Monday, December 23, 2019

Dickensian Christmas Words

First page of December 21, 1850, Christmas Supplement of Household Words
Just this week, we acquired something that has us very excited: a complete run of Household Words, a literary periodical that ran from March 30, 1850, to May 28, 1859, and was edited by Charles Dickens. Our set, comprising 19 volumes that contain a total 479 issues, includes all of the "Christmas Supplements" and the rarer "Household Narrative" (On Politics, Crime and Statistics of events of the month or year), which was only published in the early numbers 1850-1851. The journal was intended for an aspiring middle class audience, although it was marketed as a vehicle for social justice for the working class. Interestingly, there were no advertisements or images in Household Words, which should seem a bit counter-intuitive to anyone who is familiar with the usual format for a stand-alone serialized version of Dickens's novels. Also, each issue cost only two pennies, contrasting with the entire shilling per issue for Dickens's David Copperfield, for example.

First page of Christmas 1852 supplement of Household Words
As might be guessed, a publication filled with anonymous or unheard-of authors wasn't doing very initially until Dickens decided to serialize his own novels in the publication as well. Both Bleak House and Hard Times both made their first appearances in Household Words. In addition to new works by Dickens, the publication also featured the serialized novels of many authors whose names would indeed become household words was in Household Words, and Wilkie Collins saw two of his novels initially introduced there as well. Ultimately, however, it was the work of Dickens that the people were most interested in reading. To satiate them, Dickens hit upon the idea of the "Christmas Supplement." In each holiday issue, he would write a beginning and ending to a story about a fictional gathering of strangers, each of whom would tell a story related to a theme. Then, his stable of authors would each provide a short story for that issue. The "Christmas Supplement" was a clear hit for over a decade and had a marked effect on the sale of the periodical.

We haven't created a catalog record yet for this marvelous set of books, but feel free to come by and ask for it by name if you'd like to experience a Dickensian Christmas in print.