- Histories for the Many: The Victorian Family Magazine and Popular Representations of the Past. The Leisure Hour, 1852–1870 by Doris Lechner
Histories for the Many analyzes the historical articles that appeared between 1852 and 1870 in the Leisure Hour, a Victorian family magazine that was an organ of the evangelical Religious Tract Society. Employing methods from book history, periodical studies, and cultural studies, Lechner examines the way that these articles contributed to Victorian "historical [End Page 833] culture," the wide range of ways that history was understood by a mass public (13). The project thus aims to draw attention to the broad array of democratic and democratizing forms of historical knowledge that were flourishing during this period, even as the academic discipline of history was being professionalized and standardized.
The introductory chapter recounts the Religious Tract Society's project of establishing an evangelical family magazine with cross-class appeal that would combat the "pernicious" reading of serial fiction by substituting historical for fictional narratives (14). Chapter 2 situates the Leisure Hour within the context of the periodical culture of the 1850s and 1860s, suggesting that the magazine was an intermediary between secular and religious discourses (45). Lechner outlines how the Religious Tract Society negotiated debates among evangelicals about the suitability of fiction, entering the periodical marketplace in order to provide "more secular writings combined with a Christian tone" that might draw in unconverted readers (52). Although the magazine was successful in terms of circulation, it did not reach its intended working-class readership and was eventually recast as a middle-class magazine, reflecting the larger shift of weekly magazines up the class ladder during the period.
Chapters 3 and 4 are case studies that compare the "historical programme" of the Leisure Hour during particular years with that of rival publications: the London Journal in 1852 (chapter 3) and Good Words and the Cornhill Magazine in 1860 (chapter 4). Lechner demonstrates that in its historical articles and illustrations, the Leisure Hour focused on "person-centered approaches which presented largely male historical actors as role models" (73). Contrasting it with the more entertainment-oriented London Journal, Lechner describes how the Leisure Hour casts the potentially sensational story of "Poccohantas" as a didactic narrative. By 1860, the Leisure Hour had reoriented itself toward new competitors so that the "immersion of history in a class narrative or ideas of salvation was very much toned down or absent" (120). Lechner elaborates on this shift through a subtle three-way comparison of the Leisure Hour, the religious Good Words, and the secular Cornhill Magazine.
Chapter 5 examines serialized historical non-fiction in the Leisure Hour, looking at media transformations between book and periodical, as well as mini-series that were contained within a few weekly parts and thus one monthly volume. Lechner traces the ways in which the Leisure Hour negotiated between academic and popular forms of history in these series. The chapter ends with a too-brief consideration of how the different temporalities of the serial (which unfolds over time) and the book (which is released all at once) influenced the way that historical time was represented in these media (176–77). [End Page 834]
Chapter 6 analyzes the work of John Stoughton, a nonconformist minister who was a major contributor of historical articles to the Leisure Hour. Lechner discusses how Stoughton's series "Shades of the Departed in Old London" establishes a distinctive pattern of historical writing that uses architecture and landscape as prompts for historical narrative. Thus, the text serves as a guided city walk that readers could actually follow, allowing them to relive history in place. In this series and the others that followed, Stoughton's narration negotiates between past and present, as well as between the town walk and historical action, all while somewhat unsuccessfully trying to distance itself from the genre of the guidebook.
A brief conclusion places the analysis in the context of three larger trends: "the decreasing dominance of evangelicalism, the...