-century publishing by providing its readers with instruction and entertainment conveyed through 'correspondence' between the audience and the periodical's editors. The Athenian i\Jercury's innovative practice of publishing readers' letters, thus establishing the appearance of a dialogue between parties mutually concerned in the production of the periodical, concretized the association between the popular periodical and its varied audience by explicitly figuring that audience within the text. This overt acknowledgment of readership, which extended into the representation of individual readers within the periodical's text, set the pattern for the early development of the popular periodical. Though not all periodicals depmded upon audience participation to the degree of the Athenian i\JercUJ~Y and its epistolary imitators, even the non-epistolary periodicals opened themselves to a large amount of reader representation. In fact, the appearance of audience participation in the construction of the text became a generic characteristic of the early popular periodical. A periodical's publication of letters ostensibly written by readers raises (as in modern examples) the vexed question of authenticity: were the letters the genuine work of readers, or were they editorial fabrications? Certainly, the often-heard editorial complaints about the unmanageable quantity of letters received could have served the purpose of advertising and self-inflation. And editors probably did have some hand in the writing of the letters. But the sheer



volume and variety of correspondence in a number of different types of periodicals, the contemporary phenomenon Watt calls the 'cult of letter-writing,' and the survival of manuscript letters written to the editors of periodicals, suggest that the periodicals had no need to fabricate an audience desire to correspond with them. This, however, is only conjecture. Given the relative scarcity of publishing information, the question of authenticity is impossible to resolve completely. Nor, for the purposes of this study, is it necessary to do so. Framed differently, the question of readers' letters becomes a question of representational practices: how were the letters presented and how did they function within the text as ideological and often didactic representations of social relationships, of consciousness, of values? In this context, the search for 'actual' authors can blind us to the function of these subjects as textual constructions. As Foucault and others have suggested, criticism's traditional focus on the author in fact involves a kind of mystification which prevents us from looking at the text and the subject as social products and as functions of discourse. 20 Rather than continuing to fix upon the notion of 'an originating subject,' Foucault argues, we should ask: Under what conditions and through what forms can an entity like the subject appear in the order of discourse; what position does it occupy; what functions does it exhibit; and what rules does it follow in each type of discourse? In short, the subject (and its substitutes) must be stripped of its creative role and analysed as a complex and variable function of discourse. (137-8) Whether or not the letters published in the early periodicals were written by 'actual' readers, they were represented as the work of the periodical's readership: the appearance of reader participation was one of the most important components of the periodical's attempts to collect and define a new audience, to project an image of a community of readers mutually engaged in the production of the text. 21 As a consequence, the letters printed in the periodicals provide a multiplicity of examples of the construction of the writing subjectincluding the woman writing subject - in the late seventeenth century. \Vith particular attention to the women correspondents to



the Athenian Mercury and other periodicals, the focus upon the subject allows us to ask how the feminine writing subject was constructed and what interests the representation of the feminine 'I' in the periodical served. As an early force in the cultural reconstruction of the woman, the periodical increasingly represented a 'reconstructed' feminine subjectivity. The publication of correspondence was so characteristic of the popular periodical that it serves as a useful way of distinguishing 'popular' from other contemporary forms of periodical literature. Some intellectual journals did print reader contributions, such as essays upon scientific subjects submitted by 'gentlemen scientists' in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, for instance, but these publications were generally not as dependent upon reader submissions as were their popular counterparts. Nor did they represent variety in the manner of the popular periodical, which sought to figure a wide, varied readership as a testimony to the success of its audience-building program. Regardless of their format, the early periodicals established the appearance of close ties with their audience: the miscellany, like the Gentleman's Journal, the diary-almanac, like the Ladies' Diar_v (begun in I 704), and the early essay periodical, like the Tatler and even the more homogeneous Spectator, all depended heavily upon reader submissions. And the epistolary periodicals, which constructed an elaborate system of representations based upon the conceit of a continuing 'personal' relationship with their readers, established audience complicity as a necessary condition of the publication itself. The two decades of imitation and experiment that followed the inception of the Athenian Afercury continued to build an audience notable for the heterogeneity of its figuration within the periodical text: between 1691 and 1709, the date of the Taller's appearance, a number of varied publications emerged, some short-lived, others remarkably enduring, some attempting to capitalize upon Dunton's format, others seeking engagement with a similar audience in different ways. Dunton himself continued to ply the Mercury trade, even after the demise of the original publication in 1697, with a variety of 'Athenian' offshoots, such as the Post-Angel ( 170 1-2) and the Athenian Catechism ( 1704), and even republication of the original lvfercury letters and some new ones, in the Athenian Oracle ( l 703), the Athenae Redivivae: or the new Athenian Oracle ( 1704), and the Athenian News: or, Dunton 'J Oracle (1710). Dunton remained



jealously possessive of the epistolary periodical, which he saw as his invention, vehemently attacking those who attempted to imitate the Athenian lvfercury both during its run and afterwards. In his Athenianism ( 171 0) he included among the most objectionable 'interlopers' Tom Brown's Lacedaemonian [London} Afercury (both a parody and a rival of Dunton's publication), Defoe's Review, and The British Apollo (Parks I 04). These were periodicals that adopted in one way or another the epistolary format, printing questions or letters from readers along with editorial replies. Of these periodicals, the British Apollo ( 1708-11) was the most complete imitation. Although (unlike the Athenian Mercury) it was published by subscription until its last yearn and contained a news feature (published in epistolary format), for several years it figured its 'Society of Gentlemen' fielding questions from its audience, many from women, providing inf(Jrmation about a variety of topics, giving advice on personal matters, and complaining about the volume of correspondence. Shortly before switching to an epistolary format for the news, the editors of the Apollo, who had already promised a supplement to contain the overflow of questions (~o. 8), reported the receipt of many letters asking them to leave out the news, 'that we may insert Answers to all the Questions which come to us, and which come so thick now that otherwise we cannot answer all.' The editors replied that they would do so if it would seem to please, but 'it will give us much more Pains and Trouble' (No. 32). From its inception, editorial notice of a large volume of correspondence was a standard feature of the epistolary periodical. On numerous occasions, the Athenian /vlercury announced a surfeit of letters, requesting its readers to cease their correspondence until a later date. Daniel Def(Je, whose 'Advice from the Scandalous Club' was not his primary interest in the predominantly economic Review, also frequently complained about the difliculties in dealing with his large volume of correspondence. He dropped the 'Scandalous Club' feature after the second volume, by which time he had issued separate issues and supplements and even a separate periodical (the Little Review) to deal with the overf1ow. His audience's interest in correspondence, he complained, was f(Jrcing him too far from his preferred subject: And on this Account he [!'vir Review J declares, that answering



Doubts, resolving Questions, and deciding Controversies, were as remote from his Thoughts, when he began this Paper, as making a Map of the World in the Moon. But the Consequence of Things, as is already noted, had hook'd him in, and he finds his Table spread with Cases of Conscience, Enigma's, difficulties in Philosophy, in Politicks, in Ethicks, Oeconomicks, and what not. Jean Tradescant, in his Chamber of Rareties, had not a greater Variety than he has, and is like to have. Here are Questions in Divinity, Morality, Love, State, War, Trade, Language, Poetry, l'v1arriage, Drunkenness, Whoring, Gaming, Vowing, and the like. (Supplementary Journal to the Advice From the Scandalous Club, September 1704) Despite his complaints, Defoe continued to respond to queries in the advertising section of the Review throughout virtually all of the periodical's run. In a later issue, he responded to the charge made against editors 'of first writing letters to themselves, and then answering them in Print,' by claiming: 'I have been so far from having occasion to do so, that I have thrown by a monstrous Heap of such Letters, wholly un-answer'd' (October 4, 1711). Explicit invitations to readers to share in the production of the text, which often included specific invitations to women readers, were also standard in the non-epistolary periodical, which printed not only correspondence but other forms of writing as well. Peter Motteux, for instance, whose Gentleman's Journal loosely borrowed the epistolary format in its vaguely delineated framework of 'a Letter to a Gentleman in the Country,' consistently printed the essays, poems, and letters of his readers. Throughout his miscellany's run, Motteux frequently apologized that he could not answer or print all of the letters he received, and even in his second issue he begged pardon for not providing personal replies to 'the many ingenious Letters' sent to him; nonetheless, he requested: 'But it being impossible he [himself, the editor J should know by himself a thousand things which the publick would gladly know, such persons as have any thing to communicate, may be pleas'd to send it to him at the Black-boy Coffee-house in the Ave-MaryLand, not forgetting to discharge the Postage' (No. 2). His Lady's Journal, which begins with an elaborate editorial panegyric 'To the Fair Sex,' collects poems, songs, and prose written by women,



including the essays 'Of Modesty,' 'On Matrimony,' and 'That women may apply themselves to Liberal Arts and Sciences.' John Dunton's Post-Angel (1701) carried the idea of audience production of the text into the individual act of reading when this most immodest of writers modestly suggested that the reader might wish to 'cause this Work to be INTERLEAV'D and add some new heads of his own to supply my Defects' (No.I). In addition, Dunton notified his public of the 'great Assistance' he expected from his readers, and requested submissions upon an enormous variety of topics, including 'Fashions, Courtships, Weddings, (for I wou'd not forget the Ladies).' He promised that 'what ever is sent upon these Heads, shall never fail to be inserted in the Post-Angel' (No.I). Later, Dunton again singled out his women readers: THE LADIES need no longer suffer under the cruel Tyrany that's

exercised over their Sex, (I can't say by us Men) but by their own Modesty, which keeps 'em from obliging the World by those GIFTS and Advantages, Heaven has bestowed on 'em, for here they are invited to bring their Thoughts in any Dress that pleases their Fancies. (No. 2) The early periodicals published in abundance work represented as readers'. The Night- Walker printed letters of repentance from sinners, presumably moved to confession by its stories of prostitutes; the Memoirs for the Curious ( 170 l) requested readers to send them 'any Pertinent Questions [and] they shall be fairly Herein Proposed to the World, either With, or Without the Author's Name' (No.I); the Memoirs for the Ingenious (1694) invited 'the Ingenious to impart what Curiosities they have collected or observed; and we assure them, that whatever they think fit to communicate, shall be entertained with a due regard, and publish'd in such manner as suits our Design, if it not be contrary to Religion, Good Manners, or the Government' (No.I). Under the cover of such qualifications as these, most periodicals exercised some degree of overt censorship of their correspondence, and it is probable that they also exercised unacknowledged censorship, or at least editorial alteration, of the material they published. Yet their address to their audience turned upon the pretext, extensively promoted, of reader complicity in the production of the text.





