These questions were originally created for English 394: The Victorian Novel from Dickens to Hardy, at the University of British Columbia, Summer Session Two, 1989. They have been augmented with pertinent excerpts from Tillotson's seminal criticism of the early Victorian novel for English 3412 (Victorian Fiction), Lakehead University, January through May 2004. For additional questions click on the "Contexts" icon at the foot of the screen.

Introductory: The Illustrated Magazine and the Magazine Serial [Page 25]

Left: Phiz's April 1846 monthly wrapper for Dickens's Dombey and Son, Part VII. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In any month of 1847, the would-be novel-reader might see in the bookshops, in paper wrappers, greenish blue or bright yellow, for only one shilling, the current monthly parts of Dealings / with the Firm of / Dombey and Son / Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation / By Charles Dickens and Vanity Fair / Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society / By W. M. Thackeray. That was the form in which these two novels made their first appearance; and it was that form which so greatly extended the novel-reading public, by the simple device of spreading and lowering the cost — the total cost for a work equal in length to a 'three-decker' came to £1. No wonder that a critic of 1851 remarked (prematurely, however) that the three-volume novel was' "going out with the tide", being superseded by the periodical novel, a cheaper article'. 1 In other ways these two forms of publication — magazine serial and part-issue — increased the popularity of the novel. The suspense induced by 'making 'em! wait' was intensified by being prolonged — to see what happened next the reader had to wait a month at a time. All novel-readers know the temptation to turn to the end: here is a confession of Thackeray's (a double confession):

In the days of the old three-volume novels, didn't you always look at the end, to see that Louisa and the Earl (or young clergyman, as the case might be) were happy? If they died, or met with other grief, I put the book away. 2

But during publication in parts there was no end to turn to - which some readers found an added pleasure. Here is Disraeli's Lord Montfort, for instance: "I like books that come out in numbers, as there is a little suspense, and you cannot deprive yourself of all interest by glancing at the last page of the last volume."


1 Fraser's January 1851, p. 15.

2 Philip, ch. xxiii.


Often the end was not even written, perhaps not predetermined: for this and other reasons, publication in parts induced, as I hope to show, a kind of contact between author and reader unknown today.

In the eighteen-forties neither of these forms of publication was quite new. The monthly part as a method of publishing new fiction had become established only in the late eighteen-thirties; but its ancestors are found in two very different types of part-issue common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. First, the very cheap part-issue of reprints of popular fiction now famous from Hazlitt's reference:

The world I had found out in Cooke's edition of the British Novelists [1792] was to me a dance through life, a perpetual gala-day. The sixpenny numbers of this work regularly contrived to leave off just in the middle of a sentence, and in the nick of a story, where Tom Jones discovers Square behind the blanket . . . . [2]

Secondly, there was the expensive part-issue of new and finely illustrated works, often architectural and topographical.


1 Endymion (1880), iii. I.

2 "On Reading Old Books," London Magazine (February 1821); collected in The Plain Speaker (1826). Besides Cooke's series there was Harrison's Novelist's Magazine (1780-88), and in our period a well-known and remarkably cheap publication, the twopenny weekly Romancist, and Novelist's Library (1839-40, 1841-2). See further Pollard, op. cit., pp. 259-61, and Sadleir, XIXth Century Fiction, ii (Section 3), pp. 135-7, 141-5. Of these series, Edward Lloyd's weekly part-issues of sensational new fiction are the obvious descendants.

Question Six

How did part- and magazine-serial publication make possible "a kind of contact between author and reader unknown today" (page 26)? What were the disadvantages of the serial mode of publication?


Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon, 1955, rpt. 1983.

Created 25 December 2004

Last modified 20 January 2024