Friday, September 10, 2010

What the Dickens?

It must be especially observed in justice to poor Kit that he was by no means of a sentimental turn, and perhaps had never heard that adjective in all his life.  He was only a softhearted grateful fellow, and had nothing genteel or polite about him; consequently, instead of going home again, in his grief, to kick the children and abuse his mother (for, when your finely strung people are out of sorts, they must have everybody else unhappy likewise), he turned his thoughts to the vulgar expedient of making them more comfortable if he could.
From The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

I love when an author is able, through artful descriptions, to bring to mind specific personality types and social situations.  And Dickens is one of the giants of this art.  He is able to evoke very specific visual images with the written word.  And he creates characters that people relate to in a very personal way.  We love them or hate them or even fear them.

The Old Curiosity Shop, like many of Dickens' works, was originally written in serial style.  I was awed by the following description from a Dickens biography included with the edition I'm reading.  It portrays the depth of his appeal and the anticipation with which his readers awaited a given installment.
When the Irish Nationalist Daniel O'Connell finished reading The Old Curiosity Shop onboard a train, he burst into tears, hurling the sad pages from the window of his compartment.  In Boston, 4000 people assembled at the wharf to wait for the boat carrying Chapter 71 to arrive.  As the vessel approached the dock, those on the shore called out to the captain, hoping to learn Little Nell's fate.  When he shook his head sadly, a moan went up from the crowd.
We don't have anything in our society that can exactly equate with that.  We do have novels and movies that come out in series.  Many people lined up at bookstores for the final Harry Potter book, for instance.  But imagine the scene above.  Imagine the days before mass transportation and communication.  Imagine no instant internet information.

And next think about a book that took 71 installments to reach it's conclusion, each perhaps only a few pages in length.  Remember how Laura and Mary committed to making the stories in their Youth's Companions last throughout The Long Winter?  I know that in the niche genres of literature, such as science fiction, these serials live on.

But I wonder if there might be a place for something like this in pop culture.  What might it look like and how might it be distributed.  A blog perhaps, started by some obscure writer, gradually gaining readership as the story evolves.  Or might a famous author start something to be distributed in the big box stores. Perhaps a news magazine might feature a chapter a week by a rising literary star.  I suppose it could happen any number of ways.

A serial of this sort is probably a romantic idea on my part, but one that appeals to me nonetheless.


madhenmom said...


In my mental stack of books to review, lies 44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith.

One of the specific reasons I wanted to review it is because I knew you would appreciate the fact that it was originally serialized in the Scotsman.

It's been several months now, and to be honest I would have to spend quite a bit of time refreshing my memory in order to review it now. But, I definitely think you'd like it.

And now I'm reminded that I need to request the next one in the series. :)

theMom said...

That one is on my "to read" list. I couldn't get into the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, but I do like the Isabel Dalhousie books.

I don't know whether I had known th is book was originally serialized.

madhenmom said...

I hope you don't mind, but I forwarded a link to your new blog, with a brief introduction, to my homeschool group. There are a number of young bloggers in the group who might be interested.