‘Trilby-Mania’ by Erica Haugtvedt (Ohio State University)


Erica Haugtvedt is a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University. Her research focuses on early forms of transmedia and participatory culture emerging from engagement with Victorian serial narratives published in numbers or in periodicals. She is fundamentally interested in the emotional dynamics of serial reading. Her article ‘The Sympathy of Suspense: Gaskell and Braddon’s Slow and Fast Sensation Fiction in Family Magazines’ will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of Victorian Periodicals Review.

You can contact Erica on Twitter @EHaugtvedt and at haugtvedt.3@osu.edu


Trilby-Mania: Serial Fiction Merchandising during the fin de siècle

‘For we’ve got Trilby jugs and Trilby mugs and Trilby chairs and lamps / We’ve all got Trilby plates of meat, and carry Trilby gamps— / This Trilby craze will end my days—at home we’re all insane / We’ve Trilby, Trilby, Trilby, Trilby on the brain’ goes the chorus to the 1896 music hall song, ‘Trilby on the Brain’ (Sewell).

Published two years after George Du Maurier’s Trilby was serialized in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in eight parts from January to August 1894, the song captures the Trilby-mania that chiefly overtook the United States—but also overflowed into Britain—in the mid to late 1890s. The song is parodic, but its catalogue of Trilby items is not far off from the reality that Emily Jenkins and L. Edward Purcell have documented.


Figure 1: an example of Trilby mania merchandise

Trilby was co-opted for advertising restaurants, sausages, toothpaste, soap, shoes, jewelry, dolls, board games, and more. The expansiveness of Trilbyana begs the question: what is the relation between these things in the marketplace and Trilby? In my thesis I contend that the reaction to Trilby in the mid-1890s indexes the ways in which advertisers and consumers curated their engagement with the serially published novel. Not only does Trilby-mania anticipate aspects of fiction franchise marketing and merchandising of a later time, but the consumption of Trilby-emblazoned items emblematizes how readers exported condensed versions of Trilby’s meanings beyond the boundaries of the magazine in order to signify readers’ own values in a cultural environment in which Trilby was, for a while, the shared topic of conversation.

In my research project I argue that Trilby-mania depends upon a logic of proliferation, remediation, and convergence that operates in periodical literature, advertising, and consumerism during the Victorian period. In the merchandising of Trilby, marketers glancingly associate their products with aspects of the novel. Why market Trilby toothpaste unless the association is assumed to garner some positive attention, to present the toothpaste as an alluring alternative to non-Trilby branded items? Trilby, after all, has ‘thirty-two British teeth as white as milk and as big as knuckle bones,’ (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine February 1894, 335). The toothpaste thus implicitly promises to remake the consumer in Trilby’s image.

At the same time, as Michel De Certeau has argued, the consumer cannot be fully reduced to the image reflected in the advertiser’s intended messages. Consumption confronts production with its ‘ruses, its fragmentation (the result of the circumstances), its poaching, its clandestine nature, its tireless but quiet activity, in short by its quasi-invisibility, since it shows itself not in its own products (where would it place them?) but in an art of using those imposed on it’ (De Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life 31). Much like the reading activities of flesh-and-blood readers, the uses consumers make of these products are ephemeral, but their ephemerality does not necessarily render these activities less significant but rather more difficult to trace. Whereas De Certeau is eager to dismiss the evidence of advertising slogans, I turn to them to infer how the advertiser intended to market Trilbyana to a consumer audience.


