Household Words, Volume I March 30-September 21, 1850

By Drew, John; Mackenzie, Hazel et al. | Dickens Quarterly, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Household Words, Volume I March 30-September 21, 1850


Drew, John, Mackenzie, Hazel, Winyard, Ben, Dickens Quarterly


In 2006, the Dickens Journals Online project at the University of Buckingham was established with the specific aim of creating an open access online digital edition of Household Words and All the Year Round, which would act as a central resource for all additional knowledge and scholarship relating to these journals and their publishing history. Since 2010, much of the raw material--including all six volumes of the Household Narrative of Current Events (1)--has been available via the project betasite at www.djo.org.uk, while a team of dedicated volunteers help proof-read and correct the errors in the computer-read transcription. Meanwhile, assisted by grants from the Leverhulme Trust and the support of the general public, the project team has set to work indexing and classifying the contents, adding author information where known and uploading substantial introductory essays for each of the bi-annual volumes.

To complement the online edition and provide twenty-first-century readers with access to a more traditional method of encountering this rich miscellany of prose and poetry, the University of Buckingham Press is making the bi-annual volumes of both magazines available in a handsome facsimile reprint edition, replicating the pagination of the original, prefaced by tables of contents, authorship information, as well as the specially-written synoptic introductions. All involved with Dickens Journals Online are proud of this aspect of its development--a fitting tribute to the genius of Dickens himself, for whose bicentenary in February 2012 the launch of the project is timed to coincide. (2)

A successful multi-authored nineteenth-century periodical is always going to be more than the sum of its parts, and almost certainly a larger and more complex entity than the contribution of any of its individual contributors or editors--even so illustrious and energetic an editor as Charles Dickens. One must guard therefore against reading a magazine like Household Words as though it was simply an outlying part of the Dickens empire--not just because it has been shown that material published in its pages reflects a range of views that exceeded and sometimes ran contrary to what can safely be considered Dickens's own (3)--but because of the obvious fact that a production of this kind could only be sustained over time by a large and diverse team of contributors and employees whose collective impact on the magazine's destiny must outweigh that of any individual agency.

This is not to deny that the magazines were shaped substantively by the input, say, of W. H. Wills as ex officio sub-editor and de facto co-editor, and by the nature of the material supplied by their many contributors, some of whom, over long stretches of time, were responsible for more of the contents than Dickens himself The contributions, in this regard, of gifted staff-writers such as Henry Motley, Wilkie Collins and R. H. Home, cannot be overlooked. But that Dickens aspired to the role of auteur in relation to these journals is crucial to their general nature during this period, as well as to the practical results, which varied from week to week, month to month, in response to the encounter between mind and matter, and between editor and contributor. Disputes between Dickens and his contributors have perhaps received disproportional emphasis relative to the aggregate of relationships between writers for the journals (Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, or Harriet Martineau, say) and their famous editor--but tensions and a perpetual "dynamic" certainly existed, with peaks and troughs of energy and friction. (4) For this reason, no generalizations about the flow of control will satisfactorily obtain over the two decades under consideration, and each introduction to each bi-annual volume concludes with a subsection on "Editorial Issues" that attempts to map this activity in the short term.

The other subheadings we have adopted will also remain uniform and consistent across the series, with exception of the substitution of "Serial Fiction" for "Leading Articles" following the disestablishment of Household Words and the commencement of All the Year Round. …

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Household Words, Volume I March 30-September 21, 1850
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