Class and Gender: The ‘Girls’ Weeklies’

  • Billie Melman


The impression one carries away from old issues of story papers such as Peg’s Paper is quite different from that recorded by Orwell in his famous essay. One does not have the sense of ‘frightful overwhelming refinement’, of blissful domesticity, of an exclusion from real life and the real world. The papers do have a certain coarseness which is sincere. Their idiom is the idiom of a class, not the parroted jargon of an élite. In their form and subject matter they are examples of what Eliot would probably call the ‘expressive art of the people’.1 And of a sex.2 The remainder of this book is about class and gender. The combination of large audiences and a massively capitalised press has usually been regarded as a primary cause for the rise of a mass rather than class press. In post-war Britain that particular combination brought about the emergence of a different kind of commodity: the down-market, consumer-oriented periodical which was, none the less, a class paper. It will be useful, then, to look at the story papers in the context of structural changes in both the market for periodicals and the periodical-reading public, before concentrating on the aesthetics of pulp fiction.


Short Story Reading Public Love Story Popular Imagination Story Paper 
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  1. 2.
    A classic on the connection between gender and class is Richard Hoggart’s study of Peg’s Paper in The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-class Culture with Special Reference to Publications and Entertainment (Penguin, 1981) pp.120–31.Google Scholar
  2. See also Cynthia L. White, Women’s Magazines 1693–1968: A Sociological Enquiry (Michael Joseph, 1970)Google Scholar
  3. and Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig, You’re a Brick Angela! A New Look at Girl’s Fiction from 1839 to 1975 (Victor Gollancz, 1976).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Kathleen, M. Tillotson, Novels of the 1840s (Oxford University Press, 1954) pp.24–33Google Scholar
  5. Margaret Dalziel, Popular Fiction 100 Years Ago: An Unexplored Tract of Literary History (Cohen and West, 1975).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Elinor Glyn, The Elinor Glyn System of Writing (Writer’s Press, 1922), p.17.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    George Orwell, ‘Boys’ Weeklies’, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, vol. I: An Age Like This 1920–40, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (Penguin, 1982) pp.516, 518.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    See also Graham Pollard, ‘Serial Fiction’, in John W. Carter (ed.), New Paths in Book Collecting (Constable, 1931).Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Robin G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Clarendon Press, 1938) pp.323–4Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Peter N. Stearns, ‘The Effort at Continuity in Working-class Culture’, Journal of Modern History, vol. LIV, no. 4 (Dec 1980) p.268.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Billie Melman 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Billie Melman
    • 1
  1. 1.Tel-Aviv UniversityIsrael

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