Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 32 (2001) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
'Everything in the literary world is done by favour and connections'. Mary Howitt's assessment of the importance of contacts in the London of the 1840s is borne out in Barbara Onslow's wide ranging and fascinating study of nineteenth century women journalists. 'Journalism was an open profession', as she observes, 'but it was a masculine one' and women who sought access to it relied on a variety of networks. Her book is, indirectly, a superb study of female networking. Family connections helped women like Mary Howitt, Anna Maria Hall, Isabella Beeton and Alice Meynell, each of whom teamed up with her husband in publishing a journal, but in doing so ran the risk of remaining in the shadow of her more illustrious spouse. Siblings and parents could be valuable, as Geraldine Jewsbury found with her elder sister Maria Jane, and Anna Hall with her mother. Older literary women like Anna Jameson and Eliza Lynn Linton proved generous patrons to young aspirants. There were also a number of influential female circles, one centring on Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall's (Anna Maria) 'at homes', another on George Eliot's Sunday afternoons at The Priory, and salons run by the Duchess of Sutherland, and earlier by the Countess of Blessington. Religious denominations, many of them in provincial towns, provided social and intellectual networks from which women in particular benefited, and families like the Yonges, the Mozleys and the Gaskells became the focus of influential feminine circles. Later the Langham Place group of feminists generated a number of networks as did various suffrage societies.
But as journalism became more professionalized women's lack of formal education and their restricted participation in public life became significant, and, Onslow argues, the expansion and democratization of the press militated against women. The cosy world of family connections and patronage seemed light years away from the climate of the 'new journalism', with its more pressurized working conditions, aggressive advertising, and competition. Onslow draws on a variety of self-help manuals and articles directed at the would-be woman journalist of the nineties, offering advice on how to secure work in the new era. Amateurism had created its own anxieties earlier in the century. The new professionalism, implicit in the creation of the Society of Women Journalists in 1893, and the opening of the Institute of Journalists and the Society of Authors to women, did not reduce those anxieties.
Before the advent of regular columns and by-lines, the editorship of a journal, with its status and secure income, was a much sought after, and for women, an elusive prize. As Onslow demonstrates, women were barred from editorships of the high profile reviews and organs of opinion. She writes perceptively about Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ellen Wood as editors of Belgravia and the Argosy, and of a number of other successful women editors, notably the formidable Christian Johnston of Taits Edinburgh Magazine, Eliza Cook, and the women editors of religious periodicals, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna of the Christian Lady's Magazine, and Charlotte Yonge with her long-lived Monthly Packet.