The periodicals' practice of encouraging a high degree of audience engagement with the text represented an attempt to establish a continuity between readers' lives and the medium of print, between extra-textual experience and textual expression. This relationship encouraged audience reliance upon published material not only for the transmission of news, but for the dissemination of other kinds of information and advice as well. In his fine study of the origins of the novel, Lennard Davis argues for a model of literary history in which a genre is formed as part of a field of discourse, in this case 'the ensemble of written texts that constitute the novel' ( 17) which Davis calls 'the news/novels discourse.' The key attribute of this discourse, to which the popular periodical belonged, was the blurring of fact and fiction, and one of its principal characteristics was a high degree of audience involvement: it 'forcibly decreas[ ed] the distance between the reader and the text' (58). Ballads, pamphlets, criminal narratives, and newspapers, all early components of the news/novels discourse (slightly pre-dating the popular periodical) claimed to represent a topical and immediate 'reality' connected in some direct way with readers' extra-textual experience, developing, in Davis's formulation, 'an audience whose reflex was to turn to the printed page to find out what was happening outside the window, as it were' (71). The newspaper, for example, provided readers with both a representation and a verification of what was going on around them. As this study will show, the popular periodical, when it developed as a component of this discourse and began to emphasize guidance of private life, taught its audience to turn to the printed page to find out what was going on inside themselves as well as out, to seek in the periodical explanations and advice concerning social roles, behavior, and feelings. The news/novels discourse, which Davis explains was characterized by a new reader closeness to the events which appeared in publications, developed various forms of printed literature which encouraged the idea of reader participation, a literature whose topicality and serial publication increased the possibility of the interaction between reader and text. Furthermore, readers' expectations became influenced by such contemporary phenomena as pamphlet wars, which became a consequence (and a cause) of 'this



feeling that one could answer a text and respond to the printed word' (66). \Vhen it emerged as part of this same field of discourse, the popular periodical opened itself to the appearance of direct audience engagement with the content and even the production of the text. In fact, Davis locates the 'culmination' of the process of reader involvement in the Athenian Afercu~v, 'which spent most of its time answering readers' letters on love, philosophy, mathematics, and religion' (67). This phenomenon of reader involvement may have reached its logical extension in those popular periodicals, such as the Athenian Mercu~y and its subsequent imitator, the British Apollo, which were entirely devoted to epistolary exchange; but the programmatic representation of reader complicity, frequently figured through the publication of correspondence, became a central feature of virtually all popular periodicals. Botein, Censer, and Ritvo observe that, 'The relationship between periodical producers and periodical consumers was undoubtedly complex. The audience, or at least the publisher's image of it, probably influenced periodical content even as the content of a periodical transmitted editorial influence outward' (468). Such reciprocity was explicitly figured in the early periodicals that represented exchanges between readers and editors. Through the publications of Dunton and his contemporaries, extending beyond the work of Addison and Steele into the eighteenth-century magazine, the popular periodical textualized and refined a system of reader engagement which became one of its most significant defining characteristics. During their first few decades of publication, these periodicals, which gradually diminished news reportage and partisan political controversy or discarded them altogether, nonetheless retained an immediacy of engagement with their audience by virtue of their serial publication and the unprecedented degree of reader integration. Unlike the ballad or the pamphlet, the periodical established a more or less regular schedule of publication, thus enabling it to maintain an engagement with its audience which persisted over time. The periodical fostered this sense of engagement by incorporating readers' writing in the form of letters and amateur belles lettres, establishing the appearance of dialogue between editors and readers and sometimes among readers themselves, and representing readers writing about a variety of public and private concerns. The periodical's active engagement with its readers was partly a 44


product of the economic circumstances of periodical publication. In particular, the dependence upon a consistent readership produced an intense relationship with readers whose opinions had the power to determine if the periodical would survive or fail. Unlike a book or pamphlet that does not sell, but still has been printed, the periodical had to sell in order to be embodied: its fortunes, its very corporeal existence, were subject to the control of readership in a way unequalled even by the method of publishing books by subscription, which did not have to maintain an audience in order to print a first edition. As a result, the extent of audience control over the survival of the periodical fostered a degree of audience complicity in its continuation, a sense of audience power that was exploited by the periodical editors who consistently appealed to their audiences, sampling opinion, engaging in dialogue, at times announcing a change in format or direction responsive to their ongoing assessment of their audience. Such editorial attention to readers was particularly apparent in regard to women, as the periodicals' solicitations of submissions from their female readers, quoted above, demonstrate. The periodicals addressed women in a language amenable to, and solicitous of; women readers also in order to enlist women's power to support the reformist project of commenting upon and prescribing feminine conduct. Through its continuing interaction with a regular audience, the early periodical seemed greatly to reduce the distance between reader and text. The periodical's topicality and regular appearance over a period of time created a condition in which the periodical could represent itself as absorbed in the temporal progress of readers' lives. In addition, the appearance of dialogue or relationship established between editors and readers created a context of apparent reciprocity, built up and maintained over a period of time. The periodicals emphasized this appearance by directly intervening in their readers' lives in a variety of ways: printing music to be played at home, as in the Gentleman's Journal; giving advice about the most intimate details of readers' lives, as in all of the epistolary periodicals; supplying a quick course in 'learning,' behavior, and mannns for the upwardly mobile; promising to send private responses to some readers' letters. Such ostensible involvement in the private lives of periodical readers seemed to implicate the private extra-textual experiences of readers in their textual representation. Reciprocally, the periodicals



encouraged the notion of the reader-writer relationship transcending the text, constructing out of a textual relationship an appearance of their extra-textual engagement in readers' lives. For instance, the editors of both epistolary and non-epistolary journals often promised to provide 'personal,' unpublished responses to readers' letters. This strategy transformed the metaphorical into the actual (or ostensible): by constructing their publications around the metaphor of personal correspondence, the epistolary journal and other audience-involvement periodicals created the appearance of a kind of public 'intimacy.' By promising personal attention, they then promised to retranslate that intimacy into private terms. In this vein, Peter Motteux referred to 'A Lady, whose Letters I shall answer as she desires when she is pleased to let me know where to direct mine to her, writes to me something very pleasant of the Effect which the last Post-bill had on several Gentlemen that live near her,' and then prints her anecdote Oune, 1692). On several occasions Defoe asked certain readers whose letters were not appropriate for publication to 'give Notice, how a Letter may be directed to her [or him]' (e.g. Review Vol. l, No. 10 and Vol. 2, No. 37). And in at least one case, the writer herself requested a personal, unpublished response: The Lady's Case that sent a Letter sign'd i\1.. G. and desires not to have her Letter expos'd, but would have an Answer, was read, and she much pity'd; but as she intimates, the Person concern'd, must needs know the Matter, if publish'd; and she will find the Consequences, therefore the Lady is desired to signify where she will be sent to, and a Private Answer shall be given her, when the Society are at Leisure to Concert a proper Relief for her. (Little Review, No. 14) In addition to such ostensible involvement in the private lives of their readers, the periodical texts, developing over time, assumed a degree of self-referentiality to indicate the texts' ongoing engagement in the lives of their readers. For instance, periodicals refer in one issue to details reported - or yet to appear - in another; correspondents respond to remarks made in an earlier issue by the editor or by another reader; references appear in subsequent issues to matters raised in previous ones. And sometimes the same letterwriters appear in a series of issues, elaborating their ideas or circumstances, or engaging in dialogue with other letter-writers.



The intermixing of two systems of reference, internal and external to the periodicals, contributes to one of the periodicals' most pronounced characteristics: their creation of a kind of 'community' surrounding the text, constructed through the joint participation of the periodicals' producers and consumers. Unlike their predecessors the newspapers, the popular periodicals based their engagement with their audience less upon the fulfillment of readers' desires for political or military information than upon the satisfaction of more broadly-defined social needs, which ranged from advice about matrimony to the creation of a sense of identity as readers. These needs ran the gamut from the relatively trivial to those deeply centered in readers' private lives, activated, in part, by the periodicals' implication that the act of reading the publication constituted participation in a kind of community of the text. The periodical presented itself as a forum for social interaction, textually expressed, which imitated extratextual structures of social relationship, both egalitarian and hierarchical. Within the periodicals, readers interacted both with each other and with the authoritative voices of the editors. The probability that the great majority of the periodicals' readers never picked up the pen to write to the periodical - and the possibility, given this period's educational procedures, that some of those readers might not know how to write - does not negate the rhetorical function of a textual 'community' created through the projection of the reader as a potential correspondent and participant. The community of the text, a construction of writing, was a figure imposed by the periodical, distinct from, though engaged in interaction with, the forms of social organization actually lived by its audience. 23 Consistent with Natalie Davis's characterization of the printed book as 'a carrier of relationships' ( 192), both internal and external, the early popular periodical constructed an identity for its audience based upon the conceit of community, itself dependent upon a definition of reading as complicity in the making of the text, and as the potentiality for active engagement with and within it. To a newly active readership, the periodicals provided images of themselves, textual manifestations of their identity as readers. These periodicals, which were dedicated to formulating and satisfying a variety of reader needs from instruction and entertainment to moral counsel, also satisfied a need for identity - as 47


readers, as members of the periodical community. The periodicals' printing of readers' letters, poetry, essays, and commentary, and their pattern of editorial references both to the audience in general and to specific readers (identified by name, pseudonym, or other distinguishing characteristic), concretized a reading public on the page. Perhaps the appeal of this textualization of the periodicals' readers owes something to the phenomenon Richard Sennett identifies as a condition of public life during the eighteenth century: an insecurity, both individual and collective, about the identity of both self and others. Sennett argues that our standard notion of eighteenth-century public consciousness, based upon 'the rise of the bourgeoisie,' is deceptive in its apparent familiarity: The sheer familiarity of the image obscures an important fact about class change; a rising or developing class usually doesn't have a clear idea of itself. Sometimes a sense of its rights comes to it before a sense of this identity; sometimes the facts of economic power march ahead of appropriate manners, tastes, and morals. The appearance of a new class can thus create a milieu of strangers in which many people are increasingly like each other but don't know it. (Public klan 49) Although by assuming the priority of ideology over political and economic hegemony I reverse Sennett's order of progression, his separation of the material and the conceptual forms of self-identity provides an insight into the popularity of the new periodicals, which created such a pronounced sense of audience involvement. By figuring its readership on the page, the popular periodical sought to provide its audience with a sense of itself. The periodical both expressed a relative diversity of experience and contained that experience within the framework of a fairly consistent and pronounced set of interpretations and values. By virtue of the very implication of its audience in the circumstances of textual production, the popular periodical was a particularly active and influential agent of cultural transmission. One result of the fluidity of exchange between producers and consumers was, in fact, the effectiveness of the periodical as a formulator and disseminator of an increasingly coherent system of values. Botein, Censer, and Ritvo observe: In their choice of what to print, determined



part by their


perception of demand, eighteenth-century editors supplied material that may have reinforced or activated various attitudes among their readers, possibly strengthening the consciousness of belonging to this or that definable group and helping to codify a common vocabulary of social identity. According to this formulation, the eighteenth-century periodical press should be regarded as not only a mirror of perceived reality but also an instrument of action and organization. (469) As an instrument of action and organization, the periodical collected a heterogeneous audience around its projection of a coalescing middle-class norm. This norm became particularly operative in conjunction with the representation of moral issues, matters of private experience, and revelations of private lives, all of which implicated women. Women figured prominently in accounts of 'private life' purported to represent individual experience, but in the process these accounts served to naturalize certain representations of women and to proffer such representations in a rhetorical way. In such cases, the periodical offered didactic lessons extrapolated from these narratives, dependent upon audience perception of the similarity, and transferability, of experience. Even in the less didactic periodicals, individual readers' submissions, functioning as a bridge between the periodical and its general public, clearly constructed out of the representations and selfrepresentations of individuals a powerful normative message. THE PERIODICAL AND THE REPRESENTATION OF THE WOMAN READER

