Any literary historians out there?

So pondering a little project.

As part of that I need to know what were likely wages/pay to people who wrote the penny dreadfuls.

Then, what were likely advances from publishers for novels…no, not the three volume standard, not what Dickens or whoever famous got for their part works. But what was the scale of pay, if you like, for a competent but not famous wordsmith?

Penny dreadfuls, then stories and part works in \”respectable\” magazines and, possibly, what was the likely pay for the shilling shockers later in the 19th century.

Anyone actually know?

A brief google hasn\’t really thrown anything up…..although there is at least an indication that one could set up as a penny dreadful publisher for about £50.

General wages of the time I can find.

Hmm, also, if anyone knows of a site that gives rough living costs? Rent on a house,/flat/mansionflat/coldwater walkup and so on? Food costs?

I think I can find the cost of a Maida Vale villa by rereading something I\’ve got on Marx but (and I can find out what he got paid by the New York Times that way too) but I\’d love to be pointed to a general site that covers costs of living etc. Cab fares, (hackney, obviously), trams? Underground? etcetcetc

Update: So, penny a line for the dreadfuls, eh? Or half a pint a line.

Hmm, I do stuff now at 5 cents a word which is less (in terms of beer) than that…..

So to make £1 a day (a good, solid, middle class income at the time, could run a household in London with servants etc) it would need to be 3,000 words a day or so each and every day (7/52). OK, that works in terms of what I wanted it to….

8 thoughts on “Any literary historians out there?”

  1. I doubt if the archives of many penny dreadful publishers exist, yet I think hack journalists were paid a penny a line, a literary cliché in the late 19th century. So I imagine the cheaper authors were paid about the same, if they were lucky.
    I have found it is really difficult to compare prices then and now. If you try to compare prices of essentials, then apparent absurdities arise. I would appreciate if you could check my maths on this: –
    £238,238 0s. 2d. was spent on George IV’s 1821 coronation, his outfit costing £24,704 8s. 10d. alone. At the time, a reasonable size house cost about £1000, a housemaid cost about £5 a year in wages, [board extra], and a pint of beer about two pence. [There were 240 pennies to the pound.] So for the cost of the coronation, you could have purchased about 238 houses, or employed 47,647 housemaids, or consumed 28,588,560 pints of beer, if that is your kind of speculation.

  2. I don’t know these specific answers. However, in considering wages in different eras I think you really need to think of them in terms of a staple benchmark of what they would have bought you. Since food is something we can’t live without calories in terms of wages is a good benchmark. There is some good stuff from Brad Delong here.

  3. There is a lot of basic info about prices etc in the Rowntree reports about York.
    Penny a line has become the accepted estimate for that kind of work.
    Not that bad on second thoughts.With beer at tuppence a pint,this message would gain me three pints.
    George Orwell suggested that the daft dialogue in Billy Bunter stories “Yaroo”(on it own line) was a way of optimising income.
    So thats another two pints chalked up.

  4. Biographies of George Gissing (wrote “New Grub Street” among other things) might have information or pointers to it.

    Gissing himself didn’t write what one thinks of as penny dreadfuls but was probably acquainted with those who did.

  5. This is slightly OT but before SF took off as a big genre – back in the days when it was almost entirely published in magazines – this would be late 40s early 50s the going rate for a writer was a cent a word if his or her story was published. That’s the USA and a different time but a similar trade and on the basis of that I suspect the dreadfuls writers were very poorly paid.

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