A Victorian Mystery No More

Courtesy Jeremy Parrott
Courtesy Jeremy Parrott


Charles Dickens: novelist, social critic, editor—and unexpected promoter of female writers. Up to 40 percent of the writing published from 1859 to 1895 in the monthly magazine he edited came from women, with the average hovering above a quarter. The articles in All the Year Round went unsigned, but the discovery last year of Dickens’s own bound volumes (below) has notes in his hand identifying the authors of some 2,000 articles. When you consider that in 2014, 156 years after Dickens’s magazine debuted, around 36 percent of articles in major magazines and newspapers are written by women, according to the Women’s Me+dia Center and VIDA, that puts Dickens ahead of his time.

Antiquarian bookseller Jeremy Parrott, who bought the set, is working with Victorian scholars to compile a complete list of authors, which he hopes to have ready by mid-2016. Some contributors have already been identified, including Elizabeth Gaskell and Eliza Lynn Linton, the first professional female journalist in Britain. The implications for our understanding of professional authorship in the 19th century could be profound, according to one of the scholars, Joanne Shattock of the University of Leicester. Gaskell’s contributions alone, she says, “will add to the perception of her as a Victorian woman of letters rather than just a novelist and short story writer.” But not all writers wanted their authorship to be publicly known because, Shattock says, anonymity conferred the opportunity “to express themselves freely and to write on topics not usually considered theirs.”

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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