All in all, the success of the popular periodical can be traced more to its ability both to fufill existing audience desires and to create new ones than to an indiscriminately receptive reading public. The already-established desire for entertainment and instruction were balanced by new needs created by the periodical itself: the desire to participate in an identifiable, textually-based 'community' of readers; the creation by regular serial publication of what Raymond Williams calls the 'habit' of reading, the need to turn to print for verification, even validation of social experience; and reader dependence upon the periodical as an agent implicated in the private realm. The textual representation of the audience



created figures of readers identified through the construction of desires which the periodicals presented themselves as satisfying: particularly the needs for information, advice, and regulation. Though the periodicals usually projected a generalized social need for their services (such as the need for information), they also typically clustered specific types of needs around specific subgroups of their audience, organized according to categories such as gender. So the periodicals constructed their representation of women readers in terms of characteristics and needs predicated upon certain definitions of the feminine, and at the same time created an image of femininity itself as an object of desire. Historically speaking, the early popular periodical permitted an unprecedented opening up of the mechanisms of print to women's concerns and women's self-representations, fostered by editors' recognition of the social and economic significance of women readers. But the very process of rendering the text accessible to women as both readers and writers created the possibility of establishing the boundaries and conditions of women's representation within the periodical as a means of addressing their conduct outside of it. In the earliest popular periodicals such as the Athenian Mercury, the Gentleman's Journal, and the British Apollo, the acts of defining and addressing women's needs, soliciting women's participation, and allowing women's self-representations were contextualized within a framework of gender which, though omnipresent, was relatively loosely defined. These periodicals' relative openness, in fact, permitted them occasionally to articulate the rationalist feminist arguments which were current in the later seventeenth century. In this way, the earliest periodicals exhibited contradictory tendencies, as they seemed to endorse some of the more radical feminist arguments of the day at the same time that they also seemed to propose an ideal of femininity based upon patriarchal conceptions of women's 'sphere' and women's 'nature.' A striking example of the periodical as a vehicle for rationalist feminist ideas appears in Motteux's Gentleman's Journal. Motteux regularly published liberal 'defenses' of women, but one essay, entitled 'Equality of both sexes asserted,' proffers a particularly radical argument, based upon the recognition of the social construction of femininity: one of the blindest of Prejudices is, that which makes men prefer



themselves to Women: Should a Woman pretend to preach, or command an Army, it would be a piece of Extravagance with relation to our Manners; yet if we rightly examine the thing, we will find that this only proceeds from Custom, which we persuade ourselves to be very well grounded, because it hath always been the same, and that Men are in actual possession. As for Women, they stick to the Lot which hath been prescribed to them, and confine themselves to their private condition, supposing it their natural state; so that things being setled in that manner, by the mutual consent of both Parties, this Order seems to us rather established by Nature, and an universal Consent, than by the Usurpation of Men. This argument, offering an analysis of the way in which a social construction becomes naturalized, reveals some of the connections between seventeenth-century rationalist feminist thinking and modern feminist critiques. Arguing the social construction of gender, the writer proceeds to assess its social cost: by 'reducing women to the low and narrow Sphere of domestic management,' men inflict worse upon themselves: 'their boasted Superiority costs them a world of toyls, much heavier to be born with, than the Submission of the Female Sex' Uanuary 1692: 9-10). 24 In very early periodicals such as the Gentleman's Journal, radical arguments coexisted in the same text with others ranging from liberal to conservative; frequently, the earliest periodicals offered arguments which, though certainly not as radical as the one above, fall into Blanchard's category of 'reform.' 25 Defoe's commentary about women, for example, struck a strong reformist note (illustrated by his program of women's education in the Essay Upon Projects). He argued in the Review that 'we always thought the women had the quickest and jus test Notions of things at first sight, tho' we have unjustly rob 'd them of the Judgment, by denying them early Instruction' (35). Dunton's periodicals assumed a similar posture: ten years before the Review, the Athenian Mercury discoursed upon such subjects as women's intellect and their need for improved education; Dunton's Post-Angel printed elevating correspondence with admirable ladies. But such arguments did not in themselves call for an end to the social and legal subordination of women. Indeed, the liberal ideas about the relations between men and women which the periodicals adhered to would increasingly



illustrate the limits of that liberalism. The attack quoted from the Gentleman's Journal upon oppressive conceptions of 'Nature' seems ironic in the light of slightly later periodicals' efforts to promulgate just such notions of the natural suitability of women to the 'private condition.' Such efforts, formulative examples of what we have come to call the middle-class construction of gender and the family, were presented as celebratory of women. But while situating themselves in opposition to one system of patriarchal representations of women (and the social practices which attended it), the periodicals constructed another - different, but none the less patriarchal; we might term it paternalistic. 26 As the popular periodical developed, particularly in the direction given it by Addison and Steele, it increasingly refined its representation of femininity, transforming the occasional endorsement of radical arguments by the earliest periodicals into the systematic naturalization of a normative, domestic figure. In this transformation, the appearance of women's self-representation, so much a feature of the earlier periodicals, was retained, though to a lesser degree, and employed to endorse the domestic ideal. Through the very audience-engagement devices, such as correspondence, that ostensibly represented the authentic experiences of women subjects, the later periodicals proposed ideals of feminine expression and conduct. In addition, as the periodical developed in the hands of Addison and Steele, its representation of women as the object of discourse became more pronounced and increasingly prescriptive. Even the earliest, most reform-minded periodicals constructed an image of their women readers in the context of several particularly feminine characteristics and needs which reg uired a regulatory and protective response on the part of the periodical authorities. Presenting their concern with women as liberal, progressive, and enlightened, these authorities offered their guidance as a part of a political process of improving women's social and educational status, yet within very definite limits. Through their variously argued 'defenses' of women's souls, women's moral capacity, and women's intellect, periodicals conflated the images of a social group in need of advocacy and protection with the 'fair sex' as readers in need of instruction. The periodical's crusades for women's education, for example, addressed both the representations of women as incapable of learning, and the social practices that reinforced those images, by substituting



other representations and calling for new practices: they created the idealized woman whose educability serves the purpose of rendering her a companionable wife and a fit mother - and a reader of periodicals, a principal source of her education. That is, the periodicals constructed an image of women as the victims of social prejudice and neglect, and transf(xmed their protest of this neglect into a merchandizing scheme for the periodicals themselves, constituted as remedies for social ills. The crusade to educate women to an appropriate level for their domestic role and to guide their conduct within it painted a cautionary portrait: the recurrent image of the unfit mother, the uncompanionable wife, the uneducated, ignorant, and thus fallible female. Her voice was that of the unhappy adulterer or the deceived wife in the Athenian Mercury and her variously constructed image appeared with great frequency in the pages of the Tatler and Spectator. In the earlier publication, she was sometimes an object of derision or laughter, though more often an unfortunate in need of guidance; and though her account could be generalized to suit a didactic purpose, she was also most often presented as the individual speaking subject of her own story, which she related in her capacity as correspondent-participant. In the later publications, however, she became most frequently the reprehensible model against which a 'correct' female reader of the periodical was encouraged to regulate her own conduct: she provided the contrast by which an image of proper female behavior could be constructed. The periodicals' representation of their women readers as a population in need of the services they offered can be illustrated by looking at their treatment of feminine leisure. The notion that wealthier women, particularly middle-class women, were experiencing a newly acquired leisure which gave them unprecedented time to read- or worse- was and still is a commonplace about the substance of many eighteenth-century women's daily lives. According to the modern argument, by the late seventeenth century the upper-class woman was participating less in running her estate, and the working-class woman was being displaced from the workforce and traditional agrarian labor by capitalism and urbanization. 27 The middle-class woman was becoming a conspicuous example of what Thorsten Veblen calls 'vicarious leisure,' in which the status-endowing property of leisure becomes transferred from its traditional expression in the aristocratic male



to the middle-class female perceived as a representative of her husband: the female's leisure endows the male with status. Thus the middle-class wife was prevented by prosperity and her husband's pride - indices of a coalescing social convention - from working at a trade and freed by the employment of domestic servants from significant labor in the house. Watt cites in support of this interpretation a comment by Hester Thrale, a literary upper middle-class woman of the later eighteenth century, who reported her husband's stricture that she 'was not to think of the kitchen' (44). The image of the vicarious leisure of the middle-class woman had a wide currency in the eighteenth century. In The Complete English Tradesman, Defoe comments disapprovingly on the male middle-class vanity which countenances the leisure of an unproductive wife: The tradesman is foolishly vam of making his wife a gentlewoman, forsooth; he will have her sit above in the parlour, receive visits, drink tea, and entertain her neighbours, or take a coach and go abroad; but as to the business, she shall not stoop to touch it; he has apprentices and journeymen, and there is no need ofit. 28 Defoe, writing with his characteristic acumen, provides an important insight into the dynamics of this relationship: '[Men J will not make [their wives J useful, that they may not value themselves upon it, and make themselves, as it were, the equals of their husbands.' 29 Watt provides another account: vVomen of the upper and middle classes could partake in few of the activities of their menfolk, whether of business or pleasure. It was not usual for them to engage in politics, business, or the administration of their estates, while the main masculine leisure pursuits such as hunting and drinking were also barred. Such women, therefore, had a great deal of leisure, and this leisure was often occupied by omnivorous reading. (44) 30 Though Watt's analysis is plausible (and not unsympathetic), and probably does shed light on the circumstances of women's reading in the eighteenth century, we must be aware that the conventional picture of feminine leisure has exhibited blind spots and served social agendas from the early modern period to the present day. 31



Watt, who seems here to categorize productive work entirely in male terms (politics, business, or administration), echoes eighteenth-century commonplaces which were for the great part much less insightful than Defoe's. Though connected to fundamental social and economic changes in the eighteenth century, the notion of feminine leisure has often connoted feminine lack of productivity and propensity to undesirable behavior, particularly as it was figured in popular literature. However much well-to-do women were possessed of leisure, reformist periodical literature was clearly articulating an ideological position that posited feminine leisure as a social problem and proposed solutions. Leisure, a marker of class, became also a marker of gender in its concretization as a literary figure through which eighteenth-century publications represented the extensive displacement of women from various forms of culturallyacknowledged productive labor. The periodical began to confiate the notion of leisure and women: the concept of the 'leisured woman' became, in the language of the periodical, almost, if not quite, a tautology. The leisured woman also became a figure both idealized (because of the class status it implied) and carefully constrained (lest uncontrolled leisure lead women to vice). The figure of the leisured woman reader was widely circulated in the eighteenth century through sermons, conduct books, novels, and periodicals; it underlay the popular periodicals' merchandizing schemes and much of their moral-instructional rhetoric, particularly their arguments for educating women. Women readers were considered to be in need of a constructive use of leisure which could improve them not only generally but also specifically for their various services to their husbands and children, and which could protect them against the errors always potentially attending 'free time.' Many of the arguments for women's capacity to become educated, clearly referring to the upper and middle classes, assumed a correlation between their domestic and leisured lives and the absorption of knowledge through reading. Joseph Addison, writing in the Guardian No. 155 (1713), went so far as to stipulate that 'learning' (defined, of course, in appropriately diminutive terms) is particularly suited to women because of their leisure and the implicitly trivial nature of their domestic 'employments': There are some Reasons why Learning seems more adapted to 55


the Female World, than to the Male. As in the first place, because they have more spare Time upon their Hands, and lead a more Sedentary Life. Their Employments are of a Domestick Nature, and not like those of the other Sex, which are often inconsistent with Study and Contemplation. The Excellent Lady, the Lady Lizard, in the space of one Summer furnished a Gallery with Chairs and Couches of her own and her Daughters working; and at the same time heard all Doctor Tillotson's sermons twice over. It is always the Custom for one of the young Ladies to read, while the others are at work; so that the Learning of the Family is not at all prejudicial to its Manufactures. I was mightily pleased, the other Day, to find them all busie in preserving several Fruits of the Season, with the Sparkler [the youngest Lizard daughter J in the midst of them, reading over the Plurality of Worlds [Bernard Fontenelle's popular book on astronomy]. It was very entertaining to me to see them dividing their Speculations between Jellies and Stars, and making a sudden Transition from the Sun to an Apricot, or from the Copernican System to the figure of a Cheese-cake. Addison's didactic vision of the compatibility between feminine learning (represented here as a social, rather than a solitary, process) and domestic 'manufacture' portrays upper-class women not as idle, but as engaged in activities which are vestiges of those which once occupied their female ancestors in running an estate. Here, such employments are consonant with, if not actually employed to fill, women's 'spare time,' explicitly figured in opposition to men's non-domestic activity (itself an interesting early allusion to business-oriented anti-intellectualism). And these activities, Addison goes on to specify, have among other advantages that of deterring women from engaging in such undesirable and unfeminine pastimes as 'Cards or Dice.' He recommends 'Studies of Knowledge to the Female World, that they may not be at a Loss how to employ those Hours that lie upon their Hands.' Consistent with Addison's characteristic style of condescension to women, similar images of women employing their 'leisure' to improve their minds appeared in the periodical press as an imitable model of feminine activity. Balancing such representations of 'constructive leisure,' the periodicals, along with the conduct books of the period, provided cautionary images of the opposite; these were



