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Emblem of Household Words.

Household Words

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Journal contains 19 volumes, 487 magazines and 3691 articles.
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Adorned with a combative motto from Shakespeare’s Henry V (‘Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS’), Charles Dickens’s two-penny weekly magazine of original short fiction and crusading social journalism was launched to widespread publicity on 30 March 1850. Its sub-editor was W. H Wills, a former assistant editor of Chambers’s Journal, to which the new publication was typographically similar: two columns of small type on relatively thin, acidic paper (quad crown 12mo), no advertisements or illustrations, and the legend ‘Conducted by ¦ Charles Dickens’ as a running header on every spread of its 24 pages. Household Words was nevertheless something of a hybrid, available in 9d. monthly numbers with wrappers and handsome bi-annual volumes, aimed at affluent middle-class families and people of influence, no less than at working-class readers interested in ‘trading up.’


Dickens published Hard Times and A Child’s History of England as serials in Household Words, as well as over 180 unsigned solo and co-authored articles, short stories, and ‘chips’ (short satirical squibs). It has often been assumed that all the other anonymous articles in Household Words invariably voice Dickens’s own opinions; this is not invariably the case. Of more than 380 contributors, some 90 were women—Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Martineau, and Eliza Lynn Linton prominent amongst them—but the majority of the articles were written by a small corps of male staff writers (Wills, Henry Morley, Wilkie Collins, and R. H. Horne) or by ‘regulars’ whom Dickens trained to write in a recognisably ‘Dickensy’ manner and who fell in with their Editor’s broadly Liberal agenda. The latter included G.A. Sala, John Hollingshead, William Moy Thomas, G. Walter Thornbury, Blanchard Jerrold, Sydney Blanchard, James Payn (a group dubbed Dickens’s ‘young men,’ according to Sala), and Percy Fitzgerald.

Household Words ceased publication in acrimony, following Dickens’s breach with publishers Bradbury & Evans, over their reluctance to take his side publicly during his protracted separation (1858-59) from his wife, Catherine. In Chancery, Dickens successfully maintained his right to dissolve his press partnership unilaterally, no less than his marriage, and Household Words appeared for the last time on 28 May 1859, four weeks after Dickens’s commencement of a look-alike journal called All the Year Round.

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

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