McLenan's series of forty plates in Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization — volume IV: 740 through volume V: 495 (for 24 November 1860 through 3 August 1861) — was not subsequently reproduced in its entirety in either American or British editions. As Edgar Rosenberg notes in the Norton Critical Edition of the novel (1999), although the first instalment, containing Chapters 1 and 2 and the first half of Ch. 3, appeared on Saturday, 24 November 1860, in Harper's Weekly, that same instalment did not appear in Dickens's own weekly, All the Year Round, until the following Saturday (1 December 1860). The American periodical remained a week in advance of the British until 26 January 1861, when (owing to the long passage on the trans-Atlantic route, which prevented the publishers from getting the advance proof-sheets to the artist in time for him to execute the necessary illustrations) Harper's decided not to run the tenth instalment (Chapters 15 and 16). Until this point, the American version, amply illustrated by American artist John McLenan, was certainly "the first edition" of the novel, although lacking half-a-dozen of the early, small-scale illustrations issued between 24 November 1860 and 16 February 1861. As of 2 February 1860, instalments in All the Year Round were slightly ahead of those in the New York periodical.

Despite the [British] copyright laws, which forbade prior publication in foreign countries, the serial began with a week's headstart in Harper's Weekly: "Splendidly Illustrated by John McLenan. Printed from the Manuscript and early Proof-Sheets purchased from the Author by the Proprietors of 'Harper's Weekly'." The tight schedule to which Dickens was thus forced to work no doubt accounts for the many textual changes he introduced after sending advance proof to New York. Harper's would no doubt have maintained its timetable and beaten All the Year Round to the finishing line if it hadn't been for the omission of the number for January 26 (Installment 10). . . .[Rosenberg, 399]

Typically, McLenan created two very different types of plates to accompany the new Dickens novel, of which he may well have been among the first readers on the American continent: roughly square designs of approximately 11 cm occupying two columns (often in the bottom right section of a page) and small rectangular designs of approximately 5.5 cm wide (in other words, the width of a single column on the four-column page) by 8.5 cm high, often in the bottom left quadrant. The presence of so many smaller illustrations combined with an absence of any illustration in five instalments (the 24th, 25th, 26th, the 32nd, and 34th) undermine the veracity of the statement appearing at the head of each instalment: "Splendidly Illustrated by John McLenan" (e. g, 13 April 1861, p. 229).

Edgar Rosenberg's "Launching Great Expectations" in the Norton Critical Edition of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1999) is the best source of information about the circumstances surrounding the initial trans-Atlantic publication of the novel in serial form.

The Later History of McLenan's plates

McLenan's series of forty plates in Harper's Weekly was not subsequently reproduced in British editions, although there was in fact a proto-paperback issued in 1861 with these rare plates:

. . . two editions published by the reprint house of T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia, who had bought the rights from Harper: a one-volume edition based on Harper's Weekly and issued in wrappers, which sold for a staggering twenty-five cents--the first paperback of Great Expectations--and a slightly later hardcover, priced at $1.50, featuring McLenan's illustrations from Harper's. [Rosenberg, 423]

The first American volume edition

The first American edition in book form was published by T. B. Peterson (Philadelphia, 1861) by agreement with Harper & Bros., New York. The book is unusual in that it gives pseudonym ("Boz"), which Dickens dropped in Britain in the early 1840s, last using it for Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4). The book's title page, which mentions "thirty-four illustrations from original designs by John McLenan," indicates that its double-columned text (the format used by All the Year Round in Britain) has been "printed from the manuscript and early proof-sheets purchased from the author, for which Charles Dickens has been paid in cash, the sum of one thousand pounds sterling."


Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Greenblatt, Harmon. "David Lean Production." The Dickens Magazine Series 1, Issue 5 (2001): 8-9.

McLenan, John, il. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (the First American Edition). Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vols. IV: 740 through V: 495 (24 November 1860-3 August 1861).

Rosenberg, Edgar (ed.). "Launching Great Expectations." Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. Pp. 389-423.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1999.

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Last modified 6 May 2005