particularly powerfully drawn in the Taller and Spectator. The leisured woman was discussed often in tones of caution or admonition about the consequences to public morality of her misuse of free time. Gambling, adultery, laziness, self-indulgence, idle visiting, gossip, and the reading of romances were all cited as consequences of feminine leisure, and often tied, as in Defoe's remark quoted earlier, to a particularly middle-class aping of upper-class behavior. In such cases, the faults lay both in the innate corruption of that behavior and in its unsuitability for an 'inferior' class. Much of the impetus behind the reformers' crusade to improve women's education came from their representing instruction as an antidote to misbehavior. Constituting itself as a medium of entertaining, yet modest and appropriate, instruction, the popular periodical, which contributed to the definition of women's leisure as a problem, presented itself as a solution. The periodicals evolved a powerful rhetoric to make the connection between the constitution of the woman as reader and the assertions of her need, constructed in gendered terms, for the periodical product. This rhetoric reached its most thorough expression in Addison and Steele. But the emergence, in periodical literature, of the textual representation of women readers defined in specialized language as. women can be traced to the pioneering Athenian Mercury, which presented members of 'the fair sex,' in their capacity of readers, also as writers. As we shall see in the following chapter, one of the earliest vehicles for the continuing representation of women as writing subjects, the Athenian Mercury, evidences the gendered construction of subjectivity.


3 Readers as writers: the female subject in the Athenian Mercury

We have receiv'd several Rebukes from some stoical Gentlemen, who we guess very old, as we are sure they are very ill-natur'd, on the account of this poor Love-paper, which it seems these grave Dons are very angry with, as well as at us forsooth, for troubling them and the World with such frivolous matters, or taking any notice of the impertinencies of Women, as they are pleas' d to call 'em .... [But we] think it a very Natural as well as innocent attempt in us, by this paper to please the Young and Fair ... we hope we may by way of Prologue bespeak their continu'd Favour, and Patronage, as we have hitherto found it. And that we mayn't seem altogether unworthy on't, we protest in their defense, as well as our own, that we have receiv'd Questions of as great weight and concern from their Sex, as from any of ours. (Prologue by the Athenian Society, Athenian Mercury Vol. 5, No. 3)

Q. I'm a Gentlewoman of a small Fortune, and Married to a

Man who ... left me with a Charge of Children, and went to another Country, without making the least Provision either for them or me - Nor will his Friends look on us, and I've been already very chargeable and troublesome to my own, who are now grown as Cold as his: A Gentleman now Importunes me very much to be his Mistress, who I know Loves me passionately, and will provide for me and them. I desire your Advice what I were best do, Whether I must lay my children to the Parish; for Begging won't maintain us, and Stealing is as bad as Whoring? Or how I ought to behave my self for I can find no Means, but either to yield to this Temptation; or see my children starve? I know I ought not to do the least Evil that Good may



come of it; but yet of two Evils, we must chuse the least: An Answer to this would both oblige and quiet, your, &c. (A letter from a reader, published in the Athenian Oracle) 1 What is most significant about the reader's letter to John Dunton's Athenian lvfercury ( 1691-7) is not the anonymous woman writer's

identity or even her complaint but the circumstances of its appearance in print. Within the context of the epistolary periodical and regardless of the question of its 'authenticity,' this letter represents a woman subject writing autobiographically. The letter constructs a small narrative to articulate a moral dilemma that is exclusively feminine; that is, the particular shape of the dilemma, the double bind it represents, can be understood only with reference to the possible social experience of a woman in England in this historical period. Even as she defers to the ajudication of the periodical, the writer acquires a particular kind of authority, based upon her gender, to articulate this feminine experience: it is the cultural authority granted to the autobiographical subject to represent herself. 2 Just prior to the emergence of secular autobiography in England, such self-representation was based upon the traditions of Puritan confession and the literature of casuistry which the Athenian Mercury echoes. 3 This writer's 'I' is both gendered and authenticated precisely by that gender: a male subject could not relate this story about himself without shifting into parody or satire; he would ludicrously lack credibility to present this experience as belonging to him. The authority granted such autobiographical representation is predicated upon a cultural consensus about the realm of the possible, which can lead to a cultural consensus about what is- or should be - probable. Audience expectations about the sorts of experiences possible for any given writer to articulate credibly are often based upon narrowly-defined categories such as class or gender. The 'horizon of expectations' 4 allows a writer to speak intelligibly not only in regard to form but also in regard to content, which at different historical moments can become in various ways rigid and prescriptive, perceived as probable, even mandatory. For example, in the letter quoted above, the type of experience the subject reports, vaguely categorized by the periodical as having to do with 'love,' is historically consistent with the representation of women's experience in the late seventeenth century, the years of



the periodical's publication. In a slightly later periodical such as the Spectator, as chapter 4 will discuss, the female correspondent continued to be associated with topics of sexuality or 'love,' but such topics had become more firmly inscribed within the morally and ideologically charged categories of courtship, marriage, and family. While purportedly autobiographical letters like the one quoted at the beginning might resemble various forms of eighteenth-century popular fiction, we must remember that the distinction between 'fact' and 'fiction,' as Lennard Davis and others have shown, was particularly blurred for early modern readers. We must also remember that written expressions of the most intimate details of personal lives - as the recent theoretical work on autobiography has demonstrated - owe both their formulation and to some extent their very content to the cultural language available by means of which private experience was understood and articulated. 5 The Athenian .Mercury was instrumental in formulating what would become the dominant language of feminine experience during the eighteenth century. That an account comparable to the letter quoted above was written three decades later by Defoe's Roxana herself a fiction masquerading as fact - testifies less significantly to the inauthenticity of the earlier version than it does to the cultural incorporation of a notion of feminine experience which became a mainstay of the novel. Early in its run, the Athenian Mercury printed an advertisement particularly soliciting women's letters: We have received this week a very ingenuous letter from a lady in the country, who desires to know whether her Sex might not send us questions as well as men, to which we answer, Yes, they may, our design being to answer all manner of Questions sent us by either Sex, that may be either useful to the publick or to particular persons. (Vol. I, No. 13) The stress upon the usefulness of the exchange between readercorrespondents and editors created a context which shaped the letters and responses published within the text and situated the periodical in relation to its general readership. The Athenian Mercury's utilitarian function extended from providing factual information (for instance, their answers to questions about natural phenomena comprise part of the popular scientific discourse of the



day) to advising a woman reader whether or not she should prostitute herself to survive. The latter kinds of judgments obviously called forth pronouncements upon morals and conduct, the establishment and defense of social values, and, gradually, the coalescence of normative standards. The authority residing in the representation of feminine experience was of course always situated in relation to the greater authority exercised by the editorial pronouncements. And the epistolary exchange between individual writing subjects and the Athenian Society was itself a textual representation of relations of authority intended to influence the periodical's general readership. The various epistolary appearances ofwomen as writing subjects in the Athenian Mercury are among the earliest instances of the representation of women articulating their own experiences in print. They document the beginning of the process by which certain constructions of the female subject- corresponding to those of the female object - assumed both a descriptive and a prescriptive authority. The Athenian Mercury never became consistently didactic and prescriptive in the manner of the Spectator, but by validating the authority of the feminine subject- the authority to speak credibly- within the context of pronouncements issued by the greater authority of the periodical's editors - the authority to 'name' and judge - the Athenian Mercury began to reveal how writing about women, even 'self' -representations, could serve a prescriptive and ideological function. The women's letters published in the Athenian Mercury represent an early stage in the formulation of that cultural langqage through which the woman was to be written in the periodicals that followed it. AUDIENCE-BUILDING IN THE ATHENIAN MERCURY

John Dunton's periodical, the Athenian Gazette: or Casuistical! Mercury, Resolving all the most Nice and Curious Questions proposed by the Ingenious of Either Sex, which became the Athenian Mercury in the second issue, consisted almost entirely of 'queries' allegedly submitted by readers and the answers provided by members of the 'Athenian Society.' 6 Within the bounds of certain rules of religious propriety and political restraint (designed partially to protect the journal against censorship), the Athenian Mercury conducted an apparently voluminous correspondence with its readers and 61


promised to answer all legitimate and unduplicated questions. In numerous cases, the 'queries' turned into small narratives as 'readers,' many of them women, called upon the Society for advice about private concerns or the resolution of matters of conscience. Dunton, who followed Biblical precedenrl in defining 'Athenianism' as 'a Search after Novelties' (Hunter 21), created a publication which not only sought to command a wide audience, but also figured that audience textually. Readers, as writers of letters published in the periodical, took on textual identities; the historical process of reconstituting the reader was concretized, as it was catalyzed, by the periodical text. Declaring itself a 'popularizer' of instructive information, the Athenian Mercury sought to 'communicate knowledge more generally and easily than has been formerly done' (Vol. 1, No.I), as it also attempted to influence behavior and to engage a consistent audience by means of the continuing, ostensibly direct and intimate contact with its readers ensured by its epistolary format. In each twice-weekly folio half-sheet issue, affordably priced at one penny, anonymous letter-writers received answers to their eclectic questions from the periodical's equally anonymous 'experts.' 8 The first ten issues, for instance, contain submissions ranging from questions about the natural world - such as whether fish breathe and why owls see better at night than day - to the expression of problems regarding sex and matrimony - whether the married or unmarried state is happier, whether a divorced person might lawfully remarry while the first spouse is still alive, whether 'innocent' friendships between men and women are possible. The Mercury represented these letters as the genuine work of its readership. 9 Many of the letter-writers, male and female alike, asked purely informative, even scientific, questions, or engaged in theological debate, but the pretext of personal correspondence between the Society and its readers also elicited narrative letters which revealed, or purported to reveal, intimate details of readers' lives. The readership of the Athenian Mercury - in so far as the periodical projected it- seems to have cut across the literate classes in a way remarkable for its time. The Mercury preserved an apparent connection with the traditional representatives of elite learning (their publicity boasted, with some exaggeration, of ties to the universities), but this was less a functional relationship than a campaign designed to appeal to the educated part of the audience



