This book deploys
notions of genre formulated by Mikhail Bakhtin to analyze the
mid-Victorian press and its interface with literature over a period of a dozen
years (1855-1867). Explicitly rejecting the theories of "social scientists"
such as Benedict Anderson, Jurgen Habermas, and Pierre Bourdieu, Liddle argues
that only Bahktin's theories allow for close readings of text, a critical
approach allegedly favored by English and History. Firmly located in
literature, four chapters out of six treat named writers: Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, Harriet Martineau, George Eliot and Anthony Trollope, exemplary figures who engage tellingly
with discourses of journalism while remaining in the approved category of
literature. In a fifth chapter sensation fiction is compared to sensational
journalism, building on the scheme of Richard Altick's Deadly Encounters (1986). The whole is framed by a
Chaucerian paradigm, with each chapter's main title alluding to a type of Tale -
the Poet's, the Authoress's, the Editor's, the Reviewer's, the Clergyman's and
the Scholars' with a Prologue and an Epilogue. The latter and "The
Scholars' Tales" are dedicated to theoretical exegesis.
Prologue lays out Liddle's theoretical claims for an exclusively generic
analysis and for his interpretation of Bakhtin, whose nuanced and productive
notions of heteroglossia and dialogia are tantalisingly invoked. In the
single-mindedness of his approach, eclectic criticism is rejected, a move which
not only excludes any aspect of current alternative approaches, but also
insists on the letter of Bakhtin's theories, products of cultural conditions in
Russia of the 1920s and 1930s. Thus in the penultimate chapter Bakhtin's "dialogic imagination"
is deemed inapplicable to the "genre"
of journalism because Bakhtin denies dialogic properties to "extra-artistic" discourse, a monologic category that includes
journalism (152-53). In the Epilogue, Liddle echoes Bahktin by categorizing
journalism as "non-literary Victorian discourse" (161). Likewise,
when Liddle refers to journalism's "overabundance of text problem"
(153) and takes the individual article as the unit of journalism, he reveals the
literary basis of his argument.
other words, literature is pervasively ranked above journalism. The claim in the Epilogue (163-65) -- that by reputation the novel is a stable form, while journalism is plagued by
change -- tacitly invokes the
classical aphorism ars longa,
vita brevis to assess their relative worth: journalism is defined as a medium
driven by editors claiming to displace their (inferior) predecessors while
novelists sustain the continuity of their form. But during a period in which
the novel and journalism are both attempting to establish themselves, we can
find examples of just the opposite: disruption of the tradition of the novel
and continuity among generations of journalists.
Dynamics of Genre is a critical narrative
with a voice. The shaping intelligence of Liddle's schema is everywhere evident
in its argument, and he regularly explains why he excludes and rejects other
approaches. Moreover, some of the newspaper and periodical material is fresh,
and Liddle's close readings of exemplary case studies--even when problematic--are
always interesting. Of these, the
sharpest and most resonant is his account of Trollope's role in mediating
between journalism and the mid-century Victorian novel. By not only locating
journalism at the heart of some of his fiction but also revealing its processes
and culture, Trollope bcomes the hero of Liddle's pantheon. Also useful and
provocative is the chapter on George Eliot, where the tone in two of her "slasher"
reviews (see more on this below) is compared with the ethos of "sympathy"
evident in her fiction.
Likewise interesting is Liddle's
piece on the trajectory of Martineau's career. But for me the piece is marred
by its failure to understand the ubiquity (or power) of anonymity, the (high)
status of leader writing, and the unique position that Martineau occupied as
the only female leader writer on a national daily. In "The Poet's Tale,"
the evidence mustered to
establish the alleged ubiquity of opinion against journalism and in favour of
poetry and art is Elizabeth
Barrett Browning's indictment of journalism in Aurora
by her husband Robert's in "Bishop Blougram's Apology." Their point
of view is foreseeable,
distanced as they were in Italy, far from the lure
and fever of
journalism in Britain
and insulated by their mutual investment in the private life of the artist. That
their views did not represent those of all poets, many of whom had a vexed if
persistent relationship with journalism, has been demonstrated by Linda Hughes
and Kathryn Ledbetter in recent books, articles, and lectures on poetry and the
press. (See for instance Tennyson
and Victorian Periodicals and Victorian
Periodicals Review.) More problematic is the attempt to distinguish the genre of sensation
fiction from sensational journalism, using material previously identified and
treated by Richard Altick. Against numerous examples of sensation fiction
supplied, just one example of sensation journalism patently does not work to
distinguish the two genres with any certitude.
generally, the introduction of
research and material in The
Dynamics of Genre is highly selective.
