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Thanks to compulsory education, which was instigated in the early 1870s, the number of people who could read increased significantly in the last 30 years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

It was a long reign in which a succession of talented authors produced plenty of stories that continue to fascinate a modern audience – but how many of our Victorian ancestors read these works?

By the 1880s publishers had realised that there was a new market for fiction, though it had to be supplied cheaply. Workers with the ability to read did not necessarily have the means to buy stories in book form. Prices of novels varied depending on the luxury of the binding and quality of the paper, but even cheap editions that cost less than a shilling were beyond the means of most families from the poorer classes.