and to endow its popularization program with the trappings of institutional legitimacy. Publishing letters which addressed subjects extending from science to sex, the Mercury invoked expediency and economy in an attempt to attract those who lacked both the advantages of a university or classical education and the wealth and time to undertake a systematic program of independent study. Suggesting a connection with Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society, Charles Gildon's thinly-disguised piece of publicity for the Athenian Mercury, the History of the Athenian Society ( 1692), lauded the periodical in language that probably reflected the way in which Dunton and his collaborators viewed their enterprise. Gildon presented the publication as a social service dedicated to the dissemination of learning 'to all men, as well as to both Sexes.' 10 Referring particularly to the 'Supplements' to the regular issues which were published at the end of every volume, and which included abstracts of books in print, Gildon explained the periodical's general program in characteristic 'Athenian' language: But had we the good Fortune to have all the Arts and Sciences, and all the fine thoughts of all those great men that have writ, they would be so voluminous that many a man of sence would labour under, as great a difficulty, as before, both for time to peruse and money to purchase them: But this difficulty is quite removed, by the Athenian Society, for One hour in a week is all the time, that is required to peruse them, and Two pence weekly sufficient to purchase those Papers, in which, every one may find the marrow of what great Authors have writ on any Curious Subject, with the improvement of many ingenious, and learned men upon it. (4--5) Lack of time and money, as great a stumbling block to knowledge as ignorance of the classics, and similarly a class marker, became the defining characteristic of the periodical's intended audience. Despite the Athenians' claims to connections with the literary elite, Gildon's rhetoric constructed as a textual figure an audience collected from a potential readership which had not generally been accustomed to perceive itself as an 'audience' in any systematic way. Gildon thus promoted the Athenian Mercury by establishing a correlation between 'reading' (the periodical) and 'learning' which in turn he justified as a utilitarian, and now accessible pastime suitable for women as well as men. By employing a rhetoric of self-



improvement, the lvfercury undertook to build an audience by claiming to build the individual reader, attempting to create reading habits rather than merely assuming them. Establishing a new kind of literature, Dunton sought to establish a new kind of audience for it by bringing the traditionally inactive into the ranks of the traditionally active, that is to say, by transforming literacy in to readership. The Mercury's attention to women was an integral part of its program of simultaneously disseminating learning, shaping behavior, and attracting as wide a readership as possible. The editorial statements, advertising, and content acknowledged women as having 'a very strong party in the World' (Vol 1, No. 18), specifically, no doubt, in the potential consumer public for periodical literature. Throughout its six-year run (and in the numerous spin-offs and related 'Athenian' publications promoted by Dunton over the subsequent forty years), the Athenian Nfercury identified women as one of its primary intended audiences. Both in its editorial comments and its responses to questions, the Society paid tribute to women's intellect and virtue. Dunton announced that one issue a month would be devoted to 'ladies' topics' (the only such specialization in the periodical), and the Mercury for a short time may have generated the companion publication, the Ladies' Mercury ( 1693), entirely devoted to 'feminine' concerns. The Athenian Society's outpouring of rhetoric directed at women readers was an attempt to bring women and 'ladies' topics' into the community of the text, as it existed in relation to the authoritative Society, and to expand the periodical's readership as far as possible into the ranks of the less well educated by positing women as the common denominator. The Mercury's attention to women represented a systematic process of 'feminization' through which the periodical sought to address women's concerns in several ways. Stories of love, sex, and marriage provided entertainment to complement the Athenian's program of instruction, which included their regulatory pronouncements upon the various instances of women's behavior expressed in the correspondence. As part of its assumption of such authority, the Society represented itself as a benign, sometimes paternal, defender of women, and sought to align itself with liberal thinking about the late seventeenth-century 'woman question.' The periodical expressed its position on this matter (and in so doing demonstrated the limits of liberalism in



regard to women) in its generally sympathetic, if condescending, treatment of women's problems, its defenses of women's intellect, and its arguments for women's education. For example, in response to the query, 'Whether it be proper for Women to be Learned?' the Athenian Society offered a small essay on the nature and conditions of feminine learning: All grant that they may have some Learning, but the Question is of what sort, and to what Degree? Some indeed think they have Learn'd enough, if they can distinguish between their Husbands Breaches and another mans: But those who have no more wit than this comes to, will be in danger of distinguishing yet further, or else not at all. Others think that they may pardonably enough read, but by no means be trusted with Writing; and others again, that they ought neither to write nor read. A Degree yet higher, are those who would have 'em read Plays, Novels, and romances, with perhaps a little History, but by all means are for terminating their Studies there, and not letting 'em meddle with the Edgetools of Philosophy, for these wise Reasons, because forsooth it takes them off their Domestick Affairs, and because it generally fills 'em too full of themselves, and makes 'em apt to despise others. For the first, it's true enough, that for the generality of\Vomen it holds, who being obliged either to get their Livings by some industrious Employ, or stick close to Domestick Affairs, supposing her Mistress of an ordinary Family, can neither have time nor means to acquire such learning, or preserve it when it is once gotten: But this relates not to those whose Births and Fortunes exempt 'em from such circumstances. For Learning's make 'em conceited and full of themselves, 'tis a weakness common to our own Sex as well as theirs: There's few Men who have Wit, Sence, or Learning, but they know it, tho' often they are so prudent to conceal such their Knowledge from the \Vorld. On the whole, since they have as noble Souls as we, a finer Genius, and generally quicker Apprehensions, we see no Reason why Women shou'd not be learned now, as well as Madame Phillips, Van Schurman, and other have formerly been: For if we have seen one Lady gone mad with Learning, we mean a late Famous Countess, there are a hundred l\!Ien cou'd be named, whom the same Cause has renderd fit for Bedlam. (Vol. I, No. 18) The references to noted feminist writers (including the 'mad'



Margaret Cavendish) show, as Smith points out (194), that feminist thinking to some degree influenced the periodical's writing for and about women. Because of the relatively high visibility of these attitudes in most of Dunton's publications, Rae Blanchard in fact places him in the category of late seventeenth-century 'reformers,' who 'were advocates of rational feminism, refusing, in the name of reason, to admit a natural inequality between the sexes' (329). 11 But such an advocacy of 'rational feminism' as we find in the Mercury, though it may have employed the rhetoric of equality, defined equality in a way consistent with the notion of a natural difference between men and women. At this early stage in its evolution, the periodical did not push vigorously an essentialist concept of gender differentiation, but it began to set into place the literary construction - the special and distinct category of experience, and to some degree of expression, labeled 'feminine' which would in later publications create a prescriptive image of women. CORRESPONDE:\"CE AND :'\ARRATIVES

From its inception and increasingly throughout its run, the Athenian Mercury published self-revelatory quasi-narrative letters far exceeding the simpler discursive act suggested by the term 'query.' As Starr observes, the Athenian Mercury's important innovation of publishing most of the letters in the first person allowed the querists to emerge as writing subjects 'in propria persona,' providing an 'abundance of detail' bordering on first-person narration and creating vivid and complex 'actors, settings, and actions' ( 18-19). The following letter, for example, describes the dilemma of its writer, a woman servant whose husband had left her seven years before; it encapsulates in one paragraph a detailed representation of a subject confronting problems whose ramifications are both legal and moral. All of the elements of her 'history' accumulate to create the picture of a distinct individual embroiled in a situation peculiar to her. Yet these same elements simultaneously mark, categorize, and generalize this subject as gendered. I have been Marryed to a Man now almost thirteen Years, he having had two Children by me, and without the least Impediment, Affront, Wrong or Injury done to his Bed by me, or



otherwise, hath thought fit to leave me, and has accordingly left me for these seven Years last past, to my shifts, being wholly destitute of any Subsistence or Relief from him, (otherwise than in Service, which I have been in ever since, purely to maintain my self, and keep me from Want or other Inconveniencies, my two Children being Dead) and he has been Marryed to another Woman, to my knowledge, about seven Years last past, and who hath had several Children by him likewise: Now this Husband of mine (I being his first Wife) is in a very good place, in Service, and lives in a very good Fashion, and able to help me. This being the real Case on my part, I do assure you, Gentlemen, therefore your Directions is humbly desired to this particular Case, and earnestly Crave your speedy Answer to the following Queries; I depending and waiting on your Resolutions, and deferr Prosecution of my Affairs till then. Query I. What I may lawfully do as to detect the Injury done to me, in leaving me, and taking to him another Wife, which he ought not to have done, being Commanded to the contrary by the Divine Law as well as the Law of the Land? Query 2. What punishment may be justly inflicted upon him, and what Course I may take as to my Subsistence or Allowance from him, as Alimony, (if that)? Query 3. Whether I may not Sue him in the Prerogative Court for a Divorce, that I may be free from him, and take to me another Husband, (if part so)? And, Query 4. Whether I had not better Prosecute the Rigour of the Law against him? (Vol. 12, No.9) The autobiographical narrative which prefaces this writer's questions to the Society introduces her situation as one in which her socio-economic status and her gender are crucial, interrelated factors; her entire letter, read together with the Society's sympathetic but pessimistic response, 12 situates her in relation to the authoritative periodical as a suppliant. As a construct of writing, this subject's self-representation becomes charged with the moral and pathetic power of the woman who is wronged and powerless to seek redress. As a supposedly 'true' expression of a reader-turned-writer, her letter is overdetermined by the multiplicity of contexts used to represent its writer within the printed text. The reader 'represented' is the reader constructed, not



necessarily because her letter is an editorial fabrication, but because the representation of the self in writing is always a construction, whether on the part of the alleged writer or on the part of the periodical's editors. The Mercury issued regular programmatic invitations to women to read and correspond with the periodical, representing itself as an important locus for the expression of female subjectivity in print; its frequent publication ofwomen's queries and women's narratives aligned it with the growing body of published work by seventeenthcentury women recently discussed by Patricia Crawford. Though in absolute numbers still extremely small, publications by women in the second half of the century - particularly essays, prophecies, Quaker autobiographies, and to a lesser extent fiction - were beginning to appear and, as Crawford illustrates, women writers were beginning to demonstrate an awareness of a literary voice. Inevitably, these developments were dominated by aristocratic women, but in instances such as the Quaker autobiographies, the voices emerging were not only those of the social elite. The Athenian Mercury situated itself within this field of discourse: by virtue of its epistolary structure and its broadly-based appeal, Dunton's publication displayed before the public a series of questions and autobiographical narratives represented not only as women's, but as the work of writers whose various social situations, from gentlewomen to maidservants (as in the letter just quoted), are a crucial part of their subjectivity. Accounts of personal life at least purporting to be written by the periodicals' readers joined memoirs and letter-collections in appealing to popular fascination with the publication of private details. Unlike the other genres, however, the epistolary periodical extended the possibility of such activity into the domain of the late seventeenth-century 'common reader,' at least those who were capable of writing. To read the Athenian Mercury was to confront the potential of writing to it, the possibility of recounting in print the details of private situations. And to write to the periodical was to be read not only by the Athenian Society, but by the periodical's entire audience. Imitating the dynamics of personal letter-writing, the lt.1ercury complicated the act of 'correspondence': employing the discourse of private experience, the personal letter, readers wrote for a public medium, the periodical. Readers, writing ostensibly to the Society for information or advice, had at the same time to be.



