Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Inventing Poetry and Pictorialism in Once a Week: A Magazine of Visual Effects

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Inventing Poetry and Pictorialism in Once a Week: A Magazine of Visual Effects

Article excerpt

In unusually direct terms the illustrated weekly magazine that debuted on July 2, 1859, generally deemed a high point of mid-century illustration, (1) resulted from male desire. Working with Ellen Ternan on The Frozen Deep aroused Charles Dickens' passions and his determination to separate formally from his wife Catherine. (2) When Dickens announced the separation in the June 12, 1858 issue of Household Words, the magazine he had run in a partnership with the firm Bradbury and Evans since 1850, he expected Punch, another Bradbury and Evans publication, to reprint the announcement. It did not. Furious, Dickens took immediate steps to end his business relationship with the firm and found a rival publication of which he would be editor and principal proprietor. Thus was All the Year Round born on April 30, 1859. (3) Rather than simply letting Dickens exit and take Household Words staff with him, William Bradbury and Frederick Evans determined to start a rival magazine. Though it, too, would be a weekly literary magazine, it would mark its bold departure from Dickens' magazine by being illustrated and employing some of the best artists and engravers available. Yet Once a Week would be priced at only three pennies an issue (compared to Dickens' two).

This odd intersection of Dickensian desire and print culture is also an important node in the history of Victorian illustrated poetry. Once a Week appeared at a crucial pivot in the publishing history of poetry and periodicals. As Lorraine Janzen Kooistra observes, the demise of literary annuals, which typically paired engravings of well-known paintings with original verses, coincided with the publication of the illustrated Moxon edition of Tennyson's poems in 1857. (4) In the Moxon edition the practice of annuals was reversed: the poems were well known to the public, but now the art works were original. Once a Week offered a third alternative: it paired original poems and original woodcut engravings, offering double novelties to the magazine's purchasers.

This innovation was all the more influential because Once a Week was first in the field. Two rival illustrated literary periodicals, Cornhill Magazine and Good Words, would not debut until January 1860, giving Once a Week six months to craft its approach and secure a readership. Part of this approach was to include a profusion of illustrated poems. In its first six months alone (July 2-December 24, 1859), Once a Week illustrated forty-two of its fifty-three original poems. (5) In contrast, during their first six months (January-June 1860) Cornhill featured only one illustrated poem out of fifteen and Good Words three illustrated poems out of thirty-two. (6) Once a Week thus seized the initiative in defining how original poems and illustrations might be conceptualized, presented, and read in relation to each other.

It is not surprising that a Bradbury and Evans publication played a formative role in Victorian illustrated poetry. In December 1842 the firm assumed proprietorship of the profusely illustrated Punch, which is best known for its political cartoons and social commentary but also first published Thomas Hood's "Song of the Shirt" and many of W. M. Thackeray's ballads, several of them illustrated by the author. Bradbury and Evans, moreover, were printers to the firm of Edward Moxon because of the close friendship of Frederick Evans and Moxon, begun in 1830. Thus Bradbury and Evans printed the 1857 Moxon edition of Tennyson's poems and, after Moxon's death in 1858, managed the firm for five years, including its production of the 1859 gift book edition of Tennyson's The Princess. (7) Since Bradbury and Evans had so much experience pairing original illustrations and fiction as Dickens' publishers from 1844-1858 and Thackeray's from 1847-1859, the decision to illustrate original poems regularly may represent an extrapolation from fiction markets. But whereas serial fiction's monthly parts relied on full-page etchings or engravings that had to be tipped in, one at the front to adumbrate the plot's continuation, the magazine adopted wood engravings that enabled poems and drawings to be integrated into a single page. …

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