"A Preliminary Word" (Saturday, 30 March 1850)

We aspire to live in the Household affections, and to be numbered among the Household thoughts, of our readers. We hope to be the comrade and friend of many thousands of people, of both sexes, and of all ages and conditions, on whose faces we may never look. We seek to bring to innumerable homes, from the stirring world around us, the knowledge of many social wonders, good and evil, that are not calculated to render any of us less ardently persevering in ourselves, less faithful in the progress of mankind, less thankful for the privilege of living in this summer-dawn of time. — Charles Dickens, "A Preliminary Word," Household Words, No. 1, Page 1.

Dickens the Journalist

As a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist Dickens regularly contributed to such periodicals as The Examiner and The Daily News; however, much of his journalistic pieces first appeared in the organs that he himself established, Household Words (March 1850-April 189) and All the Year Round (1859-70). For two years early in his career as a professional writer, Dickens had served as the editor of publisher Richard Bentley's weekly magazine Bentley's Miscellany, in which Dickens published stories, poems, sketches, and a complete novel, Oliver Twist (24 instalments, February 1837 through April 1839). Although he was Bentley's "Editor," Dickens in fact enjoyed the greatest freedom as editor and writer with the two later magazines.

He didn't have to report the day's news, or discuss the week's unless something happened on which he wanted to comment. But he enjoyed the outlet for his overflowing feelings, and he wrote such bright journalistic prose that his readers enjoyed them, too. [Fido 29]

Weekly Publication for a Middle Class Readership

Despite the fact that it was always dated on a Saturday, it was actually published every Wednesday from 27 March 1850 to 28 May 1859 at the offices at No. 16 Wellington Street North, Strand (Covent Garden). Each number cost a mere tuppence, thereby ensuring a wide readership. Theoretically, it championed the cause of the poor and working classes, but in fact Household Words addressed itself almost exclusively to the burgeoning middle class. Only the name of Charles Dickens, the journal's "Conductor," appeared; articles were unsigned (although authors of serialised novels were identified) and, in spite of its regularly featuring an "advertiser," unillustrated.

During its first years the magazine did valuable work in the cause of sanitary reform (especially London's water supply and sewerage system), than a topical issue and provided information about emigration to Australia. [Bentley et al, 124]

Typically, each issue or number offered readers six to ten items, was printed in double columns, and was twenty-four pages or 22,000 words in length. When the second instalment of his article on the lost Franklin expedition appeared on 9 December 1854, for example, Household Words for that week also contained "Madame Busque's" by George A. Sala, "The Saucy Arethusa" by Grenville Murray, Chapters 29 and 30 of Gaskell's North and South, and "The Great Red Book," also by Sala. "Poems, for edification and for pleasure, appeared more frequently in earlier volumes than in later ones" (Lohrli 18).

The style of the articles, whether verse, non-fiction, or fiction, was decidedly rhetorical and fanciful. Inspired by (or perhaps consciously emulating) Dickens, contributors used figure rather than journalistic language, frequently employing such devices as personification, contrived conversation, exaggeration, and distortion. Even reportage and social commentary utilized "fantasy, vision, fable, imaginary travels, . . . and the use of fictitious characters to serve as mouthpieces of information and opinion" (Lohrli 9).

Although the lead item might sometimes be an article dealing with an issue of social import, the instalments of both Hard Times and The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices always led off the issues in which they appeared. although serialising his own novels had not originally figured in Dickens's plans for Household Words, which he primarily intended to be a vehicle for topical journalism, essays, short fiction, and occasional poetry, in 1853 he determined to run Hard Times for These Times (1 April through 12 August 1854) in order to bolster the sagging circulation and ensure his income as writer, editor, and publisher should not be jeopardized, for as the founder and conductor he received both a salary and a share of the profits. He found the experience of writing for weekly serialisation, however, quite wearing, and determined not to engage in the practice again — and, in fact, he did not until the launching of his new weekly, All the Year Round in April 1859.

Related Material


Bentley, Nicholas; Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1999.

Fido, Martin. The World of Charles Dickens. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1997.

Lohrli, Anne. Household Words: A Weekly Journal 1850-1859 Conducted by Charles Dickens — Table of Contents, List of Contributors and Their Contributions Based on The Household Words Office Book in the Morris L. Parrish Collection of Victorian Novelists, Princeton University Library. Toronto: U. Toronto Press, 1973.

Oppenlander, Ella Ann. Dickens's "All the Year Round": Descriptive Index and Contributor List. New York: Whitson, 1984.

Parrott, Jeremy. "Lohrli Revisited: Newly Identified Contributors to Household Words." Dickens Quarterly 35, 2 (June 2018): 110-126.

Schlicke, Paul. Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999.

Created 11 July 2004

Last modified 3 July 2020