conscious of writing for print, often extending an interrogative act into a narrative one. The concept of reader and the concept of writer were conjoined; the discourse of the private became a public discourse. In publishing letters concerned with the experience of women, the lV!ercury established a category of correspondence which it labeled as feminine and which encompassed private life, most specifically love, sex, and marriage. The Athenian Mercury conceived an explicit structural equation between the feminine and the private in virtually all of its issues, devoting its monthly 'ladies' issues' particularly to private concerns. The language in which the Athenian Mercury advertised its specialized issues for women reveals the connection between its presentation of women's power and its categorization of its readers' concerns by gender: ·whereas the Questions we receive from the ~Fair Sex are both pressing and numerous, we being willing to oblige 'em, as knowing they have a very strong party in the World, resolve to set apart the first Tuesday in every Month on purpose to satisfie Questions of that Nature. (Vol. l, No. 18) Though the Athenians continued to answer questions from and about women in all of their issues, the idea of devoting certain issues to 'Questions of that Nature' indicates the association of women correspondents with specific kinds of topics. But even more it signifies the association of women readers with specific topics, so that women were rhetorically situated as the primary intended audience of certain 'ladies' issues.' Yet the periodical also intended a male audience for these issues, so that its ultimate effect was to construct for its general readership, women and men alike, a 'space' within the periodical designated as feminine. And the gender of the letter-writers was not the principal feminizing determinant of this space, but rather the nature of the questions themselves. For despite the advertisement's characterization of the women's issues as a response to women's queries, it printed in these issues many letters from men. What the letters have in common are a shared concern with 'feminine topics': love, sex, and marnage. While the association of women with certain kinds of topics was but one of the Athenian Mercury's primary concerns, this association became the central organizing principle of a related publication,



the short-lived Ladies' Mercury. This publication may or may not have been edited by Dunton, but it must have been published with his approval, or he would surely have reviled it, the way he did other competitors, as an 'interloper.' The first issue addresses an elaborate apologia 'To the Athenians,' saying, 'We desire you to escuse this Undertaking, as not at all intended to encroach upon your Athenian Province.' The editors promise to yield up 'Learning, Nature, Arts, Sciences, and indeed the whole World; being contented to narrow our Speculation, to only that little sublunary, Woman': We are for sitting down with Martha's humbler part, a little homely Cookery, the dishing up a small Treat of Love, &c. Nay, We are ready to give You that Satisfaction, that We will not only confess ourselves unwilling, but if you please, unable to take up any of your Cudgels, as too unwieldy for our weaker Arms. The Ladies' Mercury solicited letters from women and pledged attention to modesty and virtue: We shall likewise make it our Study to avoid even the least offensive Syllable, that may give any rude Shock to the chastest Ear. We declare ourselves such Religious Homagers of Vertue and Innocence, that we would not force a Blush into a Virgin-Cheek, having that true Value for Beauty, as to adorn it with no other Vermilion but its own. In its third issue, the Ladies' Mercury further demonstrated its close ties with the Athenian }.fercury in an exchange that clearly elaborates both periodicals' definition of the feminine. Query 3 presents a thinly-disguised advertisement for an upcoming Dunton publication, The Ladies Dictionary; an anonymous correspondent asks the editors their 'Opinion' of this new Athenian project, which will contain answers 'to all the most nice and Curious Questions concerning Love, Marriage, the Behavior, Dress, and Humours of the Female Sex, whether Virgins, Wives, Widows, &c. designed for a Directory to the Ladies and Batchelors upon all Occasions.' The editors' answer supports the idea of such a compendium, but pretends to wonder about its alphabetical format: For supposed a fair Aggreived, states a long Case, possibly of more than half a hundred lines, (for that Sex is not sparing of words) relating to Love, Honour, Religion, Husbands, and Parents,



Affection and Obedience . . . to which of these Topics shall the Alphabet direct. 13

Besides calling attention to the long-windedness of women correspondents, this exchange indicates that 'the feminine' is not exclusively a female province, but also belongs to those men who may desire to confront the issue of marriage. The readers of the Ladies Dictionary and both the readers and writers of the ladies' issues are male and female alike; the categorization by gender has less to do with actual readership than with the segregation of an area of social experience as 'feminine' in implict distinction from the other forms of experience represented which, by implication, are 'masculine.' Though the actual correspondents were quite free to move among categories regardless of gender (such as women asking 'scientific' questions and men requesting advice about marriage), the categories themselves remained for the most part discrete and stable. ANO:\fYMITY AND SELF-REVELATIO:\f

The Athenian Mercury's success at soliciting accounts of private matters probably owes a great deal to its policy of anonymity, expressed by Dunton as the very cornerstone of his originating conception: 'The first rude hint of it was no more than a confused idea, of concealing the Querist and answering his Question.' 14 Anonymity served a variety of functions in periodical literature: in later periodicals such as the Tatler, the ostensible anonymity of the author-editors permitted the deployment of a persona as a mask for social satire and a vehicle for quasi-novelistic character development; authorial anonymity was a historical convention of serial publication which provided some protection against the political risks of controversy; and it probably relieved somewhat the still-operative aristocratic bias against appearing in print. But the construction of the entire framework of a periodical around the protection of identity was, apparently, an entirely novel idea clearly appealing to Dunton's passion for the 'new.' The Mercury's careful assurance of anonymity for its correspondents ,and the complementary anonymity of its respondents established the boundaries of its discourse by defining what could, and would, be said within the frame of the text. Whether



intentionally or not, by establishing the anonymity of its readercorrespondents, Dunton in effect legitimized the published expression of kinds of experience which the periodical defined as private and frequently as female. The Mercury's advertising guarantees the cover of anonymity. The Design is briefly, to satisfy all ingenious and curious Enquirers into speculations, divine, moral, and Natural, and to remove those difficulties and Dissatisfactions, that shame or fear of appearing ridiculous by asking Questions, may cause several Persons to labour under, who now have opportunities of being resolved in any Question without knowing their Informer. Ostensibly, at least, the protection of anonymity is designed for those to whom revelation of ignorance might prove humiliating- at this historical moment, perhaps particularly the self-conscious bourgeois man. But the notion of 'shame,' in its connection not only with disgrace or dishonor, but also, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, with immodesty or indecency, carries other connotations as well - it is attached to that which cannot be expressed publicly. As David Bakan interprets it: 'the feeling of shame plays a critical role in keeping public and private separate. It is precisely by means of the mechanism of shame that the distinction between public and private is maintained' (quoted in A. Jones 66). 15 The elimination of shame promised by anonymity overrides that distinction, inviting the public expression of the private. Thus the Athenian 1\1ercury opened itself to letters of an intimate - and provocative - nature. A letter to the Ladies' 1\1ercury explicitly acknowledges the problem of shame: the writer, recounting the story of her seduction and affair, begins her story, 'for since Black and White cannot blush, I venture under this Skreen to make you my Confessors.' She ends her account with the plea, 'In this Love-sick and Shame-sick Condition, pray give a distressed Lady some Advice, (for from those that know me I must not ask it) to support her self in this deplorable Calamity' (No. 1). Paradoxically, the published periodical provided the anonymity not available in other contexts, thus permitting the public articulation of the shameful. By inviting self-revelation without identification, the periodical allowed into the realm of published, literary discourse the language of individual private experience. This included private experience, in personal letters written by women and men alike, which



comprised the bulk of those issues which the periodical identified as feminine. The following exchange published in the Athenian Mercury further illustrates how the guarantee of anonymity could provide the rationale for a narrative, and how it distinguished the characteristic epistolary relationship between a woman subject and the Athenian Society, correspondents figured within the text. The 'epistolary pact' created by this exchange assumes the configuration peculiar to the periodical: the individual identities of the correspondents are unknown to each other, and their correspondence is produced, as it were, in public. It was my fortune about four years since to be for some time in a Family, and a Son of the Family addressed himself to me. I told him his Parents would not like it, my Fortune being much inferior to his, and that I fear'd he would incur his Father's displeasure, if he knew he lov'd me. He say'd, he loved no woman upon the Earth but me, and assured me it was for my sake he rejected a very advantageous Match that was offer'd him at that time. All his Actions perswaded me his Intentions were real. I found my self inclinable to love him. He urged me to make him a Promise, that then he would be contented to live so till it should please God to take his good Father, who, if he could possibly, he would not disoblige. Now I do love him not for his Estate, I take God to witness; For if he had not Six Pence in the World I could love him as I do, which is far beyond what I am able to say. There was a mutual Vow made between us, we called God to witness. He added, That if ever he falsified the least Tittle of what he had promised, that God's just Curse might lite on him. Gentlemen, he is Twelve Years Older than I. He is a Scholar, and very well qualified; and to show you it was not done rashly, since we were parted (which was as soon as they had any suspicion of our Love) he has repeated the same Promises in several Letters to me. Some time before I went from him, I was told he was married to a Gentlewoman that he had a Child by. I told him of it; he protested it was false, and that the Child was not his, nor did he ever converse with the person since: it was at least Twelve years ago that the Child was born. He invited me lately to see his House, where I observed some of the Goods marked with the Gentlewoman's Name: he made me



very uneasie; he quickly found the Reason, and assur'd me there was nothing at all in it; but I since found a Letter that came with those Goods from that very person. At the reading it I thoght I should have died; and I have scarce been myself ever since. She tells him she loves him before her Life, and Subscribes herself thus, No more at present from your Truest of Lovers; and the Two first Letters of her own Name to it. I showed him the Letter, and then he said it was things he took for a Debt of a Relation of hers. Gentlemen, pray, as soon as you can possible, advise me in this thing; for there's not one Creature upon the Earth that knows it; nor can I confide in any person to ask their advice. (Vol. 14, No. 23) Answ. We'd not willingly either injure an innocent Gentleman, nor mislead you who desire our Advice: But if the Letter you found was worded as you relate it, his excuse is too weak to clear him; For the Writer of it must at least be more than an ordinary Friend or Acquaintance; and he a very ill man to endeavour to deceive you both; which we should think would go a good way towards taking off your Love from him, and settling it on a More Worthy Object, that neither will nor can deceive or abuse you. (Vol. 14, No. 23) The claim made by this writer, that she cannot 'confide in any person to ask their advice,' was echoed frequently by other correspondents. In many letters, it was a sine qua non of their appearance within the text. This detailed, narrative, self-revealing question is made possible by the protection of anonymity and is encouraged by the possibility of sympathy, which the Athenian Society established as its characteristic (if not always constant) response when addressing women, and which informs their advice to the letter-writer above. Questions which predicate a request for advice upon a detailed, confidential personal narrative recur with some regularity throughout the Mercury's run. EPISTOLARY PARODY: THE LONDON MERCURY

Despite the periodical's representation of many of its letter-writers as gentlewomen or gentlemen - some of them, like the subject last quoted, quite skillful writers - contemporary attacks upon the Athenian Mercury focussed on its relatively wide and apparently



indiscriminate representation of writing subjects, frequently figured metonymically by the attackers as lower-class women. In the eyes of Dunton's detractors, his attention to women was a metonym for the Athenian Mercury's suspiciously 'levelling' tendencies. On February l, 1692, appeared the first issue of the London Mercury, 16 an epistolary periodical 'in which,' its editors announced, 'will be answered all Witty and Ingenious Questions, for the Diversion as well as Satisfaction of the Beau Monde: And the Athenian Mercury supplied with Queries from the Fair Sex, of what Degree or Quality soever; with some others which shall be judg'd to fall within the Province of that Society.' Simultaneously a parody and a rival of the two-year-old Athenian il.1ercury, the London Mercury set out to lampoon Dunton's periodical on what its principal writer, Tom Brown, clearly saw to be one of its most characteristic and vulnerable spots: its correspondents. In a dream dialogue with Aristophanes, invoked as a patron of the London Mercury, the periodical's unnamed author-editor identifies the Athenian Society as the target of his attack: these are only a company of unknown nameless sort of Undertakers, who pretend to answer all Queries which are sent them from all Degrees and Qualities, from the Prince to the Peasant; but particularly such as are sent by the Fair Sex, for whom they have a most profound veneration, that is, from the Lady in her cock'd Commode, to the Oyster-wench in her lawful Occupation at the Tavern door. (Vol. l, No. l) Selecting only 'the silly and trifling Queries of the Blew and GreenApron Men,' the Athenian Society ignores 'all the Ingenious and Witty,' and instead, 'pretending to gratifie the Learned World, weekly busie the Press with Impertinent Questions of Apprentices and Chamber-Maids.' The London Mercury directed its antagonism against dissimilarities in politics, occupation, and education, presented as markers of social class: the Athenian Society, it charges, is hostile to monarchy (Vol. l, No. 4); it can better take 'the measure ofCloth, than that ofVerse' (Vol. l, No.5); and it is unqualified to answer readers' questions (Vol. l, No. 5). The ferocity of the London Mercury's attack suggests that the issues at stake in the rivalry between the two publications were fundamental and deeply felt. Such a rivalry expressed on the popular level the division growing within the late seventeenth-



