Charles Dickens published Household Words in 19 volumes between 1850 and 1859. Having been frustrated by the interference of publishers when editing Bentley's Miscellany, Master Humphrey's Clock and the Daily News, Dickens determined that he would have a free hand on Household Words. The fact that Dickens owned half of the business and that his agents, Forster and Wills, owned a further quarter of it ensured that this was the case. Dickens directed every aspect of the magazine's production. He wrote for the magazine, solicited contributions and revised and corrected the works of others. Dickens made sure that the opinions expressed in every article conformed to the views he held himself and that no by-line appeared except his.
In A Preliminary Word, which opened the first issue, Dickens clearly lays out the purpose of the periodical and his hopes for it. He hoped that it would "live in the Household affections, and ... be numbered among the Household thoughts of our readers". He emphasises the power of the imagination and its importance to people's lives and that vows that "no mere utilitarian spirit, no iron binding of the mind to grim realities" will appear within the pages of Household Words and that "in all familiar things, even in those which are repellent on the surface, there is romance enough, if we will find it out." He returned to these themes in the novel, Hard Times, which first appeared in the pages of Household Words. Soon after its launch the magazine was achieving a circulation of 36,000 - 40,000 copies a week. When there was a sudden slump in the sales of Household Words, Dickens decided to serialise a novel in its pages in an effort to revive its fortunes. Hard Times was that novel. The first episode appeared in April 1854 and it soon had the desired effect. Circulation doubled within ten weeks and continued to rise for a little while thereafter.
Hard Times was not the only novel to first appear in print in Household Words. Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South also first appeared in Household Words, as did The Dead Secret and A Rogue's Life by Wilkie Collins. In addition to William Henry Wills, who acted as assistant editor, Dickens relied on a small circle of writers for the the bulk of the material on a week to week basis. These included Henry Morley, Richard Horne, George Augustus Sala and Wilkie Collins. Dickens also drew on a wider circle of writers on a more or less frequent basis. These included Mrs. Gaskell, Harriet Martineau, Leigh Hunt and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Dickens once even persuaded Michael Faraday to lend him his lecture notes. Dickens passed them on to Percival Leigh who turned them into a series of articles with the titles The Chemistry of a Candle, The Laboratory in the Chest and The Mysteries of a Tea Kettle.
Household Words covered a wide diversity of topics. In addition to fiction it contained poetry, popular science, travel stories as well as much social comment. The issue dated 13 July 1850 is typical. The opening article was about a visit to a poor house and was entitled A Day in a Pauper Palace. It was followed by an article on hunting in Canada, an article about the detection of crime, a ballad and an essay on marriage and a short story, as well as some shorter pieces. Dickens's social concerns were reflected in the pages of the magazine where he campaigned for a variety of issues such as improvements in sanitation and slum housing, workplace safety, and the right to form trade unions.
The magazine was popular and profitable but arguments with the publishers Bradbury and Evans drove Dickens to stop producing Household Words and to bring out All the Year Round, which first appeared on 30 April 1859. These disagreements arose, in part, out of his marital difficulties. Dickens had formally separated from his wife in 1858 but rumours about him and the actress Ellen Ternan and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, prompted him to put a personal statement into the 12 June 1858 issue of the magazine in an attempt to stop them. He hoped that Bradbury and Evans would print the statement in Punch but they would not and were disapproving. Dickens was angered by their attitude and in an attempt to take total control tried to buy out their quarter share. They would not agree to this but after a court case Dickens got his way and Household Words was closed down. The last issue of Household Words was published on 28 May 1859. Its successor All the Year Round, which was controlled totally by Dickens was even more successful than Household Words, achieving sales of 300,000 at its peak.
.Harry Stone ed. The uncollected writings of Charles Dickens : Household words 1850-1859. London : Allen Lane, 1969
external internet links
an essay by Philip V. Allingham
Contributing Editor, Victorian Web;
Faculty of Education,
Lakehead University (Canada)
the essay is to be found on the
Victorian Web website
Dickens' Christmas Stories
Other Stories and Articles
In 1850, the Swinton school
was the subject of the article
A Day in a Pauper Palace in
Charles Dickens' journal
published 13th July 1850
published May 25th, 1850