While current facets of newspaper and periodical studies are strikingly absent,
they are displaced by theories of the 1970s and 1980s -- imagined communities,
the public sphere, and the cultural field. Subject to debate over 30 years,
these theories are treated as straw men, and easily cast aside. What is missing
in this narrative, for instance, is the discourse of media history considered
as an alternative analysis worthy of scrutiny. Nor are the already rich debates
provoked by the various digital editions of the Victorian press now in
circulation seriously considered. When electronic editions are invoked, the
phrase 'blurry-eyed' is repeated three times in the same sentence (148), lest
the reader miss the author's distaste for and dismissal of unbound periodical
material, whether read by candlelight, microfilm or on screen. So any
theoretical and methodological insights they might have generated remain unseen
and even unsuspected.
is current research in material culture treated, although much of it undertakes
the favoured close reading advocated
here, but at the level of issues and runs. Issues (e. g. of Punch, Blackwood's, and Reynolds's Weekly Newspaper) are brands purchased regularly by thousands of
readers as well as patronised by advertisers. Their respective mixes of content
and its order, price, size and periodicity, all generic markers, are dismissed
here on the grounds that only editors and sub-editors take note of the "opaque"
composition of issues or runs (157). For Liddle, the literary acts of reading and writing are the factors governing the
cultural status of a text, resulting in the privileging of the item level:
since the "original writer" of a journalism text is the definitive
element, each article s/he writes is allegedly the only unit s/he perceives.
notion of reading is similarly strained: "Strictly speaking, of course, it
was not even possible to 'read' Thackeray's Cornhill
Magazine, which was only a
contractual agreement and a copyrighted title" (155). This is
clearly an overstatement, and perhaps acknowledges that many twenty-first
century readers (including this
reviewer) have not routinely handed individual issues of Cornhill. However, it serves to
demonstrate the exclusions of an argument made to "fit" journalism
and material culture into a reading of Bakhtin, who doesn't allow for many
genres at all. "Most uses of a genre," Liddle writes,
journalistic ones - only reproduce
ready-made meanings already contained in the genre itself....the Victorian
repertoire of periodical genres was limited and easy for writers (and many
nonwriters) to acquire throughout the century" (my emphasis,
154-55). Unruly journalism will present problems for this model, which is
openly recommended here as a means of addressing - and quelling -- the chaos of
overabundant journalism texts.
debate on this question -- of the units of journalism -- has already started in
relation to digital editions. Editors of these must decide how to represent
their material: as individual items deracinated from their issues, as issues,
or as issues constituting parts of runs that over time change titles, owners,
editors, contributors, price, size, and even political affiliation. Recently,
the broad diversity of the press in this period has become potentially far more
visible and accessible through the online edition of the Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900.
Series 2 (2003) with its thumbnails and the electronic publication of a
huge array of full-text, searchable titles. In this context the range of
journalism surveyed in The
Dynamics of Genre is unaccountably narrow:
upmarket London newspapers, quarterlies, magazines, or weeklies, populate
citations in this book, and the illustrated press, the comic press, the trade
press, the popular press, and the regional press are hardly in evidence.
succession of delimiting and explicit moves here results in a reductive model
of journalism for this period. One is insistence on a rigid demarcation between
the genres of journalism and literature. It is an incredible claim. Given the
incidence of journalism that includes fiction in this period (eg Blackwood's Magazine, the Cornhill, and Household
how can we absolutely separate the two? A second delimiting move is the
persistent conflation of periodicals and newspapers (cf. 97), as though they
belong to the single genre of "journalism," and the concomitant
occasional use of the same terms for both periodicals and newspapers. There is
no reference to possible generic distinctions among various kinds of
periodicals: magazines, newspapers, reviews; dailies, weeklies, monthlies,
quarterlies, annuals; the illustrated press, the trade press, the local press.
