"II hope Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. will not think I invade his property, by undertaking a paper of this kind" declares Mrs. Crackenthorpe in her opening line of the first issue of the Female Tatler (no. 1). Indeed, the publisher of the Female Tatler quickly capitalized on the success of Richard Steele's paper, the Tatler (1709-11), narrated by the pseudonymous Isaac Bickerstaff. The first issue of the Female Tatler (8 July 1709) actually came out only three months after the initial printing of the Tatler.
The Tatler first appeared first in London on Tuesday, April 12, 1709, and was subsequently published three times weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. At the price of one penny, it covered not only domestic and foreign news but gossip, entertainment, and literature as well. As M. M. Goldsmith notes: "As the picture of Bickerstaff became more detailed and his persona more elaborate, the Tatler also developed."25 Discussion of domestic and foreign news gradually disappeared, and the writer began his campaign for civility and politeness. A great commercial success, it initially sold as many as 3,000 copies per day and, by February 1710 when it was printed on two presses, sold over 5,000 copies per issue.
Portrait of Sir Richard Steele.26
Patterning itself after its parent periodical in content and form, the Female Tatler adopted the Tatler's mode of fashioning a fictitious character as the narrative voice of the paper, clearly blurring genre lines. As prose writing that adopts a fictional narrative voice, periodicals such as the Tatler and Female Tatler hold a notable and infrequently acknowledged place in the history of the rise of the novel. Of course, this should not be surprising in the case of the Female Tatler, for one of the likely authors of the periodical, Delarivier Manley, was also a novelist. The Female Tatler also assumed the Tatler's mode of witty, scathing social satire.
From the beginning, the Female Tatler sets itself up as a complement to rather than a competitor of the Tatler, publishing on alternating days with that magazine. Articulating her desire not to vie with Bickerstaff, Mrs. Crackenthorpe proffers: "my design is not to rival his performance, or in the least prejudice the reputation he has justly gain'd: but as more ridiculous things are done every day than ten such papers can relate, I desire leave to prate a little to the town" (no. 1). She elaborates on the relationship she apparently hopes to develop with the Tatler in her second issue. Here, a character aptly named Lady Coupler-a supposed acquaintance of Isaac Bickerstaff and his family-proposes a marriage between Crackenthorpe and Bickerstaff: "'What wondrous things . . . might two such headpieces in conjunction produce, and for our progeny, the sons would all be bishops, judges and recorders, and the daughters Behns, Philips', and Daciers'" (no. 2). Lady Coupler's statement suggests that Mrs. Crackenthorpe and Isaac Bickerstaff should work together as a pair, presumably rounding out one another's weaknesses and harnessing their strengths.
What do the progeny that Lady Coupler proposes signify? One possibility is the Tatlers themselves: by engaging in dialogue with one another, Mrs. Crackenthorpe and Isaac Bickerstaff produce more interesting and lively papers than either could in isolation. Another likelihood centers around the readers of the Tatlers: while Bickerstaff can instruct male readers on proper behavior, Mrs. Crackenthorpe can instruct the ladies, and both sets of readers will prosper. As well, that Lady Coupler chooses three prominent female writers of the period as the "daughters" of the marriage between the papers (in contrast to the sons, who hold religious and civic positions) suggests that having women intellectuals engaged as peers with male intellectuals will produce a society with superior women of letters.
The Female Tatler does not quite succeed in carving out a niche entirely distinct from that of the Tatler, though this was not for lack of trying. The latter paper addressed itself to women as well as men and even championed women's rights. Richard Steele frequently published articles in the Tatler that questioned women's lack of access to education and their subordinate legal position within marriage. In fact, Steele claimed that he "ha[d] chosen the title of his publication" in honor of the "Fair Sex." 27 However, by referring to the Tatler as "male" on occasion, the writers of the Female Tatler clearly attempt to steal the market of women readers from the Tatler and to claim a distinct place for their publication. Mrs. Crackenthorpe avers, "I consult the honour and interest of the ladies, with as much fervency, as the male Tatler does that of the gentlemen" (no. 29). In this sense, despite claims to the contrary, the Female Tatler attempts to compete with the Tatler.
