Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South was serialized in Charles Dickens's Household Words, a weekly magazine that ran every Wednesday from March 1850 to May 1859. Its name was derived from a line in William Shakespeare's Henry V: "Familiar in his mouth as household words." The magazine was very inexpensive –only a tuppence –and was thus accessible to many English readers.
The first edition featured Dickens's introduction to the paper's principles. He wrote: "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. We seek to bring to innumerable homes, from the stirring world around us, the knowledge of many social wonders, good and evil, that are not calculated to render any of us less ardently persevering in ourselves, less faithful in the progress of mankind, less thankful for the privilege of living in this summer-dawn of time."
While the magazine published words that dealt with issues of the poor and working classes, it was primarily marketed toward middle class readers. Articles were unsigned while serialized novels often featured the name of the author. Both fiction and nonfiction pieces were included; the latter dealt with politics, government corruption, health and sanitation issues, education, and other reform activities. Each issue had 6-10 articles or serializations, was in double columns, and was about 24 pages long. Anne Lohrli writes in her work on the magazine that even the social commentary utilized "fantasy, vision, fable, imaginary travels . . . and the use of fictitious characters to serve as mouthpieces of information and opinion."
The magazine gained a multitude of readers when Dickens serialized his own work, Hard Times, between April and August of 1854. Other prominent works serialized in the magazine included Gaskell's Cranford (1851), Dickens's A Child's History of England (1851-53), and Wilkie Collins's The Dead Secret (1857). Dickens collaborated with staff writers such as Collins, Gaskell, William Howitt, and Adelaide Anne Proctor. George Eliot, a friend of Dickens, declined to participate as she was uncomfortable with the serialization process.
Dickens owned half of the company while his agents, Forster and Wills, owned one fourth of it; this gave Dickens a great deal of autonomy in running the magazine. In 1858 Dickens was accused of adulterous relations, and published a lengthy rebuttal to the claim in the June 12th, 1858 issue. He grew upset when the publishers of Household Words, Bradbury and Evans, refused to publish that same rebuttal in their other magazine Punch. Dickens offered to buy out their share in the company and was supported by the Court of Chancery in this attempt. Dickens incorporated Household Words into his new weekly, All the Year Round.
Historian Peter Ackroyd wrote of Household Words: "It was nothing like such serious journals as The Edinburgh Review - it was not in any sense intellectual - but rather took its place among the magazines which heralded or exploited the growth of the reading public throughout this period... Since this was not the cleverest, the most scholarly or even the most imaginative audience in Britain, Household Words had to be cheerful, bright, informative and, above all, readable."