With different relations to time, news, commerce, place, and the profession of
journalism, these publications exemplify generic diversity.
regrettable is the repeated claim that earlier critics have done no work on
press and genre. What about Graham Law's Serializing
Fiction in the Victorian Press (2000)? Had this book
been read or cited, the allegedly impermeable wall between Literature and
Journalism in Victorian England could
not have been maintained. Besides Law, a number of related works that undermine
this rigid division are similarly neglected: Linda Hughes on poetry and
periodicals and newspapers; Kathryn Ledbetter on literature and the annuals;
Michael Slater on Dickens's journalism and literature, and on Douglas Jerrold; Thackeray's editors and critics on
the relation between his journalism and his fiction; and the ongoing edition of
the journalism of Oscar Wilde (edited by John Stokes and Mark Turner ) and its
relation, inter alia, to Wilde's fiction and drama. To all this work on the cross-pollination of
literature and journalism must now be added Mathew Rubery's new book, The Novelty of Newspapers:
Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News (2009).
complexity of the "review" is also flattened in this book. I have
already noted that Liddle makes interesting points about George Eliot's "slasher"
reviews. But while Liddle claims that Eliot felt bound--on generic grounds--to
attack "Silly Novels" and "The Poet Young" with a discourse
of authoritarian certainty, other types of review that Marian Evans might have adapted can readily
be found in a range of journals (including the Westminister) in the 1850s, or in
articles about comparable reviews at the time. Reviews in this period were
generically diverse. While some still largely featured long quotations, others,
in the quarterlies, were often lengthy (15-35 pp.) and remarkably open to
whatever note (and topic) the contributor sounded and the editor allowed. Evans
worked under no generic necessity to 'slash' Young or lady novelists.
there are numerous genres within journalism issues at any given time is not
conceded upfront or theoretically in The
Dynamics of Genre, although there are
frequent references to the review and the leading article as genres. Anonymity,
an important element in both, is scantily discussed, nor is it disclosed when
an article by Ainsworth is read closely, as though Ainsworth is a recognised authority. That Ainsworth published it anonymously is an aspect of
its genre that the readers of this book need to know to assess his article.
Moreover, the simplest exercise in perusing single issues of a weekly newspaper
(e.g. the Northern Star), a daily paper (eg the Pall
Mall Gazette) or a quarterly (e.g. the Westminster Review) in these years reveals a number and
diversity of genres within single issues, including leaders and reviews but also, variously,
correspondence, news reports, signed columns, announcements, advertisements,
occasional paragraphs, resumes, verbatim records (of court and Parliament),
Registers, etc. Basic electronic editions of Victorian journalism such as that
of The Times have long since provided search
categories based on a selection of these genres, and more elaborate projects
such as SciPer and ncse include commentary on such matters on their websites.
points made by this book must be questioned by students of media history. To
insist that there were few changes in journalism between 1855 and 1867 ("a pause in the narrative", p.
165) is to miss what happened from 1855 to 1861, when the removal of the
newspaper taxes resulted in cheap dailies such as the Telegraph. Meanwhile the sassy Saturday Review revived and rethought the genre of veteran weeklies such as
the Athenaeum and the Spectator (both 1828 ff.), and numerous regional weeklies and bi- and tri- weeklies appeared. In 1859/60, Cornhill
fresh genre, the shilling monthlies, which led to imitators and offshoots. In
1865 two new titles experimented with merged genres: a fortnightly review purporting to combine a quarterly, a monthly and a weekly; and an upmarket but cheap evening
daily (the Pall Mall Gazette) mixing newspaper and
review. Additionally, the attempt to characterise 1855-1867 as dormant years in
the history of the press before the real change wrought by New
Journalism seems to spring from a conception of journalism as a monologic
genre. Although Joel Wiener's 1988 collection Papers for the Millions is cited (209), where it is commonly
agreed that the onset of New Journalism occurs long before Matthew Arnold
belatedly named it in 1887, this late date is tendered (165) to clinch the
claim that "no change" came before it.
the subject of this book, is spot-on for journalism, which, as Liddle avers, is characterised by rapid change. The genres
of journalism merit further detailed attention, and Bakhtin's notions of
hybridity within discourses and dialogue among them are useful ingredients in
such analysis. But although the preponderance of reference here is to
journalism, that orientation is hijacked by the book's default platform of Art/
Literature, which puts journalism in the following abject position.
A genre [journalism]
developed to produce text in a few hours to specified lengths to meet the
demands of nonspecialist audiences is surely less likely than other genres to
give rise - at least on average - to textual performances that are accurate,
wise, well-informed, or graceful on their own terms. Qualitative tradeoffs must
be made for the emphasis journalists and editors necessarily place on speed of
composition, contemporaneity, and wide accessibility to readers.
