Friday, June 29, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

Please welcome today's Friday Friend, Carol J. Larson.

Carol is the author of teen and young adult fiction. Her books include Big Stone Heart and The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice. Carol is also a physician and an artist. She lives in Minnesota and South Dakota with her husband and their dog, Lucy.

Guilty Pleasures
Okay, I admit it: I like the TV show America’s Next Top Model. It’s one of my little guilty pleasures. I can feel you rolling your eyes out there, but bear with me, there’s a point to be made. So one night, with shades drawn and volume low, I was watching the show. They were doing a photo-shoot for Seventeen Magazine. Seventeen Magazine! This was my guilty pleasure when I was a teen. Instead of doing my homework, I would pour over the magazine looking for answers to life’s most pressing questions: What to do if a boy wants to kiss you? How to make the agonizing choice between blue and brown eyeliner? Pointy toed shoes or not?

I write fiction for girls ages twelve and up and all of my books are set during the Victorian Era in America. Those of you who follow my blog know that I love all things nineteenth century. So here’s the point: I got to wondering – what did girls and young women read for magazines in the late 1800’s? Did they have a Seventeen Magazine equivalent and if so, what was in there? Today, we hear so much about the influence of print and electronic media on the lives of young girls: Do the stick thin models in women’s magazines promote anorexia and bulimia? Do the numerous articles on sex encourage promiscuity? Does TV cause violent behavior? Compared to today, what exactly were magazines telling young women a hundred and thirty years ago? I decided to find out.

It turns out that before the late nineteenth century, magazines for children weren’t differentiated by gender.  A look into some volumes of Youth’s Companion from 1877, showed games and puzzles, features about royalty, politicians, world events and exotic locations.  What was interesting were the serialized stories.  These were morality tales involving poor children, orphans or dead children.  And often the story revolved around a child teaching an adult a lesson.  Consider this passage from an 1877 volume of Youth’s Companion:  Marshall is a ten year old boy.  His family has been wronged by a Mr. Hogan. Marshall had this exchange with his parents:

“The more fault you!” said his father.  “After that man’s treatment of you and all of us!  I’m ashamed of you, Marshall!”
But now kind-hearted Mrs. Morrison seconded her son, and said, -
“For the sake of his poor wife and children, Philip!   Think how we should feel if you were hurt in that way.  And consider – what I have heard you say many times – that it isn’t Mr. Hogan himself, but the bad spirit which drink has put into him, that does these things.”

When a girl reached puberty and became of marriageable age, she put her hair up and her hem down and presumably switched from reading children’s magazines to lady’s magazines. Two prominent women’s magazines in the 1800’s were Godey’s Lady’s Book and The Ladies’ Home Journal (which is still extant today).  Both journals were formulaic:  articles on politics, royalty, world events, a serialized story, a patriotic article, sheet music, advice columns for both men and women.  Almost all of the articles on world events were written by men.  Articles on women’s fashion, babies, children and homemaking were written by women.  There was always an article on cooking, home decorating, fashion, and a feature for children. There were no articles on dieting, dating, sex, make-up or exercise - beyond advising girls that outdoor pursuits were healthful.

As for guiding young women in life choices, the following quote sums it up:  From Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1897.  The article, entitled WHAT NOW?, is aimed at new college graduates: 
“An intellectual ambition draws many a girl away from her true place in life, and makes her a cold, unloved, and unhelpful woman, instead of a joyous, affectionate and unselfish blessing to home and friends…”
“If the instinct of daughter, sister, wife or mother dies out of a college-bred woman, even in the course of a most brilliant career, the world will forget to love her; it will scorn her, and justly.”
As to Seventeen Magazine, no such equivalent existed back then.  In The Ladies’ Home Journal, dated January 1897, in an article entitled “Side-Talks With Girls” said this:
Girls of fifteen are not supposed to be in society, nor do they, if they have wise mothers, receive gentlemen visitors.  Girls of that age should be in the schoolroom.”
I picked up a recent volume of Seventeen Magazine the other day.  In addition to the usual articles on weight loss, beauty and fashion, there were these:
“Are Your Moves Sexy or Snoozy?”
“Movie Worthy Make-outs”
“Sneaky Ways to Keep Things Casual”
So the contrast between what girls were being told in magazines in the late nineteenth century and today couldn’t be more striking.  Is it better to bombard the young women of today with articles on sex, dating, dieting and exercise or to refuse to discuss what goes on between men and women and to completely ignore those parts of the body “down there” as they did in the nineteenth century?
I’ll let you be the judge.

Carol's YA novel 'Big Stone Heart' was released by Whiskey Creek Press this month
'The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice' will be released in March 2013 by Whiskey Creek Press

Big Stone Heart

Seventeen year old Carrie Smith knows everything about baby boys, but nothing about grown men. Raised in an orphanage, unloved and unwanted, her only joy is the care she gives to the abandoned babies. When a letter arrives from a man in Dakota Territory who is looking for a wife, Carrie must choose between her lonely life in the orphanage or take a risk on an unknown man in a world about which she knows very little. Summoning all of her courage, she travels to Big Stone City, Dakota Territory, only to encounter heartbreak, deceit and betrayal. Bruised in body and spirit, Carrie flees to a small prairie town. When a shy farmer, Christopher Bachman, enters her life, Carrie must learn to trust again.  Faced with a shattering secret, she must find a way to open her heart to forgiveness and love.
You can find Carol's website at
and her blog at 
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Carol, and we wish you every success with your novels.


  1. So nice of you to be our guest, Carol! Where in MN and SD are you? I'm up in Park Rapids. Are you a Midwest Fiction Writers member?

    Great post. I'd prefer a more middle ground between today's articles and 19th century ones.

  2. Hi Ana: I'm in a suburb of Minneapolis and on Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border near Ortonville. I'm, not a member yet, but I will put it on my list of things to do. Thank you so much for commenting on my post! Carol

  3. Hi Carol, so nice to have you here today. I have two girls, and I'm constantly facing the dilemma of how much to let them read, watch and listen to. So much out there influences their body image, decisions and actions. It's very hard to provide the right amount of guidance while still letting them have fun. I have a Cosmo magazine from 1967 (which features an article about my parents) and it's so funny to read it to see how language and interests have changed. The ads are hilarious and the articles about "bachelor girls" make me roll my eyes (like my 13 year old!).

  4. It should be somewhere in the middle, surely. Young people need and deserve to be informed but encouraging excessive dieting and promiscuity is downright irresponsible.
    What fun Victorian moralists were! "Woman, kmow your place!"