Rediscovering Dickens

A chronicle of the transcription of 20 issues of Household Words by Charles Dickens.

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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

I'm working on a pet project to digitize all of the issues of Charles Dickens's weekly magazine, Household Words, that contained portions of his novel Hard Times. Since OCR software is expensive, I'm transcribing all of 20 issues by hand. Since I am actually interested in what I am typing (and am therefore reading as I go), and I not the speediest of typists, this will take me a little while. This blog will chronicle my progress and my thoughts about the project and its content along the way. Why should you care? If you are at all interested in how popular culture evolves, how the middle class came to be, and how literature is affected within and without its context, you should read on. If you couldn't care less of such things, then you might want to go elsewhere. Thanks for visiting - I hope you will return. - Lynn

Thursday, August 14, 2008


All issues of Household Words that contain Hard Times are now online!

I can't believe I'm finally finished - sort of. I'd still like to transcribe each article into its own document, but that can wait. For now, anyone who has an interest can read Hard Times in its original context.

Please let me know what you think - any and all input is appreciated.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Issues 223, 224, 225, 226 and 227 are now up for your reading pleasure.

Only two more issues to go and the whole thing will be on-line.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Issues 220, 221 and 222 are now available!

After a long hiatus, Rediscovering Dickens is back - sort of.

I'm in the process of posting some new issues to the Rediscovering Dickens site, and should have all of them up in the coming weeks. While these won't include transcriptions (yet), the image files will be there for your viewing and reading pleasure.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Long time, no type. Eh, such is life in the big city. Now, on with the post, such as it is. Just some odds and ends.
  • I recently participated in the 2007 Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference in Kansas City, MO. Jennifer Phegley and I presented on our Household Words project, and I even made mention of this site. If you're visiting now because of the conference, welcome - thanks for stopping by! I provided tech support for the conference, so I didn't get to attend many of the sessions. What I did see was really quite interesting. I read several of the papers, so I did get some exposure to much of the content. Also, the food was fabulous.
  • Charles Dickens is getting some more exposure as of late, thanks to the recent announcement of the upcoming opening of Dickens World, a Charles Dickens-inspired theme park designed to bring a back a bit of Victorian England. According to a Boston Globe article, guests will have the opportunity to "see the Ghost of Christmas Past in Ebeneezer Scrooge's haunted house, be hectored by a schoolmaster at Dotheboys Hall -- the dismal school from "Nicholas Nickleby" -- and peer into the fetid cells of Newgate Prison." No word on whether women will be able to purchase their own consessions (own property) or if children will be employed to operate the roller coaster.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"The Workhouse often evokes the grim world of Oliver Twist, but its story is also a fascinating mix of social history, politics, economics and architecture.
This site,, is dedicated to the workhouse — its buildings, inmates, staff and administrators, even its poets..."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Remember when I mentioned that Dickens uses filler articles? Looking over the titles of the upcoming articles, it looks like I have some more excellent reading ahead (cough, cough, ahem). Specifically, I am referring to "The Art of Boreing." Need I say more?

I've recently put up images of issues 215, 216, and 217. I hate that part. It's tedious. It's boring. It makes me cry tears that, strangely enough, taste like sadness and old pennies. There are 12 more issues to bring online, and I don't look forward to the mindnumbing process that is that effort. Let me explain:

I have scans saved as .tif files of every page from every issue of Household Words that contains Hard Times. These scans have extra white space (heretofore known as "crap") around the edges. So for every page, I must open the image file in Adobe Photoshop, cut out the crap, resize the image (because the originals are HUGE) and resave the image as a .jpg file so you can see it with your web browser. When I open more than a couple of these ginormous files in Photoshop, my computer cries and decides to punish me for a few minutes by refusing to do anything.

Once the images are converted to crap-free .jpg files, I copy one issue's worth up to the web server to begin the stupendafabulous process of putting the issues together so you can "flip through" them, so to speak. This is the part I hate the most, and the part that I hope to automate for the remaining 12 issues. Right now, I change every link by hand. There are 20 issues, with 24 pages each. Each page has 6 links to modify, and one picture to resize. That means that there are potentially 3,360 ways for me to screw up, lose my place and wish to run repetedly into a wall.

