A study of popular literature in Scotland, 1860-1900, with special reference to Dundee area periodicals
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The respectability of periodicals was established by “quality” magazines of the early nineteenth century. Cheap periodicals which followed catered for a new mass audience, giving them entertainment and instruction. By the 1840’s “family” magazines were established providing entertainment mainly in the form of fiction. These magazines formed the future pattern. The Scottish dimension in periodicals and their fiction stemmed from the debate on Scottish identity. Political and other developments in the middle of the century had failed to resolve the problem of identity. The timeless virtues of Scottish life and character were popularised by books on the subject and soon these images, reinforced with examples from literature, were accepted as the truth. The family life of ordinary men and women was central to this vision. By the end of the century therefore, magazines and fiction could confidently portray an acceptable image of Scotland. One of the successes of cheap Saturday papers of the 1850’s was John Feng's People's Journal. Reflecting his moral aims, it gave news and fiction of interest to the readers of the surrounding district. One of the results of its support of Scottish literature and literary competitions was the People's Friend in 1869. Fiction writers gained success and fame in its pages and the magazine became popular all over the world. It adapted to changing circumstances without deviating from its original aims among which was the portrayal of Scottish life. The moral framework of its fiction, presenting an ideal attainable by the readers, was established by the proprietor and his editors. Plot dominated every story with the marriage of the hero and heroine as the ultimate goal. Characters were shown at times of crisis: the good overcame through their inner moral strength; the bad received a just reward. Stories showed an awareness of the lives of ordinary people although later in the century changes in emphasis appeared. Sometimes uneven in quality, Friend fiction sustained a clear view of human experience often reflecting the lives of its authors. John Leng's journalistic career began in his native Hull. Ideas developed there were put into practice in Dundee. A progressive and considerate employer, he gathered around him men of similar outlook. Leng writers of fiction recognised they were not writing great literature? a fact which helps in assessing their work. Wider recognition for Dundee-produced fiction came with the 'Kailyard’ movement. 'Kailyard' literature of the 1890’s varies from that produced by John Leng & Co. Sketches in the People's Friend had appeared many years earlier and those of the 1890’s grew out of this with a different emphasis from those of Barrie and Maclaren. The 'leader' of the 'Kailyard', William Robertson Nicoll, may well have been influenced by John Leng. There were many similarities yet each had a distinctive audience. Scottish sketches were but one strand in the fiction of John Leng & Co. which made the firm a major force in popular Scottish writing.
Thesis, BPhil Bachelor of Philosophy
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