Novel Handbill

Handbill for The Comic Novel or Downing St. and the Days of Victoria (London, Feb. 1840). Graphic Arts collection GA2008- in process

This handbill announces that part one of The Comic Novel or Downing St. and the Days of Victoria will appear on February 1, 1840, and parts will continue to appear each month for the next twenty months. It goes on to promise two, or sometimes three, full-page steel engravings with each part, along with wood-engraved head and tail pieces, vignettes, and silhouettes “in as great variety as the story will admit, without too much overburdening the text.” The back page asks for advertisers to buy space in each part, priced by size, with a full page costing 2 pounds, 5 shillings. Each part will be sold to the general public for one shilling.

In the end, the public seems to have lost interest in the series after a few months because only four parts of The Comic Novel were published, each about eight pages including the advertising. This was not uncommon. Only the best loved writers, such as Charles Dickens, could sustain an audience over a year or more.

One contemporary dealer speculates that the writer/illustrator introduced here under the pseudonym “Lynx” might have been John Leech (1817-1864), the caricaturist who would make a name for himself in the following years working for Punch and in 1843 with illustrations for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, there is nothing in the publication to substantiate this guess.

To read more about serial novels of the Victorian period, try

N.N. Feltes, Modes of Production of Victorian Novels, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986. Z326 .F44 1986.

Linda K. Hughes and Michael Lund, The Victorian Serial, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1991. PR468.P37 H84 1991.

J. Don Vann, Victorian Novels in Serial, MLA, New York, 1985. Z2014.F4 V36 1985.

Graham Law, Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press, Houndmills [England]; New York: Palgrave, 2000. PR878.P78 L39 2000