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The Fiction Industry

  • R. C. Terry

Abstract

The Victorian fiction industry is a consequence of population growth, social progress, printing technology, and the visionary drive of many bookmen. The glittering prizes of bestselling novels had begun to be won early in the century by Sir Walter Scott, but Scott in all his glory, noted the Saturday Review in the mid-1870s, was not to be compared with Dickens for popular success. We did it, said the Review in awe, as though eyeing some monster devouring its genius; we made him, we the public, and we helped destroy him.1 The book revolution had by now reached alarming proportions, said another gloomy Saturday reviewer in 1878, and was growing in such ratio that within a generation or two Russell Square would need to be annexed to the British Museum.2 Sir Walter Scott, according to James Payn, observed to a fellow author, ‘You and I came just in the nick of time’.3 Scott foresaw, amongst other changes, the formidable competition of the market place (though he had no reason to fear it at the time). Would he do so well today? Payn asks. In his essay ‘The Literary Calling and its Future’ in the December 1879 issue of Nineteenth Century, Payn concluded that for all the difficulties ‘light literature’ is still a pleasing calling: ‘Its promise is golden, and its prospects are boundless.’4

Keywords

Printing Technology Book Trade Popular Writer Popular Fiction Monthly Magazine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 6.
    Royal A. Gettman, A Victorian Publisher: A Study of the Bentley Papers (Cambridge, 1960) p. 84.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Edmund Downey, Twenty Years Ago (London, 1905) pp. 246–7.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    See Leonard Huxley, The House of Smith, Elder (London, 1923).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Sir Edward Cook, Literary Recreations (London, 1918) p. 93.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Malcolm Elwin, Old Gods Falling (New York, 1939) p. 149.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Quoted in Walter E. Houghton, ‘Victorian Periodical Literature and the Articulate Classes’, Victorian Studies, XXII, no. 4 (Summer 1979) 407.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Leslie Stephen, Introduction to James Payn, The Backwater of Life or Essays of a Literary Veteran (London, 1899) p. xxxii.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Kenneth Robinson, Wilkie Collins (London, 1951) p. 236. Some comparative circulation figures are helpful: among the leading quality journals, Quarterly Review 8000; Edinburgh Review 7000; Westminster Review 4000; North British Review 2000. Blackwood’s Magazine had a sale of 10,000, and Fraser’s Magazine 8000. Compare, among the popular magazines, Temple Bar, with 30,000 under Sala, levelling off to about 15,000 by 1884, and, earlier, Household Words, averaging 40,000. See Houghton, Victorian Studies, XXII, no. 4, 391; Altick, The English Common Reader, appendix C, pp. 391–6.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    For further information on this important aspect of book production, see N. John Hall, Trollope and his Illustrators (London, 1980);Google Scholar
  10. Forrest Reid, Illustrators of the ’Sixties (London, 1928);Google Scholar
  11. Gleeson White, English Illustration: ‘The Sixties’ — 1855–70 (Bath, 1970) (first published 1897).Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Most of these figures are from Altick, The English Common Reader, appendices, pp. 379–85; M. Elwin, Victorian Wallflowers (London, 1934) p. 238.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    Mrs Oliphant et al., Women Novelists of Queen Victoria’s Reign (London, 1897) p. 248.Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    S. M. Ellis, William Harrison Ainsworth and his Friends (London, 1911) II, 237. Geraldine Jewsbury (1812–80), novelist and close friend of the Carlyles, published her first book, Zoe, the History of Two Lives, in 1845. Besides novels she wrote children’s books and short tales for Household Words. For many years she was a contributor to the Athenaeum. See Dictionary of National Biography, X, ed. Sidney Lee (London, 1908) 821–3.Google Scholar
