Victorian Fiction Research Guides

Belgravia – Indexes to Fiction

Belgravia

98 volumes

Volume 1: November 1866-February 1867

Volume 98: January-April 1899

Publishers:

November 1866-April 1876 John Maxwell

May 1876-September 1889 Chatto and Windus

October 1889-March 1897 F V White and Co.

April 1897-October, November or December 1897 Biggs and Co.

November or December 1897, or January 1898-October 1898 May, Wyatt and Co.

November 1898-June 1899 A F May and Co.

Editors:

November 1866-April 1876 M E Braddon

May 1876-September 1889 (?) Andrew Chatto

October 1889-June 1899 (?)

INTRODUCTION

In the early 1860s the most popular and notorious new literary phenomenon was the sensation novel and its archetype was Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.1 First as ‘The Author of Lady Audley’s Secret’ and later under her own name or initials (M E B), Braddon went from success to success, outraging conventional morality with her lurid tales of bigamy, murder, and arson – often perpetrated by beautiful young ladies in the politest social circles – yet also winning a measure of critical respect. It was in order to provide an additional, perhaps even more profitable channel for Braddon’s copious outpourings that the publisher John Maxwell established a new monthly magazine, Belgravia, in 1867.

Braddon and Maxwell had been living in sin together since 1861, the year before Lady Audley’s Secret was first published in book form,2 and Braddon had become the cornerstone of Maxwell’s business as well as of his hearth. Before the beginning of their liaison he had founded a number of journals, including a weekly, The Welcome Guest, and a monthly, Temple Bar, both of which had attracted some quite distinguished contributors and maintained quite good literary standards. Much of Braddon’s earliest fiction originally appeared in these two journals, or in other Maxwell publications: the shortlived Robin Goodfellow (1861) – in which Lady Audley’s Secret began, but did not complete, its first serial publication – the Halfpenny Journal (1861-5), and St. James’s Magazine (1861-82). Early in 1866 Maxwell sold Temple Bar, the best and presumably the most valuable of his magazines,3 with the intention of launching a new monthly, Belgravia.

Unlike any of its predecessors Belgravia was to have Braddon not only as a contributor – its most frequent contributor – but also as editor. In 1865 Braddon and Maxwell had paid several thousand pounds for Lichfield House, Richmond, which remained their home for the rest of their lives, and this extravagance apparently necessitated the mortgaging and subsequent sale of Temple Bar to Richard Bentley and Sons. The depletion of their funds may also have had something to do with the decision to install Braddon herself as editor of Belgravia: journalists of the calibre of George Augustus Sala, Edmund Yates and Mrs S C Hall – editors of previous Maxwell publications – didn’t come cheap.4 But Braddon and Maxwell would also have appreciated that the words ‘Conducted by M.E. Braddon’ on the cover of the new magazine would in themselves do much to ensure its success.

Belgravia does in fact seem to have achieved its highest sales during the period when it was edited by Braddon and owned by Maxwell. The records of Chatto and Windus, who bought it from Maxwell in April 1876, show that the print-run of the first issue produced by the new owners was 12,000: this presumably would have been not much more or less than the number Mazwell had been having printed just before he sold the magazine. It soon proved to be too high. After only a few months – in August 1876 – the print-run was reduced to 10,000 and thereafter it contined to fall throughout Chatto’s regime: to 8,000 in June 1879, to 5,000 in August 1882, and to 4,250 in between 3,000 and 3,500 until September 1889, when Chatto sold the magazine to F V White and Co.5 Sales are unlikely to have risen significantly after this date, during the last ten years of the magazine’s existence.

In terms of literary quality Belgravia probably reached it-, peak during the first five years or so after it was acquired by Chatto and Windus. Prior to this, under Braddon’s editorship (1867-76), its most notable contributors apart from Braddon herself had been writers like George Augustus Sala, Percy Fitzgerald, and Justin McCarthy: none of these is nowadays remembered as more than an interesting minor figure. But as soon as Chatto and Windus took control the works of famous Chatto authors like Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins, and Mark Twain began to appear in its pages. W H Mallock’s The New Republic, one of the best social satires of the nineteenth century, was among the first novels to be serialized in Belgravia under Andrew Chatto’s editorship,6 and the magazine later ran another well-known novel by Mallock, A Romance of the Nineteenth Century.7 The best and best-known novel ever to be published in Belgravia, Hardy’s The Return of the Native, was also serialized in the early years of Chatto’s regime.8 James Payn, one of Chatto and Windus’s stalwarts and a very popular novelist in his day, was one of the most prolific contributors during this period. Another was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son, Julian. A little later, in the first half of the 1880s, Ouida, Bret Harte, and Conan Doyle all contributed stories, and Sir Walter Besant and James Rice, authors of such bestsellers as Ready-Money Mortiboy and The Golden Butterfly, contributed a novel. In 1885-6 two stories by M E Braddon’s son William Babington Maxwell were published, and Braddon herself made a belated appearance when her novel Mohawks was serialized in 1886-7, more than ten years after she relinquished the editorship and ceased contributing to the magazine.

