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Reviews

Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, eds. DNCJ: Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent and London: Academia Press and the British Library, 2009. ISBN: 970 90 382 1340 8. Price: £65.00. Cambridge: ProQuest, 2009 ff (online)

  • Georgina O’Brien Hill

…plus d’informations

  • Georgina O’Brien Hill
    University of Chester

Corps de l’article

There have been a number of publications attempting to guide the reader through the maze of nineteenth-century print media, of which the DNCJ: Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland is the latest. Such guides are needed: as an increasing number of periodicals become available through numerous projects of digitization, the problem facing students and scholars of Romantic and Victorian literature is often no longer one of access, but one of discrimination as we are overwhelmed by multiple sources of information.

The editors of the DNCJ, Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, acknowledge that the Dictionary “takes its place beside distinguished predecessors and contemporaries” including the Waterloo Dictionary of English Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900, British Library Magazines, and the Wellesley Index of Victorian Periodicals (v). They also make special mention of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a crucial tool which helped them to compile the DNCJ. British Library Magazines and the Wellesley Index are, as the editors recognize, “more selective” than the Waterloo Dictionary and therefore are more limited in their scope (v). The DNCJ is designed to bridge the gap between British Library Magazines and the Wellesley in particular. However, any print dictionary must also engage with the ongoing expansion in electronic resources and the digitization of print material, and for those with access to subscribing libraries, the electronic edition of the DNCJ will prove extremely useful, for it will be constantly updated, revised and corrected. Scholars without access, however, will gain much from the print edition alone.

This impressive tome (weighing in at over 1,000 pages and including 1,620 entries) is designed to be “large-scale,” reflecting the huge range of the periodical press in the nineteenth century, and including the subjects of “art, children, illustration, literature, religion, sports, politics, local and regions titles, satire, and trade journals,” as well as newspapers and periodicals across Great Britain and Ireland (back cover). But Brake and Demoor are clear that the purpose of the DNCJ is not to lead the reader through the mass of Victorian print media; the Dictionary is designed to be a “one-volume, rapid reference work,” a “snapshot” as they put it (v). Although this goal raises the question of balance--pitting breadth of coverage against depth of exploration--I believe that the editors have largely achieved this balance.

About 37% of the Dictionary is dedicated to periodical and newspaper titles, but significant space is also given to individual journalists and editors (30%), with a small proportion (9%) given to publishers and proprietors, 7% to illustrators and 2% to printers, distributors and inventors. Thirteen percent of the Dictionary covers topics such as the “Popular Press,” “Weeklies,” the “Juvenile Press,” “Class and the Press,” “Mastheads,” “Local Press,” and “Court and Parliamentary Reporting” (v). A list of “Contributors and Acronyms” is also included and this list indicates much of the “authoritative new research” that the publishers (rightly) boast of (back cover). There is a “Chronology on the Nineteenth-century Press in Britain and Ireland” which extends for almost 200 pages. The editors state that only “Eighteenth-century newspapers that continued into the nineteenth century” are included and while this is appropriate within the remit of the Dictionary, some readers might find this limitation regrettable (ix).

Brake and Demoor hope that the DNCJ will offer a “gateway to the period,” and they have certainly achieved this aim, for what is noticeable on first flicking through the Dictionary is its sheer scope (v). Specialist subjects, such as the “Nursing Press,” “Readers and Readership: Real or Historical Readers,” “New Journalism,” “Provincial Newspapers,” “Divorce News,” “Temperance Magazines,” and “Personality and the Press” are all given due attention. The Dictionary is extremely user-friendly: ordered alphabetically, individual entries are concise but generally offer enough depth to inform and whet the appetite for further research. Each entry is signed and cross-referenced to other entries and to the impressive bibliography, and each includes a useful list of sources. Although contributors are wide-ranging, the editors have ensured a uniform standard for each entry. The “General Index” and bibliography are both a real boon of this publication, as is the list of “Archives and Electronic Resources”; however, a list of pseudonyms and pen-names would also have been particularly useful. The “Headword Index by Category,” in which individuals, groups and companies are listed by their “main occupation” is less helpful in practice because no page numbers are given for the relevant entry in the Dictionary; however, grouping by occupation in this way does serve to illuminate the range of individuals involved in nineteenth-century print media.

