The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News

The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News

The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News

The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News


Rapid industrialization and new advances in technology marked the Victorian period as one of prodigious socio-cultural change. Chief among the many transformations of quotidian life was the swift and widespread dissemination of information made possible by the emergence of the daily newspaper, an unprecedented new media. The changes it wrought in politics, history, and advertising of the age have all been well-documented. But its influence on one area remains overlooked: the Victorian novel. Redressing this oversight, The Novelty of Newspapers highlights the variety of ways the changing world of nineteenth-century journalism shaped the period's most popular literary form. Arising in the 1800s and soon drawing a million readers a day, the commercial press profoundly influenced the work of Bronte, Braddon, Dickens, Conrad, James, Trollope, and others who mined print journalism for fictional techniques. Five of the most important of these narrative conventions-the shipping intelligence, personal advertisement, leading article, interview, and foreign correspondence-show how the Victorian novel is best understood alongside the simultaneous development of newspapers. In highly original analyses of Victorian fiction, this study also captures the surprising ways in which public media enabled the expression of private feeling among ordinary readers: from the trauma caused by a lover's reported suicide to the vicarious gratification felt during a celebrity interview; from the distress at finding one's behavior the subject of unflattering editorial commentary to the apprehension of distant cultures through the foreign correspondence. Combining a wealth of historical research with a series of astute close readings, The Novelty of Newspapers breaks down the assumed divide between the epoch's literature and journalism and demonstrates that newsprint was integral to the development of the novel.


There is one species of literature which everybody reads—the
daily paper.

—“A Scribbler’s Apology” (1883)

Newspapers have come a long way since the days when horseback was the fastest means of delivery. A mounted courier might reach speeds of up to twelve miles per hour on a clear afternoon before the arrival of the train and telegraph ensured the rapid transmission of intelligence to readers everywhere. “Then the Times in the north was fresh two days after date!” recalled one journalist of the era before the railways. The most common reaction among those who witnessed the newspaper boom taking place throughout the nineteenth century was sheer astonishment at how quickly news had become an essential part of everyday life. Scottish journalist Alexander Innes Shand observed how the interval between issues had already shrunk during his lifetime to what Victorians felt to be their own version of today’s twenty-four-hour news cycle:

There was a time when the tiny London “News-letter” was very
patiently expected in the provinces, reaching its destination in days
or weeks, according to circumstances. The delay of a few days up
or down went for nothing; and it was just as well, when coaches or
stage-waggons were continually coming to grief, and a rainfall or a
snowstorm might make the roads impassable. When the sheet arrived
at last, it was leisurely spelled through, and deliberately passed on,
since copies were few and far between, and the subscription to it an
extravagance of rank and position. Now each of the quick morning
trains drops its bundles of damp letterpress at every station…. Travel
where you will on the iron network, you can never lag many hours
behind the times.

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