Ladies Who Lunch? The Victorian Woman Writer and Professional Authorship

Marrisa Joseph

The socio-cultural attitude towards women in the nineteenth century meant that the majority of women writers felt compelled to use masculine pseudonyms or hide their identities in order to earn a living from their literature. Decision making by editors and publishers in the Victorian publishing industry was often conducted informally at gentlemen’s clubs over dinner, social spaces that were inaccessible to women which further removed them from challenging the male dominated industry. Therefore women worked around the social conventions of the period, by socialising with other women writers in their homes, and they would use public functions such as dinner parties to liaise with editors and publishers in order to access a route to market. There have been a range of studies that focus on the importance of women’s writing to authorship, although these studies predominately examine the contribution to cultural, social and political debate from the perspective of gender or literary studies. There has been less attention dedicated to the contribution that women writers made to the growth the publishing industry in Victorian Britain from a business perspective. This paper will discuss how women writers contributed to the sphere of popular literature through the publication of novels, short stories and articles in the periodical press, and what mechanisms they used to achieve their goals. Furthermore this paper will also bring to the foreground how women used different routes to market in contrast to male authors in order to sell their intellectual property and in some cases become literary celebrities. This paper draws on letters, periodical articles and memoirs to demonstrate how women navigated the realms of the publishing industry in order to challenge the cultural barriers to the woman writer.

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