Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Household Words as "Conducted" by Charles Dickens


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A very kind friend, knowing of my love for everything Charles Dickens, sent me a nice little surprise package in the mail this week.  Inside the padded envelope, I found an original copy of Household Words, the “weekly journal” edited by Dickens from March 1850 through May 1859.  This copy of journal number 257 (dated February 24, 1855) was taken from a bound set (Volume 11) of the individual weeklies and is further numbered pages 73-96.  It is in remarkable shape considering the age of the paper and ink and would, I think, frame up very nicely – something I am going to have look at getting done.

Dickens, being the shrewd businessman that he was, was not content to be only the editor/conductor of the journal; he also owned the controlling interest in it.  He arranged things so that he directly owned 50 percent of the venture and his agents owned another 25 percent, leaving only a 25 percent interest for publisher Bradbury & Evans.  The journal, a mix of fiction and nonfiction pieces, proved to be quite popular, averaging sales of almost 40,000 copies per week.  The Christmas season issues, moreover, are said to have sold more like 100,000 copies each. 

Interestingly, most of the essays and fiction pieces were published without credit to the author, the exception being the several novels that were serialized in the little 24-page (approximately 22,000 word) magazines.  Serialized novels included Dickens’s own Hard Times; The Dead Secret and A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins, and Cranford, North and South, and My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Gaskell. 

Note Ad for Bound Volumes 1-10
Overall, some 390 writers are known to have contributed to the magazine during its nine-year existence.  Some are better known than others, of course, and most have been long forgotten.  Approximately 200 of the writers contributed only a single piece during the nine years; others were much more prolific.  Some 30 writers produced from 20-140 pieces each, and a full quarter of all the pieces were the work of only five men: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, W.H. Wills, R.H. Howe, and Henry Morley.  These five contributors were well rewarded for their work at the sum of a full five pounds per week.

Dickens was no slouch when it came to his work as editor/writer of Household Words.  He is said to have vetted every piece that was published, often doing extensive rewriting before he was satisfied that a piece was worthy of publication.  In addition to his work as the journal’s official “conductor,” he also wrote 108 essays and co-wrote 45 others, in addition to contributing the serialization of his novel Hard Times.  The serialization of Hard Times is, in fact, most responsible for ensuring the longevity of Household Words.

Reference Used: The Victorian Web

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