I called this project Serial because of the serialization of Dickens’s novels. Serialization is really fascinating; I would describe it as being akin to the scheduled release of television shows. In fact, that is *definitely* the origin of the filmic medium. And, that, to me, is absolutely hilarious—can we all share a group chuckle? I don’t know why I find it so peculiar; we often use analogy to describe things that are historical or out of our current experience, but I just love the idea that the serialization of novels/fictions is how we consume cinematic/filmic media instalments of television shows. I imagine that DVD collections, Netflix, and other streaming services that offer all of the episodes would be akin to the publication of the whole book. Would I carry around a boxed-set of DVDs? Maybe. Like, if it was Harry Potter or The West Wing or Poirot, mais oui, but of course!
Great Expectations was published in 35 parts from 1 December 1860 to 3 August 1861 in All the Year Round, a magazine of which Dickens owned the majority holdings. It was also published in the U.S by Harper’s Weekly.
- December 1860 had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 1-8.
- January 1861 had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 9-15.
- February had 3 parts released, consisting of chapters 16-21.
- March had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 22-29.
- April had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 30-37.
- May had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 38-42.
- June had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 43-52.
- July had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 53-57.
- August had 1 part released, consisting of chapters 58-59.
Rather than follow each part’s release date, which would leave me with 35 posts on Great Expectations, [Bah, said Scrooge, Humbug///]. I will go by the monthly releases, which should give me about 8-9 plot-driven discussions, with space to add a few more posts or not, to talk about things that I feel I’ve over-looked or about which I’ve changed my mind.
First serial of Great Expectations. Courtesy of: George C. Gordon Library.
Let’s consider how the release of the parts of the novel in serial form make the work more digestible and approachable for a reader. According to Robert Patten in Charles Dickens and His Publishers, about 100,000 copies of All the Year Round sold each week. The portability of the magazine meant that it could be shared, meaning that, although 100,000 copies sold each week, the readership was much higher. Dickens’s stories were read aloud in groups, shared, and, I like to imagine, pilfered by unsuspecting readers in coffee shops, the most dubious of public spheres. That is a lot of readers, particularly in an age (in Britain) where literacy was inconsistent.
I think that most of the reason readers don’t pick up Dickens’s works is because of how large they are. But imagine, not watching Orange is the New Black because there are TOO MANY episodes, without SENSE, am I right? The hand-held, portability of the magazine serialization made Dickens’s words travel, across space, classes, and nations. I love to imagine the sheer volume of Dickens’s words travelling across London as rail travel made living out of the city viable and desirable, John Wemmick, a character in this very story, for example. Work on the Tube, as it is known now, began in 1860, as the Metropolitan Railway, from Paddington toe Farringdon Street. That is something we should also remember when reading Dickens. Just as we are attached to new and developing technology, advances are also to be noted and found in Dickens’s works. We might not notice them because they have existed for us for all time, but railways and travel by rail was a huge topic of debate. Let’s not forget that the railway in Tolstoy stood for the dangers of modernity, the artifice of women (such as in Anna Karenina).
So we’ve noted that Dickens’s words were portable. The heavy tomes that we now, lovingly, lug around in handbags or saddlebags, whichever your fancy, were not the same that its original readers experiences. Indeed, collated publications of Dickens’s novels usually occurred within the year of its last serial publication. So, they did exist in his time. Today, I sometimes think that the books we read in public also dictate to other people information that we may or may not want to share about ourselves. Like the clothes we wear and the airs we adopt, the public face of reading also indicates things about us to other people. I’m not sure I have any conclusions to draw about this at this time, but it’s something to consider about the books we read, where we read them, and their visibility.
Let’s also take a moment to think about the illustrations of Dickens’s novels. My edition does not have any illustrations, which is such a loss. It doesn’t make the book more adult when you remove the illustrations!!!! I love that Dickens’s stories had accompanying illustrations. I think that the visual world offered by these illustrations gives so much more to the text. It opens a space for more information and different interpretations of the texts. It also provides information that less literate or less-well-read readers can use to piece together information. Since, my edition doesn’t have illustrations, I am going to have to align them when I’m reading. From a cursory examination of the original publications, the illustrations were a later addition. So, I forgive Barnes and Noble their lack of illustrations–not. Ahah! The original illustrations were completed by Frank Stone in 1862; he completed eight for the Library Edition. Later illustrators include F.A Fraser, John Mclennan, Sol Eytinge Jr., and Henry Mathew Brock.
The serialization of the novel also permits the author to employ cliffhangers and other plot techniques to keep the reader hooked. This might make the work seem to be fighting for your attention, or to have artificial highs and lows, but it also means that the author has to work hard to keep the story gripping and engaging because, if nineteenth-century readers are anything like me, I always forget to tune in next week to find out what happens. Luckily, I have the internet to sort that out. But, I also think that as the member of a very small family (there is only 4 of us AT ALL), with friends strewn across the world, I have an experience that means I hear about a lot less things on a daily basis, compared to when I was in high school or at uni.
I love the disparity between our experience with Dickens as somewhat unapproachable and out of touch–his books are big AF and his language is complex and full of allusions and his experiences and those of his contemporaries. I am sure that many allusions flew over people’s heads, as they do mine, but that’s part of reading and all creative media. I mean, when I was about 12 and I tried to read Little Dorrit I had no idea what the heck a Marseilles was, turns out it’s a place–HAHA. But because I didn’t know it, it made me want to know it. So, I lived life, and when I learnt that Marseilles was a place, I got it more. And, later, as I learnt history and ideas of nationality and character, I got that the story started outside England in a very meaningful way–but we’ll get to Little Dorrit a little later. Spoiler: IT IS MY FAVOURITE DICKENS *jumps up an down like an over-excited toddler*
Heaps of love,
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