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  • “Can Anyone Picture My Agony?”:Visualizing Gender, Imperialism, and Gothic Horror in the Wide World Magazine of 1898
  • Margaret D. Stetz (bio)

Character may be destiny, but so is language, particularly when it comes to names. Was it mere coincidence that the word "new" figured so prominently in the name of the founder of the Wide World Magazine, George Newnes? If there was anyone in the late-Victorian publishing industry who could be said always to have imagined, engendered, promoted, and disseminated the very newest concepts in periodicals, it was certainly he. When he initiated the Wide World Magazine, An Illustrated Monthly of True Narrative: Adventure, Travel, Customs, and Sport in 1898, it joined a long list of innovative ventures that already had made "Newnes" synonymous with "newness." These included, most famously, Tit-Bits in 1881, but also the Strand in 1891, the Westminster Gazette in 1893, and in 1890, the Review of Reviews, which he established with and then turned over to W. T. Stead, the journalist and former editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

The novelty and originality of the Wide World are what Kate Jackson celebrates in her single chapter on the magazine for her 2001 study, George Newnes and the New Journalism in Britain, 1880–1910. There, Jackson asserts that the Wide World "reflected new developments in literature and the periodical press and represented, most significantly, the revolution in photographic illustration." Along with this advance came "the invention of the 'true story' magazine."1 Indeed, the Introduction to the inaugural issue of April 1898 proclaimed proudly that "There will be no fiction in the Magazine, but yet it will contain stories of weird adventure, more thrilling than any conceived by the novelist in his wildest flights." The reader's promised encounter with unimpeachable fact, unalloyed with fantasy, would begin with the magazine's packaging and continue through its visual contents, for as [End Page 24] the Introduction went on to aver, "The key-note of the Magazine is struck in the motto on the cover— 'Truth is Stranger than Fiction.' This we hope to prove by personal narratives and actual photographs." Recently perfected methods of half-tone printing meant that numerous black-and-white photographs could appear throughout, even in a magazine priced at a mere sixpence, and function as documentary evidence to guarantee the authenticity of the articles. Such technological progress enabled the writer of the Introduction to assure the consumer that "As to the pictures, these will be mostly direct reproductions from photographs."2

In The Most Amazing Story a Man Ever Lived to Tell (1977), a study of a series of articles titled the "Adventures of Louis De Rougemont" from the magazine's first year, Geoffrey Maslen has identified the anonymous Introduction printed in the inaugural issue as the work of the Wide World's editor, William Fitzgerald.3 Certainly, Fitzgerald was not merely the magazine's editor, but also an author, who appended his name to one article in May 1898, "Canadian Curiosities." But Kate Jackson, on the contrary, attributes the "Introduction" to the publisher himself, and her counter-claim is a credible one.4 Although this degree of hands-on involvement in a periodical was unusual, it was clear that George Newnes felt deeply invested—even beyond his financial stake—in the success of this enterprise, for he was already an enthusiastic traveler himself. So heartily, moreover, did he support the mission of educating audiences about the "thrilling" discoveries to be found in other parts of the globe that in March 1897, shortly before establishing the Wide World, he contributed a signed article about his own journey along the Nile to one of his other productions, the Strand magazine.

Like the more sober and scholarly publications of the Royal Geographical Society, Wide World addressed a late Victorian epistemological hunger: it fed the desire in Britain for knowledge, for information about other lands—their flora, their fauna, and their peoples—though especially about those which were now part of Queen Victoria's Empire or which, like America, once had been British colonial holdings. In the 1890s, travel writing and the publishing of travel narratives was a growth industry. Narratives written by women...


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pp. 24-43
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