The Presence of Punch in the Nineteenth Century
The central project of this book is to consider the ways in which the London based weekly journal Punch (1842–2002) served the nineteenth century world as a model for, an influence on, or a legitimating force for satirical magazines published outside Britain, often in societies both geographically and culturally remote from British Victorian metropolitan culture. In this context, it is important to begin by reconsidering those characteristics of Punch that established and maintained its transcultural public presence throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Defining such characteristics clearly requires discussion both of the wide range of genres and humorous modes through which Punch’s ‘content’ was constructed and of the variety of self-conscious business practices through which the magazine sustained its early celebrity. Many cultural historians, most notably R. D. Altick, have mined Punch for its views, expressed both verbally and visually, on contemporary events, and the magazine remains, along with the Illustrated London News, a frequently cited illustrative resource for thinking about Victorian politics, manners and public events. The pure and uninterrupted fecundity of Punch has made it irresistible to historians, who have quarried its thousands of pages and images in pursuit of its expressed attitudes towards even the most trivial of subjects. Such fecundity clearly makes the task of writing a general overview of the magazine here an impossible task. Altick took over 500 pages to discuss merely what Punch thought about the world between 1841 and 1851, the first 10 years and 20 half yearly volumes of its existence. There were, to cite one unexpected minor Punch obsession, over 50 images of dustmen in the first 20 volumes. But given the particular focus of this book, it seems necessary to approach Punch via a slightly different route, beginning with a brief overview of its history, then moving on to consider the generic complexity of its content, with complex shifts between satire, invective, travesty, burlesque and whimsy, before concentrating on its physical manifestations, or perhaps its ‘aura’ (to use a term borrowed from Walter Benjamin). The aim is to suggest how Punch constructed itself, or was constructed as, a hugely powerful and widespread ‘presence’ in Victorian culture.