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 Pickwick Phenomenon [Page 28]

Left: Phiz's February 1845 illustration for Lever's The O'Donoghue: Kerry O'Leary reading the News by Deputy (Ch. VIII). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The artist [Robert Seymour] died suddenly after the second number, and his place was taken by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz) who was to be long associated with Dickens [1837-1859]. In this type of part-issue the artists were normally the dominating partner. But by the accidents of the publishers choice of author and the first artist's death, the balance between writer and artist was changed, and it was not as a series of superior plates accompanied by letter-press that even its earliest readers thought of the Pickwick Papers. The letter-press so caught the public interest that it not only fairly launched Dickens on his career, but initiated a virtually new method of publishing fiction, and established in the public the habit of buying novels as well as borrowing them. Only a limited demand was expected: the binder prepared 400 copies of the first number, but by the time the fifteenth was reached, over 40,000 were required. 1 Dickens leapt into fame: everyone read Pickwick. Emily Eden, the sister of the Governor General, found it "the only fun in India," and read it in numbers "not more than ten times"; 2 Alexander Bain read it in his Natural History class "out of the professor's sight"; 3 Dr. Arnold complained to his neighbour Wordsworth that his boys at Rugby thought of nothing but 'Bozzy's next number'; 4 Captain Brown in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford was run over by a railway train while reading his copy of the current number.


Victorian Fiction (catalogue of an exhibition arranged by John Carter and Michael Sadleir, 1947); Graham Pollard, Serial Fiction in New Paths in Book Collecting (1934). The Cambridge Bibliography is erratic in noting the original form of publication, especially for minor novelists.

1 Forster, ii. I; T. Hatton and A. H. Cleaver, A Bibliography of the Periodical Works of Charles Dickens (1933), p. 6.

2 Miss Eden's Letters, ed. Violet Dickinson (1919), p. 298. She says, "there has been a Calcutta reprint, lithographs and all."

3 Autobiography (1904), p. 53; account of the winter session 1837-8 at Marischal College, Aberdeen.

4 Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: the Later Years (1939), iii. 1120; and cr. Arnold's letter to Cornish, 6 July 1839, in Stanley's Life, ch. ix.

Question Seven

Why would the first monthly part of Dickens' Pickwick Papers be rare today, and thus valuable?

Supplementary: What would be unusual about the number of illustrations in this monthly number?


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

Created 21 October 2003

Last modified 20 January 2024