These pages will be used for publishing short poems, and extracts from Victorian fiction, book reviews, and magazine articles which deal with literature and writers. From time to time I shall also post up background information on editors, writers and critics.


Victorian women played an important role in reviewing new books so it is scarcely surprising that many women's magazines carried review columns. These have attracted less attention from modern critics than reviews in the quarterlies or general periodicals like Blackwood's and the Athenaeum. They interest me, however, because - though one has always to make allowance for the tendency of some publishers, editors and anonymous reviewers to puff the work of friends, associates, and indeed their own publications - they do indicate what women were reading, or at least what they were being encouraged to read and admire.

At the mid-century, when magazines geared to the expanding middle-classes emerged to dominate the market, some reviews still struck a didactic note, reminiscent of the ladies' magazines of the early decades of the nineteenth century, as in the example below.


*The New Monthly Belle Assemblée whose subtitle was "A Magazine of Literature and Fashion" carried in 1852 a "New Books" feature in the dialogue format of an older woman instructing the younger. Here "Mrs Smith" in her London home discusses the latest works with her young country cousin Fanny who is delighted with the ready availability in the capital of recent publications. She no longer has to 'wait weeks and months for the books I am longing to see' even though at home 'we subscribe to a London library and a provincial book-club.'

"Mrs Smith" on her part clearly aims to educate Fanny's taste, whilst simultaneously advocating the importance of personal enthusiasm and the pleasure of forming 'one's own unbiased judgment, by getting hold of a new great book before one has seen a review of it.' In her barbed remarks about 'the cold unsympathetic manner of ordinary reviewers', she almost certainly also echoes the views of the magazine's then editor, who once in an editorial complained of the struggles of talented, published authors who never gained  the fame they deserved. Some of her own publications in various genres would surely have been amongst them.

What I find fascinating is that, in common with much Victorian reviewing, substantial passages from the books are quoted; and alongside those from familiar works we also find intriguing quotations from books rarely cited. In one of the dialogue review columns "Mrs Smith" comments on and reads from William C. Bennett's Verdicts (On the productions of the principal modern poets in verse) 1852. She describes it to Fanny as "satirical ...but not with the satire that wounds like a poisoned weapon', and her choice of extracts reinforces her suspicion of 'ordinary reviewers'.

For extracts from this review and information on William C Bennett see Review page.
There is more about the New Monthly Belle Assemblée in the  Ladies' Page Feature on Gardens.

As the review column is anonymous and editors of women's magazines frequently wrote such unsigned material themselves it is quite possible that the editor is herself the author.
Since publishing this page I have noticed that this same volume includes two poems by W C Bennett. In the light of this, "Mrs Smith"'s comment that the absence of any 'rankle of ill-nature or envy' makes her 'think that, though he chooses to maintain his incognito, he is neither an unknown nor an unsuccessful writer' perhaps betrays the reviewer's knowledge of his identity.

The image of a girl reading is a detail from the cover of the Girl's Own Annual.

For important information on Copyright, Citations, Images and References please see my Home Page. There you will also find an explanation of the aims of Victorian Page, and  a note about me.

Page published October 2007 Last updated April 8th 2008
©  Barbara Onslow 2007 

*This sign indicates a paragraph or image you may have accessed from a link on the Home Page. Occasionally there may be more than one such item on the same page.