Focusing on a largely unknown type of popular print culture that developed in the late 1600s-the coffee house periodical-Helen Berry here offers new evidence that the politics of gender, far from being a marginal or frivolous topic, was an issue of general interest and wide-spread concern to the early modern reader. Berry's study provides the first full length analysis of John Dunton's Athenian Mercury (1691-97), an influential specimen of the coffee-house periodical genre, as well as the original question-and-answer publication which addressed both men's and women's issues in one journal. As the chapter headings in this book indicate, the topics addressed in the "agony column" of the Athenian Mercury-for example, the body, courtship, and sex-are of enduring interest across the centuries. Berry's study of this periodical provides new insights into the gendered ideas and debates that circulated among middling sorts in early modern England. An historical survey of the social effects of mass communication in the early modern period, this volume makes an important contribution to the ongoing study of how gendered ideas and values were communicated culturally, particularly beyond the milieu of elite groups such as the nobility and gentry. It argues that the mass media was from its infancy an important means of communicating powerful messages about gender norms, particularly among the middling sorts. The study will appeal not only to historians, women and gender studies scholars and literature scholars, but also to scholars of publishing history.
'The Athenian Mercury was the premier periodical venue for Augustan discussions of sex, gender and social mores, and it was both earlier and more explicit than the more famous Tatler and Spectator. Berry's new book does this fascinating and under-researched source full justice, and in the process provides new insights into late seventeenth-century London life.' Margaret Hunt, author of The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender and the Family in England 1680-1780 and Prof. of History and Women's and Gender Studies, Amherst College 'Helen Berry is a compelling storyteller as well as a meticulous scholar. Her fascinating analysis of the contexts and contents of the Athenian Mercury, England's first agony column, provides unique and important insights into the intimate lives and personal anxieties of late seventeenth-century society.' Vivien Jones, School of English, University of Leeds '… an engaging book with excellent source material… Berry amply fulfils her purpose of demonstrating the richness of the Athenian Mercury…' The Library '… a meticulously argued, thoughtful and generally well-written volume, which offers insights into several dimly perceived areas of society in this period.' Continuity and Change '… a reasoned and cogent analysis of an under-researched periodical source that is rapidly becoming of interest to the scholarly community … a welcome addition to studies of interrelationships between early modern English print culture and gender.' Albion '… engaging and clearly written… makes an important contribution to social history and to the history of popular print culture in England.' Clio 'Berry's book succeeds both as a didactic research tool for scholars as well as a compelling historical study for general readers. Her thorough, nuanced analysis of the nexus of print culture and gender relations in late Stuart England highlights the need for and enduring interests in gender studies across the centuries.' Libraries and Cultures ’Th
Contents: Preface; Introduction: Pressing anxieties; Coffee houses, print culture and the public sphere; Authenticity and women readers; The community of readers; Casuistry and the ambiguity of advice; Interpreting the body; Courtship dilemmas; Problems with sex; Questioning friendship; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.