Thursday, 29 October 2009
The Impact of the Victorian Press
The impact of the press in Victorian Britain was pivotal for many reasons. Not only did the papers set standards the public willingly followed: for example with its theatre reviews, but it also created mass opinion and was an inspiring role in society. That inspirational role originally belonged to the now increasingly redundant church.
This mass opinion was welcomed in a city where urbanisation and immigration were high. The recent Industrial Revolution, which had brought about train tracks and better roads, meant that the newspapers could reach people within hours of publication. This meant a huge expansion for the press, mirrored by a country whose literacy rates were also steadily expanding. This slow rise in education meant that the public welcomed the simple and factual reading style of the then weekly papers.
The success of the newspapers in the Victorian era eventually prompted other kinds of progress. Emily Faithfull, born in 1860, was a member of “The Society for Promoting the Employment of Women”. Faithfull believed, much to the annoyance of men, that women could become successful compositors. This was of course correct, and by the nineteenth century, Faithfull had achieved her goal. According to general society, women lacked the mechanical ability to be compositors. With this opinion aside, Faithfull taught herself typecasting and then went on to train other women to work for her. Faithfull’s press, which included “The English Woman’s Journal” and “The Victoria Magazine”, continued successfully for years. The publications produced would discuss such things as equality in the employment industry and employment opportunities, becoming for the first time, a social hub just for women.
Amongst the many reporters who worked for this new press, none became quite so renowned as Charles Dickens. The famous English novelist started his writing career under the pseudonym `Boz`. Dickens would later claim that his reporting afforded him a “wealth of experience”. Even Dickens’ first novel: “The Pickwick Papers”, was to be published as a series of articles instead of the book it eventually became. Having taught himself shorthand, Dickens greatly enjoyed his short-lived career as a reporter, even falling in love with one of his co-workers.
Among the myriad of people Dickens met in the industry, their jobs in the press give some indication as to what material would have been included in a Victorian newspaper. For example Catherine Hogarth: the woman Dickens ultimately married, was the daughter of a newspaper music critic. Not unlike the music critic’s we have today, in Victorian times this opinion would have set the standard amongst high society: proclaiming what type of music or theatre they ought to listen to or see. Dickens himself originally reported parliamentary debates in the papers, showing how political opinion was also a heavy influence in Victorian Britain. Humorous and satirical essays were also a regular feature in these nineteenth century papers.
The success of the Victorian media, along with the emergence of women’s newspapers, demonstrates the influence this era had on our current newspapers. Though the context has changed, the content has remained the same throughout the decades. The Victorian press successfully set the standard for society, and it continues to set the standard for what we read in our newspapers and media today in the 21st century.