I'm just beginning to work on the automated process and hopefully within the next couple of weeks I will have built a better mousetrap. Doing this will let me focus on transcription, and commentary, and looking for and finding connections between the novel and the magazine, which is the real point of all of this anyway.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wow - what a busy last couple of weeks this has been. Because of the hectic crunch of a new semester, I've had to put much of my work on the Dickens project on hold. I'm still hella busy, but I'm going to try to get more up soon. I've added four articles since I last posted here. Let's discuss, shall we?

The big news is that Henry Morely's "Ground in the Mill" is up. To me, this is the "money shot" of this project. One of the most glaring absences in Hard Times is the lack of in-depth commentary on the plight of mill workers. Face it, life really sucked for people like Stephen and Rachel. The Gradgrind children, and even Sissy Jupe in her circus days didn't have it as bad as the kids and adults who had to live and work in a mill. At least the Gradgrinds had all their limbs. "Ground in the Mill" focuses attention on the neglectful oversight of safety in favor of profit, and of work over education. Dickens brilliantly includes "Ground in the Mill" in the issue of Household Words that includes chapters of Hard Times that do not deal with the characters who must live in the grizzly reality of mill-life. Instead, this article comes after two chapters on Bounderby and the Gradgrinds. This is significant because here is an example of Dickens the author telling one story, and Dickens the editor telling another part of the same story, helping to keep the relevant themes of the entire novel on the minds of readers, regardless of where the novel took them in that issue. Pretty clever, huh?

The article "Missing, a Married Gentleman" mentions that one of the short stories from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales was actually a retelling of a story Hawthorne read in a newspaper, and that article was a retelling of a story originally published in a book by Dr. William King (1685-1763) called Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Time. I haven't read Twice-Told Tales, so I don't know which story is being referred to here. However, I was always under the impression that Twice-Told Tales was so named because Hawthorne published them all first in magazines and journals, hence them being consolidated into a single source and republished made them "twice-told." In reality, if this article is to be believed, "twice-told" means "plagiarized." Interesting. Obviously I can't prove that Hawthorne plagiarized anything because 1, I can't find the original Political and Literary... online and can therefore not verify that it actually contained a story about a missing husband, and 2, I am too lazy to research if Twice-Told Tales was supposed to have been an original work by Hawthorne, or if he was retelling folk tales and other anecdotes he picked up along the way. At any rate, maybe this page will be number one on Google if anyone ever searches for "Nathaniel Hawthorne plagiarized." That would be cool.

In "A Marvellous Journey with the Old Geographer," Dickens gives us a tour of the world as if 16th century historian, Peter Heylyn, is our guide. Dickens doesn't care much for Heylyn or his views of other cultures, and all but comes out and says that Heylyn is an ignorant racist. Dickens takes particular pleasure in pointing out all the times Heylyn predicts something will happen in the future, and Dickens, standing nearly almost 250 years hence, has the advantage of seeing that Heylyn's predictions did not materialize and therefore Heylyn is, again, and ignorant racist. It's quite funny, really, especially when you consider that we are standing nearly 250 years hence of Dickens, and I am sure if we look hard enough that there are a few instances in Dickens's publication career where we might find evidence that Dickens was an ignorant racist, too. Just as those who stand 250 years hence of us will see us as ignorant racists. It's par for the course, really. If you live in the distant past, you are an ignorant racist. Ah, who doesn't love sweeping generalizations?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It has occurred to me that I may not be making myself very clear when I refer to Dickens as the author of all of these articles. Dickens did not - I repeat did not - write all or even most of these articles. There were many journalists and authors contributing to Household Words. However, Dickens did have a huge influence on what went into the magazine, and often edited (sometimes heavily) the articles prior to publication. Therefore, when I refer to my literary conversation with Dickens, I am using Dickens as a composite of all the contributers to his magazine. It's far easier to criticize one person than a full cast of Victorian characters.

I will try to mention the actual author of the articles when I can remember to do so.