Thursday, April 16, 2020

"Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens showed how novel serialization can sell

As I noted on my TV blog Monday, Joe Scott noted in a video that in the 19th Century most novels were first published in serial form, in order to pay their own way and attract an audience.
Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens (1857) is such a novel. It tells the story of Amy Dorrit, a youngest child born in a debtors’ prison, who befriends a world traveler Arthur Clennam, a world traveler returning to England from quarantine related to the bubonic plague after travel to China (sound familiar?)  Author Mitch Albom is offering a novel now, more of that in a future post.

This novel was enormously popular at the time, and people would mob boatslip docks to get the latest installment every week, to the point of having riots; that’s how much they cared about Dickens’s characters, who are numerous;  but they are all distinct and readers could keep track of everyone of them.
The book does deal with inequality and the catch-22 inherent in a debtors’ prison.
I don’t recall hearing this novel mentioned in senior English in high school (when we did take up English literature)  I had a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” at home, and we read some of Oliver Twist in class. I don’t think it was mentioned in the English lit course at GW when I was an undergraduate either.

But the idea of taking advantage of narrative hook based on characters and giving readers a chapter a week or month may be something literary agents love.  Stephen King has tried it.
The novel has also become a series on the BBC. 

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