Friday, October 14, 2011

Reading in Parts

Imagine starting to read a novel and not finishing it for 19 months. We are not slow readers, but we have tried the enlightening exercise of reading a mid 19th-century novel in its original parts. Pictured here are the 20 issues (in 19 parts) of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. The first issue came out in May 1849, and the parts continued to come out monthly until November 1850.

That is a very different kind of reading than we do today. Most people read David Copperfield for class--so, very quickly--devouring the novel in a week or so. Others might be more leisurely, dipping into it nightly over a month or so to savor the Victorian melodrama. Few people would dole the book out in 30-page segments over a year and a half. When read this way the book becomes a part of the yearly cycle and fodder for conversation with your friends. Like a popular television series, everyone is at the same place at the same time.


Serialization explains a lot about Victorian literature--the frequent cliff hangers, the repetition of characters' key traits, the tangential forays that fill an issue--and the advertisements within the parts reveal the intended audience. Our David Copperfield hawks mattresses, needles, children's clothing, Punch, and Locock's Female Pills.

To see the parts (all at once!) ask for Val 826D55 P51.

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