century publishing world between those who, like Dunton, represented an emergent literary tradition appealing to a new audience and those who, like Brown, spoke (however obscenely) for the dominant, more exclusive tradition. J. Paul Hunter's characterization of Dunton as 'a living and publishing symbol of all the Augustans hated and feared' (21) seems to be corroborated by the London Mercury's attack. Brown, according to Boyce, aligned himself with the conservative, neoclassical values often labelled 'Augustan,' and perceived the Athenian Mercury not only as a vulgar publication, but also as Whig, self-righteous, and suspiciously sympathetic to Dissent (39). 17 The terms of the London Mercury's burlesque provides an indication of the way in which the Athenian Mercury was perceived by its contemporaries, both friendly and hostile: even in its exaggeration, parody reveals the outlines of its target. The London Mercury focussed upon the issues of class distinction (the Athenian's audience ranged from 'Prince to Peasant') and gender (many of those readers, particularly in the 'peasant' category, were women). By virtue of its apparently indiscriminate pledge to publish virtually all readers' letters, the Athenian Mercury established a forum for the publication not only of mere questions, but also of the experiences and opinions, the very self-representations, of a mixture of classes and both sexes. And though Brown of course exaggerated the representation of oyster-wenches and chambermaids, his parody consistently grounded itself in gender and class: the mock advertisement for Dunton's Young Students' Library (seriously advertised in the Athenian Mercury as a major component of their 'popularization of knowledge') proclaimed that it was 'very necessary to be read by Yorkshire Vi - - rs and their Pious DairyMaids, School-Boys, Fidlers, Fencers, Midwives, and Athenians' (Vol. l, No. 5); a coarse letter appeared from 'an Alderman's Domestick of the Fair Sex' (Vol. l, No.2). By representing such an indiscriminate mixing of classes in print, thus endowing all correspondents with the structural egalitarianism of equal representation on the printed page, the Athenian Mercury threatened to minimize, or even erase, class distinctions, most particularly that class distinction which separated those represented by a print culture from those who were not. The earliest issues of the London Mercury, before it gradually became a more serious rival of the Athenian Mercur_y as a genuine epistolary journal, attacked the



undermining of class distinctions in a way which anticipates Squire Bramble's objections to the mingling of classes in the crowds of London and Bath in Humphry Clinker, and the repeated warnings which run throughout eighteenth-century literature about the dangerous blurring of class differentiations at masquerades, notorious levelers. 18 Such public manifestations, which blur or erase class markers, are threateningly ambiguous. The language of the London Mercury provides some idea of the uncomfortable novelty of a publication which purported directly to represent its readership in print, particularly when that readership included women. In fact, so much of the weight of its satire bore upon the Athenians' female correspondents that the London Mercury seems virtually to conflate class and gender. Though in all likelihood the number of 'peasants,' male or female, in the Athenian Mercury's actual audience was not large, oyster-wenches and chambermaids were invoked as hyperbolic metonyms of the audience which the Athenian Society was attempting to engage. Women became the focus of Brown's Aristophanic satire just as they were the common denominator of Dunton's audience-building strategies. The London Mercury presents in its second issue an obscene burlesque of the Athenian Mercury's monthly 'ladies' issues,' entitled 'Queries relating to the Fair Sex.' The first female querist is immediately given a class marker: 'for Quality a little Dirty (but that's nothing, they are all Ladies at Athens).' She poses a question about the corn on her left foot and a 'Wart or Mole on the inside of her Right Buttock.' Since the principal targets are the correspondents themselves, this letter remains unanswered. The following query also makes its point without the necessity of an editorial response: Another Lady Querist of like Degree and Quality (for she's troubled with Corns too, but more with Scruples) had lately the Misfortune to oblige two Neighbouring Prentices in a Carnal manner, about the same time; and this she did in hopes to draw on a Marriage from one of them: But the Arch Rogues having already consummated, refuse to perform any other Matrimonial Ceremony; and she finding her self in a Teeming Condition, humbly begs your Advice to which of the Two she ought to lay her Kid, for she cannot Father it on both, and therefore suspects from something that you have already answered in a like Case, 77


(Vol. 5, No. 13.) that she ought to charge it on neither; but if your Wisdoms please, she'll lay it to a third Person, from whom she may expect better Advantage, though he never gave her Earnest: Your speedy answer to this, I beseech you, for Time, Tide, and a great Belly will stay for no man. (Vol. l, No. 2) Brown parodies the letters from women in the Athenian Mercury by attacking both the nature of their experience - sex and pregnancy, in their moral dimensions - and the social standing of the writers - this correspondent is decidedly not a 'lady.' This parodic figure, identified by class and gender, appeared in other attacks upon the Athenian Mercury, such as the character 'Dorothy Tickleteat, the Islington Milkmaid' in Elkanah Settle's play, the New Athenian Comedy ( 1693), who, surrounded by sexual innuendo, is a gratified suppliant of the Athenian Society. 19 The accounts of these women, presented by their authors in mocking imitation of the letters which addressed the Athenians, voiced situations such as pregnancy and husband-hunting which had become familiar literary stereotypes, lending themselves to such misogynistic representations; but in the Athenian Mercury these accounts were presented as expressions of the actual experiences of actual readers.


By encouraging the public expression of private experience, the

Athenian Mercury somewhat paradoxically created an appearance of

intimacy between the Athenian Society and its readers. The reader-writer relationship, often either ignored, merely implicit, or formalized (as in dedications and rhetorical addresses to the 'dear reader'), here became textually manifest. The audience assumed an actual, constitutive existence upon the page, engaged in a dynamic relationship with the Society. Though anonymous, the Athenian Society answered questions which were presented as having more or less direct bearing upon the thoughts and experiences of their readers, thus fostering a sense of the periodical's immediate engagement with its readers' lives. This sense of engagement is implicit in the epistolary form itself, which connotes relationship and reciprocity. The Athenian Mercury figured a series of epistolary relationships which simultaneously made individual writing subjects the co-producers of the text, expressed the potential for all readers



to become writers, enacted 'private' correspondences in public view (rather like an epistolary novel), and offered the Athenians' pronouncements upon individual experiences as entertainment and instruction to the general readership. The Athenian Mercury constructed a vertical, hierarchical relationship between questioner and answerer, suppliant and authority. But the periodical's epistolary structure contributed to another, horizontal and apparently more egalitarian figuration of power based upon its publication of readers' letters. To read the periodical was, at least theoretically, to be empowered to write, thus to assume complicity in the production of the text: the writing subjects figured within the text asserted a degree of authority to represent themselves. Despite the periodical's clear positioning of the Athenian Society as the dominant party in the epistolary pact they established with their readers, a horizontal relationship emerged from both the periodical's acknowledged dependence upon readers for economic and textual sustenance and the 'egalitarianism of print' created by the extensive representation of readers on the page. 20 In the text of the Athenian Mercury the Society's answers, which sometimes verged on small essays, were juxtaposed against readers' questions and narratives. The space assumed by the query, sometimes equal to or exceeding that of the answer (this was particularly true of the later issues, as it was of all of the issues of the Ladies' Mercury), and the questioner's frequent narrative elaboration of salient - or irrelevant - circumstances created at times a simple, spatial equalization of petitioner and authority. Reader and responder both acquired the space on the printed page assumed by their 'self' -representations. And because the Athenian Mercury printed the letters and replies in a simple sequential form, readers' letters visually stand alone, answered by but not subsumed within the Athenian Society's response. It is possible to read the readers' letters outside of the context of the authoritative or judgmental replies. They acquire a degree of spatial autonomy. The egalitarianism that is structurally implicit (even if unintended) within the epistolary framework of the Athenian Mercury signaled an important moment in the history of print culture, as involvement in textual production became accessible to those, including women, who were previously unable to speak for themselves in print. To be sure, this new opportunity for



partiCipation in literary production by no means ushered in a version of the utopian moment envisioned by Walter Benjamin, in which readers and writers of all classes and both sexes would become virtually interchangeable. 21 Though the Athenian Mercury and its successors represented women as writing subjects in an unprecedented way, they also delimited the form and content of that representation. Because of its structure the egalitarianism inherent in the epistolary periodical did, of course, operate within the context of authority. Readers' letters were contained within and surrounded by the framework of the periodical controlled by the Athenian Society. The hierarchy of the Athenian Mercury placed the Athenian Society in a judiciary position, dispensing counsel and advice to those who petitioned it. So the horizontal or egalitarian relationship created by the distribution of print on the page was perpendicularly contradicted by the vertical or hierarchical relationship obtaining between suppliants and authorities. The former relationship represented the transformation of readers into writers; the latter accentuated the conditions under which their stories were produced. The female writing subject, then, was endowed by the periodical with the authority of her subjectivity within a context, established by the authority of others, which largely determined how her story- her subjectivity- was produced and read. The mediation of the subject by the authority structure of the periodical is illustrated in the following letter, whose graphic representation within the periodical text is unusually evocative of the materiality of an original letter. This letter also receives a particularly harsh reply. I Have been in Love this three Years, almost to Distraction - i have had one child by him i Love so dear, he is very sevil to me, but visits me very seldom, unless I send to him, and then he is angerry, then am i one ten thousand Racks, and could murder my self. i have been advised by all my friends never to see him more, i have strived to do it, but can't, for if he's from me but a Week, I think it an Age; so that I find it altogether impassable Ever for me to Allter my Resolution, or love him less now then I did the first moment I saw him. Now Gentillmen, I beg your answer what I must do in this Cease, leave him i never can; all I desire is, that he will never marry unless it is to me, or Else



never forsake me, for if he do, I shall sartainly murder my self. I bags your Advice in your next Mercury - thus bagging your pardons, I hope you will give a charitable answer to a destracted Womans Question? (Vol. 9, No.3) The Society's response to this letter begins, 'If the Querist had not specifi'd her Character and Quality, it might have been guess'd at without much difficulty, by her way of Spelling and Writing.' The equation between character and social position on one hand and spelling and writing on the other brands this correspondent as 'low' in both class and morals. The construction of her 'character' is partly a function of her 'characters,' her writing as represented upon the page (even though in themselves poor spelling and grammar were not at this time an accurate denominator of class, given the poor education received even by gentlewomen). Here, the written, textual nature of the subject is particularly exposed, in a way that not only represents a particular female writer but also is contextualized by a response from the Society that situates this writer morally, and the entire exchange ideologically. By typographically 'duplicating' the faulty writing of this correspondent - her characters - the periodical distinguishes her letter from most of the others it prints, then offers, through the Society's response, an authoritative interpretation of those characters which becomes a condemnatory reading of the writer's character. An equation is made between the letter's content and its expression: both are charged with the power to reveal the moral state of the writer. The Society follows its observation about the correspondent's Quality with a censure: Whoe're she be, she's miserable enough, being infected at once with the two greatest Plagues of her Sex, Prostitution and Love . ... Why shou'd the poor cheated Creature expect Impossibilities; that a Man shou'd continue to be true, when he has more than all he desires: Or how can she wonder that any is false to her, when she has been already so to Virtue? 22 Responding unsympathetically, the Athenians also convey their disapproval by their use of the third person, in effect distancing their response by denying even the appearance of intimacy structurally implied by the second-person relationship of correspondents, and implicitly refusing this letter-writer membership



m the textual community predicated upon just such epistolary intimacy. Starr remarks that this letter demonstrates 'little of the self-awareness or moral perplexity that gives so many Mercury queries their vitality' ( 19), yet in another sense its unconventional graphic representation conveys a linguistic vitality matched by the energy with which the Athenians deliver their censure. The harshness of their response, which fills nearly two half-sheet columns, underscores the moral authority the periodical claimed to exert through the representation of epistolary exchange. Itself part of the periodical's construction of women subjects, this letter becomes a reprehensible model of the interconnected qualities of conduct and writing: there is an obvious equation here between the letter's incorrect use of language and the subject's incorrect behavior. The Society punishes this querist in two ways: explicitly, through its judgmental comments upon her conduct, and implicitly, by denying her the 'charity' (and community) she requests. ATHENIA:\ ICOl\'OGRAPHY

