Graham’s Monthly Synthesizing the 19th Century

8 April 2014

Volume 48, January, 1856, Number 1 of Graham’s Magazine, Is a compilation of entertainment, education, fashion crafts, and music for 19th century families. By today’s standards, this would be considered to be a rather boring and poorly made magazine. It is mostly just words on a page. And when there are pictures they are crudely done black and white engravings rather than actual photographs. The pages are not slick and glossy, and the words are blurry and often obscured by the inkblots that abound throughout the issue. However, for its day Graham’s Magazine was a class act putting out a top of the line product.

The bulk of the magazine is high quality literary fiction and poems. Interspersed in the text of the magazine are nonfiction articles that have been chosen for their ability to entertain as well as educate. These nonfiction articles include one literature review, two reviews of cultural sites, and one human interest article. Because of the high cost and difficulty associated with printing pictures, the illustrations were saved for the embellishment of the most prestigious articles and the fashion section in the back of the issue.

This issue of Graham’s Magazine is targeted to an audience of middle and upper class men and women. Each of the illustrations, informative articles, short stories, and poems are all designed with their own target audience in mind. This issue is an almost even mix articles that are targeted to pique the interest of women and ones that are targeted to pique the interest of men. For example, “The Pirate Hoard” by W. Gilmore Simms is the first three chapters of a serial tale of the last two survivors of Blackbeard’s crew. This is a swashbuckling tale of a search for buried treasure that would likely attract male readers and children alike (54.) In contrast, “Judging by Appearances” by W. W. P. is an essay designed to help women to estimate a man’s character by outwardly observable traits such as his handwriting, the hairstyle that he wears, and the way that he wears his cravat. Although it does not explicitly state why a woman might need to judge a man’s character, this article is likely to attract an upper class female reader who wants to be able to choose from suitors without arousing their suspicions (59.) But what is more interesting is how the issue breaks down in terms of social class and politics.

There are also informative articles that depict cultural and historic places both foreign and domestic. The informative articles would be of interest to the upper class and middle class alike only for different reasons. The upper class likely used the used the articles as traveler’s guides to give them hints and tips in their travels while the middle class would use these articles to learn about and experience places that they could never afford to visit. However, in the case of “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” by Lieutenant Richard F. Burton of the Bombay Army, the article is a travelogue detailing his journeys within the holy lands of Islam that were off-limits to non-Muslims.

While on the surface this article seems like an innocent effort at educating the masses about the hidden places of the world the writer of this article and the editors of Graham’s Monthly have taken this time to express their political opinions about the followers of Islam. In the article itself, Lieutenant Burton takes every chance that he can get to the savage and animalistic behaviors of the people of this region. In one especially pointed instance Burton says, “[During the holy month of Ramadan] the men curse one another, and beat the women. The women slap and abuse the children, and these in their turn cruelly entreat and use harsh language to the dogs and cats” (48.) But the editors of Graham’s Monthly use a different tact to show their disdain of the Muslim people. The editors follow this article directly with the short poem, “The Red Flamingo” by R.H. Stoddard. “The Red Flamingo” reinforces Burton’s ideas of the Muslim lands as a backward and vulgar land with images of blood flowing over the desert sands (53.) Directly after the article about the animalistic Muslims, the editors printed a poem whose subject is the revenge on a group of Arabs for abduction of a woman. If this kind of intolerance was evidenced in a magazine today, there would be an outcry against the offending magazine and they would be forced to make a public apology.

Graham’s Monthly is a composite 19th century American culture as well as the culture of American literature up until this point. The article, “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” draws influence from early slave and captivity narratives for its narrative structure.  “Judging from Appearances” relies heavily on the culture of sentimentality pioneered by writers such as Olaudah Equiano. And the magazine format draws influence from newspapermen like Benjamin Franklin and his printing press. Therefore, Graham’s Monthly for better and for worse is a reflection of the culture of America.

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