Victorian penny press plagiarisms as transmedia storytelling

Erica Haugtvedt

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rapid City, South Dakota, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The Victorian period saw the proliferation of penny press plagiarisms—that is, transformations of middle-class narratives, typically for a lower-class audience. Authors of these often anonymous transformations performed labor by expanding existing narratives in ways that resonate with today's understanding of fan fiction and transmedia storyworlds. Penny press plagiarisms illustrate the methodological challenges of studying the historical reception of literary and popular culture events that might be characterized as fannish, as the constitutive elements that describe a fan must be traced backward in the absence of living communities and with ephemeral evidence of engagement with popular culture texts. Application of insights from media and periodical studies shows that the penny press contributes to the long history of fandom. The Victorian period's literary markets, social class politics, and copyright paradigms defamiliarize these concepts in the field of studies of fans and fandoms, revealing how a history of Victorian fandom is also a history of for-profit transmedia storytelling.

[0.2] Keywords—Book history; Fan fiction; Fandom; History of reading; Periodical studies; Theatre; Transfictionality

Haugtvedt, Erica. 2021. "Victorian Penny Press Plagiarisms as Transmedia Storytelling." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In "Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fanfiction as Theatrical Performance," Francesca Coppa narrowly defines media fandom as "the organized subculture that celebrates, analyzes, and negotiates with stories told through the mass (mainly televisual) media" and media fan fiction as "creative material featuring characters that have previously appeared in works whose copyright is held by others" (2014, 218–19). Coppa makes this move in response to what she calls a conflation of "folk and fan cultures," in which fandom and fan fiction have existed since the dawn of storytelling (219). "It is only when storytelling becomes industrialized—or, to draw upon Richard Ohmann's definition of mass culture, produced at a distance by a relatively small number of specialists—that fan fiction begins to make sense as a category, because only then are 'fans' distinguished from Ohmann's distant 'specialists,' just as amateurs are differentiated from professionals," Coppa contends (219). In seeking a history of media fandom and fan fiction that maintains important distinctions between folk history in general and media fandom in particular, Coppa therefore turns to the history of sf fandom (218). Her bibliographic and audience history of fandom stretches back to just the 1960s. To be fair, Coppa's main concern is demonstrating her proposition that fan fiction "develops in response to dramatic rather than literary modes of storytelling," rather than definitively locating the origins of media fandom in the history of mass media (218). However, her horizons for mass media's origins are widely shared in fan studies' common accounts of fan fiction's history. Typically, fan scholars do not peer beyond the turn of the twentieth century, and usually not beyond the mid-twentieth century. But the age of industrialized storytelling and the dawn of mass culture occurs much earlier—in the nineteenth century. The Victorian period operated under its own paradigm of copyright, in an age of industrialized entertainment in which the power to make culture was produced at a distance by a limited number of specialists, while also seeing the spread of stories and characters across the stage and page, performed by multiple creators who did not necessarily originate the earliest known version. In this essay, I propose that the Victorian period—particularly the penny press and its plagiarisms—have something to teach us about the shared origins of fan fiction and transmedia storytelling.

[1.2] The Victorian penny press produced a genre of publication called plagiarisms by both mid-twentieth-century Victorianist scholars and Victorians who were critical of the so-called hacks who produced these texts. This corpus overlaps with texts called penny bloods prior to 1860 and penny dreadfuls after 1860. As Marie Léger-St.-Jean explains, penny bloods were novels serially published in either penny periodicals or in individual penny parts, usually comprising eight pages with a woodcut illustration on the first page (2020a). Serial narratives from parts or periodicals could then be later reprinted in stand-alone volumes. Penny press plagiarisms remediated and often transformed existing novels and plays and were themselves remediated into more novels and plays, typically staged in the minor theaters (that is, theaters that were not licensed to perform spoken drama; minor theatres performed musical melodrama as a way around these licensing limitations). By "remediate" I refer to the ways in which media continually refashion other media forms (Grusin 2005, 497). Examples of penny press plagiarisms include the very prolific Thomas Peckett Prest's Pickwick in America (1838–39), Nickelas Nickelbery (1837–39), Mister Humfrie's Clock (1840), and Barnaby Budge (1841) (Léger-St.-Jean 2020b). As one may already notice from the list above, the inimitable Charles Dickens's works were often imitated. He wasn't alone. Many other authors feature in Parley's Penny Library (1841–50), published by John Cleave, which also contained plagiarisms of Lord Byron and Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Léger-St.-Jean 2020b). William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard was imitated, revised, and expanded in Obediah Throttle's Jack Sheppard (1839), and James Malcolm Rymer's Gentleman Jack, or, Life on the Road (1852), to name just a couple of the many texts that followed the legend of Jack Sheppard (Léger-St.-Jean 2020b). Plagiarisms were not limited to novels imitating other novels either: Prest's Tales of the Drama (1837–38) contained novelizations of plays (Léger-St.-Jean 2020b.) Indeed, for many years it was believed that James Malcolm Rymer's The String of Pearls (1846–47), published by Edward Lloyd, was a novelization of George Dibdin Pitt's play of the same name (1847), but Helen R. Smith recovered evidence that Rymer's serialized novel likely inspired Dibdin Pitt's dramatization—this novelization and dramatization originated Sweeney Todd (2002, 24; see also Haugtvedt 2016).

