Prose in Annuals
The Rise of the Short Story

       Before the annuals, stories appeared in installments in the newspapers and were later collected and published. Lee Erickson argues that improvements in printing technology allowed publishers to experiment with different formats such as periodicals, magazines, and annuals.  The variety of stories, poems, essays, and travelogues available in the periodicals led to a stratification of tastes in middle and upper class readers, and according to Erickson turned “their interest from narrative verse to short prose fiction ” (Erickson 1).  With the advent of the annuals, the newspapers were superseded as a major market for the better quality short stories.  Each annual contained from 12 to 16 stories.  The early short stories were often crudely told, but over time they developed in sophistication. However, by the 1850s, magazines became the major market for the short story form that the annuals had nurtured.  First, let’s look at the authors of these stories and then discuss their genres.

     The author used the Index to characterize the 3,716 selections written by 766 prose writers in the annuals.  There were 2,760 stories in literary annuals, 458 stories in juvenile annuals, 259 prose descriptions in travel annuals, and 239 stories in humorous annuals.  A gender breakdown of the prose selections showed 1,684 stories written by 460 male writers, 1,081 written by 163 female writers, and 952 written by 133 anonymous writers of undetermined gender.  Figure 1-2 shows how these prose contributions were distributed by gender over time.  As with poetry, male authors dominate the contributions in the early years of annual publication. 
Table 4-1 shows the individual writer contributions by the most published prose writers.  The ten most prolific prose writers were also editors, and they contributed 25 percent of the prose in the annuals.  The total number of 1,795 attributed contributions by the 83 writers listed in Table 6-1 account for nearly half of the prose published in annuals.  Thomas Roscoe and Thomas Hood head the list of contributors, because they were almost the sole contributors to the long-lived Landscape and Hood’s Comic Annual respectively.  The other eight of the ten top contributors were also sole contributors, but for a shorter time.

        In the juvenile annuals, female prose writers outnumbered the male writers as one might expect.  There were 248 stories by women, 91 stories by men, and 119 by anonymous authors.  The most prominent women authors were Sarah Ellis (43 items) and Agnes Strickland (21 items), both in the
Juvenile Scrap-Book, and Mrs. Barbara Hofland (21 items) in both the Juvenile Forget-Me-Not and Ackermann’s Juvenile Forget-Me-Not.   Mrs. Anna Maria Hall (18 items) in the Juvenile Forget-Me-Not and Mary Howitt (18 items) in The New Year’s Gift also made significant contributions.  Now, we’ll take a broader view of prose genre in the annuals.

Annual Prose Genre

       The following discussion suggests that the wide spectrum of genres and interests appearing in the Victorian novels of the latter half of the nineteenth century have their roots in the short stories found in the popular British literary annuals of the 1830s.  The premise is that writers of Victorian novels were influenced by these short stories at an impressionable age, and that these genre fragments formed the nuclei for
more elaborate development in their later novels.  Several million British literary annuals were published under about 250 titles from 1823 to 1857; however, two different annuals, Forget-Me-Not and The Keepsake, from the year 1830 can demonstrate the premise.

      Christine Alexander pointed out the formative influence of literary annuals on Victorian novelists.  She found many direct correspondences between the Brontë’s juvenilia and later novels with annual stories, poems, and engravings.  I link annuals to the wide spectrum of Victorian novels by classifying short stories in annuals by genre and then identifying comparable Victorian novels.  The
Forget-Me-Not was chosen because it was the first British annual, and it was published from 1823 to 1844.  The other annual chosen was The Keepsake, which was published from 1828 to 1857.  Hence, these two annuals span the era of annual popularity.  Each annual published from 12 to 16 stories per issue.  The year 1830 was chosen because it occurs at the time that most of the later Victorian novelists were in their adolescence, and when the annual contents had stabilized to reflect their readers’ taste.  The annuals were directed predominantly towards young middle and upper class women and family members who subsequently became the principal Victorian novel readers.  Genre continuity might be expected during the remainder of the nineteenth century based on the life expectancy of readers at that time.

Identification of Genre

       Genre descriptors, listed in
Table 4-2 , were assigned to each short story in the 1830 editions of Forget-Me-Not and The Keepsake.  The prose stories were found to cover a wide range of genres.  Comparison of short stories to novels must necessarily be thematic; therefore, a more appropriate term for the short stories is that they represent prose fragments. A virtue of the prose fragment was that its abbreviated length forces a unity of narrator viewpoint with coherent characterization and plot that was characteristic of Victorian novels but uncommon in novels of the 1830s.  The similarity of prose genre in the annuals to Victorian novels will be shown by a summary of annual stories that exemplify thematic elements in Victorian novels using the following genre categories defined by Thesing and Brantlinger: Bildunsroman, child fiction, Gothic, historical, imperialistic, Newgate novels, provincial, psychological, science fiction, sensational novels, and social realism.