Romance in Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly as Romance, 1918–39

  • Eleanor Reed

Abstract

This article examines romance and social aspiration in British domestic magazine Woman’s Weekly during the interwar period. Between 1918 and 1939, Cinderella romance was the dominant fictional genre in Woman’s Weekly, which featured at least one complete story and one serial instalment in each weekly issue. These romances work through the social ambitions of the magazine’s target readers: lower-middle-class housewives on low incomes, who aspire towards class promotion. Assuming a social framework within which a woman’s status is determined by the status of her husband, and assuming a reading experience in which the heroine functions as the reader’s avatar, the social aspirations of Woman’s Weekly’s target readers emerge in the socio-economic status of the magazine’s fictional romance heroes. Surveyed using the ‘distant reading’ process pioneered by Franco Moretti, a sample of Woman’s Weekly Cinderella romances issued during 1918–19, 1928, and 1938–39 reveals shifts and complexities in these aspirations across the interwar period. Notably, these shifts and complexities reflect changes within Britain’s class system, and the assumed position of Woman’s Weekly’s target readers within it. Whilst Woman’s Weekly’s Cinderella romance fiction fulfils its target readers’ social aspirations in fantasy, the magazine’s lifestyle content promises to realize them in actuality, by supplying the products and behaviours associated with aspirational lifestyles. Showing how the anticipation and fulfilment of narrative resolution that underpins Cinderella romance narratives might shape one imaginary reader’s experience of reading Woman’s Weekly, I argue that it is the romantic promise of social elevation that attracts readers to the magazine, and ensures their long-term loyalty. The extent to which the magazine can fulfil this promise for real is, however, questionable.

Published
2020-11-12