[1.3] I define penny press plagiarisms as publications that picked up characters created by others (usually middle-class authors) and elaborated upon those characters. Transfictionality, first defined in 2001 by Richard Saint-Gelais, occurs when "two (or more) texts share elements such as characters, imaginary locations or fictional worlds" (2005, 612; see also Saint-Gelais 2001). Penny press plagiarisms were thus transfictional by definition. If the novel's storyworld and/or characters were then extended—that is, the plot continued or the characters undertook further adventures—into another medium, such as theater, they were also arguably part of transmediality in the Victorian period. These publications were usually marketed at a much lower price point in the penny press, from a halfpenny to four pennies, a metric that has been used to indicate that their audience was distinct from the audience of their originating sources, and were usually written anonymously (however, some plagiarisms—notably, George W. M. Reynolds's Pickwick Abroad (1837–38)—did exist at higher price points and were signed).

[1.4] At first it may seem unusual to find a past for fandom in the nineteenth century when most origin stories for fandom have been located in the sf conventions of the mid-twentieth century or, at the earliest, in the late nineteenth century of Sherlock Holmes's fame (see McClellan 2018; Jamison 2013). Daniel Cavicchi considers the definitional problem of pinpointing an originating moment for fandom and begins with the emergence of the word "fan" in mainstream usage in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century as a historical genesis (2014). Histories of fandom often depend upon etymologies of the word "fan." The most commonly cited origin of the term is "fanatic," meaning a religious and later a political zealot, which was, according to Cavicchi, "revived and shortened by American sports writers in the 1890s to gently mock baseball rooters" (2014, 54). But a competing etymology suggests that fan comes from the word "fancier," in the sense of someone being a dog or tobacco fancier (Ryan and Johanningsmeier 2013, 3). Cavicchi points to the word "fancy," a "benign English sporting term from the early 1800s indicating those who shared a preference for a competitor and appearing in everything from pigeon racing to boxing" (2014, 54). Even though fans were not called fans before 1880, Cavicchi points to "'amateurs,' 'beggars,' 'boomers,' 'buffs,' 'bugs,' 'connoisseurs,' 'devotees,' 'dilettantes,' 'enthusiasts,'" and more to support the claim that behavior we recognize as fannish predated the words "fan" and "fandom" (54). Cavicchi's array of descriptors indicates that studying fans before the word "fan" was in common usage means looking for enthusiastic, devoted audience behavior.

[1.5] So what behaviors are fannish enough to figure in a lineage of fandom? Cavicchi (reluctantly) compares defining the criteria for fan to the history of disease: while Cavicchi renounces the association of fan behavior with aberrant behavior, both processes entail "identifying, connecting, and interpreting a discrete circumstance over time, which has itself existed as the result of repeated identifying, connecting, and interpreting" (2014, 55). The problem is an interpretive one, not unlike the feats of discernment accomplished by literary scholars and fans themselves. Fans and scholars have defined fans and fandom both descriptively and prescriptively, ranging from diverse individuals and groups to all consumers or even all audiences (2014).

[1.6] To meet the definition of fandom, I propose three conditions:

A. [1.7] an audience has to recognize themselves as a community particularly committed to a specific entity;

B. this audience community has to desire more engagement with that entity (these engagements can take a number of affective shades and may not necessarily be laudatory) and therefore seek further engagement outside of sanctioned or original versions; and

C. this audience community is composed of amateurs who share their own interpretations, reactions, and made-materials in response to the entity with which they affiliate freely with each other within their own community according to a set of agreed-upon practices.

[1.8] Similarly, in The Fanfiction Reader (2017), Francesca Coppa has proposed five distinct definitions of fan fiction, each of which emphasizes different aspects of the practice. These definitions include:

  1. [1.9] Fan fiction is fiction created outside of the literary marketplace;
  2. Fan fiction is fiction that rewrites and transforms other stories
  3. Fan fiction is fiction that rewrites and transforms stories currently owned by others
  4. Fan fiction is fiction written within and to the standards of a particular fannish community
  5. Fan fiction is speculative fiction about character rather than world. (2017, 2–14)

[1.10] My definition of fandom is one that is difficult to determine empirically for a historical period such as the nineteenth century, especially because evidence of historical reception practices tends to be ephemeral. According to Coppa's five proposed definitions of fan fiction, Victorian penny press plagiarisms meet definitions 2, 3, and 5, and potentially 4. In the Victorian period, works that look like fan fiction were marketed by people with access to the ability to print or to put on a play or to market a product. To the degree that we know of individual audience members interpreting and retelling outside of the media market, those instances have been treated as street stories and oral folklore. Regarding Criterion A and definition 4, although documented evidence is difficult to locate, fortuitous finds do happen. We know that early nineteenth-century audiences formed "Clubs" in imitation of the club at the center of Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers (1836–37); the minutes of one of these Clubs is held by the Charles Dickens Museum and shows that members of the club took on the names of Dickens's characters (though we do not know how far their role-playing extended) (England 2017). The penny press and the cheap theater featured many adaptations of novels (which were necessarily transforming their source material or sometimes extending the plot and storyworld), therefore showing that Victorians did seek more engagement with entertainment entities, and they arguably sought those engagements outside of sanctioned or original versions. These works were produced by specialists or professionals, who were themselves stigmatized, for a working-class audience that was also stigmatized. However, these works were produced for profit, not shared freely solely within the audience community, and the degree to which one characterizes the penny press and cheap theater as mainstream depends upon one's perspective on the complex dynamics of class and culture at the time. The practices of industrialized storytelling during the British nineteenth century thus remind us today of some aspects of contemporary fan practice as well as some aspects of contemporary transmedia franchising.

