Writing Woman
: Gender, Journalism and the Woman’s Penny Weekly in the 1890s

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This project uses the penny weekly, Woman: for all sorts and conditions of women (1890-1912), as a case study to explore the wider debates around gender, journalism, and the diverse identity of women at the turn of the century, with specific reference to the New Woman. The fin de siècle was when gender ideologies were being reformulated in the periodical press. This thesis argues that women’s penny weeklies that appeared at the turn of the century constructed a space wherein diverse voices interacted with each other. These voices were not bound by a single unified set of ideas, politics, and practice. These magazines also served as a vital component for political activism, but these publications were never a didactic tool for persuading readers; instead, they inspired and encouraged their readers to think about their role in society actively. These magazines combined a range of viewpoints and created a multi-dimensional context for femininity. In the body of this work, I argue that the women’s penny weeklies suggest that even practices of domesticity are very multifaceted.

Some of the most revealing aspects of women’s penny magazines are apparent when considering details of the functioning and organisation of the magazine, including the financial arrangements and use of different writers. This thesis sets out to analyse a single periodical, Woman, with a particular focus on unpacking its depiction of the changing ideals of femininity through the work of its two male editors, Fitzroy Gardner, and Arnold Bennett. Both editors contributed to most issues using female pseudonyms. The thesis explores the impact and workings of such cross-gender pseudonyms in the context of authorial and publishing practices in the 1890s. Through a study of this magazine, I suggest that femininity was very much broad and dynamic, and in the pages, there was a combination of articles on fashion, domestic management, gossip, theatre, new books, as well as women’s access to education and the professions. The journal managed to be progressive and yet also incorporate many familiar aspects of women’s magazines.

This thesis also demonstrates the multiple ways male editors of women’s penny weeklies articulated the changing ideas of womanhood at the turn of the century. In these magazines, ideas about modern womanhood are seen as a complex and diverse discursive construct, and male editors both reinforce and subvert the presuppositions about femininity. Consequently, this thesis contributes to the critical conversation about the growth of women’s magazines in the nineteenth century and the work of individual writers and periodicals that make up the literary marketplace.
Date of Award1 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorClare Pettitt (Supervisor) & Mark Turner (Supervisor)

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