These pages will be used for the kind of content which in Victorian magazines would have appeared in "essays" - though my intention is not to reproduce essays in full. There are very well established websites which already do that. I want, instead, to give samples, extracts, and summaries which I hope will provide ideas for further research or discussion for those who have already done some work on a topic, and a taste of things to come for those contemplating joining a course.


Apart from those titles devoted entirely to fiction, essays on every conceivable topic were a staple ingredient of general periodicals. They were the ancestors of our modern magazine articles. Middle-brow journals aimed at the expanding middle-classes often sought to emulate the serious reviews - at least in some of their content. So whilst they might not expect their readers to enjoy an erudite philosophical or religious treatise, editors seem to have thought biographical sketches, accounts of explorations, and popularizations of scientific or economic topics would prove attractive.

Over time sub-genres emerged - the travel article, the "Celebrity at home" interview, the "Inside View of .. " almost anything from a newspaper office to a Royal yacht or a prison.

Today we associate high quality Victorian illustration with fiction or poetry - Millais and Trollope in the Cornhill for instance, - but other genres were illustrated. This was particularly the case with genres like biography and travel where publishers found it relatively easy to acquire existing wood-cuts or plates of appropriate landmarks and portraits, rather than going to considerable trouble and expense to commission artists and engravers. By the 1890s new technologies made reproduction of images cheap enough for magazines to fill their pages with pictures, though quantity was often gained at the expense of quality.

 *An image inset in a page of the Windsor Magazine Vol 2, 1895 to illustrate a fictionalized account of prison life. The caption reads  'Then came breakfast -- not ..... from the cookshop.'  ( Prisoners on remand could purchase food from outside, but the convicted prisoner has to put up with prison kitchen gruel rather than the hot tea, rasher of bacon and decent quality bread he had previously enjoyed.)


In the final decades of the nineteenth century both men and women journalists sought to professionalize their work, by advocating formal training and forming professional associations.  This coincided with an increasing desire on the part of young men to consider a wider choice of career than simply following in father's footsteps, and  a  recognition that many young women too, from classes where once marriage or governessing were the only options, would also want to work. Articles on training for different jobs and accounts by practitioners of what their work involved proliferated in magazines. Journalism proved a popular example, and, naturally not too difficult for any journalist to research!
[Unfortunately for me it didn't prove quite so easy to illustrate, and the jacket of my book has one of the few recognizable images of a working Victorian woman journalist that I have seen.]

WANT TO BE A JOURNALIST?     advice from Victorian journalists

Job-hunting hints for those who came to my press history lecture:

What is journalism? :' It is the art of lending to people and events intrinsically dull an interest which does not properly belong to them.'
    Arnold Bennett in Journalism for Women: a Practical Guide 1898

What qualities are required? : 'All newspaper work puts strain on the worker... Press work taxes so heavily one's vitality that only those who have great reserves of nervous force can stand it.'
    Emily Crawford in "Journalism as a Profession for Women" Contemporary Review 1893

'The true instinct of the journalist is based on a combination of intense, almost abnormal, powers of observation, the faculty of recording, with ease and promptitude, a sense of proportion and space ... [and the] ability to judge tendencies and the feelings of the masses.'
Mary Billington in "Leading Lady Journalists" Pearson's Magazine 1896

On freelance contributions : 'Remember that articles are accepted much more because they are "on the nail," and bear directly upon the subject of the hour than because of any exceptional literary merits... Editors want not what it may strike your fancy to write, but what they think their subscribers would like to read. '
W T Stead in "Young Women and Journalism" The Young Woman 1893

Cardinal Error: 'As for punctuation, though each man probably employs his own private system, women are for the most part content with one - the system of dispensing with a system.' (Bennett)

Cardinal Virtues: 'For conscientiousness, punctuality and accuracy the women of the press compared very favourably with the men.'
(Billington quoting W L Thomas, managing director of the Graphic)

For examples of some successful Victorian women journalists and a note on the Graphic see Introduction on the Ladies' Page.

For more on Victorian women's spelling etc see Editor's Mailbag
©  Barbara Onslow 2007 (last updated October 2007)



*Above: An 1890's bicycling costume. Bicycling was a hot topic in the press of the nineties, and one of the key icons of the "New Woman".

For more on Bicycling costume see the article on Rational Dress on the new Fashion Page.

*A competition run by Home Chat for the best definition of the "New Woman" revealed that a number of readers clearly linked her with both the press and the bicycle. One of the definitions from a runner-up indeed claimed that she was merely

'A myth evolved for the benefit of the newspapers'

and another that she was

The "Miss Harris " of journalistic enterprise.
     Who cuts her back hair off quite short,
    And put on clothes she didn't ought,
    And apes the man in word and thought?
                    "New Woman"
    Who rides a cycle round the town,
    In costume making all men frown,
    And otherwise acts like a clown?
                    "New Woman"
    Who's sweetest of the sweet, I say.
    Because she throws not sex away'
    Is always ladylike, yet gay?
                    "True Woman"
Extract from "Editorial Chit Chat" September 1895

Below: The book jacket (reproduced by courtesy of Macmillan/Palgrave) shows an illustration from the Girl's Own Paper 1885 of a Lady Editor dealing with correspondence. Note the overflowing waste-paper basket! On the table to her left is an early copying machine from the days before carbon paper.)


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.

Barbara Onslow published July 2007  Updated October 19 2008
*This sign indicates a paragraph or image you may have accessed from a link on the Contents Page. Occasionally there may be more than one such item on the same page.