[1.11] While the specific configurations of fan behavior and culture that we see today in online fan communities are, of course, not going to be reproduced exactly in the nineteenth century, we can still identify commonalities between the enthusiastic audiences of the past and current cultures of reception and remediation. The confrontation between fan studies and the audience practices of the past can be enriching for both fields. Across time, the behavior of committed audiences is compelled by the tensions of desire, critique, belonging, continuation, and revision. As Barbara Ryan and Charles Johanningsmeier write, "In general, the study of fans weaves authority and enthusiasm with creativity, identity formation (including re-formation), and structures of assessment that set (yet also cross) boundaries in realms as varied—yet linkable—as 'right' and 'wrong' audiencing, approved and disapproved self-display, admirable and scorned uses of leisure, refined and déclassé arts appreciation, and ultimately, 'correct' and 'incorrect' values" (2013, 5–6). To study the history of reception from the perspective of fans is to study audiences who are stigmatized. This stigma might arise from the perceived excessiveness or inappropriateness of their reactions, the perceived impropriety of their social position, claim to authority, and more. Many of the dynamics inherent in mediating between culture and subculture, authority and resistance can be drawn back to usefully illuminate the interactions available in the nineteenth-century British media market. Victorian audiences sought more of storyworlds and characters in extensions across media. These extensions often flourished in the literary and dramatic market for the working classes.

2. Victorian mass media

[2.1] The age of mass media did not dawn with the invention of television. It started with newspapers, and the ability to widely disseminate cheap print improved dramatically throughout the nineteenth century. Margaret Dalziel writes that the 1840s "began the mass production of fiction which all but the poorest could afford to buy, of fiction therefore that was popular in the most fundamental way" as these years saw the "large-scale production of penny periodicals and penny dreadfuls (the name given to novels published in penny weekly parts)" (1957, 4). Louis James credits this spread to the "delayed effects of the paper-making machine and the rotary press," which "drastically reduced the cost of publication and thus made possible a new phase of mass literature" (1963, xi). Dalziel and James are talking about the periodical press, the products of which flooded the market in various daily, weekly, and monthly serial cycles. Dickens would most famously take advantage of the serial form for narrating his novels over monthly parts, but he was not alone. Many other authors, middle-class and otherwise, would tell their stories in newspapers, magazines, and individual parts published on regular serial schedules. At the same time that printing grew cheaper, the population who could read and afford to go to the (minor) theaters was increasing.

[2.2] The masses were growing in the nineteenth century. The first half of the nineteenth century saw the population of Britain double; by the end of the century, the population was three and a half times greater than it had been in 1801 (Altick 1957, 81). This explosion in growth was disproportionately in the working classes, constituted by the lower-middle and lower classes. Rohan McWilliam notes that there has been a shift away in scholarship from discussing the "working class" as a singular block back to "the Victorian usage, which was to talk about the 'working classes,' acknowledging the huge range in income, work, and outlook among manual workers (the same is true of the 'middle class')" (2018, 164). As always when talking about audience position and audience identities, these traits were not static but were dynamically interacting with other audience traits and further subject to change. Nonetheless, the importance of class position and identity in nineteenth-century Britain cannot be ignored, not least because consciousness regarding these identity and socioeconomic categories was coalescing and evolving during the time. Money mattered, profoundly.

[2.3] By Richard Altick's calculations in his landmark work The English Common Reader, less than .0001 percent of the country earned more than £300 per year (quoted in Lill 2019, 23). For the majority of Victorian workers, the budget was a real worry. Anthony S. Wohl calculates that "roughly 60 per cent of the working-class income was spent on food at the turn of the century" (quoted in Lill 2019, 24). Accordingly, Altick asserts that industrial workers in nineteenth-century London "lived constantly on the edge of starvation" (quoted in Lill 2019, 24). This meant that vying for the disposable income of these workers was a tight economic proposition, and reading was far from their only choice of entertainment. Rosalind Crone argues that cheap amusements, including Madame Tussauds, Punch and Judy shows, and penny gaff theater, had grown tenfold in the nineteenth century (quoted in Lill 2019, 25). Many of these activities were not dependent on the ability to read by oneself. In 1840, 35 percent of men and 50 percent of women were unable to produce a signature—an admittedly crude metric for measuring literacy—but by 1910, only 1 percent of each sex were unable to sign their own name (Fernandez 2010, 3). Yet literacy is the ability to both read and write, and Sarah Louise Lill explains that reading and writing were taught as separate skills in the first half of the nineteenth century (2019, 25). R. K. Webb estimates that more people were able to read than write, and that 67 percent to 75 percent of the working classes were able to both read and write by 1848 (quoted in Lill 2019, 25). After the Elementary Education Act of 1870, the ability to read and write became practically universal by the end of the century (Lill 2019, 25).

[2.4] For the working classes, the lines between reading and other entertainment activities like going to the theater, listening to and singing songs, perusing illustrations, and listening to stories were not very distinct. While histories of reading often focus on price points as a means to triangulate audience composition, it's salutary to remember that not every audience member had to purchase their entertainment directly. A middle-class Victorian household "contained not only a sizable family but also one or more servants" whom we can safely assume eventually inherited the newspapers and periodicals a given household took in (Altick 1957, 83). Those who could not read would readily gather around someone who could to listen (Altick 1957, 35). Raymond Williams explains that newspapers were "collectively bought, and even read aloud, in workshops, but the public-house and the barber's shop were, increasingly, the main reading places" (quoted in Lill 2019, 33). These testaments to the communal nature of entertainment hearkens back to Coppa's passing acknowledgement that the "line between reading and theatre was thinner in the days when a family patriarch might read aloud to his family after dinner, or a group of middle-class women might stage a tableau based on a favorite text" (2014, 233). Ironically, Coppa blames the "rise of literacy and greater availability of printed matter" as being "largely responsible for fracturing the communal reading audience and encouraging the solitary consumption of stories" (2014, 233). While this account of reading the literary novel in the middle and upper classes may be true—and it certainly has been promoted by many notable scholars of the novel—it neglects a major part of the story: for many Victorians, the page and the stage were not nearly so differentiated.

