Real People. Real Conflict. Real Romance.
in the style of Jane Austen
This research section explores the newspapers of the 18th and early 19th century. We'll be taking a brief look, but I'll include a ton of links for you to dig into for more depth on the topic, including archives for you to explore the actual newspapers of the time--who doesn't want to read the real deal!? In A Dash of Romance, we see the village newspaper used for caricatures, advice columns, charades, advertisements, and gossip. But what did a real newspaper of the time look like? Let's find out!
The most popular newspapers were, of course, in London. So popular, in fact, they were published daily and sold thousands per day, starting at about 3,000 per day in 1709, moving swiftly to 5,000 per day in 1710, and increasing in sales each year. The cost ranged, depending on the publication, but the average was two pence. They were, however, free to read for coffeehouse goers, which was one of the benefits to visiting a coffeehouse. The most popular newspapers were The Tatler, The Spectator, The Guardian, and The Daily Courant, although there were plenty of others (The Rambler, The Idler, The Gentleman's Magazine...the list goes on), even women's versions of these, such as The Female Tatler, The Female Spectator, Lady's Monthly Museum, and so forth.
The Spectator courtesy of the British Library
All publications were written using nom de plumes. Some newspapers claimed to be written by the same person for all articles even if written by multiple people (such as all articles being written by a fictional person like Mr. Butterbest or Mr. Spectator or whatnot). Some offered a variety of different names, although typically the same names each time since articles were by the same contributors each time. Some would use multiple names as though by multiple writers but be written by the same person (as is what happened with Eliza Haywood's The Female Spectator).
Depending on the newspaper, a reader might find more political satire than aught else, or more advertisements, or more gossip, or more advice, etc. The newspapers were one page, front and back, often with tiny font to fit a great many items within the space. Take a look inside some of these, and then some of these to see what I mean.
Let's focus now on the typical contents of the newspapers.
The Public Ledger
Advertisements: This blog on advertising in the 18th century offers an example of what an advertisement in the newspaper might look like. Advertisements were not all that different from advertisements now, although the focus was on text rather than visuals. Advertisements ranged from brands of soap to marriage brokers. Check out this example of a woman who will remove impediments to marriage and see young ladies happily wed by her matchmaking skills.
Mrs. Morris, marriage broker, March 1, 1807
La Belle Assemblée
Observational Commentary: Reflections on moral vices was a popular essay feature in newsletters. The Spectator, for instance, was best known for these essays, typically reflecting on some moral problem, sometimes with advice, sometimes with warning, such as an article on the problems with binge-drinking, the dangers of debt, and so forth.
Dating: Believe it or not, matrimonial advertisements were popular! There are countless examples that can be found in the archives. Here's an example of one man seeking a wife. Or how about this fellow who is in search of a rich wife to pay his debts and vices? At least he's honest!
Charades: While we may know charades as a playacting game, it was a written riddle in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Jane Austen is known to have enjoyed charades, as we see within her novels and letters. While there are quite a few blogs that talk about the construction of such a riddle, as we might find in a newspaper or letter of the time, this one is my favorite since it offers a few to challenge our wits!
Gossip: No newspaper is complete without a dash of gossip. This was primarily for the upper classes. Some kept the names to initials or dashes, such as: TR has arrived to town, and all the bachelors wonder if she'll look their way. Or Lady R-- stole the attention at last evening's ball. But most gossip columns were bold with the use of full names. Take this real example from the Morning Post:
"all the unmarried Belles of Britain are preparing for the return of the young Duke of Bedford; but those better acquainted with the world of intrigue, know that the affections of his Grace are already fixed. Lady Maynard, in the Autumn of her charms, has him entirely to herself."
This example was written after several other gossip columns about the same couple, including in them references to Lady Maynard's husband Lord Maynard. With that in mind, reread that excerpt and note the scandal afoot! This page offers a lovely discussion of gossip columns, including a few more tidbits of the Bedford/Maynard ménage-à-trois.
Politics: There were certainly plenty of political articles, ranging from summaries of parliamentary meetings to satire. Satire was seen in both text and caricature form. Interestingly, caricatures rarely caused offense, as those being poked fun at would often be the ones buying issues and spreading the word since any attention was attention. A far cry from the responses we see today, eh? This page has quite a number of caricatures to peruse. This page offers some examples but focuses more on explaining the purpose of the caricatures, the reception, etc., especially given the political climate of the time, namely the freedom of press that had not been allowed previously.
James Gillray "The Plumb-pudding in danger, or State Epicures taking un Petit Souper" 1805
Advice Columns: One of the key features of the newspaper in A Dash of Romance is Mrs. Button's advice column, which is framed as an epistolary column written from Mrs. Button to her niece Lucy, although the contents always contain reflections of village life and the issues faced by the villagers. It would not be uncommon for a young girl to read about her own problem in a letter from Mrs. Button, but discretely referred to as a problem "Lucy" was facing. Such columns were a popular feature of the 18th/19th century newspaper, sometimes as a Dear Abby styled column that allowed readers to write in with questions (tell me I'm not the only person who remembers Dear Abby...). This blog gives some terrific examples and discussion of these advice columns, often referred to as "agony columns." And yes, these were featured in gentlemen's newspapers as well as ladies' newspapers. Check out this explanation of the origin of the advice column, which began in 1691 as a feature of the Athenian Mercury, wherein gentlemen friends of the publisher would answer reader questions.
While there were certainly other features, these cover the prime real estate of the one page, double-sided folio of those popular newspapers in the 18th/19th century. For a bit of fun, see if you can image search some of these, such as the advice columns. Super fun reading!
Note: All research sections are here for entertainment purposes to offer insights into the research and plotting of novels. Information does not represent historically accurate scholarship, only research findings that aided in crafting fictional novels.