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Reviewed by:
  • W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary ed. by Laurel Brake et al.
  • Ann M. Hale (bio)
Laurel Brake, Ed King, Roger Luckhurst, and James Mussell, eds., W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary (London: British Library, 2012). pp. 240. $45/£35 cloth.

April 2012 was an eventful month for W. T. Stead scholars and enthusiasts as it marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the pioneering journalist’s death on the Titanic. A number of events were organized to remember and honor Stead, including a wreath-laying at his plaque on the Thames Embankment, a memorial service at the nearby St. Bride’s Church, and a two-day international conference at the British Library. The conference—organized by Laurel Brake, Ed King, Roger Luckhurst, and James Mussell—stimulated a flurry of scholarly activity, which is now preserved in W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary. Edited by the conference organizers, this thought-provoking collection is a snapshot of Stead studies in the second decade of the twenty-first century and the dawn of an exciting new era in scholarship.

Unlike many late-nineteenth-century journalists, Stead never faded from memory or scholarly attention. He is best known as the target of Matthew [End Page 521] Arnold’s New Journalism insult, which came to define the sensational, investigative journalism that Stead pioneered. His 1885 “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” series on child prostitution in the Pall Mall Gazette was a media sensation. Stead and several of his “secret commission” collaborators were prosecuted for purchasing a young girl, Eliza Armstrong, during the course of their investigation, for which Stead served a three-month prison term. The “Maiden Tribute” contributed to his image as a valiant, crusading knight-errant of liberal, Nonconformist, moral, and social causes.

James Mussell’s contribution to the collection, “Characters of Blood and Flame,” discusses the “Maiden Tribute” while also drawing attention to Stead’s strategic deployment of scandalous information in two other, less well-known tabloid campaigns. The contribution from John Nerone and Kevin Barnhurst, “Stead in America,” views the “Maiden Tribute” in the context of the very different profile and reputation Stead had in the United States. Nerone and Barnhurst also examine publications that have received little previous attention, including the American Review of Reviews and If Christ Came to Chicago, the exposé Stead wrote after visiting Chicago in 1892.

W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary includes a number of contributions on under-appreciated aspects of the journalist’s career. Laurel Brake, who has written extensively on Stead, draws attention to the neglected repository of periodical history lurking in the annual indexes produced alongside the Review of Reviews. In “Stead Alone,” Brake traces the founding, content, and editorial style of the Review before discussing the innovative indexes. She writes, “Stead’s cluster of indexing projects remain under-used and possibly under-recognized resources for mapping British, continental and American journals of the period between 1890 when the Review of Reviews commenced, and 1902/1903 when the run of the annual indexes ended” (94). Similarly, Stead’s early career in journalism has received relatively little scrutiny. In “The Provincial Stead,” Tony Nicholson examines the articles Stead wrote for the Northern Echo. He goes on to suggest that the journalist’s non-metropolitan origins in the north of England influenced his entire career: “The Stead of Darlington was indeed the Stead of London, preaching the same doctrines and practicing the same methods; but not entirely” (13).

The Nonconformist from the north used the press to advance his personal beliefs and social causes. Elizabeth Tilley argues that Stead was “responsible for the legitimization of the Salvation Army as a social service organization” (74). Deborah Mutch explores his Nonconformist origins and rhetoric in “W. T. Stead, Kier Hardie, and the Boer War,” which compares Stead’s anti-war efforts with those of socialist Kier Hardie. In “W. T. Stead, Late Victorian Feminism, and the Review of Reviews,” Alexis Easley [End Page 522] traces Stead’s often contradictory, but nonetheless important, support of feminism, feminists, and women writers. Describing Stead as a “puzzle of contradictions,” Easley notes that he embraced beliefs that would be considered irreconcilable today: “Stead was a pacifist and an imperialist, an unapologetic flirt...