- Introduction to the Special Issue: Place and Space in the Periodical Press
We are delighted to present this set of five essays focusing on the role of place and space in the periodical press during the nineteenth century. Derived from a representative sampling of papers originally presented at the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP) conference held in September of 2014 at the University of Delaware, these articles illustrate the generativity of the conference topic, “Places, Spaces, and the Victorian Periodical Press,” which enabled scholars to probe everything from the space(s) of periodical pages to the places, both real and imagined, represented in and by the press. RSVP is truly unique in its effort to bring together scholars dedicated to the exploration of the richly diverse world of the nineteenth-century press, as well as book history and the emerging field of media history. We think this special issue displays this range especially well.
The issue begins with Lorraine Janzen Kooistra’s “Charting Rocks in the Golden Stream: Or, Why Textual Ornaments Matter to Victorian Periodicals Studies,” which reproduces, with minor revisions, the Michael Wolff lecture she gave at the Delaware conference. Building on the work of scholars such as Johanna Drucker, James Mussell, and Lars Spuybroek, Kooistra explores the textual ornaments of Victorian periodicals, examining the ways in which digitization has marginalized these essential visual elements of the material text. Focusing in particular on the pictorial initial letter, she discusses the significance of ornament in the construction and reading experience of the periodical, examining the degree to which both have been rendered invisible in modern digitized texts. Responding to this erasure, Kooistra and a team of researchers at Ryerson University have developed a mark-up methodology that incorporates the bibliographic, linguistic, and iconographic elements of Victorian periodicals. Having launched their approach with an edition of the Yellow Book and continued this work [End Page 371] with the Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, the team has also begun to build a database of ornament that can be used as a broader research tool. Ultimately, Kooistra argues, such a project reveals an unlikely connection between past and present media criticism. Just as the creators of Victorian periodical ornament resisted the growing mechanization of capitalism and print production, modern scholars resist the automated processes of commercial digitization efforts.
We then move to Linda Peterson’s “Nineteenth-Century Poets and Periodical Spaces: Letitia Landon and Felicia Hemans,” which approaches the theme of periodical space from a different angle. Peterson explores questions surrounding the efforts of aspiring women poets who sought to build their careers by finding and making use of what space was available to them within early Victorian periodicals. Taking Landon as an instance of a writer seeking to establish herself in the field and Hemans as an author looking to strengthen her position at mid-career, Peterson also contrasts their appearances in magazines that did not have designated spaces for poetry. The two case studies show, first, Landon’s adroit development of a role for herself in the Literary Gazette and, second, Hemans’s consolidation of her place in the literary market through her ongoing collaboration with William Blackwood, whose magazine carried her poems regularly after 1827 and whose firm also published her volumes of poetry. Peterson notes how both writers expanded the publishing space available for women writers, and she stresses the extent to which Hemans was particularly influential in advancing “women’s place in the literary realm,” even if she did not articulate a radical feminist social agenda.
Two contributions to this issue pair together especially well by virtue of their treatment of periodicals and place, both real and imagined. In “‘The Idler’s Club’: Humor and Sociability in the Age of New Journalism,” Laura Kasson Fiss explores the “Idler’s Club” column that appeared in the Idler magazine between 1892 and 1895. Interpreting the column in relation to the mass reading public that emerged after the ratification of the 1870 Education Act and the New Journalism that developed to serve that public, Fiss argues that its contributors collectively built an “image to counterbalance the anonymity of mass print culture, a club...