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.

Question 8. Part One: Introductory (29)

Left: The novel's initial monthly wrapper by Seymour (April 1836). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

After such success, it was natural that Dickens should retain this pattern of publication as a kind of trade-mark. For eight of his novels, the pattern is uniform — a shilling monthly part of thirty-two pages, generally with two plates, 1 the work completed in twenty monthly parts issued as nineteen, the concluding part being a double number at two shillings. Throughout the period of Dickens's working life, from 1836 to 1870, when he died after writing the sixth of the projected twelve numbers of Edwin Drood, the monthly part-issue was a fairly popular method of distribution. 2 The public liked it for its cheapness and perhaps also for its particular qualities of suspense. The publishers liked it for various financial reasons — high circulation, spreading and elasticity of costs, payments from advertisers (each part carried extra leaves of general advertisements), independence of lending libraries. The author liked it both for its large financial rewards — which reached him while he was writing for reducing the risk of piracy, and for the warmth of contact with his [or her] readers. [Tillotson, pp. 29-30]

Part-issue was not confined to novels; the greatest autobiography of the century, Newman's Apologia, was published in eight weekly parts, and Browning's The Ring and the Book in four monthly volumes, on the stated grounds that he wished people "not to turn to the end," but to have "time to read and digest . . . but not to forget what has gone before" (William Allingham, A Diary, 1907, p, 181).


1 Except for Pickwick, Nos., I-II.

2 Examples include a few novels of Mrs. Trollope, Ainsworth, Marryat, most of Surtees; Thackeray's Vanity Fair and Pendennis. After 1850 there are The Newcomes (1853-5) and The Virginians (1857-9), Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5) and The Way We Live Now (1874-5). The failure of The Vicar of Bull Hampton (1869-70) in this form marks the decline of the part-issue, A new modification appears with George Eliot's Middlemarch (eight five-shilling parts at irregular intervals in 1871-2) and Daniel Deronda (1876). This form was imitated by Trollope's Prime Minister (1875-6).

Question Eight

Why might Victorian authors and publishers alike have preferred part-publication to the production of the three-volume novel ("the triple-decker")?


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

Created 25 December 2004

Last modified 20 January 2024