[2.5] The history of mass entertainment has been eclipsed by literary taste makers and class prejudices, many of which we in the twenty-first century have inherited from Victorians themselves. The explosion in population and the rapid spread of literacy during the nineteenth century led to considerable anxiety about the effects of reading on the newly literate. As Jean Fernandez explains, advocates for mass literacy promoted the ability to read as a means of maintaining the social order (2010, 12). Thus, Victorian taste makers paternalistically sermonized in contemporary periodicals about what reading material was appropriately edifying and improving for the newly literate (Fernandez 2010; Brake and Demoor 2009, 531–32). Despite the considerable fretting of certain segments of society, the penny press readily produced the so-called trash that middle-class critics found so stultifying, and even damaging, for the ostensibly vulnerable masses of new readers, who were rhetorically constructed as being childlike and feminine in their susceptibility to influence, if not actually women and children themselves (Fernandez 2010; Altick 1957; Dalziel 1957; Brake and Demoor 2009, 531–32). As Fernandez comments, "Literacy exacerbates class conflict, for meaning is never really shared or common" (2010, 16). The penny press was often castigated by the middle and upper classes precisely because it did not operate according to their moralizing motivations—instead, the press produced what their customers wanted to buy. Penny bloods and dreadfuls, as their names imply, were infamous for depicting sensationalistic violence. However, even Dalziel, writing in the mid-twentieth century, questions the degree to which this violent characterization was actually true (1957, 15–17). Penny bloods and dreadfuls produced forerunners of the genre fiction that have become central to popular culture down to today: horror, violence, crime, sentimental song, melodrama, the Gothic, and domestic romance (Lill and McWilliam 2019, 3). In some ways, the penny press was entirely mainstream due to its intended audience, who constituted the majority of the population at the time—even if the material itself was not culturally valued as mainstream in the sense of social respectability. However, scholars of fan studies may recognize resemblances between Victorian critiques of the masses and mass literacy and how fans have been characterized by nonfans as juvenile or immature in their reading and writing practices.

[2.6] As an example of the unfair characterization of the mass entertainment market, consider the term plagiarism, used by Victorian contemporaries to describe this corpus. Plagiarism does not accurately capture what the activities of the penny press and cheap theater accomplished, nor does plagiarism accurately describe their legal status in the nineteenth century. As Catherine Seville writes, copyright does not historically protect ideas but only specific expressions of those ideas (1999). In comparing fan fiction to activities of the past, it's important to remember that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century copyright law did not address the reuse of fictional characters, which were considered closer to ideas than specific expressions of ideas. In the early nineteenth century, copyright law allowed "great latitude to literary works that repurposed other literary works," which made space for abridgments, anthologies, reprinted magazine and newspaper articles, translations, and dramatizations on the market (Abraham 2019, 97). As Adam Abraham observes, "To some extent, this law to protect authors and booksellers in fact limited the scope of ownership in texts, both temporally and conceptually" (2019, 97). In 1710, the author was granted copyright for an initial period of fourteen years, with an option of an additional fourteen years if the author was still living (Seville 1999). The 1814 Copyright Act changed the term to twenty-eight years or the author's life, whichever was longer, and only regulated reproductions of works in the same medium (e.g., print to print) (Cohen 2017, 124).

[2.7] The flourishing of transformative work within the cheap theater and penny press was facilitated by the porousness of intellectual property law. Copyright only governed print in Britain before the Copyright Act of 1842, which expanded copyright to engravings, paintings, lectures, dramatic works, and designs (Seville 1999). The Copyright Act of 1842 expanded the term of copyright to the life of the author plus seven years or forty-two years, whichever was longer (Seville 1999). The 1833 Dramatic Literary Property Act established performance rights for playwrights and the Dramatic Authors Society was a regulating body that had authority to identify copyright violations; however, the 1833 Act did not stipulate any protections for the dramatization of nondramatic works—most notably, novels (Cohen 2017, 124–25). After 1843, licensing requirements were dropped for theater, ending the differentiation between legitimate and illegitimate (minor) theaters; however, now all drama was subject to the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain (Szwydky 2020, 37). Penny press "plagiarisms" and dramatic adaptations of novels, often undertaken before novels completed serialization, were arguably legal; however, their naming as plagiarism and the contemporaneous critical commentary on their impropriety all point to a culture that was gradually beginning to consolidate authority and genius in the hands of individual authors rather than allowing remediation of character and story freely in the culture writ large.

