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Everyday advice on everyday love: romantic expertise in mid-twentieth century Britain

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 15:04 authored by Claire Langhamer
This essay explores the dynamics of problem page emotion-dialogue by looking at the letters that mid-century magazine readers wrote about heterosexual love, and the advice that they were offered. It focuses in particular on the advice columns of one of Britain’s most popular women’s magazines, “Woman’s Own”, analysing a sample of problem pages drawn from the period 1940 to 1960. Whilst there has been significant historiographical interest in the provision of modern sexual education, historians have paid less attention to the mechanisms through which emotional advice circulated and, crucially,the ways in which it was received. The focus here is upon what we might call ‘everyday’ forms of advice. The article uses a case study of relationships between agony aunts and their readers to map broader shifts in emotional authority. It presents advice columns as a cultural space where authentic personal feeling was in conflict with prescribed standards; where the authority of family could conflict with that of the expert; where the therapeutic state might be set up as a counterpoint to community norms. The article suggests that romantic love lay at the heart of the twentieth century battle between prescription and practice, ideas and experience, and, crucially, between duty and self-expression.


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L’HOMME, European Journal of Feminist History





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