Just as newspapers such as the Times notoriously succeeded partly by adapting
themselves quickly to shifting political winds, British journalism as a whole
throughout the nineteenth century may also have succeeded best when it adapted
most quickly...(Epilogue 164-65)
generalizations stand? More precisely, can they withstand John North's claims
The Dynamics of Genres cites (149-49) -- for the number and diversity of
nineteenth-century titles? As is evident from North's
Directory, many periodicals and newspapers were designed for specialist
readers, from trade journals to professional transactions; many papers
for serials were written very carefully indeed, in the mid-Victorian years, by
writers such as John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, George Henry Lewes, W R Greg,
Walter Pater and Walter Bagehot. And much of what they wrote for serial
publication at this time subsequently appeared with little revision in books.
passage quoted above applies best to daily newspapers and weeklies. Its claims
cannot plausibly fit periodicals, and when it uses Arnold's intemperate charges
against the new journalism (inaccurate, ignorant, ill-written) to describe all journalism it reveals the High
Art/Literature perspective from which it springs. Few scholars of media history
or popular culture would view the Times's responsiveness to "shifting
political winds" as "notorious" ; rather it is constitutive of
the conditions of this class of daily paper at the time.
promptly agreeing that such flexibility may be "key" to journalistic
success (165), thepassage reveals the deep
fissure characterising this book--the gap between its author's expertise and
serious interest in journalism and his fealty to the discourses of high
culture. It is by now a commonplace that the rise of "English Literature"
as an academic subject coincided with the rise of Journalism, and that in the
nineteenth century they held a competitive dialogue that was audible in the
work of single authors, among critics, and across genres. Nothing new here.
Lodged between our own period's version of academic English, which is embroiled
in textual and generic hierarchy, and a history of journalism which, like
English, is on the move and fragmented, this book seems to revive the
angst-ridden discourse of divided loyalties that began in the nineteenth
century. Yet many scholars within university English departments no longer
believe that all Journalism is generically inferior to Literature, or that
either one can be monologically classified. In our time English has expanded to
include/appropriate many fields hitherto kept at its borders, while journalism
itself is a word whose province has burgeoned. Taking in digital media, video,
broadcast media, film, and print, it propels critics and historians into media
history. So, we are now learning to talk about "Print Journalism" even as we witness its passing.
book appears at a time of considerable upheaval and radical developments in the
study of the press and the nature and status of English, much of which he has
chosen not to address directly. On the other hand, this book helps us to see
that the rich work of Bakhtin, read less fundamentally and more collaboratively
with other sources of theory such as media history, material culture, and
computing and the humanities, has great potential for the "miscellany"
of press genres and their interfaces with a range of discourses in and out of
literature. Insofar as this analysis of nineteenth-century journalism and
literature ponders some of the critical issues of our time and field, it
fascinatingly reveals the state we're in. "Authors", "Text",
"Literature", "Journalism", "Newspapers", "Periodicals",
"genre" and "theory": they are all here, under
Laurel Brake is Professor Emerita of
Literature and Print Culture, Birkbeck, University of London, Director ncse: Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition, and
Co-editor with Marysa Demoor, Dictionary
of Nineteenth-Century Journalism.
Dallas Liddle responds (2009-10-12):
Laurel Brake's well-deserved
reputation in periodicals scholarship is built on a seminal monograph
(Subjugated Knowledges, 1994), years of work on the online Nineteenth-Century
Serials Edition (NCSE), and the new Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism
(2009). It is an indictment of my book that its purpose and literal meaning
were not clearer to a scholar of her abilities.
After the first two paragraphs of
her review, however, which are mostly accurate (except for such loaded words as
"only," "exclusively," "rejecting," and "any
aspect of"), I am almost unable to recognize my own project in the oddly
tendentious account she gives of it.
I do not believe, for example, and the book does not argue, that the genre
forms developed for Victorian literary and journalistic texts were compartmentalized
and absolutely separate. That would indeed be "an incredible claim."
I do believe that genres developed for these two kinds of discourse often
differed in important ways, and that some Victorian authors--including
Elizabeth Barrett Browning--seem to have deliberately kept the discourses
separate within their professional practice. One sign that all the more
hyperbolic claims about absolute separation are Brake's invention rather than
my position is that they grow in the telling. (Note how the "rigid demarcation"
of the twelfth paragraph becomes an "impermeable wall" in the
My true position, announced in my title, is that there seems to have been an
important and traceable relationship of mutual observation, pressure, influence,
and, yes, sometimes ideological opposition between the major genre forms used
in Victorian journalism and those used for literary texts.
