All the Year Round

In September, 1857, Charles Dickens wrote to Angela Burdett Coutts, about his decision to write a novel about the French Revolution. "Sometimes of late, when I have been very much excited by the crying of two thousand people over the grave of Richard Wardour, new ideas for a story have come into my head as I lay on the ground, with surprising force and brilliancy". Wardour was the character he played in The Frozen Deep.

Dickens research involved talking to his great friend, Thomas Carlyle, the author of the book, The French Revolution (1837). Peter Ackroyd , the author of Dickens (1990), has pointed out: "He (Dickens) had always admired Carlyle's History of the French Revolution, and asked him to recommend suitable books from which he could research the period; in reply Carlyle sent him a cartload of volumes from the London Library. Apparently Dickens read, or at least looked through, them all; it was his aim during the period of composition only to read books of the period itself."

Dickens decided he would not publish A Tale of Two Cities in Household Words. Jealous of the money that Bradbury & Evans had made out of the venture, he decided to start a new journal, All the Year Round . He had 300,000 handbills and posters printed, in order to advertise the new journal. When Bradbury & Evans heard the news they issued an injunction claiming that Dickens was still contracted to work for their journal.

Dickens refused to back-down and the first edition of the journal was published on 30th April 1859. For the first time in his life he had sole control of a journal. "He owned it, he edited it, and only he could take the major decisions concerning it." This was reinforced by the masthead that said: "A weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens." Dickens took William Henry Wills with him as partner at the increased rate of £420 a year and a quarter share. Henry Morley, who had worked for Dickens on Household Words, was recruited to become a staff reporter of the new journal.

Dickens had arranged for All the Year Round to be published simultaneously in the United States. To achieve this he had to ship stereotype plates of each number, two and a half weeks in advance of publication. This meant that there was less current affairs in the new journal. Partly because it would be out of date but also because the American public would be less interested in this subject matter. This helped to make it a commercial success. Whereas Household Words sold between 36,000 and 40,000 copies, the new journal never fell below 100,000.

William Henry Wills reported that the journal was soon in profit. It was his second attempt at writing a historical novel. As with Barnaby Rudge , the critics preferred his novels where he concentrated on contemporary social issues. Reviewers at the time thought the plot was too long drawn out. They also complained about the characters being "like emblematic puppets representing good and evil - virtuous doctor, perfect daughter and wife, wicked marquis, vengeful woman of the people."

The climax of the action is preposterous and deeply sentimental but Carton's famous last words before the guillotine: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done" shows how Dickens was able to draw the tears of his most hardened readers. Dickens told Wilkie Collins: "It has greatly moved and excited me in the doing and Heaven knows I have done my best and have believed in it."

Valerie Browne Lester has argued: "Dickens's personal revolution mirrored the people's revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. Like a snake sloughing off old skin, he was shedding his past and fighting for a new life. He shed decorum and fell in love; he shed his wife and angrily dismissed those friends who showed her any sympathy; ruthlessly and acrimoniously, he shed his publishers, Bradley and Evans; he shed restraint and plunged headlong into an exhausting but enormously profitable series of readings."

Primary Sources

(1) Peter Ackroyd, Dickens (1990)

Dickens was also very concerned with its (All the Year Round) success; he was now fully convinced of the virtues of advertising and spent a great deal of money on billboards, placards and newspaper advertisements.... As a result, All the Year Round was much more successful than Household Words had ever been....

Finance was now a very important consideration in a venture to be organised entirely by himself, and within a matter of weeks he concluded an agreement with an American entrepreneur whereby Dickens would ship across the Atlantic stereotype plates of each issue so that it could be published simultaneously in the United States.