Papers for Girls
Contemporary to Brett’s boy’s periodicals was the Girl’s Own Paper, first published by the Religious Tract Society in 1880. Its content was less dependent on serial fiction than the boy’s papers, emphasizing instead columns on various aspects of domestic life. No overarching message of femininity is evident in the paper, in comparison to the highly specific image of imperial manhood. Fantasy and romanticism were sanctioned for males, though there is evidence (as mentioned earlier) to suggest that girls may have also perused the boy’s papers. Perhaps the new working class boy’s uncertain future made a diet of imaginative adventure fiction more appropriate; this type of reading material allowed for ambition and endless possibilities without disrupting the existing social hierarchy. Victorian girls, however, anticipated the eventual assumption of a domestic role despite successful efforts during the period to improve women’s rights. Unlike boys, the reality girls faced was inevitable and therefore, acceptable; they required no literature to persuade them of the importance of home economics. As a result the content of the girls’ paper was less uniform. Kimberly Reynolds relates the inconsistency of the magazine to the enigma of Victorian girlhood: "The most important difference between the [boy’s papers] and the Girl’s Own Paper lies in the deliberately eclectic nature of the girls’ magazine and the ambiguity at the heart of its presentation of girlhood and femininity" (140).
The Victorian girl was growing in intellect, but not in influence (except as a consumer market), leaving the paper’s editors without a clear body of source material. A competition calling for the submission of original music compositions might be sandwiched between a scientific column on human anatomy and a cooking piece titled “Five little dinners from a leg of mutton.” A column from the October 13, 1888 issue titled “The Service of Beauty” describes the delicate balance between practicality and conservatism at the fin de siècle:
As the education of women becomes more sound and complete, it is sometimes feared that they tend to become too hard-headed, too scientific, and too matter-of-fact. That will never be a real danger as long as they recognize in their sense of beauty a sacred trust, cultivate it to the utmost of their power, and refresh with its purity the dry and dusty paths of life.
Sold at a penny per issue, circulation of the Girl’s Own Paper reached 200,000 in 1880 (Drotner 115). By 1890, the publication had outpaced the Boy’s Own Paper in generating profits for the RTS (Boyd 31). The Girl’s Own Paper is used here primarily as a counterexample to the boys’ popular literature of the period, which is much more consistent in its content as well as its formal design. - next