Moruzi, Kristine. Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850 – 1915. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate, 2012.
Book Review, by Marcus Mitchell
Kristine Moruzi (Deakin University, Australia) examines how six nineteenth-and early-twentieth century British periodicals confronted tensions between established ideals of middle-class girlhood and shifting expectations of how girls should govern themselves in preparation for womanhood. Popular periodicals among middle-class girls, including Monthly Packet (1851-1859), Girl’s Own Paper (1880-1907), Atalanta (1887-1898), Young Woman (1892-1915), and Girl’s Realm (1898-1915) attempted to shape the attitudes of their readerships through essays on education, health, decorum, marriage, fashion, and religion (among other topics). Meanwhile, the short-lived Girl of the Period Miscellany (1869) offered satirical commentaries on the girl(s) who caused social unease in Britain through their unconventional behaviors that clashed with established Victorian feminine ideals. Moruzi argues that these periodicals advanced both competing and ambiguous models of girlhood. Atalanta, for instance, featured fictional works that lauded women’s dedications to domestic roles alongside essays that encouraged girls to pursue higher education. The variance in these models, Moruzi suggests, is indicative of the difficulties that many Victorians and Edwardians encountered in characterizing middle-class girlhood—difficulties that were exacerbated by changing social ideals in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Throughout her study, Moruzi alludes to pronounced late-nineteenth century fears of racial degeneration that weighed heavily on the British conscience. Concerned about the stability of Britain’s national identity, many commentators advanced the idea that girls should be educated to become good wives and mothers in an effort to ensure the production and rearing of healthy offspring. As Moruzi suggests, the assertive, athletic, and “modern” girls introduced in several of the aforementioned periodicals heightened cultural anxieties about national identity and Britain’s future. Yet, Moruzi stresses that the various constructions of girlhood in the periodical press challenged social commentators to reconsider their definitions of girlhood, evaluate traditional notions of femininity, and expand their understandings of the roles girls and women might fill. The aforementioned periodicals helped shift girlhood from a topic without much contention to a subject of fierce debate.