Victoria Kuttainen is Associate Professor of English and Writing at James Cook University in Australia, and the author of Unsettling Stories: Settler Postcolonialism and the Short Story (2010) and co-author of The Transported Imagination: Australian Interwar Magazines and the Geographical Imaginaries of Colonial Modernity (2018). Her background in settler studies and postcolonial literature inform her work on the print culture contexts and cultural milieus of the often overlooked interwar period in Australia and Canada, in the context of colonialism and modernity.
“Times have changed, and so have merchandise and business methods,” The Western Home Monthly declared in its July 1919 editorial, as the visuality of modern design and advertising began to enter its pages after two decades of continuous publication, and as it made other strategic changes in apparent attempts to capture a modernizing readership. Rather than addressing a wide-open swath of “the great middle classes” it had sought to attract in its early days at the turn of the century, the magazine now pledged itself to the service of “the thousands of women in this country who were no longer satisfied with the idea that things were good enough ‘because mother did it that way’” and promised that it would seek to satisfy “the human needs of a woman’s life.” No doubt hoping to avoid alienating older long-time male readers, such as the “Octogenerian” whose letter of praise addressed the magazine as “Dear Old W.H.M.,” the periodical nonetheless began to court a younger, predominantly female audience. While WHM remained largely a household magazine, addressing, as Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith have identified, “women of several different generations” and “all the members of a middle-class family,” the age of the Modern Girl was dawning on the prairie, and her image began appearing throughout the pages of the periodical where she registered as both the object and subject of address. Characterised by her bobbed hair, increasing use of cosmetics, a willing embrace of glamour and commodity culture, and her frank acknowledgment of inner life, her image emblazoned the cover of magazines with increasing frequency in the late 1920s and heightened intensity in the early 1930s. This was true of Canada’s The Western Home Monthly (1899–1932) as much as elsewhere, though her absence in Canadian literary history is particularly acute. Her presense in this Canadian publication potentially challenges established narratives of the Canadian literary past, and destabilizes established hierarchies of cultural value, as she not only appeared as a commercial icon but also infiltrated literary aspects of the magazine, including its illustrated serialised novels and short stories.