Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Professional Writers and Hired Hands: Household Words and the Victorian Publishing Business

In October 1864, Collins's seventh novel, Armadale, was about to begin its monthly serialization in the Cornhill, published by Smith & Elder. Writing to his mother, Collins tells her of the favorable responses the novel has received. “Dickens has read my proofs, ” he explains, “and is greatly struck by them”:

He prognosticates certain success. Miss Hogarth could not sleep till she had finished them—and (to quote quite another sort of opinion) Mr. Smith tells me that the Printers are highly interested in the story. I set great store by getting the good opinion of these latter critics—for it is no easy matter to please the printers, to whom all books represent in the first instance nothing but weary hard work. 1.

Noting that book production means something quite different to working-class printers than it does to middle-class authors, publishers, and readers, Collins acknowledges the largely invisible labor required to manufacture literary commodities. Playing on the class divisions within the Victorian publishing industry, he refers to the printers as difficult “critics” whose approval he particularly values, yet whose opinions are “quite another sort” than those of Dickens, Georgina Hogarth, and George Smith. While his tone seems somewhat facetious, his letter raises serious questions about the kinds of work performed in the Victorian publishing industry and the relationship between manual and intellectual labor. If, as Collins himself suggests in his articles and

____________________
1.
Autograph letter signed (ALS) to Harriet Collins, 19 October 1864. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. MA 3150.86. My transcription differs slightly from that in The Letters of Wilkie Collins, ed. William Baker and William M. Clarke, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1999), I:251—52.

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