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  • Cover Story:The Enlargement of Tit-Bits
  • Richard Menke (bio)

Several years into its immensely successful run, George Newnes's weekly miscellany of light reading, Tit-Bits, proudly announced an imminent "enlargement." The journal would now include a coloured cover "for the convenience of [its] readers"—with no increase in price, thanks to the generosity of the advertisers who would be featured on it (advertising was another new element for the journal) ("Enlargement of 'Tit-Bits'"). In addition to its frothy combination of scissors-and-paste journalism, answer columns, contests, factoids, and reader-supplied content, one of the innovations of Tit-Bits was a regular focus on its own physical production and distribution, from the machines that folded it to the wholesale price at which stacks of copies could be purchased for resale. The journal's most notorious marketing innovation, introduced just a year before the arrival of its green covers, hinged on a conception of the journal not primarily as a collection of printed words but as a set of date-stamped material copies manufactured every week: under the Tit-Bits insurance scheme, anyone who died in a railway accident while in physical possession of the current issue would have £100 paid to their survivors. The new covers made Tit-Bits easier to handle and carry, whether as light reading or as life insurance. But, to enlarge upon Tit-Bits's enlargement, the arrival of this physical change might also provide the occasion for an analysis of the cover, or wrapper, as an element of Victorian periodicals (fig. 1).

Materially as well as practically, the cover begins the negotiation between a journal's readers and its content—very literally, since it usually states the journal's price and often suggests its value, perhaps with an image, a motto, a contents list, or a menu of special attractions. As it solicits readers' entry into the main text, the cover mediates between the text within and the wider world without, becoming a parergon or paratext. Outside of the main work, the parergon in Jacques Derrida's account is supposed to mark the boundaries between the aesthetic object and the world, the point at which a distinctive mode of experience is assumed to commence, the boundary presupposed when we focus on what is within (Derrida 55). For Gerard Genette, a journal cover is also a paratext (technically, he identifies it as part of the "publisher's peritext"), a text on the threshold of the main text that shapes our interaction with it even before we read a word of the work itself (16).

The interface between outside and inside, the cover also materializes the distinction between the printed text as inscribed physical object and as immersive content: we speak of what is on the cover but of what is in the journal. Indeed, the journal's cover and its interior embody the layered status of printed paper itself. Paper may be a medium for writing, print, and images, but it is also—materially speaking—a thin sheet of dried plant fibres, [End Page 169]

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Fig. 1.

Cover of Tit-Bits, 7 March 1896.

Photo courtesy of the author.

a "substance commonly used for writing upon, or for wrapping things in" (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 11th ed., qtd. in Price 220). Paper's lightness, strength, and ability to retain the shape into which it has been folded make it ideal not only as a medium for print but also as a material for covering saleable commodities or for bundling up sheaves of other paper documents, such [End Page 170] as files. Part of the liminal status of a journal's cover, which the Victorians also called a "wrapper," was that it did all these things at once, combining the functions of printed surface, protective wrapping paper, and physical enclosure or boundary for the texts within.

Both the existence of the cover and its use as a vehicle for advertising help signal the genre and the cultural status of the textual commodity inside. "There is no paper in the world conducted on the lines which will be followed in Tit-Bits," the first line of Tit-Bits's...


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pp. 169-173
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