[2.8] Although the activities of the penny press and cheap theater were arguably legal, as demonstrated by some court precedents prior to the 1842 Copyright Act, authors whose works were co-opted as sources for the penny press and cheap theater were sometimes profoundly unhappy about their perceived loss of profits. Most famously, Charles Dickens agitated for stricter international copyright law as a result of the so-called piracies of his works at home and abroad (Szwydky 2020, 73). Even though Dickens promoted a utopian vision of an "inclusive popular culture" that would, in Juliet John's elegant phrasing, "generate a crowd of readers through shared fantasies of cultural belonging" (2018, 759), his vision competed in the market with penny press publishers and editors like Edward Lloyd and George W. M. Reynolds, respectively. Dickens's "Preliminary Word" in the first issue of Household Words in 1850 shows that then new periodical's project was closely aligned with Dickens's utopian impulses:

[2.9] We aspire to live in the Household affections, and to be numbered among the Household thoughts, of our readers. We hope to be the comrade and friend of many thousands of people, of both sexes, and of all ages and conditions, on whose faces we may never look…to bring together the greater and the lesser in degree, together, upon that wide field, and mutually dispose them to a better acquaintance and a kinder understanding—is one main object of our Household Words. (1850, 1)

[2.10] Dickens promoted mass literacy along the same paternalistic, moralistic lines that many of his contemporaries did, and devoted his career to fulfilling his specific, ambitious vision of what popular culture could accomplish. As John quips, "Dickens believed that popular culture enabled connection (and connection to Dickens)" (2018, 759). In some ways, Dickens saw himself as writing for the common people who bought the wares of the penny press. Indeed, a weekly issue of Household Words sold for twopence.

[2.11] But Dickens wasn't the only person trying to master the newly emergent mass entertainment marketplace. In this same "Preliminary Word," Dickens speaks of "some tillers of the field into which we now come, have been before us, and some are here whose high usefulness we readily acknowledge, and whose company it is an honor to join. But, there are others here—Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Panderers to the basest passions of the lowest natures—whose existence is a national reproach" (1850, 1–2). Louis James identifies these "Bastards of the Mountain" as including George W. M. Reynolds (2004), who began his career by writing Pickwick Abroad (1837–38), a monthly serialized novel, signed by Reynolds as author (and not a pseudonym made to resemble Boz), that initially sold for a shilling a part (Léger-St.-Jean 2020b). In 1846, Reynolds founded Reynolds's Miscellany, a weekly magazine featuring sensational woodcut illustrations and serial fiction, priced at one penny and aiming to similarly provide the "Industrious Classes," with a blend of "Instruction with Amusement" (Brake and Demoor 2009, 540). Dickens's barb about a red cap refers to the red cap of liberty derived from the French Revolution and was directed at Reynolds because he was a republican and, from 1848, a well-known Chartist (a leftist Radical in favor of political reform, most notably expanding suffrage to men over age twenty-one, regardless of whether they owned land). Dickens lashes out in Household Words because Reynolds and authors like him in the established penny press were disrupting Dickens's ideal popular culture and mass audience. Dickens wanted to civilize the penny press; Reynolds, Dickens argued, wanted to keep providing sensationalistic so-called trash merely for commercial profit without principle (John 2010, 49)—or at least without the same (more conservative) principles as Dickens.

[2.12] While most of Reynolds's best-selling work was marketed in the penny press, Reynolds began his writing career by trying to break into a similar cross-class audience as that of Dickens. Sally Ledger argues that Dickens's reference to Reynolds in the preliminary word to Household Words "is a clear indication that they were broadly (and very consciously) competing within the same literary market and for the same section of the reading public" (2007, 168–69). Reynolds's work appeared at both shilling and penny price points and, like Dickens, he would not only author texts but also edit periodicals. Furthermore, as Dickens was no doubt aware, Reynolds's work outsold that of Dickens's during their lifetimes (Humpherys and James 2008, 1). As the rivalry between Dickens and Reynolds shows, determining the socioeconomic position and cultural connotations of a given work's intended audience is difficult because there was considerable crossover between the lower-middle-class market and the working classes.

[2.13] Dickens's literary career benefited enormously from the transformations and extensions of his works in the cheap theater and penny press, even if Dickens was antagonistic toward the use of his work and resented that he did not directly profit from the use of his ideas (Szwydky 2020, 86–87). Dickens's publishers of The Pickwick Papers, Chapman and Hall, famously lost an injunction in 1837 to stop Edward Lloyd's publication of one of The Pickwick Papers' earliest imitations, The Penny Pickwick (Abraham 2019, 98). Lloyd had claimed a circulation of 50,000 copies in the first year of The Penny Pickwick—a claim that, if true, exceeded Dickens's circulation (Lill 2019, 28). The fact that Chapman and Hall took Lloyd to court indicates that they felt the penny serial was a real threat in the marketplace (Lill 2019, 28). While Lloyd eventually profited enormously from his publications, it is worth noting that the penny press authors and cheap theater dramatists who drew on works like those of Dickens did not personally profit very much (Szwydky 2020, 88–89). Lloyd employed a small stable of authors who, according to a contemporary witness, "worked from hand to mouth" (Lill 2019, 28), much like many of their readers.

[2.14] Along with Reynolds, Edward Lloyd was another important "tiller of the field" that was the penny press, whom Dickens would have considered to be a "national reproach" ("A Preliminary Word" 1850, 1–2). Lloyd was a key figure in the production of mass entertainment in the first half of the nineteenth century, exploiting the dense nexus between visual and textual media. He "created a powerful publishing empire in early Victorian London by producing cheap fiction and other works for a largely working-class and lower middle-class audience" with a distinctive "Lloyd" brand (Lill and McWilliam 2019, 3). Sarah Louise Lill and Rohan McWilliam reclaim Lloyd as an eminent Victorian who "gave birth to a major culture industry aimed at the working class at a moment when the working class was becoming more literate and establishing itself as a significant presence in the political life of the nation" (2019, 4). Lloyd made a concerted effort to follow literary trends, so his works function as a catalog of the most popular phenomena of the century; furthermore, the penny press that Lloyd dominated was considered politically radical and sometimes subversive, not least because of his working-class target audience (Lill and McWilliam 2019, 6). Indeed, Lloyd also pioneered printing techniques for illustrations, which were a touted feature of many of his texts (Lill and McWilliam 2019, 8). Lloyd printed more than two hundred serialized novels in his lifetime, many of which built upon characters originated by others (Lill and McWilliam 2019, 9).

