Friday, March 29, 2019

Charles to Wilkie

For a class today we were looking at how nineteenth-century novels were serialized in popular periodicals. One of the examples we had out was All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, because the early volumes featured his A Tale of Two Cities. Well, what else did we find? Right after the final installment of A Tale of Two Cities in the November 1859 issue was the first chapter of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. They were friends, so it is no surprise that Dickens would find space in his magazine for Collins.

What happened next was a bit of magic. Seeing the first chapter of The Woman in White reminded us that we had a letter from Dickens to Collins in the collection. We plucked it out and discovered it was from the "Office of All the Year Round," and was written in late August 1859. For the most part, it is a chatty letter about the business of writing, but two things jumped out. First, the line:
Wills has shown me your note received this morning. I have not the slightest doubt that The Woman in White is the name of names and the very title of very titles.
Pretty cool, as this is the letter that confirms the title of what would become a classic. But then we read another bit where Dickens says that he had just "slided back in the Tale of Two Cities and [had] been doggedly at it." What? A Tale of Two Cities started serialization in April, and it wrapped up in November! Dickens was still finishing it in August.

Can you imagine the stress of finishing a novel four months after you published the first chapter?

Oh, by the way, the letter also discusses the details of a proposed American tour--it is a good one.

To see the letter, ask for MS 001151. To see volume 2 of All the Year Round, ask for Rare AP4.A4 v. 2.

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