The premise that the editorial board of the Athenian Mercury was in some way constituted as an authority imposed a vertical structure upon the horizontal structure of epistolary exchange. The periodical clearly manifested this relationship between the horizontal and the vertical in a much-reprinted engraving which first appeared as the frontispiece to another Dunton 'educational' publication, the Young Students' Library. The engraving, entitled 'An Emblem of the Athenian Society. 1692' (see Figure I), 23 is rather like a Duntonian rendition of Raphael's 'The School of Athens'; it illustrates Dunton's typical characterization of the Athenian Society as a quasi-judiciary panel of experts, constructing an iconographic representation of the periodical's engagement with its audience. The Society, much inflated in numbers, sits at a long table (presumably in the 'courtroom' of the coffee house), veiled to signify their anonymity, surrounded by illustrations of the four seats of learning, Athens, Rome, Oxford, and Cambridge. 24 Various representations of 'learning' and science suggest their affinity with the Royal Society as well. The Athenian Society is receiving letters from two ranks of people below them, the first level respectably dressed, the second a mix of types, representing 'the crowd.' The spatial arrangements explicitly figure a relation-


Figure I An Emblem of the Athenian Society. 1692 (reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California)



ship in which the horizontal is subsumed by the vertical: the suppliants are horizontally arranged within two vertically presented tiers, situated beneath the horizontal row of the Society. The flat plane of the table (drawn out of perspective) separates the Athenians from their closest rank of querists who hand up their queries, which lie scattered on the table, small pieces of paper dwarfed by the half-folio sheets, no doubt representing the periodical, upon which members of the Society seem to be writing. The population of the lower tier includes some engaged in acts of violence, but several potential correspondents hand up their pieces of paper to the Society. Women are prominently represented among both groups of suppliants, from fine ladies in the upper level to washerwomen in the lower, balancing their laundry on their heads and extending their queries. An explanatory poem at the bottom of the engraving provides a gloss for the types of behavior and queries in the illustration. The Society is introduced, 'mighty we,' who, exchanging letters with the world, 'find chat for ym [while] they work for us'; the first two examples of 'the world' are both, significantly, women, both belonging to the upper tier of correspondents: B.


dy'e see that lady in (e)ye mask wee'! tell ye what she comes to ask tho an unconscionable task tis how her lover fast to bind false as her selfe false as ye faithless wind that other brings her fav'rite flea with golden fetters lock and key if it has a sting our thoughts does crave or only a tongue as other females have. 25

The derogatory representation of women in the gloss, which is echoed in the contemptuous dismissal of the 'rowt of noisy fools' (H), seems to ignore the many neutral examples in the illustration itself of women supplying the Athenians with questions. Women correspondents are particularly prominent among the 'crowd' portrayed in the lower level: all of the washerwomen, for example, are holding queries. And though the derogation represents one type of Athenian response to female correspondents in the periodical itself, it ignores their most frequently assumed attitude of sympathy to women. There is, then, an apparent disjunction within the



engraving between the wider-ranging pictorial illustration of the Society, more representative of their procedures in the periodical, and the exclusiveness expressed in the verbal explanation. The explanation of this disjunction must lie in the engraving's iconographic function, which seeks to figure both communal interaction and hierarchic authority. The pictorial illustration is given precedence over the verbal gloss by virtue of its position 'above' the inscription, which echoes the tier system through which strong horizontal lines are arranged in an even stronger vertical order, elevating the Athenian Society and subordinating its ranks of querists. The dual representation of equality within rows and hierarchy among them is also conveyed by various signs of difference: there are clear class relationships within and between the two tiers representing the 'public'; the Athenians and their querists are all 'wr;iters,' but the large sheets of the former dwarf the small papers offered up by the latter; the long, wide table, which would usually carry associations with coffee-house 'democracy,' here seats only the Athenians along one side, becoming a spatial indication of social distance; a veil 'masks' the Society, and here the masking device signifies the unbridgeable gap between the unknown authorities and their suppliants, rather than its opposite, a disguise which, cloaking personal identity (as figured by the masked woman labeled 'B'), therefore cloaks social distinctions. Particularly in the latter two cases, the illustration utilizes two familiar representations of 'democracy' - the coffee house and the masquerade, both, of course, conveying very dissimilar associations, representing very partial forms of democracy - in order to figure hierarchy. In a like manner, the illustration on a larger scale invokes the 'community of the text,' by picturing all ranks joined in the common activity of 'working' for the periodical, at the same time grouping participants in a hierarchy of discrete and seemingly inviolable categories, with the Athenian Society in the dominating position. The 'lowest' category, represented on the same plane as the washerwomen, contains those who are not part of the periodical's community of correspondents at all, but pose active, violent threats to it. The implication that the Athenians can control violent actions taken against members of their community simultaneously suggests the establishment of community identity in relation to an outside threat and a communally sanctioned hierarchy of power. The horizontal representation is thus governed



by a vertical authority structure which is both of the community and above it. Within this context, the verbal 'explanation' of the illustration, presented for the most part from the perspective of the Society, defines the periodical's community through selective representations of individual readers identified as examples of the Society's authority over its suppliants. The point of this engraving, then, is not proportionally to represent the actual types of epistolary interchange contained within the periodical, but to signify a varied and comprehensive 'world' whose members are constructed as participants in the Athenian enterprise, co-producers of the Athenian texts, and grateful beneficiaries of the Athenian authority: 'subjects,' simultaneously, of their own written words, and of the Athenian Society's rule. THE INTERVENTION OF THE TEXT INTO PRIVATE LIFE

The Athenians' assumption - or, its detractors claimed, their presumption - of authority illustrated in the emblem provided a hierarchical framework which contained the periodical's epistolary interaction with its audience. Within this framework, the Society exerted its authority over matters not only public but private, including that more personal correspondence that raised issues the periodical dubbed feminine. Ajudicating among such letters, the Society both implicitly and explicitly made the claim that the act of regulating personal matters necessitated extending its authority out of the sphere of information exchange and public behavior into the area of private thought and actions. In regard to women, therefore, the judiciary activity of the Society necessarily extended into an examination of those issues of private conduct, such as love, sex, and marriage, previously assigned to courtesy books or theology and casuistry. The very structure of the epistolary periodical provided the mechanism for the apparent extension of the periodical's authority structure into the lives of its readers. The periodical defined its community as the textual expression of relationships both explicitly figured (i.e., the circumstances of readers' lives as they represented them in the published letters) and implicitly assumed (the engagement with a larger audience, represented by the individual readers' letters). Thus, the periodical presented its sphere of



influence as comprehending not only the explicit interchange between questioners and answerers figured on the page, but also an implicit interchange between the periodical and its general audience. The periodical, constructed out of the 'epistolary pact' between the Athenians and their readers-correspondents, whose exchange was concretized in print, engaged an audience constituted by those readers who were not correspondents, but who participated in a relationship with the periodical through the act of reading. Within this configuration, the printed manifestation of details of 'private life' on the page registered a larger, unprinted private context susceptible to extension of Athenian authority constituted in and by print. The extension of the periodical's authority into the private lives of the greater part of its audience was, of course, implied as the desirable result of the act of reading and interpreting the specific questions and answers which the periodical published: readers 'learned' from the examples of the querists who to some degree 'represented' them, receiving the advice of the Society. At the same time, as part of its response to certain queries which implicated others besides the querist, the Athenian Society advised the actual, physical intervention of the periodical into private concerns, thus rendering the Athenian Mercury itself a material embodiment of judicial authority. For example, in an answer to a man wanting to know how to break off an engagement, the Society concludes, 'And if he has not a handsomer way to discover such his change to the lady, let him but shew her this third question in one Athenian Mercury, and if she ben't extreamly dull, 'twill effectively do it (Vol. 2, No. 2:3). The Society's answer not only responds to the querist, a reader figured as a correspondent, but also figured another reader, 'the lady,' represented as the object of the query. Through the very act whereby she becomes a reader of the periodical, this woman will discover information crucial to her private life, her fiance's true feelings about their engagement. Thus her private life is explicitly presented as subject to the periodical's interference, even though she is represented as not having initiated that interference. Despite the absence of initiative from her, her situation implicitly acknowledges the Society's authority as she becomes the recipient of its advice both directly (in so far as its members specifically address her in their response) and indirectly (in so far as her becoming a reader- having readership given to, or



imposed upon, her- is a product of its advice). Thus the periodica l figures itself as a material entity 'in action,' an action which construct s out of the original, printed epistolary interchan ge (the fiance addressin g the Society) a secondar y, unprinted interchan ge which mirrors the process of reading construct ed by the periodica l: the image of confronta tion and reception of authority . And since in this case that secondar y reader is a 'lady,' whose act of reading is the act of receiving informati on of the most private and significan t sort, we are presented here with a recapitul ation of the equation between the feminine and the private, contained within the paramete rs of Athenian regulatio n. The correspon dents of the Athenian Mercury themselv es seem to presume upon the efficacy of the Society's pronounc ements upon private issues. One reader writes: A Gentlem an of my Acquaint ance having been formerly in Love, and disappoin ted, has again offer'd his service to another lady, who refuses to entertain his Amours, though upon honourab le terms, till the ATHENIA N SOCIETY resolve this question, whether tis possible for a Gentlem an that has been in love before, to love again with the same ardour and affection as at first.

The Society ends its affirmativ e answer with two types of recomme nded action: 'let the gentlema n evence by matter of fact the condition s the Lady expects, and afterward s show her this answer, and she'll be doubly oblig'd to be of our opinion' (Vol. 2, No. 6:3). This question - in which a person is said to base a decision upon the outcome, holding matters in suspensio n until answere d- again reveals the periodica l's material intervent ion in private life in a determin ing, shaping way. The exchange of letters and the use to which the material periodica l is put, so that the gesture of handing it to someone promotes a developm ent in a situation which the periodica l has addressed , prefigure s the literal reforming power imputed to the Tatler and Spectator as well as the material agency of the letter in Richards on's epistolary novels. Through this process of material intervent ion, the material publicati on was used to create, define, and expand the periodica l's sphere of influence , its communi ty. 26 So the construct ion of the periodica l includes that process through which the material publicati on entered private life



as a causative agent - the physical embodiment of the adviceseeking and -giving relationship itself. Through the manifestation of the periodical as an agent capable of intervening- regardless of the extent of its 'actual' interventionin issues such as love and marriage, the periodical text established the private as its legitimate territory. In so far as it attempted to regulate private behavior, the Athenian Mercury resembled conduct books, which themselves occasionally employed the framework of address to a specific individual, a daughter or a son, though usually with little acknowledgment of the larger audience. Similarly, the Mercury's advice was at least ostensibly addressed to one reader, transmitted through the similacrum of an epistolary relationship. Though the periodical did convey a sense of general principles which informed its specific answers, these answers addressed themselves foremost to the immediate personal concerns of its readers-correspondents, and through them to the larger reading public. In the case of those epistolary exchanges which were categorized as feminine, the form (the personal letter) and the content (personal experience) of private life assumed a public, published identity. Thus blurring the demarcation separating public discourse from private experience, the Athenian Mercury created a public discourse out of private experience.