[2.15] As I hope to have made clear, the popular culture of the Victorian era was deeply indebted to the interdependence between print and performative extension, and this relationship was not simply one of dramatic adaptations of preexisting novels, nor was it always from the "top down," where higher class texts filtered down to working class audiences in remediated forms. One of Lloyd's most prolific writers, Thomas Peckett Prest, began his career as a comic song writer (Léger-St-Jean 2019, 114). Léger-St-Jean has not only recovered bibliographic evidence of narrativized plays, which included both long-running serialized novels that dilated from a script as well as condensed prose-summaries of currently popular theatrical productions, but also titles of novels and plays that alluded to lyrics from popular comic songs (2019, 117). "Lloyd's publications were mainly intended as topical products responding to what was circulating in contemporaneous discourse," Léger-St-Jean writes (2019, 124). In the 1830s to 1840s, Lloyd published many works derived from Dickens's successes, but between 1839 and 1842, Lloyd also remediated seven other middle-class novels, the authors of which have not been canonized in literary history as Dickens has (Léger-St-Jean 2019, 119). There were many motivations for these extensions, which were not just faithfully reprinting source texts but necessarily transforming and elaborating as they crossed media. Indeed, the derivations were seldom linear. "Complicated textual philologies are inherent to a popular culture fuelled by adaptation," Léger-St-Jean writes, noting that Prest once narrativized a play that was itself based on a popular song (2019, 122–23). Lloyd was helping to create, as well as already participating in, a global multimedia culture. Indeed, his penny bloods and dreadfuls made popular drama marketed toward the middle and upper classes affordable to the working classes, helping to establish a shared visual and textual vocabulary across class lines for perhaps the first time (Léger-St-Jean 2019, 117–18).

[2.16] Viewing Victorian popular culture through the lens of fan studies and transmedia storytelling, as antecedents to fan fiction, fandom, and transmedia storyworlds, allows us to reframe and understand the dynamics of the British media market in terms that have been recontextualized and revalued within fan studies but have been dismissed and overlooked within much of literary studies. Victorianists have long appreciated how the widespread serialization of narrative opened up gaps between installments that allowed for audiences to dwell with the story—thinking about it, talking about it, perhaps even speculating or seeking further engagements outside of the authorized source (Hughes and Lund 1991). Furthermore, it seems clear that working-class audiences sought entertainment without much regard to whether it was in the form of print, illustration, dramatization, or song. Given the proliferation of material that extended, continued, revised, and transformed previous storyworlds and characters in a way that depends upon some degree of previous knowledge of those storyworlds and characters, it appears safe to assume that some audience members may have followed the extensions of fictional characters in the same medium and across media, constituting transfictionality and transmediality (note 1). Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers was remediated so often that John Bowen dubbed the explosion of dramatizations and plagiarisms in the 1830s and 1840s "the Pickwick Phenomenon" (2003). While the market activities here were produced professionally, their predominant location in the penny press and cheap theater, targeted toward the working classes, makes attendance to the stigmatized and economically vulnerable class position of both producers and consumers especially critical. The fact that this large and sprawling corpus of material has been largely overlooked until recently speaks to Victorian scholarship's own classist participation in the same prejudices of the Victorian era, and the literary scholarly participation in the isolation of print text from visual, dramatic, and musical media that constituted entertainment experiences in the nineteenth century (see Sickmann Han 2016; Abraham 2019; Szwydky 2020).

3. What Victorians can teach us about fan fiction and transmedia

[3.1] If Coppa missed giving the nineteenth century its credit for originating mass media, her main thesis that fan fiction is primarily performative still holds powerfully true, even back to fan fiction's Victorian ancestors. For Victorian working classes, entertainment transcended words on the page and became embodied in immersive reading experiences, visual illustrations, or embodied dramatizations. Furthermore, for the working classes, stories did not exist solely in isolated, unitary texts. Victorian penny press plagiarisms, themselves already often serialized, were transfictional, and potentially transmedial, in nature. As the century in which mass media blossomed, the novel achieved cultural dominance, and literacy dramatically expanded, the Victorian period is thus particularly ripe for considering how the immersive logic of transfictionality came to pervade reception, which I will briefly discuss below.

[3.2] Transfictionality, as I mentioned above, occurs when "two (or more) texts share elements such as characters, imaginary locations or fictional worlds" (Saint-Gelais 2005, 612). Transfictionality resembles historical nonfictional narration in that transfictional characters and worlds are elaborated over time through multiple instances of description. Transfictional characters and worlds thus often confuse (purposefully or coincidentally) reality and fantasy when they cross from nonfiction to fiction, or entail questions of authority and canonicity when they are fully fictional. Transfictionality allows characters to be socially constructed through their portrayal in multiple texts by (potentially) multiple authors. Transfictional characters and worlds are often subject to questions of coherence and (retroactive) continuity in that they both resemble historically existent persons and places while also potentially flouting the parameters of consistency. Calling a transfictional character "the same" across texts is therefore typically a point of debate. The premise of fan fiction—that characters can appear outside of their originating text—is fundamentally transfictional. Victorians recognized and enjoyed transfictional characters and stories, as evidenced by the existence of penny press plagiarisms and cheap theater dramatizations that not only adapted but reinterpreted and extended existing storyworlds and characters.

