Sunday, April 25, 2010

Beatrice Ironside

The January 31, 1807 issue of the Observer--the one that carried Benjamin Bickerstaff's resignation and the riposte of the editor, Eliza Anderson--was also the first one to introduce the name "Beatrice Ironside." Like Benjamin Bickerstaff, this was a pseudonym--in this case, a pseudonym for Anderson herself. But in the January 31 issue, it appeared only as a name under the masthead, which for the first time carried the words "by Beatrice Ironside."

It wasn't until the following week that the pseudonym appeared in the body of the magazine, under an editorial note addressed to "Readers and Correspondents" (who were, in many cases, one and the same). In a way, this is Anderson coming out of the closet, so to speak: it's both a description of the magazine and an invitation to prospective contributors, something that you might expect to find in a magazine's first issue or prospectus. The fact that this editorial didn't appear until after Bickerstaff went off in a huff leads me to suspect that, although Anderson was referred to as editor while he was still there, he was actually exerting quite a bit of editorial control. In any event, the rift between the two was decidedly bitter, judging from some editorial jousting later in the year.

In the note, "Ironside" catalogued the subjects the Observer would touch on--and a pretty exhaustive catalogue it is: the fine arts, history, poetry, fiction, even politics (although "Ironside" says that she herself "has never so much attended to the subject of politics as to entitle her to an opinion," and makes it clear that the publication will be nonpartisan). In this eclecticism, the Observer was similar to other "literary miscellanies" of the day.

And like its contemporary periodicals, the Observer relied on submissions from unpaid contributors, many of which apparently came in over the transom. Aside from Bickerstaff, who had now departed, Anderson appears to have been the only writer on staff, as it were. In her note to readers and contributors, Anderson thanked some of those who had sent in articles and poems and encouraged them to write more. (This included a writer she names as "Judith O'Donnelly," but then refers to as "he"--an indication, perhaps, that she knew the pseudonym was being used by a man.) Other contributors, however, were actively discouraged, including one who had sent "two or three pages that must be the production of some moon-struck brain ... We beg this gentleman henceforth to address us only in his lucid intervals."

One problem was that contributors were sending their submissions with postage due--so that Anderson had to pay for the privilege of reading these offerings, some of which "immediately found their way from our fingers to the fire." This was, as she put it, very expensive fuel, and she announced that henceforth all submissions must arrive with their postage paid.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, though, that Anderson, in the guise of Beatrice Ironside, would undertake the task of satisfying public curiosity about, as she put it, "what manner of woman our female editor may be"--and explaining the derivation of her pseudonym.

No comments:

Post a Comment