Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Performative Morality: Godey's Match Plates, Nineteenth-Century Stage Practice, and Social/Political/Economic Commentary in America's Popular Ladies’ Magazine


Recirculating the assertion of magazine historian Frank Luther Mott, subsequent generations of scholars maintained that Godey's Lady's Magazine eschewed content treating the social, political, and economic issues of the day. This article challenges that nearly universal reading of Godey's by arguing for the importance of a close reading of the “match plates” commissioned by Godey for his magazine. Appearing between 1840 and 1860, these plates, many engraved from pendant paintings created expressly for Godey, draw on the popularity of stage melodrama, dramatic tableau, and tableaux vivants to enact a performative morality addressing major social, economic, and political issues. Early match plates contrast virtue and vice, capitalizing on the enormous popularity of William Hogarth's engraving series Industry and Idleness. Match plates appear also in the popular fashion plates of the magazine – echoing the city mystery novels, plays, and prints first popularized by Eugene Sue – in Christmas for the Rich/Christmas for the Poor and Dress the Maker/Dress the Wearer. By 1860, even the magazine's “useful” contents, such as the pattern work prized by Godey's readers, echo the popularity of match plates: hence Fruit for Working/Flowers for Working. Closer attention to Godey's engravings calls for a reassessment of Mott's assertion.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Joseph Michael Sommers , “‘Godey's Lady's Book’: Sarah Hale and the Construction of Sentimental Nationalism,” College Literature, 37 , 3 (Summer 2010), 4361

John W. Frick , Theatre, Culture and Temperance Reform in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Monika M. Elbert , “Striking a Historical Pose: Antebellum Tableaux Vivants, ‘Godey's’ Illustrations, and Margaret Fuller's Heroines,” New England Quarterly, 75, 2 (2002), 235–75

Cynthia Lee Patterson , Art for the Middle Classes: America's Illustrated Magazines of the 1840s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010)

Caroline van Eck , ed., Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Architecture, (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011)

Ed Lilley , “Lost Works of Art: The Problem and a Case Study,” Art History, 23, 3 (2000), 396416, 409

Karin J. Bohleke , “Americanizing French Fashion Plates: Godey's and Peterson's Cultural and Socio-economic Translation of Les Modes Parisiennes,” American Periodicals, 20, 2 (2010), 120–55

Henry Adams , “A New Interpretation of Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” Art Bulletin, 65, 4 (Dec. 1983), 675–80

Dean Lueck , “The Economic Nature of Wildlife Law,” Journal of Legal Studies, 18, 2 (June 1989), 291324

Douglas Hay , “Crime and Justice in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century England,” Crime and Justice, 2 (1980), 4584

Frederick Cummings , “B. R. Haydon and His School,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 26, 3–4 (1963), 367–80

Julie A. Cassiday , “Of Dandies, Flirts and Cockatoos: Shakhovskoi's Antitheatrical Lesson to Coquettes, Russian Review, 65, 3 (July 2006), 393416

Bryan Waterman , “Coquetry and Correspondence in Revolutionary-Era Connecticut,” Early American Literature, 46, 3 (Nov. 2011), 541–63

Cynthia Patterson , “‘Illustration of a Picture’: Nineteenth-Century Writers and the Philadelphia Pictorials,” American Periodicals, 19, 2 (2009), 136–64

Beverly Gordon , “Victorian Fancy Good: Another Reappraisal of Shaker Material Culture,” Winterthur Portfolio, 25, 2–3 (Summer–Autumn 1990), 111–29

Nancy Dunlap Bercaw , “Solid Objects/Mutable Meanings: Fancywork and the Construction of Bourgeois Culture, 1840–1880,” Winterthur Portfolio, 26, 4 (Winter 1991), 231–47

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 21 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 122 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 29th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.