Same, same, but different

In IndoChina, the different peoples talk of themselves collectively as “Same, same, but different” – recognising their similarities but highlighting their differences.

This approach is beneficial when thinking about the Victorian magazines in which Trollope and other authors’ novels were frequently first published.

A modern UK reader would be familiar with the sub-divisions and distinctions in the broad class of publications categorised as newspapers. They would distinguish between broadsheet and tabloid; and within this classifications would differentiate between right-wing and left-wing biased tabloids (The Mail v The Mirror) or broadsheets (The Daily Telegraph v The Guardian); and variations on what constitutes the lowest common denominator in its audience (The Mail The Star).

We need to follow a similarly critical approach when considering the range of Victorian magazines.

Household Words, for example, is more “down-market” or “populist” than other later magazines considered in Catherine Delafield’s study Serialization and the Novel in Mid-Victorian Magazines. It follows the newspaper layout in columns and has no illustrations.  It is published weekly at a price which is designed to be accessible to a lower middle class audience. These factors marked it out as closely aligned to, but distinguished from, the penny journals which sought to reach a mass market (notably by it’s larger size suitable for production of subsequent bound volumes of the magazine). Indeed it carried a similar mix of fiction and educational/factual articles. The fiction was embedded within the magazine and undifferentiated so that, for example, Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford appeared not as a continuous serialisation but as distinct episodes often with gaps of many editions between blocks of such episodes. Cranford, as a novel, was constructed out of these episodes after the fact.

Dickens’ successor magazine, All The Year Round, followed the same approach (weekly publication at a price of two pence) while trying to capture some of the market for the heavier monthly magazines with a greater prominence and separation of the fiction. The novel being serialised (even if it was being written “on the hoof”) was given more coherence by continuous sequential publication over a pre-publicised period.  Thus readers might judge where they were in the complete story by how far into the publication period they were, giving a greater sense of it as a whole. This coherence was increased by the practice of maintaining the position of the serialised novel within the magazine – usually it was the lead/first item.

Launched within months of Dickens’ new publication, Cornhill Magazine and Good Words both sought to differentiate themselves in this crowded market place. They were published monthly and rather than adopting the columnar layout of newspapers and penny journals, followed the single column approach giving them a book-like appearance.

They were also illustrated unlike All The Year Round. This was a key distinction enabling them to offer access  for their audience to fine art. Initially at least, Cornhill Magazine, enjoyed a competitive edge in this respect, securing the artist John Everett Millais to illustrate Trollope’s Framley Parsonage serialised in its earliest numbers. Good Words began life with a series of in-house illustrators who were less well-known than Millais. However, they later secured his services to illustrate Craik’s Mistress and Maid. Even in this use of illustration however, there was differentiation. Cornhill Magazine followed the book publishers’ practice of including illustrations as full page images whereas Good Words embedded somewhat smaller images in the body of the text – though neither publication ensured the illustrations were juxtaposed with the text to which they referred.

Cornhill Magazine was priced at 2s 6d for each monthly edition. This was more than twice the aggregate price of the 4 or 5 copies of All The Year Round which would be published in the month. It was therefore pitched at a more affluent strata of the middle class market. This would also be reflected in the greater emphasis on the novels included as “literature” rather than mere entertainment. One may speculate whether this may be the origin of Trollope’s own quip about “Mr Popular Sentiment” which is taken to be made at the expence of the rival publication’s self-styled “conductor” Dickens.

The weekly Good Words was pitched at 1 1/2d per issue which made it more directly in competition with All The Year Round for the less affluent end of the market, as was the similarly “temperance” influenced Cassell’s Magazine, which sold for 1d – a bargain when it is considered that it also offered illustrations. However, the latter in particular suffered from comparisons over the quality of its fiction. Dickens was generally offering a superior quality product though Wilkie Collins was by the 1870s writing for both Dickens and Cassell’s magazines suggesting that this distinction became more blurred over time.

These sometimes subtle distinctions need to be borne in mind when considering the consumption by the Victorian audience, or should that be “audiences” of novels such as those Trollope wrote for serialisation in these magazines.

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