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Charles Dickens: The Master of the Serial Novel

8th February 2011

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Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.”—Wilkie Collins, friend of Charles Dickens

Yesterday marked the one-year countdown to the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. Dickens was the best-known novelist of his time and considered by many to be the greatest writer from the Victorian Era.

In nineteenth century literature, many novels were published as serials, and readers purchased the latest installment of the developing work. Charles Dickens is most often remembered for writing his novels in this serial format. He was paid not by the word, but rather by the serial installment. These affordable installments were made available every month or week in popular periodicals such as Bentley’s Miscellany. His serial fiction shaped not only the popular practice of reading for pleasure and instruction associated with the growth of periodical publication in the nineteenth century but also the school subject we now know as “English.”

In Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens, Sarah Winter reveals how Dickens installed his works, his memories, his authorial presence, and perhaps most influentially, his method of publication—seriality itself—at the center of our collective modern consciousness.

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