About This Site

When readers first experienced the novel Hard Times by Charles Dickens, they did so within the context of Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words. Published from 1850 until 1859, the magazine contained articles on societal issues, politics, history and science, as well as short stories and poems. The novel Hard Times was serialized in the magazine from April 1st to August 12th, 1854, with each of those issues containing one or two chapters of the novel and supplemental articles and poems that in most cases expanded on relevant themes from that week’s chapters. Each issue opened with a quotation from William Shakespeare, “Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS.” This quotation not only gives the weekly journal its title, but also indicates Dickens’ own intention for the magazine and his works.

By itself, Hard Times stands as a revealing look at industrialized London and its inhabitants. However, the novel also comes across, in some cases, as hollow – not going into enough detail with regards to poor living conditions, workers’ rights, etc. Original readers did not experience the novel in the way readers do today, as they had the benefit of all of the supplemental information to flesh out the hollow places. A close reading of Hard Times in its original context, accompanied by the supplemental information contained in the magazine, gives contemporary readers a much deeper understanding of the societal issues Dickens sought to address.  Just as the world is made of gradations, Hard Times is not concrete – to be fully understood and appreciated it must be read with all the subtleties allowed by its original inclusion Household Words.

This website will make available all of the original issues of Household Words that contain the novel, Hard Times. The articles are available as images of the original pages from UMKC Libraries Special Collections, or as text. Since the goal of this site is to make connections between the magazine and the novel, we have also included commentary about some of the articles, written by the website authors and Jennifer Phegley's students, who are given the following assignment:

Research Paper on Hard Times in its Periodical Context:  We will read Hard Times in serial parts as Victorian readers did, paying special attention to its original magazine context.  Hard Times was serialized in Charles Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, in 20 weekly parts from April 1 to August 12, 1854.  Each issue of the magazine featured an installment of the novel, a short story, a poem or two, and several articles on social or economic issues sometimes presented in a humorous manner. Though Dickens did not write all of the magazine’s articles, he had a strong influence on what appeared in the magazine and he played a very active role as editor, often extensively revising submissions.  Considering the novel’s place within the magazine, then, allows us to better understand how nineteenth-century readers may have responded to it.  It may even alter our own reading of one of Dickens’s most controversial works.

Your assignment for this paper is to examine one installment of the novel within the magazine Household Words, paying particular attention to the relationship between the novel and the magazine.  Choose one article, short story, or poem in one issue of the magazine, then analyze and compare its contents to the themes raised in the novel.  Consider the following questions as you read:  What subjects seem to be of interest to the magazine’s readers?  What does this tell you about Dickens’s goals for the magazine and the novel?  What does it tell you about the audience?  How does the article, story, or poem you chose intersect with the subject matter, characters, or issues raised in the novel generally or in the particular serial part featured alongside it?  Are the themes in the novel reinforced or contradicted by the non-fiction, fiction, or poetry you are examining?  How might the material in the magazine have influenced the original readers of Hard Times?  After conducting this research in Household Words, write a 4-5-page paper that describes what you found and makes a convincing argument about what it tells us about how original readers may have experienced the novel as a part of the magazine.  You will be required to share a draft of your paper with me and your teammates; this will factor in to your participation grade.  

You can access much of Household Words from Lyndsey Magrone’s website, “Rediscovering Dickens: Making Connections Between Household Words and Hard Times” (http://household.umkc.edu/). The idea for this site began in the Fall of 2004 when I first assigned this project.  Lyndsey, a student in my class, decided that it would be helpful for students working on the assignment to have access to Dickens’s magazine on the web.  Soon after completing my course, she was awarded a UMKC SEARCH grant for undergraduate research to scan and post the entire text of Household Words during the serial run of Hard Times onto her website.  While the site is still in progress, articles from the magazine and commentaries on them by Lyndsey and other students can be found there.  I encourage each of you to explore the site, to use it for your research, and, ultimately, to offer your work for publication on it.  I hope you will choose articles that have not yet been analyzed so that your essays can fill in gaps existing on the site.  If you take this assignment seriously as both an important critical writing assignment and an opportunity to teach others about the complexities of novel serialization in the Victorian period, you will certainly get more out of this course.

The creators of this site would like to acknowledge the following for their financial contributions to this project:

UMKC SEARCH - Students Engaged in Artistic and Academic Research
UMKC FaCET - The Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching

- Lyndsey Magrone

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