[3.3] Both fan fiction and transfictional and transmedia storytelling depend upon the idea that characters persist between acts of narration, outside of the purview of the creator who originated them. At first, this seems to be a violation of the rules of fiction according to literary criticism. "How many children had Lady Macbeth?" is the question that is emblematic of this error, which has been treated as a naive reader response since New Criticism (note 2). But this violation of the ontological levels of fictional narrative is the product of the techniques of realism, which were refined and promoted through the development of the realist British novel (Lynch 1998; Brewer 2005). By realism, I mean the capacity of a work to cultivate the reader's immersion in an autonomous storyworld (Ryan 2001, 4). Storyworlds are models based on the real world, constructed by the reader through the prompts of the narration, "as environments that stretch in space, exist in time, and serve as a habitat for a population of animate agents" (Ryan 2001, 15). As Marie-Laure Ryan points out, not all narratives cultivate immersion (2001, 95).

[3.4] The aesthetics of the British realist nineteenth-century novel promoted immersion in "effac[ing] the narrator and the narrative act, penetrat[ing] the mind of characters, transport[ing] the reader into a virtual body located on the scene of the action, and turn[ing] her into a direct witness of events, both mental and physical, that seemed to be telling themselves" (Ryan 2001, 4). At first, the immersive storyworlds of realist fiction seem to be self-contained, but the techniques by which such immersion is achieved depend upon transgressing the ontological levels of fictional narration. This is metalepsis, which Gérard Genette defines as "any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe (or by diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.)" (1980, 234–35). Indeed, Ryan recognizes this when she argues that immersion is achieved through effacement of the narrator and the narrative act. Elaine Freedgood has likewise demonstrated the degree to which realism naturalizes a logic of metalepsis (2010). While metalepsis is often illustrated with defamiliarizing examples such as Julio Cortazar's Continuity of Parks (1964), in which fictional characters shift between the ontological levels of the story itself and the telling of the story, so-called normal realist texts actually do this all the time. As Freedgood shows, the very referential claim of realism, its resemblance to our lived reality, means that fictional characters will appear in factual space just as much as factual spaces appear in fiction (2010, 398). The error that fan fiction and transmedia storytelling perpetuate is thus introduced in the very logic of realism.

[3.5] As Ryan notes, "the immersive quality of nineteenth-century narrative techniques appealed to such a wide segment of the public that there was no sharp distinction between 'popular' and 'high' literature: wide strata of society wept for Little Nell or waited anxiously for the next installment of Dickens's serial novels" (2001, 4). As I showed above, writers like Dickens and Reynolds both appealed to the lower-middle-class and working-class audiences, and the penny press explicitly marketed plagiarisms as continuations of canonical sources, implying that this target audience may not have only waited on Dickens but also turned to the theater, illustrations, songs, merchandising, and periodicals to sate their enthusiasm. The presence of these transmedia extensions of storyworlds helped to reinforce the very immersion that would become a hallmark of nineteenth-century realism. Although Ryan is right that the narrative techniques of realism are shared across realist works intended for an upper-middle to upper-class audience and mass entertainment (including melodrama) intended for the working classes, as I have argued above, class stratification mattered and figures prominently in the stigmatization that Victorian audiences of the penny press, minor theater, and street culture endured at the hands of cultural elites. Indeed, the legacies of immersive storytelling are mixed. While realism's immersive techniques have arguably saturated popular media down to today, immersion has also become increasingly associated with genre fiction (also pioneered in this period, as we have seen). As Coppa notes, immersive reading is like virtual reality, and "is generally not the kind encouraged by literature departments, which teaches students to attend to language" (2014, 234). Immersion's literary fortunes have been to achieve popular dominance while losing critical prestige, especially in methods that have descended from New Criticism.

[3.6] For some, the mass entertainment market's status as an industry will exclude it from the history of fandom, as it is not a subculture but instead mainstream. In this way, the Victorian penny press, with its transfictional storyworlds and characters depicted across media, is more clearly an ancestor of transmedia storytelling. Henry Jenkins first coined "transmedia storytelling" in 2003 (2003). According to Jenkins in his landmark work Convergence Culture, transmedia storytelling occurs when a "story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole" (2006, 95–96). Jenkins sets the bar unusually high for transmedia storytelling, as he requires an intentional and coordinated multimedia approach to narration in which each medium makes a unique contribution, and the resulting storyworld is without redundancies or conflicts. As Matthew Freeman has pointed out, transmedia storytelling has perhaps always existed, but its strategies are historically conditioned by the industrial contingencies present at a given time (2017, 2). Jenkins's definition of transmedia storytelling is built for the paradigm of intellectual property and copyright that emerges in the twentieth century; Jenkins is talking about transmediality that is coordinated by a corporate entity. By contrast, the transmedia extensions of storyworlds and characters that emerged in the Victorian period came about because of the largely coincidental alignments and incentives of a porous paradigm of intellectual property law. The penny press and cheap theater can be a lesson for fan studies in how a given era's conceptualization of intellectual property and authority shapes and differentiates fannish responses from transmedia storytelling.

