DON’T STAND STILL: Space-time Compression and the Development of Modern Subjectivity in Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper (1852-1865)

Annisa Suliman
Leeds Beckett University

In 1855, periodical editor John Cassell exhorted his million readers
to join ‘the onward march of civilisation’:

DON’T STAND STILL. – If you do, you will be run over. Motion –
action – progress […] Advance, or stand aside; do not block up the
way and hinder the career of others; there is too much to do now to
allow of inaction anywhere, or in any one (CIFP, March 17).

This conjures up the ‘juggernaut’ force of Anthony Giddens’
(1991) early modernity, where those failing to adapt are ‘swept
[…] away’ (151). If, as Beetham (1989) suggests, the periodical
offers a unique insight into its moment of production, this address
exposes a Zeitgeist generated by industrialisation and time-space
compression. In order to survive, the “self has to be explored and
constructed as part of a reflexive process of connecting personal and
social change” (Giddens, 33). The combination of the social and
personal imperatives enforces upon the reader a distinctly modern form
of subjective development. Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper pushes
and pulls its readers across the ‘date-stamped’ (Beetham) pages by
use of hybrid, anti-linear, often truncated narratives that switch
rapidly from one topic, time-frame or genre to another. Cataphoric,
anaphoric and exophoric reference throughout further imitate the
dynamism of the age. Applied in relation to articles on
self-improvement, scientific invention, art, fashion, home and world
events; it is also used to ensure the paper’s sustainability in an
intensely competitive marketplace. By promoting House of Cassell
publications and CIFP articles, past and present, in letters pages,
announcements and advertisements, it not only commodifies its products
as essential knowledge environments, but places the reader at the
centre of the process. Added to this, periodicity – in particular, the
expectation of gratification in future issues – forces the engaged
reader into suspended animation that may only cease with the arrival
of their “Weekly Visitor” (CIFP, Dec, 1853). Seen in this way,
CIFP offers readers a distinctly modern, technologically-driven,
dynamic programme of self-development which has roots in the
pre-industrial and branches in the post-industrial worlds.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900