Figure 2: the Trilby boardgame

What can we learn from the merchandised products derived from nineteenth-century periodical literature? I want to suggest that attending to fiction merchandising in the nineteenth century allows us to better understand the dynamics of mass media and mass reading then and now. Franchise merchandising seems to better belong to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, yet examples such as Trilbyana testify to the important influence of the Victorian period on the ways in which we now engage with fiction franchises. Indeed, I suspect that Trilbyana can tell us more about how we process and value stories beyond the reading experience ‘proper’—how we integrate narratives into our lives through accumulating and displaying things. Indeed, there is an obvious analogy between serial fiction and the culture of consumption in which Trilbyana participates: both are products of an industrial age, both operate through capitalist profit motive. Yet, I want to suggest that the meanings of Trilbyana (and serial narrative) do not end with profit. There’s more here. And while the meanings that readers/consumers derive from the things they purchase are not unified, the plurality of different products and different slogans derived from Trilby reflects the divergent uses that fin de siècle readers made of the novel.

TrilbyDoll_TheSketch_Dec25_1895 copy

Figure 3: Trilby doll by ‘The Misses Warbur’

This endeavor is not without its considerable methodological hurdles. As I expand my archive to non-print objects, I intensify the struggle with massive materiality that Victorian periodical studies already confronts in the expansive and seemingly-ever-expanding (increasingly digitized) print archive. The directed digital search presents challenging obstacles to the kind of research I am trying to do. In the Spring 2014 issue of VPR, Linda Hughes wrote on the merits of reading the Victorian periodical ‘sideways’—reading for ‘spatio-temporal convergences in Victorian print culture’ (13). I am looking for spatio-temporal convergences between print and the marketplace that operates around it. Hughes writes: ‘The promiscuity of print, that is, its accessibility, variety, and multiple partnerings with readers, also drives its capacity to set dialogues in motion and to exceed ideological containment, scholarly modeling, and the control of authorities’ (5). While the massiveness of the nineteenth-century periodical archive is overwhelming, this very “promiscuity” is part and parcel of the wonder and excitement I find in periodical studies. I think it’s time to explore the convergences to be found outside of the printed page. Such a move is contiguous with the values this field has already demonstrated through pioneering media history and theorizing the historical experiences of reading in time. A good challenge has never stopped us before.

Works Cited

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Du Maurier, George. ‘Trilby.’ Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Vol. 88 (January-August 1894). University of Michigan. Digitized by Google Books. Hathi Trust Digital Library. Web. 2 July 2015.

Hughes, Linda. ‘SIDEWAYS!: Navigating the Material(ity) of Print Culture.’ Victorian Periodicals Review 47.1 (Spring 2014): 1-30.

Jenkins, Emily. ‘Trilby: Fads, Photographers, and Over-Perfect Feet.’ Book History 1 (1998): 221-267.

Purcell, L. Edward. ‘Trilby and Trilby-Mania: The Beginning of the Bestseller System.’ The Journal of Popular Culture 11.1 (Summer 1977): 62-76.

Sewell, J.W. ‘Trilby on the Brain.’ London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1896. Music Collections: H.3980.a(67.). British Library, London, United Kingdom. 8 May 2014.



RSVP 2015 Conference in Ghent makes international news

RSVP’s 2015 conference in Ghent was a fascinating experience — splendid papers and plenary lectures in a gloriously historic setting. We’ll be posting more about it soon. The biggest news out of the conference, however, was this: scholar and bookdealer Jeremy Parrott revealed at RSVP, for the first time anywhere, his discovery of a “marked set” of All the Year Round. This hitherto unrecorded “deluxe edition” in scarlet binding has handwritten marginalia identifying (almost) all of the contributors by name, next to each one’s contribution. Between 300 and 400 contributors of some 2500 articles, stories, and poems, are now conclusively identified for the first time. As if this were not exciting enough news, experts like Michael Slater and John Drew have been able to confirm that many of these annotations are in Dickens’s own hand. In his paper, Dr. Parrott made a persuasive case that this was Dickens’s own personal set of the magazine, probably kept in his private office at the magazine’s offices in Wellington Street.

The atmosphere in the room when Dr. Parrott delivered his news was electric. As this group of scholars knows better than any other, a “marked set” of any Victorian magazine is an extremely rare and precious thing. Beginning with the astonishing achievements of the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals and continuing today in the Curran Index, RSVP-affiliated scholars have scoured the globe for such sets, and have used these and every other kind of resource — letters, diaries, reprints, ledgers, stylistic analysis, and much else — to discover, once and for all, the names of the authors who contributed anonymously to these hugely popular and influential Victorian journals.

