Dicken’s Journal Household Words
Household Words was a weekly journal published between 1850 and 1859. ‘Conducted’ by Charles Dickens and sub-edited by his friend and former editor of Daily News W. H. Willis, the journal took its name from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Familiar in his mouth as household words.”1
Household Words featured anonymous contributors whose works—along with some of Dickens own—constituted the “twenty-four pages of double-columned and unillustrated”2 journal. Dicken’s Preliminary Word expressed the journals principles, rendering his readers “less ardently persevering in ourselves, less tolerant of one another, less faithful in the progress of mankind, less thankful for the privilege of living in the summer-dawn of time.”3 The journal provided Dickens the platform to direct the attention of the middle class to social matters—housing, education, and sanitation. Dickens took accuracy very seriously, and edited submissions to the utmost extent that at times, “slips would look like a blue network covering the print.”4 To capture his reader’s attention, Dickens serialized several prominent works including A Child’s History of England and Hard Times proving “entertaining his readers and giving them a good plot was a good way to do it.”5
Priced at two pence, Household Words was a great success and considered to be “one of the most successful ventures in Victorian journalism.”6 The journal came to sell 40,000 copies every week. The price was not the primary factor in the journal’s success, but rather Dicken’s “inclusive conception of ‘popular’ culture (a culture ‘of’ the people) and… commercial culture produced ‘for’ a mass-market populace”7 that set it apart from competitors.
In 1859, Dickens journal was in turmoil. In a quarrel with his publishers, they “refused to do anything other than purchase the periodical or dissolve it”.8 Following the conclusion of legal action, Dickens decided to cease further publication of Household Words. Closely following this event, Dickens began All Year Round—his wholly owned periodical.9
The New Poor Law (Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834)
British Parliament introduced The Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834. It was designed to reduce the costs of relief under the principle of ‘less-eligibility’ ultimately ceasing outdoor relief. This forced paupers (assumed to be voluntary and “the perpetrators of their own distress”10) into workhouses as the only means of access to poor relief.11 Workhouses were designed to deter the able-bodied population and ensure that only the destitute would apply. Principles of the workhouse used discipline as a fundamental feature in the workhouse with family separation, controlled appearance with parceled uniforms, and an unvarying, barely sustainable diet as just a glimpse of life inside. Pauper production consisted of menial jobs: corn grinding, stone breaking, wood chopping. Such tasks robbed inmates with its “civil qualities debased and its possibilities as a form of self-expression diminished.”1213 Though the New Poor Act seemed to be successful at first, the economy’s narrow base resulted in drastic fluctuation rates in employment, proving to be too much for workhouses to handle. Ultimately, workhouses failed in their intended purpose and became overpopulated, housing “a mass of the sick and aged, orphans, the insane and the fever-ridden.”14
The New Poor Act radically reformed the existing system of poor relief and is considered “one of the most important controversial pieces of legislation passed in early nineteenth-century Britain.”15 The implementation of New Poor Law Unions was greeted with much opposition and protest. Charles Dicken’s own thoughts on the matter is the backdrop of his prominent Novel Oliver Twist, where the plot tends to indirectly communicate the inhumane treatment of paupers in workhouses.16 New policies separating married couples in workhouses was the first spark to one of many organized protests. Though authorities responded by sending police to oversee, protests slowly became more violent, “accurately reflected the state of popular feeling in the Union.”17 Destruction of workhouses became the objective of many protests upon rumored conditions. However, “as authorities…moved to suppress acts of public protest, the protesters were forced to adopt more clandestine tactics,”18 resulting in multiple workhouse fires. Objections to the New Poor Act also included the mere change in policies that had been established for many years while others further established this objection as protecting traditional moral and human values from the “apparent harshness of a new political economy.”1920
1 Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990, p.580.
2 Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990, p. 589.
3 Dickens, Charles. Life, Letters, and Speeches of Charles Dickens. Houghton Mifflin, 1894, p. 44. Google Books, books.google.co.uk.
4 Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990, p.593.
5 Tomalin, Claire. “Children at Work 1852-1854.” Charles Dickens: A Life. Penguin Group, 2011, p. 241.
6 Straus, Ralph. “High Tension.” Dickens: A Portrait in Pencil, Camelot Press, 1928, p. 216.
7 Ledger, Sally. “Household Words, Politics and the Mass Market in the 1850s.” Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination, Cambridge UP, 2007, p. 172.
8 Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990, p. 845.
9 Straus, Ralph. “Breaking Point.” Dickens: A Portrait in Pencil, Camelot Press, 1928, pp. 251-253.
10 Fraser, Derek. The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, The Macmillan Press, 1976, p.12.
11 Englander, David. “Part One: The Context.” Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain: From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914, Longman, 1988, pp. 1-4.
12 Englander, David. Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain: From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914, Longman, 1988, p. 39.
13 Englander, David. “Inside the Workhouse.” Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain: From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914, Longman, 1988, pp. 31-46.
14 Fraser, Derek. The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, The Macmillan Press, 1976, p. 66.
15 Knott, John. “Preface.” Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law, Croom Helm, 1986.
16 Ledger “household words, 180-182
17 Knott, John. “Our Rights We Will Have.” Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law, Croom Helm, 1986, 71.
18 Knott, John. “Our Rights We Will Have.” Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law, Croom Helm, 1986, 79.
19 Knott, John. “Our Rights We Will Have.” Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law, Croom Helm, 1986, 84.
20 Knott, John. “Our Rights We Will Have.” Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law, Croom Helm, 1986, 65-84.
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