Brake further appears to consider my book an
exercise in disciplinary partisanship meant to privilege literature (the "approved
category" to which I show "fealty") at the expense of
journalism. I am dismayed to have left this impression. I did not aim to read
my subject through any lens of disciplinary politics, but to reconstruct some
historical relationships between genres as they influenced major literary
careers and developments over a dozen years of the Victorian mid-century. When
the authors I chose as focal points in that era (such as Harriet Martineau)
expressed high opinions of journalism and its forms, I studied their positions
and tried to explain and contextualize them; when others (such as Elizabeth
Barrett Browning or George Eliot) reported lower opinions, I attempted to
explain and contextualize those positions as well.
Brake seems determined that only positive opinions of Victorian journalism are
acceptable, however, no matter what criteria are used or even if some of the
critical evaluations were recorded by acute and qualified observers such as the
Brownings. If I had done the years of heroic work Brake has done to recover and
disseminate journalistic texts I might feel exactly the same way--but I doubt
that such a strong predisposition to defend journalism against any detractor
would have helped me write more rigorously about the original dynamics of
Victorian print culture.
Past these miscues about the book's
thesis and overall purpose, the review contains several specific mistakes about
particular passages and chapters.
- I do not claim that Victorian
journalism had an "overabundance of text problem." I do claim
this is a problem faced by modern scholars of Victorian periodicals, who
have to study a corpus estimated to contain 100 times more text than all
contemporary Victorian books combined. Brake herself, with her valuable
efforts to make some of this volume searchable worldwide through the NCSE,
has devoted years to helping to address this problem.
- I do not advocate an "exclusively
generic analysis." The Bakhtinian genre analytic I use is meant to be
added to the existing toolbox of literary and historical methods (see page
- I do not "reject" the
theories of Anderson, Habermas, and Bourdieu, which I acknowledge (pages
142-44) to have had value for a range of disciplines. My point is that
because these theories were designed to describe the behavior of political
actors, not to interpret texts, they are more useful for research
questions in the social sciences than for literary and print culture
- Brake writes that my chapter on
Harriet Martineau is "marred by its failure to understand the
ubiquity (or power) of anonymity [and] the (high) status of leader
writing." Pages 59-60 in that chapter are devoted almost entirely to
the high status of newspaper leader-writing.
- Brake writes that I do not "conced[e]
upfront" that there were numerous genres used within journalism at
any given time. But she quotes a passage from my book ("repertoire of
periodical genres") that demonstrates the opposite. I note the
multiplicity of periodical genres many times throughout the text, and
especially in the first chapter, which I hope is being reasonably upfront
(see pages 14, 15, and 31).
- Brake writes that my chapter on
sensational journalism uses "material previously identified and
treated by Richard Altick." I would never minimize my debt to Richard
Altick, either as a Victorianist or as a scholar of print culture, but I
know of no published treatments by him of the 1868 disappearance of the
Rev. Benjamin Speke. If Brake was thinking of Deadly Encounters, the
Altick book she mentions at the outset, that work treats only the Murray
and Vidil cases of 1861. I did all my own primary research for the Speke
- I do not believe that newspaper
journalism was "dormant" between 1855 and 1867. I devote much of
my Epilogue to arguing the reverse. The phrase she quotes as evidence that
I do believe this ("a pause in the narrative") is taken from a
passage of exposition of a different position, and I refute it in the next
Finally, I regret having offended
Brake by the rhetorical flourish of calling the experience of reading
periodical texts "blurry-eyed." I intended no disrespect for
Victorian periodicals, but only to invoke the commonplace that they were often
printed on inexpensive paper with inexpensive type, and have long been
available to scholars mainly through still lower-resolution reproductions.
Microfilm and full-page digital images are wonderful things that have
transformed periodicals studies for the better, but no one claims--or I thought
no one claimed--that they make for comfortable extended reading. The mild
complaint that eyestrain is an occupational hazard of the periodicals scholar
was aired as recently as August 2009 at the Minneapolis conference of the
Research Society for Victorian Periodicals to an auditorium of seventy such
scholars. It drew many sympathetic nods, and not one objection I could see--not
even from Brake, who was in the front row.
This is obviously not the place to
re-argue my entire book. Readers must judge whether it supports its thesis and
vindicates its methods, and whether the case studies--I am glad Brake found
them interesting--show what I suggest they show. I even have a little hope that
Brake herself, if she will reread my book, will find that we agree on more
issues than she currently believes.