A Companion to the Victorian Novel

By William Baker; Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

Book Publishing and the Victorian Literary Marketplace

Peter L. Shillingsburg

The Victorian period is famously the Age of the Novel. Educated estimates suggest that 40,000 to 50,000 novels by some 3,500 different authors were written and published in England between 1830 and 1900 (Altick, English; Eliot; Ray; and Sutherland, “Victorian Novelists”). That figures out at an average of 714 novels a year, but statistics suggest that in fact fewer than 100 were published each year in the 1830s and 2,000 to 3,000 per year by the end of the century. Primary factors in the growth of novel writing and publishing, which considerably surpassed the rate of population growth, were an increase in education and literacy that accompanied advances in economic growth and democratic tendencies, improvements in the machinery of printing and book production, and changes in taxation on paper and print that became more favorable to the dissemination of cheap reading materials. John Sutherland, in what at first seems a very comprehensive survey, provides individual notes on just under 900 novelists in his Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. There is no comprehensive account of the genre, but large and excellent listings of special collections of Victorian fiction are offered by Sadlier and by Wolff. It has been argued that the majority of novels in the early period were written by women, but that as mechanization facilitated production and reduced costs, and as the reading population increased in number—thus making the profes-

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