Journal Lists: Reading Literature in Serial Form

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By Catherine Redford

January 1891 issue of All the Year Round

When I teach the likes of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to my undergraduates, I always encourage them to think about the way in which these texts were originally published: not as weighty tomes, but in serial form. Readers of periodicals such as Master Humphrey’s Clock, Bentley’s Miscellany, Household Words, and All The Year Round would follow stories in instalments over several months, and delighted in writing to the authors to outline their hopes (and fears) for forthcoming episodes.

Given this publishing history, it’s rather odd that we now read these texts in single-volume form, paying little, if any, attention to the original breaks in the narrative. The same is true when we approach the numerous letters and diaries – both real and fictional – produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; we consume huge chunks at once without a second thought for their chronology in terms of composition or publication.

If, like me, you’ve always fancied having a go at reading one of these texts in the instalments in which it was first produced or published, you’ll be delighted to hear about a recent project called Journal Lists. Set up …read more