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All the Year Round

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All the Year Round was in many ways identical to its predecessor Household Words (1850-1859), not least because it remained a 2d. weekly (9d. monthly) conspicuously ‘Conducted by Charles Dickens.’ In two respects, however, its constitution differed. Its leading article now comprised an instalment of serial fiction, whose authorship was identified; gone were the investigative reports and satirical broadsides that had characterised leaders in the earlier incarnation.  Dickens and sub-editor W. H. Wills were now the sole partners in and proprietors of their publication. When Dickens serialised A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1860-61) in its pages, he was his own publisher; when he contracted authors such as Wilkie Collins, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Charles Reade, Frances Trollope, and Edmund Yates to contribute novels, he became their publisher as well as editor.


Together, these changes were effective in raising the circulation significantly. The first number clocked 120,000, ‘settling down’, Wills wrote on 19 May 1859, ‘to a steady current sale of 100,000.’ Sales of the extra ‘Christmas Numbers’ increased exponentially to something approaching 300,000 in 1867 (No Thoroughfare, with Wilkie Collins*), but set in the context of rising circulation figures across the sector, and the extra sales and income Dickens could generate by syndicating single short stories in All the Year Round and in American journals, he decided to discontinue this feature.

Improvements in transatlantic communication and voluntary recognition of international copyright by various US publishers meant that from its launch, All the Year Round appeared almost simultaneously in America. In order to ship the plates in time, the magazine had to be put to bed a week earlier than Household Words, with a consequent loss of topicality. Regular contributors noted the difference, and felt, with John Hollingshead, that All the Year Round ‘was not the same journal, although we had the same chief.’ His further complaint that it was ‘less personal’ seems strange however, given that Dickens’s major non-fiction contribution to the journal consisted of three series of familiar essays, advertised as ‘Occasional Journeys’ by ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ (1860, 1863, 1868-69). Other changes of emphasis involved a notable increase in the frequency of articles on foreign affairs (Italian, Polish, Turkish), on commerce and individual finance, and on science and natural history; conversely, a reduction of coverage of such topics as emigration, education, and industry can be observed.

After 20 bi-annual volumes, Dickens decided to introduce improvements in paper quality, layout and typography for the New Series (from 5 December 1868). These included a new boxed masthead illustrated with flowers and fruit in the four corners, representing the cycle of the seasons. Following Wills’s retirement in March that year, Dickens’s eldest son Charley was brought in to fill the vacant sub-editor’s chair. After Dickens’s death in June 1870, Charles Dickens Junior took over the editorship, buying out Wills in 1871, and continuing the magazine ‘respectably’ (in Percy Fitzgerald’s opinion) as managing editor and proprietor until 1895.

John M. L. Drew © Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (Academia Press and the British Library, 2009)

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