- The Age of the Storytellers: British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950
Briefly stated, The Age of the Storytellers is a book everyone interested in the history of late nineteenth-century British periodicals will want to read.
The first page of the introduction to this important study of Victorian magazines emphasizes the subject in its subtitle: "popular"-as opposed to "literary"-fiction magazines published in England between 1880 and 1950. The authors covered, whose work is discussed and detailed bibliographically, are the "storytellers" of the title, perfectly honorable writers whose object was more to thrill and entertain than to take a place alongside the likes of Dickens and George Eliot in the literary firmament. But the magazines themselves are the focus.
Although Ashley says the Strand eventually set the pattern when it began appearing in January 1891, his chronology begins with the Boy's Own Paper in 1879 and concludes in 1950, when the Strand merged with Men Only and ceased to exist in its own right. Actually, as Ashley admits, the type of magazine studied here was a casualty of World War II, and so the concluding date might well have been 1945. Furthermore, most of the magazines detailed in this study have not been covered by other reference books. Most of them are monthlies, although some eventually became fortnightlies. A few weeklies appear as well.
In their 16-page introduction, David Pringle and Mike Ashley set out the publishing context of these magazines in a detailed manner that might well be a model for the rest of us. (In fact there is much about the design of the coverage that is reminiscent of a plan RSVP developed [End Page 355] in its early days to provide accurate bibliographical information on serial fiction.) Following Pringle and Ashley's introduction is a chronology that identifies the most significant stories and the dates of their appearance in the magazines covered; the chronology also identifies the date of the first and last appearances of each magazine studied, as well as the death dates of important contributors.
Then appear 72 handsome color plates featuring magazine covers; black-and-white illustrations occur throughout the text.
The main section of the book is divided into two not-quite-equal parts: Section 1, "Primary Magazines," details 70 titles; Section 2, "Other Magazines," gives slightly less coverage to 74 titles. In all, 144 titles receive consideration. For those titles covered in the first section, Ashley provides publishing information: the number of issues produced, the dates of production, title changes (if any), the frequency of appearance, the publisher, the editor, the format and size, the price, a list of references, and-very helpfully-a list of holdings and collecting points. At the end of the volume is a "summary of editors and publishers," a list of those editors and publishers covered in the two main sections of the book.
The Strand has a particular importance in the context of Ashley's study, for it was the magazine that, according to him, introduced British readers to the genre of the modern short story. Before 1890, the short story was largely an American and Continental form; however, the Strand introduced the "series short story" in 1891, when Arthur Conan Doyle began publishing his Sherlock Holmes tales.
My own research into Elizabeth Gaskell's publication of her short fiction earlier in the period suggests there is much of interest to be learned by examining fiction published in its magazine context and then later republished in another format. For instance, Gaskell began what became Cranford by publishing a portion of it in the United States in Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art. There it was a type of ethnological essay dealing with the peculiar manners of a small town in northern England. Only later did she revise this essay into a story that even later became the opening chapter of her "novel."
Examining how one's "reading" of a piece of fiction changes as it changes...