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.
BOOK REVIEWS IN VICTORIAN WOMEN'S MAGAZINES
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.
"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.
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.
Page published October 2007 Last updated April 8th 2008
© Barbara Onslow 2007
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