“The Character of Editress”: Marian Evans at the Westminster Review, 1851-54

Fionnuala Dillane, University College Dublin

That Marian Evans was a professional journalist familiar with the world of publishing by the time she wrote her first fiction is acknowledged universally in critical and biographical accounts of George Eliot’s life. She was, after all, the first woman editor of a leading intellectual quarterly, the Westminster Review. However, little attention has been paid to the actual details of Evans’s editorial work, carried out a decade before the George Eliot persona was invented. This essay argues that Evans’s editorial career provides revealing evidence of an important intervention in the haphazard processes of the professionalization of Victorian women. The “Character of Editress,” to use Evans’s own expression, signifies both the performance and the mask that were required of a woman occupying such a public, professional role at a prominent mid-century journal. This “character” emerges from the margins of publication history when the focus of attention shifts from the content of periodicals to their form—to their layout and design. As a case in point, this article discusses Evans’s role in the pioneering redesign of the book review pages of the Westminster Review from 1852, a hugely successful and influential contribution. In the absence of other records, the pages of the periodicals themselves yield significant insights into the guiding hands of women journalists now lost to us.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]