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.