- The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London
Worthy recipient of the Robert and Vineta Colby Scholarly Book Prize from the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, this text is an outstanding insight into the world of Victorian periodicals and publishing. It will be invaluable to scholars of Punch but also to researchers looking more widely at the literary marketplace in which the magazine circulated.
The purpose of Leary's text is to examine "the magazine as a business enterprise and working community" (6). He does this through a consideration of the "multi-vocality" of mid-Victorian culture, Chapter 1 being a study of "The Brotherhood of the Punch Table." This chapter provides an overview of the period, identifying the key contributors to the magazine. Though brief, the extensive and extremely well-researched footnotes ensure that by the end of the chapter you can really begin to understand the [End Page 404] character of Punch. The central argument of the book is that oral culture was a fundamental part of the social and material context of Victorian culture. The Punch dinners, where the magazine's main cuts and topics for each issue were debated, typified the increasingly blurred boundaries between private and public life, reinforcing the crucial relationship that existed between talk and print. Leary's reexamination of the infamous "Garrick Club Affair" and the quarrel between Dickens and Thackeray in Chapter 4 affirms this.
Chapter 2's examination of the main cuts provides a more traditional commentary on how topics were chosen. However, Leary's work is enhanced by using transcriptions of conversations at the Punch dinners taken from Henry Silver's diary, a little-used resource that is central to the contribution that this book has to make in understanding "Gossip and the Literary Life," as Chapter 3 goes onto develop. Extensive quotation from the diary throughout Leary's work has readers guffawing out loud at the boyish and raucous behaviour reported at the weekly dinners, providing a gem of an insight into author/illustrator/publisher relations in this period. There are references to an abundance of original and untapped source materials throughout the book, including the diaries of comparatively neglected author Shirley Brooks (Chapter 5). However, perhaps the most significant contribution of the book is the final chapter on "Bradbury and Evans and the Personal Politics of Print Culture." In this chapter, Leary examines Bradbury and Evans's shift from printer to publisher, reflecting on Punch before the change of ownership in 1842 and on how significant the change of printer and publisher was in ensuring the magazine's viability. There is a wealth of information about the business of producing magazines that brings the text full circle to its opening claim for needing to understand Punch as a model of a working community.
The Punch Brotherhood is lavishly illustrated with examples from across the pages of Punch—not just the main cuts—giving the text an appeal outside an academic readership. However, it is for the richness of the research that this book is to be commended. Footnotes at the bottom of each page, supplemented by the extensive bibliography and archival references, provide a vital tool for any scholar wishing to develop his or her understanding of the period. The writing style is concomitant with one who is clearly at ease with the subject; the depth of the research appears effortless. And yet, as I know from my own work on Punch, it is a magazine whose records are frustratingly dispersed across different archives of writers and publishers. To bring them together, to provide so seamless a picture of Victorian print culture, is no mean feat. Since Richard Altick's magisterial tome of 1999, there has only been one other scholarly work on Punch, Alan Young's 2007 thematic examination of Punch and Shakespeare. [End Page 405] I closed my review of that text in Victorian Periodicals Review by stating that there was much more work that needed to be undertaken to examine the wider...