Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 35 (2004) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
'We are dominated by Journalism' 'a really remarkable power', Oscar Wilde observed, not entirely neutrally, in 'The Soul of Man under Socialism' published in the Fortnightly Review in 1891. Like many of his contemporaries, Wilde recognized not only the power of the press, but also its modernity. In this wide ranging and important study Hilary Fraser, Stephanie Green and Judith Johnston argue that precisely because of its power the periodical press occupied a central position in the construction of gender in Victorian cultural history.
Journalism was gendered masculine by those who accorded it a lofty status within the profession of letters, they suggest. It was just as insistently gendered feminine by those who denigrated writing for the press. Hence Matthew Arnold's description of the so-called 'New Journalism' in 1887 as 'full of ability, novelty, variety, sensation, sympathy, generous instincts; its one great fault is that it is featherbrained', - all attributes conventionally associated with women. Ironically the increasing number of women who joined the ranks of journalists as the century progressed served to downgrade the periodical press still further, by emphasizing its femininity.
But for emerging writers like Marian Evans, Harriet Martineau, Margaret Oliphant and Eliza Lynn Linton earlier in the century the press provided a platform from which their careers were launched. Just as anonymity permitted men 'never meant for authors' to enter the writing profession, it gave women with literary ambitions an opportunity to write for publication. Fraser and Johnston quote Daniel Brown's comment that the periodical essay became 'the Trojan horse that allowed women writers to enter the male preserve of professional writing'. And their male counterparts were aware of their arrival. G. H. Lewes's article 'The Condition of Authors in England, Germany and France' (1847) despite its jocular tone, reveals anxiety about the infiltration of the masculine writing profession by 'speculators' - 'women, children, and ill-trained troops'. A subsequent article in The Leader, 'A Gentle Hint to Writing Women' (1850), continued the military metaphor, claiming that 'women have made an invasion of our legitimate domain' - 'they are ruining our profession' - 'My idea of a perfect woman', the article concludes, 'is of one who can write but won't' , an unexpected comment, as the authors observe, by the man who was to become George Eliot's consort.