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  • The Birth and Growth of Victorian Periodicals Newsletter and the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals
  • Rosemary T. Vanarsdel (bio)

In 1957, Professor Walter E. Houghton of Wellesley College published, to great acclaim, The Victorian Frame of Mind. It was a brilliant analysis of Victorian literary culture, but it did not mention periodical material, even in a footnote. It later became clear to him that the enormous body of Victorian periodical literature was valuable and should be catalogued, evaluated, and analyzed. Likewise, the anonymous contributions to these periodicals needed to be attributed to their rightful authors.

In 1966, Houghton published a second book, the first in the history of literary criticism ever to be devoted entirely to Victorian periodical literature: The Wellesley Index to Periodical Literature.1 In the first volume, Houghton indexed eight Victorian periodicals, including attributions for anonymous contributions.2 The Wellesley Index used a vast range of sources to identify Victorian authors and analyze their work. About this time, Houghton also placed a notice in the Times Literary Supplement asking for input from scholars who were interested in identifying Victorian periodical authors. He received responses from many authorities around the world who were eager to work together on this new, important, and gigantic project.

Periodical research also caught the attention of one Michael Wolff, who in the early 1960s devised a plan to publish a newsletter that would bring together information about various types of periodical research. Before publishing the first issue of the new journal, Wolff had contacted some 200 scholars who were known to be interested in periodical literature. He received many responses from those with research in progress and from others who suggested future projects for the journal. Thus appeared, in January 1968, the first issue of the Victorian Periodicals Newsletter (VPN), containing some thirty articles, research notes, proposals, queries, [End Page 186] and other miscellaneous editorial business from scholars who wished to share their research or learn from others in the field.3

No. 1, January 1968

The opening editorial comment in VPN briskly stated that up to that time almost no attention had been paid to Victorian periodical literature; there were no lists of titles, dissertations, authors, or locations of printed copies. The journal aimed to fill this scholarly gap by seeking contributors who either were, or would later become, significant authorities in the field.4 Wolff had two important editorial decisions to make: whether to focus on periodicals in the same date range as the Wellesley Index (1824–1900) and whether to exclude commercial journals such as those that offered free advertising.

A lengthy and significant article from Houghton also appeared in the first issue. He noted that the scholars associated with the Wellesley Index project "still [had] bigger ideas in mind" but were restricting their work to indexing tables of contents (excluding verse, "because its general level is so low, and its volume so high"); the names of authors (when possible); bibliographies of author contributions; and an index of all authors identified only by initials and pseudonyms.5 Houghton also stressed the urgent need for locating marked editorial and manuscript files, as well as publishers' files and account books. Also published in the first issue of VPN were editorial comments, eight scholarly articles, and an urgent editorial plea for financial backing, exclaiming, "We cannot continue without it."6

No. 2, June 1968

The second issue of VPN included editorial comment about a proposed change of title (which did not happen until spring 1979). In addition, there were numerous letters testifying to the importance of periodical literature. More importantly, it included responses to issues raised in volume 1. A number of subjects were suggested for future issues of the journal, such as discussion of the variety of periodical authors; new problems posed by microfilm technology; the publicity for art exhibitions in periodicals; English musical journals; the location of manuscripts; financial support for periodicals; and Victorian fairy tales. However, the most significant proposal in this issue was written by Professor William E. Fredeman of the University of British Columbia, who advised a much broader and more sophisticated approach to the research and study of Victorian periodical literature. In his lengthy comment, he urged...


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