For me and perhaps many of you too, Brigitte is a magazine hastily grabbed at an airport or train station to flick through during a trip to Germany. It is glossy, glamorous without being aloof, and genuinely seems interested in the lives of its readers – with sister publications targetting a variety of groups and age ranges: from Brigitte Young Miss to Brigitte MOM and Brigitte Balance to the only recently launched Brigitte Wir. According to recent statistics Brigitte is the overall market leader amongst quality fortnightlies for women in Germany. That’s no mean feat in an increasingly saturated marketplace. But what does this have to do with ‘History of the Book’? – Surely Brigitte, as a modern magazine, has no place in a field which traditionally focuses on manuscripts and marginalia?
Absolutely not! As part of a recent project I have been studying advice texts for women from the seventeenth century to the present – with ‘the present’ represented by Brigitte, in particular its online version. The other texts in my study are Georg Philipp Harsdörffer’s Frauenzimmer Gesprächspiele (1641-9); Johann Christoph Gottsched’s Die vernünftigen Tadlerinnen (1725-6) and Sophie von La Roche’s Pomona (1783-4). But for now, let’s focus on Brigitte. Despite its apparent modernity, Brigitte’s success is an enduring phenomenon, stretching back into the nineteenth century.
The magazine now called Brigitte began life as the weekly Dies Blatt gehört der Hausfrau in 1886. The early magazine featured serialised novels, poems, advice about the home, garden and health, alongside travel tips, historical and scientific articles, and even sewing patterns. By 1894 the print run had reached 85,000. From 1952 “Blatt der Hausfrau” was prefixed with “Brigitte” and finally in May 1954 the title became simply Brigitte. By 1954 it appeared fortnightly, cost 65 Pfennig and around 177,000 copies were sold per issue, reaching 970,000 women.
And since then the magazine seems to have gone from strength to strength, developing spin-offs focussing on different age groups or hobbies, and putting increasing emphasis on digital content. For my project, which focussed in particular on the relationship between author and audience, Brigitte’s ‘Stimmen’ campaign really struck a chord. ‘Stimmen’ presents real articles written by real women. This is articulated in the slogan “Hier kommt ihr zu Wort!” Brigitte is currently searching for its next round of readers turned writers to share their “starke Stimmen”. The 200 or so Stimmen originally published display exactly this range in topic and tone. Apart from a very few where a cartoon image is used, each article is accompanied by a real photograph and short biography. Some tell very personal stories, such as “Ich trage kein Kopftuch mehr” or “Ich bin eine Transfrau”, while others engage with controversial issues and adopt the tone of an editorial or comment piece, for example “Warum ich gegen die Frauenquote bin”, “Helikopter-Eltern: Warum ihre Kinder später ein Problem haben” and “Frauen, ihr wollt mehr verdienen? Dann geht hin und fragt!”
In the context of my study, this campaign marks an interesting progression from early advice texts for women, which, since the seventeenth century, gradually attempted to build a relationship with their readers, whether through presenting female figures, projecting fictional female narrators, or encouraging readers to write in with their own contributions.
So on your next trip to Germany, as you grab a copy of Brigitte to read on your travels, you’ll know that there’s a lot more to this polished publication than meets the eye, and perhaps, if you take a look online you’ll encounter some ‘Stimmen’ that chime with your own experiences.
Nicola, OGN Coordinator