Recent Publications | July 22, 2010

New Punch Magazine Book

One of the enduring images of journalists ‘hard at work’ over a substantial meal followed by champagne and cigars has filtered down to us from Punch magazine in the mid-19th century, when weekly dinners around the famous Punch table were a focal point of discussion, debate, gossip, and ribaldry. Those free-wheeling, gossipy conversations left behind a remarkable record in Henry Silver’s diary of Punch table talk, an unpublished manuscript in the collections of the British Library that, along with many other rare records, has been extensively explored by Patrick Leary, author of the new book The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London.  
Punch began in 1841, one of an increasing number of publications (most of them short-lived), appearing at a time when printed matter was expanding at a rate perhaps comparable only to the current digital media explosion of the 21st century. A combination of reliable financing and a singularly cohesive, permanent staff consisting of some of the most versatile writers and illustrators of the day - the Punch Brotherhood - helped to make Punch not merely the most successful comic periodical of the 19th and 20th centuries, but one of the most successful magazines that has ever existed.
Patrick Leary looks behind the nostalgic image of Punch magazine to examine in detail the bitter conflicts and violent prejudices that marked both private and public aspects of the magazine’s history in the mid-19th century. The dissolution of the longstanding relationship between Charles Dickens and Punch’s publishers, Bradbury and Evans, and the subsequent rift between Dickens and Thackeray, have been touched on by biographers, but are here investigated at length for the first time. Leary demonstrates how the futile efforts of Dickens to quash gossip about his separation from his wife by means of his mastery of the printed word, and Thackeray’s equally futile attempts to halt the flow of gossip into print, serve to illuminate profound issues about the boundaries between private and public life - debates that are ongoing today.
Punch was best known for its illustrations, which have also helped to shape our view of Victorian Britain, and many of these are reproduced in The Punch Brotherhood. Leary’s discussion of one the most famous of all political cartoons, “A Leap in the Dark” of 1867, shows how closely the worlds of talk around the Punch table echoed and informed the Reform debate in Parliament itself.  His closely observed account of the process by which such ‘Large Cuts’ (as they were known) were created vividly illustrates the ways in which the interaction of talk, print, and art forged some of the most enduring and influential images of Victorian Britain.
Along with reproductions of several key cartoons, The Punch Brotherhood includes rare photographic portraits of the writers, artists and printers involved in the magazine, helping to bring to light the self-styled literary brotherhood whose comic words and images were seized upon each week by politicians, peers and common readers alike.
Patrick Leary, author of The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London, said:
"The best records we have for the way Victorian men talked in private conversation come, startlingly enough, from the heart of a great British institution: Punch magazine, and the talk of artists, writers, and proprietors around the famous Punch table. Drawing upon these rare accounts, this book explores the shifting, fiercely contested boundaries between what could be said in private and what could be printed for public consumption - boundaries that we are still vehemently debating today."
For more information please contact
Radhika Dandeniya, British Library +44 (0)20 7412 7111 /

Julie Yau, British Library +44 (0)20 7412 7237 /
The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London (price £25.00) is available from the British Library Shop (tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / e-mail: and online at as well as other bookshops throughout the UK. The book comprises of 160 pages with 34 black and white illustrations, (ISBN 978 0 7123 0923 3), published July 2010.
Patrick Leary is President of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals. He created and still manages the oldest and largest online discussion groups for Victorian Studies (VICTORIA) and the history of the book (SHARP-L), and is at work on a study of the cultural geography of literary life in Victorian London.
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