My current chapter examines the Readers & Correspondents column of the Northern Star, a sadly overlooked aspect of Victorian journalism. The readers and correspondents column is a space for both the public and private conversation: it is here that we see what readers think of content. Of course, not all correspondence from readers will be published: the editors would decide which letters appeared (and anyone who has lost an afternoon to reading horrendous comments on Youtube videos and news articles will probably lament this change). What interests me, however, is that this is also a space for us to see how readers see themselves: the pseudonyms give an insight into how these correspondents wished their fellow readers to see them.
Take, for example, the ‘Hater of Tyranny,' and ‘Lover of Fair Play,' both of whom identify themselves with an ideological standpoint to do with fairness, justice, and equality. Thier pseudonyms are gender-neutral and not indicative of any location or occupation. While this does not help us identify the demographics of the Star’s readers, it does illuminate what they stood for, and why they read the Star.
‘Two Ultra Radical Ladies,' on the other hand, does give us some information. These are ‘Ladies,’ not ‘Women,’ indicating either formality or alignment with the middle classes, ‘Ladies’ being a privileged term applied to middle-class women rather than their working-class sisters. They are, however, ‘Ultra Radical,’ in their politics: though we do not see the contents of their letter they are met with ‘our best thanks,’ and very flattering response by editor William Hill, who thanks his ‘fair friends.’ Unlike other Chartist depictions of women as attachments to men in the movement, these two ‘Ladies’ are responded to in a chivalrous tone: ‘We shall be very happy to receive further favours, light, gay, or grave, from the same fair contributors,’ with a promise to publish their submitted songs in the next issue. Compared with the ‘jackass load of poetry’ Hill complains of receiving, these ladies are treated rather more favourably than the bulk of correspondents.
In the spirit of the Two Ultra Radical Ladies, the Hater of Tyranny, and the many ‘Constant Readers’ and ‘[location] Chartist’s, you can generate your own Chartist pen name with the guide below! What was yours? Share, as the Star’s readers did, in the comments.
- James Mussell, Northern Star (2013) Web [http://www.ncse.ac.uk/headnotes/nss.html]
- Hater of Tyranny (NS 02/12/1843 p. 4)
- Lover of Fair Play (NS 11/04/1840 p. 4.)
- Two Ultra Radical Ladies (NS 06/7/1839 p. 4.)
- Mike Sanders, ‘”A Jackass Load of Poetry”: The Northern Star ‘s Poetry Column 1838-1852,’ Victorian Periodicals Review, 39.1 (2006) 46-66.