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Valentine's Day at the Post-Office

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Authors Charles Dickens
W[illiam] H[enry] Wills
Genre Prose: Report i
Subjects Communication; Telegraph; Postal Service
Great Britain—Social Life and Customs
Literature; Writing; Authorship; Reading; Books; Poetry; Storytelling; Letter Writing
London (England)—Description and Travel
Money; Finance; Banking; Investments; Taxation; Insurance; Debt; Inheritance and Succession
Newspapers; Periodicals; Journalism
Work; Work and Family; Occupations; Professions; Wages
Other Details
Printed : 30/3/1850
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume I
Magazine : No. 1
Office Book Notes
Views : 3029

Dickens probably wrote the following portions of 'Valentine's Day at the Post-Office': from 'Here huge slits' to 'paid letters' (p. 6); from 'Having been led' to ''inside out'' (p. 7); from 'consisting of hearts' to 'tender verses' (p. 8) ; from 'It was then just' to 'stars right in their spheres?' (p. 9); from 'As to the rooms' (p. 9) to 'the following observations:-' (p. 10); from 'While this amusement' to 'living being visible' (p. 11).
Dickens may also have rewritten or added to the following passages: from 'The mysterious visitors' to 'Sundays excepted!' (p. 7); from 'While one of the visitors' to 'through the office' (p. 7).
In addition, Dickens seems to have added touches to sections primarily by Wills.
In 1860 Wills published under his name a collection of pieces entitled Old Leaves; Gathered from Household Words. This work, now virtually unobtainable, contained thirty-seven pieces collected from Household Words: twenty-two by Wills, and fifteen by Dickens and Wills (including, in the latter category, 'Valentine's Day at the Post-Office'). Wills was not attempting to take credit for Dickens' work. He freely acknowledged Dickens' share in the book, but - very likely on Dickens' orders - did not mention Dickens' name. Instead he dedicated the volume to 'THE OTHER HAND, whose masterly touches gave to the OLD LEAVES here freshly gathered, their brightest tints,' and he marked all the collaborative articles with a printer's hand, indicating that 'portions of the papers distinguished throughout the volume by this mark are by another hand' (in every case the label agrees with the designation in the Contributors' Book). He also changed the text. He reprinted some of the pieces, such as 'Valentine's Day at the Post-Office,' virtually unchanged, but he peppered most of the articles with hundreds of minor emendations. In collaborative pieces, his usual practice seems to have been to emend his own sections very freely, Dickens' reworkings less freely, and Dickens' solo portions - with a few trivial and explainable exceptions - not at all. In certain instances, also, he reparagraphed passages in order to separate Dickens' work from his own. As a consequence, Wills' emendations often provide strong additional evidence for establishing Dickens' share in their joint articles. Such evidence has been used throughout [Stone's edition] to help make the Dickens-Wills attributions.
Concerning one segment of Wills' portion of this article, Dickens wrote (12 March 1850): 'My objection to entering into the Sunday [delivery of mail] business is, that whatever we state, is sure to be contradicted; and I observed Rowland Hill to be a very cautious and reserved man, whom I should strongly doubt as to his backing qualities in such a case. If the passage stand at all, I should wish it to stand as I have altered it. But I should be glad if you would show it to Forster, as a casting opinion. We will abide by his black or white ball.' The ball apparently was black, for the passage does not appear in the published version. Concerning another segment of Wills' portion of this article, Dickens wrote (28 February 1850): 'I think the addresses I enclose in this, the best. I would certainly give all these in the article. If you have a fac-simile of any, I recommend Valparaiso'. Dickens' suggestions illustrate how he supervised what his collaborators wrote. Through such suggestions, and through many similar devices, he shaped and controlled what he assigned to others.
'Valentine's Day at the Post-Office,' which appeared in the inaugural issue of Household Words, was the prototype of many similar articles. Dickens called such pieces 'process' articles. He wrote some process articles himself and collaborated on many others.

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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