The structure and layout of the DNCJ not only reflects the interconnected nature of the periodical press itself, but it also inspires the reader to explore, making unexpected links and connections through a variety of topics, journalists and magazines. Indeed, I found myself delving into the Dictionary through the detailed “General Index,” the pleasure of this experience being that one entry is cross-referenced to many more, leading the reader down unexpected avenues of research. For example, being intrigued by an entry on “brothels, homosexual” in the “General Index,” I turned to the relevant article to learn of “the supposed involvement of the preacher John Church in the London Vere Street homosexual brothel” as reported in the Weekly Dispatch (667). I knew nothing of this particular publication, and in turning to it I learned that it specialized in sport as well as sensational news. Knowing little of early sports journalism, I turned to “Sporting Journalism” and was interested to see a reference to my father-in-law’s favorite, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, and turning to the entry for this particular journal I was surprised to see “Fashion” cross-referenced; I could continue. In their Introduction, the editors express their hope that readers will “read [the Dictionary] through out of sheer interest and fascination,” and this has certainly been my experience (viii).

As well as offering this kind of fascinating research experience, the Dictionary impressively covers areas of specialism which have been previously neglected. Poetry published in Victorian print media is often overlooked (is only selectively included in Wellesley), and it is good to see the genre recognized and explored in a relatively lengthy entry here. Likewise, the work of individual illustrators receives substantial treatment: the Dictionary includes just under 70 illustrations, ranging from advertising pages, to examples of mastheads, front pages of individual numbers and cover sheets of bound editions (there are some real treats here, including the “sensational photography” of lightning in the Leisure Hour (305) and the back cover of the Yellow Book “bearing the Beardsley stamp (693)). Some illustrations are given full page reproductions, but others can be frustratingly small. A particularly useful reproduction is the list of contributors to the Spectator and their earnings, for this is the kind of archival material that the periodical researcher must decipher, and it is useful to have an example to ponder over here.

In a Dictionary of this scope, space is clearly at a premium and yet some of the exclusions are surprising. Quite rightly, the entry on “Editors” is large; the functions of the role from Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review (1802-1829) onwards is discussed and yet women editors are not discussed at all, despite the fact that numerous entries in the Dictionary mention women who occupied this position. Likewise, the entry on “Editors and Authorship” excludes women, though many adopted the roles of author and editor when conducting their magazines. There are a number of entries dedicated to topics such as “Women’s Periodicals” and specific journals such as the Englishwoman and Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine but it is not clear why women are excluded from the main entries on editorship. Likewise, the comprehensive entry on “Anonymity and Signature” is cross-referenced with “Pseudonyms,” and yet this entry simply refers the reader to “Anonymity and Signature.”

The length of some entries can also be limiting: for example, “Illustration” is a detailed and relatively long article, explaining developments in technology and making useful links to a variety of magazines, topics and contributors. The next entry, however, on “Imperialism and Journalism,” is surprisingly short, as is the intriguing yet very brief entry on “Gossip,” and it is a shame that the limitations of space did not allow for more on topics such as these. However, the editors stress that the Dictionary, through the electronic edition, is something of an evolving project, and as such the online version will offer scope for further expansion.

The DNCJ is designed, as the editors state, as a “rapid reference work,” and for this purpose, researchers will find it extremely valuable (v). Indeed, it is exactly the kind of research tool that I would have found particularly useful during my own doctoral research. The Dictionary will, I am sure, prove indispensible for the student of the periodical press, but also for any reader wishing to learn more about any number of authors, topics and publications. As a reference aid, the Dictionary is easy to use and navigate, encouraging readers to dip in and out of the period and offering a spring-board into further research.

Parties annexes