  15. 33.
    James Payn, ‘A Reader’s Error’, Some Literary Recollections (London, 1884) pp. 236–8. Payn also forced an unsuitable happy ending on George Gissing’s A Life’s Morning (1888); see Baker, History of the Novel, IX, 138.Google Scholar
  16. 35.
    See F. D. Tredrey, The House of Blackwood 1804–1954 (Edinburgh, 1954).Google Scholar
  17. 37.
    Autobiography and Letters of Mrs M. O. W. Oliphant (1899), ed. Mrs Harry Coghill (Leicester, 1974) p. 24.Google Scholar
  18. 38.
    Quoted V. and R. A. Colby, The Equivocal Virtue: Mrs Oliphant and the Literary Market Place (New York, 1966) p. 158.Google Scholar
  19. 44.
    Payn, Gleams of Memory: With Some Reflections (London, 1894) p. 186.Google Scholar
  20. 45.
    Tinsley, Random Reflections of an Old Publisher (London, 1900) II, 105–6.Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Michael Sadleir, Things Past (London, 1944) p. 104; Gettman, A Victorian Publisher, p. 152.Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    Ethel Arnold, ‘Rhoda Broughton as I Knew Her’, Fortnightly Review, CXIV (2 Aug 1920) 275.Google Scholar
  23. 62.
    Take the case of Annie Tinsley (1826–85), who wanted to be a poet. ‘Married life soon knocked the poetry out of me’, she wrote grimly. Her husband was an incompetent lawyer so she turned to hack writing to support the family. She was one of the unlucky women novelists in the competitive publishing world: in 1858 Smith, Elder bought the copyright of The Cruellest Wrong of All and sold it to Chapman & Hall, who brought out six cheap editions. The same thing happened to her Darkest before Dawn (1864). See Henry Peet, Mrs Charles Tinsley (Annie Tinsley) Novelist and Poet (Frome and London, 1930). Miss Braddon faced similar hardships in her life, but unlike Annie Tinsley found her fame and fortune through writing. SeeGoogle Scholar
  24. Robert Lee Wolff, Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (New York, 1979).Google Scholar
  25. 64.
    Trollope, Autobiography, ch.7. See also Gordon N. Ray, ‘Trollope at Full Length’, Huntington Library Quarterly, XXXI (4 Aug 1968) 320.Google Scholar
  26. 67.
    R. C. Terry, Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding (London, 1977).Google Scholar
  27. 68.
    Rachel Anderson, The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-Literature of Love (London, 1974) p. 18.Google Scholar
  28. 69.
    Helen Black, Notable Women Authors of the Day (London, 1906) p. 44.Google Scholar
  29. 71.
    Lady Ritchie, From the Porch (London, 1913) p. 33.Google Scholar
  30. 72.
    Payn, Gleams of Memory, p. 97. Steady production was the rule for most stars of the circulating library. In the seventies Ouida produced nine novels, Mrs Henry Wood ten, Miss Braddon sixteen. See Walter de la Mare, ‘Some Women Novelists of the “Seventies”’, in The Eighteen-Seventies, ed. H. Granville-Barker (Cambridge, 1929) p. 51.Google Scholar
  31. 73.
    Tinsley, Random Reflections, p. 250. See also Gettman, A Victorian Publisher, p. 232; Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (New York, 1952) II, 394;Google Scholar
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  33. 75.
    F. A. Mumby and I. Norrie, Publishing and Bookselling (London, 1974) p. 246.Google Scholar
  34. 82.
    Amy Cruse, The Victorians and their Books (London, 1935) p. 315.Google Scholar
  35. 88.
    See my Introduction to Anthony Trollope, Why Frau Frohmann Raised her Prices, and Other Stories (New York, 1981).Google Scholar
  36. 89.
    Michael Sadleir, ‘Anthony Trollope and his Publishers’, Library (Oxford), V (1925) 235.Google Scholar
  37. 94.
    Quoted Eileen Bigland, Ouida: The Passionate Victorian (London, 1950) p. 153.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© R. C. Terry 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. C. Terry
    • 1
  1. 1.VictoriaCanada

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