A Lady Seated by a Drawing Board. By Paul Sandby. 1760.28
After the first the numbers of the paper, the authors of the Female Tatler occasionally dialogue directly with the Tatler. In one instance, Mrs. Crackenthorpe likens the project of the two papers: "Would anybody suppose when Tatlers are daily published that people should be so horrid silly? But as the ingenious Mr. Bickerstaff says-one may write to eternity, the world is still the same" (no. 90). In a second, a reader writes in to the Society of Ladies to request the meaning of the word "lucubrations," which Bickerstaff frequently used to refer to his own essays in the Tatler. Lucinda chastises the reader for asking this question, but provides an adequate answer, claiming that "lucubrations" refers to work done by candlelight and that "the word has always been a very serious one, and has never been ridiculed before Mr. Bickerstaff happily attempted it." The ladies use this reader's letter as a prompt to speculate on Bickerstaff's motives for using this term. Some of the ladies maintain that he uses "lucubrations" to suggest that his work is written "off hand," in contrast to "laborious pedants" who write other periodicals, while others argue that he accidentally used the word too much in his first issues, then "to prevent our thinking that he had been in error, he purposely seemed to grow more fond of it, and endeavoured to persuade the world that he had all along designed it as a jest." As for Lucinda, she supposes that his papers simply are lucubrations because he must write them at night, after working all day in his role of Squire (no. 81). The question of how the Female Tatler responds to and engages with the Tatler in more subtle ways provides ground for further research and exploration.
While the Female Tatler sprang most directly from the Tatler, it also can be said to have had a number of other predecessors-and successors. According to Patricia Meyer Spacks, periodicals aimed at women began appearing in England in 1693, when John Dunton published Ladies' Mercury, a spin-off of his Athenian Mercury. 29 The Ladies' Mercury promised to answer "all the most nice and curious questions concerning love, marriage, behaviour, dress, and humour of the female sex, whether virgins, wives, or widows." 30 Thus, the Female Tatler's move to provide a women's equivalent for a male or gender-neutral periodical followed a custom established several decades before its time.
Though only a small handful of British periodicals were written primarily for women prior to the Female Tatler, new ladies' periodicals began emerging with great frequency after 1709. Like the Female Tatler, these periodicals experienced very short life spans, usually under a year. Clearly, publishers identified a ready market in women readers, but could not or chose not to sustain a long-term readership. The tendency of these periodicals to adopt a fictional narrator probably contributed to this pattern; as readers often tire of a character in a novel after multiple installments, they may prefer a new narrator for their periodical after several months. For a chronology of eighteenth-century periodicals written primarily by and/or for women, see our list.
Detail to Frontplates to Spectator Volume. 1740.31
The Female Spectator, probably written almost entirely by Eliza Haywood, the runaway best-seller romance novelist, is one of the more literary and enduring of the Female Tatler's descendants. Spacks claims that "Haywood's journal was in fact the first periodical for women actually written by a woman," though this is up for debate, since the (lady) novelist Delarivier Manley has been posited as one of the most likely authors of the Female Tatler. (See Authorship). Like the Female Tatler, Tatler, and Spectator, the Female Spectator was comprised of a long essay for each issue and often responded to letters from fictitious readers.32 Haywood takes up many of the same issues the Female Tatler addresses, such as mocking exorbitant tea drinking (see Sample Issues), and pondering the necessary but institutionally problematic nature of marriage (see Marriage and Courtship).
Many scholars, such as Spacks, identify the Tatler and Spectator as the proper influences on the Female Spectator, not the Female Tatler. However, it seems likely that the Female Tatler, as a magazine for ladies, bestowed certain unique attributes upon the Female Spectator-not the least of which is its name. Indeed, a number of ladies magazines after the Female Tatler followed this trend of titling their periodical by appending "Female" to an existing magazine title or creating a new title with this prefix, such as the Female Guardian (1787), the Female Mentor (1793), the Female Instructor (1811-30), and the Female Preceptor (1813-15). While these periodicals chose "Female," some preferred "Ladies" as the signifier of a publication's address to an audience of women.
Indeed, naming itself emerges as a significant aspect of the Female Tatler's success and of the history of periodical literature in general. For, by titling their periodical after the Tatler, the publishers of the Female Tatler clearly harness the Tatler's renown, capitalizing on the name and reputation of the older magazine. Using a name that readers readily identified no doubt made it easier for the neophyte to find its niche than if the publishers of the Female Tatler had been forced to interest readers in a publication wholly unfamiliar. The shrewdness of the Female Tatler's move in this capacity (learned, to some extent, from John Dunton's success with Ladies' Mercury) is evidenced by the fact that this trend continues to dominate the periodicals industry today. Sports Illustrated recently introduced Sports Illustrated Women, People magazine brought out Teen People, and even in the sciences, the popular journal Cell has introduced the spin-offs Cancer Cell and Molecular Cell. More apropos, Condè Nast currently publishes a magazine by the name of the Tatler in Britain, the Ulster Tatler is published in Ireland, and the HongKong Tatler, Malaysia Tatler, and Singapore Tatler are produced in Asian countries. Within the periodicals industry (as with many industries), a familiar name clearly sells (and one with historical clout doesn't hurt)-a lesson the Female Tatler applied to its advantage in the early eighteenth century.
May 2002 issue of Condè Nast's Tatler.33
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