Throughout his career Charles Dickens was associated in various ways with journalism.
Having ended his brief period of formal education at fifteen, he took a job as a solicitor’s clerk, which he disliked intensely. He began learning shorthand according to the current system, Gurney’s, in preparation for a career as a reporter. It was the first step in his pursuit of an ambition to become a financially-independent, professional writer and he was a skilled practitioner of shorthand.
1829 to 1831: Reporter at Doctors’ Commons
1831 to 1832: Parliamentary reporter for The Mirror of Parliament
1832 to 1834: Reporter for The True Sun
1833 (1 December): His first published story 'A Dinner at Poplar Walk' was published in The Monthly Magazine
1834 to 1836: Reporter for The Morning Chronicle
'A Dinner at Poplar Walk' was later re-named 'Mr Minns and his Cousin'. Dickens’s Sketches were originally published in various periodicals between December 1833 and October 1836. They were collected and published as a two-volume edition in February 1836.
November 1836 to February 1839: Editor of Bentley’s Miscellany
It was the success of Sketches by Boz which tempted Dickens away from The Morning Chronicle in November 1836 to become editor of Bentley’s Miscellany:
April 1840 to November 1841 Founder and Editor of Master Humphrey’s Clock
Dickens tried a similar miscellany approach himself with Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840-1841) using it to publish the Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge: once again, the format was unsuccessful.
1837 to 1843, 1848 to 1849: Contributor to The Examiner
During this period he was writing occasional contributions for the radical weekly paper The Examiner,
21 January to 9 February 1846: Editor of the Daily News
The Daily News was a newly-created ‘Morning Newspaper of Liberal Politics and thorough Independence’ which Dickens edited for only seventeen days.
1850 saw the beginning of another kind of published work by Dickens. From then until the end of his life, he contributed to, published and edited or ‘conducted’, two weekly journals which appeared continuously from 1850 to 1870, Household Words (1850-9) and its very similar successor All The Year Round which ran from 1859 and after Dickens’s death continued under the editorship of his son, Charles Dickens Jr., until 1895. Amongst its varied contents there appeared serialised novels by a range of writers, including, Mrs Gaskell and Dickens himself.
In addition, from 1850 to 1855 he published a factual digest called Household Narrative of Current Events which appeared as a monthly supplement to the weekly journal.
Dickens separated from his wife Catherine in May 1858. Characteristically he published a statement (‘Personal’ June 12, 1858) in Household Words, which he also wanted published in Punch, which was also printed by his printers, Bradbury and Evans. When they refused, he decided to close the journal, no longer work with them, and undertake the complete running of a replacement journal to be called All The Year Round. He was to have a 75% share and his sub-editor W H Wills 25%. He published the first issue of the new journal on 30 April 1859, with the opening episode of A Tale of Two Cities as its leading article. It was later to serialise Great Expectations. It followed the same editorial principles as its predecessor and was very successful, with circulation as high, at times as 300,000.
There were new developments too. Dickens introduced, in January 1860, a series of articles with a central narrator-figure called ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’, which contains some of his most mature writing in the periodical essay form.
It is comparatively recently that Dickens’s Journalism has been given the full attention that it richly merits and we are now fortunate to have it in easily accessible forms.
For free searchable access to Household Words and All The Year Round visit Dickens Journals Online - djo.org.uk
The Dickens Fellowship acknowledges permission from the Charles Dickens Museum to use many images from its library on this website