Obviously, there is a great deal of work for scholars to do — experts in Victorian periodicals, as well as Dickensians — before we can know all of the implications of this stupendous All the Year Round discovery. In the meantime, articles have already appeared in the Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and more media coverage is on the way. This could prove to be a wonderful opportunity to let more non-specialist readers know about the fascinating world of Victorian magazines and newspapers, and about the decades-long efforts of scholars to pierce the veil of anonymity characteristic of Victorian journalism to more fully reveal the riches of that world to readers everywhere.

Victorian Periodicals Review, the journal of RSVP, will feature an article by Jeremy Parrott about his discovery in an upcoming issue.

VPR Summer 2015 Digital Pedagogies Issue – Accompanying Resources

“Digital Pedagogies: Building Learning Communities for Studying Victorian Periodicals”

Since Patrick Leary’s seminal essay “Googling the Victorians”, first published in 2005, significant advancements have been made in the field of periodical research, largely as a result of the rise in digital projects.  In almost ten years of scholarship, researchers have been examining and developing new digital methods for analysing and extrapolating data. Scholars have been considering not only the construction of digital resources but how they can be used in many different ways; to enhance research, to identify neglected texts, to inspire and engage students.   This special number of VPR gives us the opportunity to bring together these ideas and debates, to reflect on how the field of periodicals research has changed as a result of the digital revolution and to consider where it may be in the next ten years.


Jennifer PHEGLEY Victorian Family Magazines Class

Kylee Ann Hingston & Caley Ehnes

Hingston & Ehnes Sample Assignments 2013

Hingston & Ehnes Sample Assignments 2014

2015 VanArsdel Award – Winner Announced

The Research Society for Victorian Periodicals is pleased to announce the winner of the 2015 VanArsdel Award: Claire Furlong, a doctoral student at the University of Exeter. Her essay, “Health Advice in Popular Periodicals: Reynolds’s Miscellany, the Family Herald, and Their Correspondents,” will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of Victorian Periodicals Review. We offer her our warmest congratulations!


The VanArsdel Prize is awarded annually to the best graduate student essay investigating Victorian periodicals and newspapers. The award was established in 1990 to honor Rosemary VanArsdel, a founding member of RSVP whose groundbreaking research continues to inspire generations of researchers.


For more information about the VanArsdel Award, see http://www.rs4vp.org/prizes.html. A subscription to VPR, which includes membership in the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, is only $35 ($30 for students): https://www.press.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/order.cgi?oc_id=1707.

Workshop Report: Working with 19th-Century Medical and Health Periodicals, University of Oxford, 30 May 2015

The workshop ‘Working with 19th-Century Medical and Health Periodicals’ was held on 30 May 2015 and co-organized by the ERC-funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ Project and the AHRC-funded ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ Project, both based at St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford. The aim of the event was to facilitate conversation about the use of medical and health periodicals in historical and literary research, a resource which has been central not only to the work of the aforementioned projects, but also to that of many other scholars interested in various aspects of nineteenth-century history and literature. The programme was interdisciplinary, trans-institutional, bringing together both librarians and researchers, and international in its approach, with papers covering an impressive array of topics and countries, including Britain, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Poland, Portugal, and Russia. Overall, approximately 60 participants based at institutions in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Norway, Austria, and the United States attended the workshop and a total of 18 papers were presented. The workshop also featured two poster presentations by Ann Hale (University of Greenwich) and Bernhard Leitner (University of Vienna), on medical jurisprudence in legal periodicals and the role of neurological journals in the development of Japanese psychiatry, respectively.

Full details available on their blog site: https://networks.h-net.org/node/14542/discussions/72773/workshop-report-working-19th-century-medical-and-health-periodicals