The Rise of Literary Journalism in the Eighteenth Century: Anxious Employment

The Rise of Literary Journalism in the Eighteenth Century: Anxious Employment

The Rise of Literary Journalism in the Eighteenth Century: Anxious Employment

The Rise of Literary Journalism in the Eighteenth Century: Anxious Employment

Synopsis

Recent years have witnessed a heightened interest in eighteenth-century literary journalism and popular culture. This book provides an account of the early periodical as a literary genre and traces the development of journalism from the 1690s to the 1760s, covering a range of publications by well-known writers and obscure hacks. The book's central theme is the struggle of eighteenth-century journalists to attain literary respectability and the strategies by which editors sought to improve the literary and social status of their publications.

Excerpt

The rise of the periodical

In her review of George Frisbie Whicher's 1915 biography of Eliza Haywood, Virginia Woolf roundly dismisses Haywood's periodical writing, arguing that she 'left behind her a mass of unreadable journalism which both by its form and by the inferiority of the writer's talent throws no light upon her age or upon herself' (1979:93). Woolf's comment reveals not only her low opinion of Haywood's skill as a writer, but her attitudes towards eighteenth-century journalism. For Woolf, it is the form in which Haywood wrote, as well as her lack of talent, which renders her journalism unworthy of scholarly attention.

The rise of the periodical coincided with an increasingly commercial literary marketplace, and journalism was often regarded as typifying all the worst qualities of the mass market, as unscrupulous hacks produced disposable literature, the 'Journals, Medleys, Merc'ries, Magazines … and all the Grub-street race', which cannot ''scape the martyrdom of jakes and fire' in Pope's Dunciad (1951:5.273-4, 5.280). The frontispiece to the 1729 edition of Pope's mock-epic shows the crumpled sheets of periodicals dropping from the donkey's back, being blown away and littering the ground, conveying a vivid image of the transience of journalism (Figure I.1). Henry Fielding comments acidly in 1752 that most journalism serves only as toilet paper: the large number of periodicals proves 'there are … many B-ms in the World' (Covent-Garden Journal 1, 4 January 1752).

This book provides an account of the eighteenth-century periodical as a literary genre. The 1980s, 90s and 2000s have witnessed a heightened interest in eighteenth-century literary journalism, an interest that reflects growing critical fascination with the development of the public sphere in the Enlightenment. While there are a number of studies of individual papers or specific categories of publications - most notably, several books on periodicals by and for women (Ballaster et al. 1991; Maurer 1998; Shevelow 1989) - there has been little attempt to study the periodical itself as a literary phenomenon. Eighteenth-century genres are usually defined by their

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