[3.7] If we allow that transmedia storyworlds can extend across media without the caveat that each instance of elaboration contributes in a unique, coordinated way to the whole, then transmedia storytelling is a narrative strategy with a long history. "Even if the term is new," TV critic and fan studies scholar Jason Mittell writes, "the strategy of expanding a narrative into other media is as old as media themselves; think of paintings dramatizing biblical scenes or iconic nineteenth-century characters such as Frankenstein or Sherlock Holmes whose narrative scope transcends any single medium" (2014, 253–54). Although most discussions of transmediality focus on story, it is notable that most of Mittell's examples are characters. Indeed, Paolo Bertetti has proposed that older forms of transmedia depend upon an underlying logic of shared characters rather than shared storyworlds (2014, 2358). I contend that transfictional and transmedia storytelling, much like fan fiction, become perceptible against a paradigm of intellectual property that implies that novels and characters should belong to single authors, but that the rise of a "novelistic" mode of realism that pervades popular culture across media through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries actually works against this consolidation of authorial control. In other words, novelistic realism cultivates immersion that is dependent upon a logic of metalepsis, which implies that the proliferation of storyworlds across distinct works is not only possible but entirely to be expected.

[3.8] Coppa observes that it is "only when stories get embodied that they seem to generate truly massive waves of fiction" (2014, 222). Given the porousness of the page and stage in the mass entertainment marketplace, the proliferation of penny press plagiarisms can certainly be seen as responses to theatrical and illustrative embodiment, as prose descriptions dilate or continue the inner monologues of characters who are primarily seen but perhaps not heard (enough). The characters of Victorian popular fiction wove between novels and periodicals, across class lines, and onto stages; audiences wanted more and more. Just as Coppa acknowledges that immersive reading is like virtual reality, a "living theatre in the mind" (2014, 237), she also sees fan fiction as driven by interest in character. "One could define fanfiction as a textual attempt to make certain characters 'perform' according to different behavioral strips. Or perhaps the characters who populate fanfiction are themselves the behavioral strips, able to walk out of one story and into another, acting independently of the works that brought them into existence" (2014, 223). Fan fiction challenges us to reframe and reevaluate, as it "articulates that characters are neither constructed or owned but have, to use Schechner's phrase, a life of their own not dependent on any original 'truth' or 'source,'" Coppa writes (2014, 222). Just as fan fiction and plagiarism are only discernible against a background culture that views their work as improper, fan fiction and plagiarism also reveal a persistent logic of transfictionality that pervades our reactions to fiction, even in eras governed by intellectual property law that limits the circulation of ideas by further restricting ownership. Introducing the Victorian penny press and cheap theater to fan studies allows us to see a common ancestor between corporate transmedia franchises and fan fiction in that the products of the working-class entertainment market were arguably legal but still denigrated as derivative and secondary.

[3.9] Prominent Dickens scholar Juliet John has recently observed that "there is a relative scarcity of significant work on literary and historical cultures and their modern afterlives in the digital age" (2018, 769). This call has already begun to be taken up in Dickens studies. Dickens's work was intensely performative and immersive in nature—and twenty-first-century digital experiments in serial reading and role-playing on Twitter reveal that fannish engagements with Victorian texts unearth new interpretive discoveries (Curry and Winyard 2016). In calling for a longer and more rigorous history of the transfictionality that undergirds both fan fiction and transmedia storyworlds, I hope to add to this scholarship by asking how Victorians might have experienced transfictionality.

[3.10] The example of the Victorian period also demands that we reevaluate the usefulness of subculture or counterculture, as these may not be the appropriate concepts to apply to class dynamics in Victorian Britain. The working-class venues that showcased transformative works were not fully sanctioned by the cultural elite, although they were not illegal. In the nineteenth century, common ancestors between fan fiction and transmedia storytelling were marketed by people with access to the ability to print or to put on a play or to market a product. But were they distant specialists, part of the cultural mainstream? Lissette Lopez Szwydky observes that Theodor Adorno's differentiation between a culture industry as being top-down production versus mass culture as dispersed, bottom-up production is not very applicable to nineteenth-century Britain, where these differences were not clear-cut (2020, 37). John further observes that canonized literary fandoms of today urge us to rethink the adequacy of notions like subculture and counterculture, which depend upon a monolith concept of culture and do not capture the cultural dynamics at work when twenty-first-century Dickens enthusiasts dress up as Victorians and participate in a Pickwick Bicycle Club (2018, 772). John acknowledges that there are still class implications to "the fact that so few lovers of Dickens seem keen to define themselves as 'fans'" (2018, 773). I want to suggest that there may be a parallel kind of blindness working when we look back into history, before fans called themselves fans.

[3.11] What the Victorian penny press and cheap theater can teach us about the antecedents of fan fiction and transmedia storytelling is that the appropriation of fictional stories and figures for the enjoyment of audiences who were stigmatized by the cultural elite has always been an activity of poaching and repurposing, but that this activity looks radically different in distinct historical periods and under different paradigms of intellectual property. Even when this activity pervades an entire culture industry that is legally sanctioned, its workings are subject to erasure precisely because the producers and consumers of this culture industry were not the ones with the power to write their own history. The working classes of Victorian Britain were already engaging in transfictional, transmedia entertainment that, in important ways, resembles fandom and fan fiction. It's time we remember.

4. Notes

1. See Haugtvedt (2016) as an example of a transmedia extension that may be interdependent and have shared an audience.

2. Originally coined in L. C. Knights's 1993 work, "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" See discussion in John Britton's 1961 "A. C. Bradley and Those Children of Lady Macbeth," Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (3): 349–51.

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