Gillian Williamson

‘Man, proud man demands the sculptur’d tomb’
Gendering Life and Death in Eighteenth-Century Obituaries in the Gentleman’s Magazine

The widely-read eighteenth-century Gentleman’s Magazine was noted by contemporaries for its obituaries. In the magazine’s early years (it was founded in 1731) these were brief death notices of the ‘great and good’ lifted from other publications. But during the second half of the century they expanded in number and length to fill around 10% of its approximately 100 pages. They were submitted by the readers, and many now amounted to miniature lives of the deceased who were by no means always drawn from the elite but were overwhelmingly male.

This paper considers the obituaries as an important way in which the readers framed a gendered middling-sort world and its values as an important precursor to the development of a distinct middle-class ideology that would, as Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall and John Tosh have described, flourish more fully in the nineteenth century.


I received a Distinction in my MA (Historical Research) from Birkbeck in 2008 and was awarded my doctorate in 2014, funded by the AHRC and a departmental studentship respectively. My thesis, ‘The World of the Gentleman:  Constructions of British Masculinity in the  Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731-1815’, studied this leading periodical for the way it built, with the  active participation of its readers, a new concept of the gentleman as essentially civilian and bourgeois rather than born to the status. I now undertake some part-time teaching at Birkbeck.

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