Recalling Braddon may have been part of the final desperate effort by Chatto to arrest the decline in Belgravia‘s fortunes. At any rate, in the intervening period of two years before the sale of the magazine to F V White and Co., there were noticeably fewer contributions from famous or even well-established authors, even though sales had fallen to and stayed at their lowest level since Chatto had become editor and proprietor. Interesting new contributors around this time included Eden Phillpotts, Grant Allen, Sabine Baring-Gould, W H Stackpoole, William Le Queux, ‘Q’ (Arthur Quiller-Coueh), and E W Hornung (the creator of Raffles): most of these still had their major successes ahead of them.

In 1886, the year in which Braddon’s Mohawks began its serial run in Belgravia, Chatto also introduced a new policy of publishing only fiction in the magazine. No doubt this, too, was part of his vain attempt to increase its circulation.

Just after the sale to White, Belgravia ran a two-part story by Fergus Hume, who had already published his enormously popular novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), but he too was a Chatto author and contributed nothing more to Belgravia under its new ownership.9

During its last ten years, under the proprietorship first of White (1889-97), then, in quick succession, of Biggs and Co., May, Wyatt and Co., and A F May and Co. (1897-9),10 the magazine attracted few new contributors of note, and its literary quality deteriorated even further.

Belgravia lasted longer than nearly all the other magazines that proliferated in the 1860s as publishers strove to emulate the popularity of Smith, Elder’s Cornhill Magazine. Although it rarely managed to attract the very biggest names (as the Cornhill did, and as Blackwood’s, the Fortnightly, and even Tinsley’s did), and although it generally fell a long way short of Blackwood’s and the Cornhill in the average quality of the fiction (and verse and non-fictional prose) which it ran, it nevertheless succeeded, at least for fifteen years or so, in mustering a passable assortment of lively and readable fiction.

P D Edwards

  1. On Braddon and the sensation novel see Winifred Hughes, The Maniac in the Cellar (Princeton University Press, 1980); P D Edwards, Some Mid-Victorian Thrillers (University of Queensland Press, 1970); Sally Mitchell, The Fallen Angel (Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1981), Ch 4; Jeanne Fahnestock, ‘Bigamy: the Rise and Fall of a Convention’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 36 (June 1981): 47-71. []
  2. The best source of information about Braddon and Maxwell, and about the founding of Belgravia, is Robert Lee Wolff’s Sensational Victorian: the Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (NY: Garland, 1979). Braddon and Maxwell married in 1874, after the death of Maxwell’s first wife. []
  3. The purchaser, Richard Bentley, paid 12,750 for Temple Bar. See Wolff Sensational Victorian, p 453. []
  4. Sala and Yates had edited Temple Bar, Mrs Hall St. James’s Magazine. []
  5. These figures, taken from a ledger in the Chatto and Windus archives, havi been found for me by Mr Michael Bott, Keeper of Archives and Manuscripts University of Reading Library (where the archives are housed). My information about the dates of purchase and disposal of Belgravia by Chatto and Windus comes from the same source. Mr Bott’s assistance is gratefully acknowledged. []
  6. My assumption that Andrew Chatto himself edited Belgravia is based on the fact that regular contributors sent their contributions and relate correspondence to him personally. A number of letters from the Chatto and Windus archives, including several about contributions to Belgravia, are held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection of the La Trobe Library, Melbourne. I thank Mr Tony Marshall, the Manuscripts Librarian, for supplying me with photocopies.

    []

  7. The New Republic was serialized in volumes 29-31 (1876) and A Romance of the Nineteenth Century in volumes 43-4 (1880-1). []
  8. The Return of the Native was serialized in volume 37 (1878-9). []
  9. Both Fergus Hume and E W Hornung lived for a time in Australia and begf their writing careers with novels set in Australia: Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, and Hornung’s A Bride from the Bush (1890) and The Boss of Taroomba (1894). []
  10. My authority for the magazine’s changes of ownership during the period 1897-9 is J R Tye, Periodicals of the Nineties: a Checklist of Literary Periodicals Published in the British Isles at Longer than Fortnightly Intervals 1890-1899 (Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1974). []

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