Belmont Club

Percival Glyde

It may be surprising to modern readers that British novels in the second half of the 19th century were often serialized in weekly magazines. Charles Dickens ran a magazine called All The Year Round, “with a circulation running as high as 300,000 for the Extra Christmas Numbers (1860-67) and averaging 100,000 the rest of the year”.

Instalments of serial novels occupied the space of two or three self-contained articles or essays, with the result that the average number of All the Year Round offered fewer items (five to seven) than a typical number of Household Words (eight to ten), particularly when the former contained two serials running concurrently. In addition, there was a marked increase of emphasis on foreign affairs in All the Year Round, partly due to Dickens’s desire to support the cause of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-72) and Joseph Mazzini (1805-72) in the wars of Italian unification. Over a representative sample of seven volumes of each periodical, nearly 11 per cent of the non-fiction articles in All the Year Round dealt with some aspect of international affairs or cultures [discounting the American Civil War, which Dickens instructed his staff to avoid unless they had specifically cleared a topic with him first ], as opposed to 4 per cent in Household Words. In most other popular subject areas — education, industry, emigration or science, for example — the trend is reversed.

In 1859, just as the last chapter of the Tale of Two Cities came out in All the Year Round, Wilkie Collins began Woman in White. Many of the authors of the era wrote for the lives. They paid their bills from the output of their pens. They wrote to a deadline, just like going to work. The idea that writers could churn out, to order, books like Great Expectations and the Moonstone is nothing less than astounding. Which brings me to Keith Olbermann. His idea of quality is his WTF show, and we see him at his best after the “Read More”, doing an impression of an erudite man. Technology may have advanced since the 19th century, but many of the qualities which made life interesting, and made men, men have remained unchanged. WTF.

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