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Dickens
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Life & Career
Introduction Writings Serial Publication Social Critic American Journeys

Serial Publication

In 1838, while OLIVER TWIST was still running in the MISCELLANY, Dickens began writing and publishing NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. Like PICKWICK, NICHOLAS appeared in twenty 32-page monthly parts. In 1840, Dickens started editing his own weekly magazine, MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK, in which he planned to run a variety of articles and sketches; one of these short pieces quickly evolved into his next novel, THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP (1840-41). When that novel concluded, Dickens immediately began publishing BARNABY RUDGE (1841) in the pages of MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.

Each of Dickens' next four novels, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT (1843-44), DOMBEY AND SON (1846-48), DAVID COPPERFIELD (1849-50), and BLEAK HOUSE (1852-53), appeared monthly, in the same format as THE PICKWICK PAPERS and NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

The first chapter of HARD TIMES took up less than half of a single page.

First page of GREAT EXPECTATIONS
First page of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, originally serialized in ALL THE YEAR ROUND.
In 1854, Dickens returned to weekly installments: he began to publish his shortest novel, HARD TIMES, in the pages of his weekly magazine HOUSEHOLD WORDS. This periodical appeared without illustrations, and thus so did HARD TIMES. Single issues cost even less than the installments of a monthly serial -- just two pence each. Because the installments of HARD TIMES needed to be significantly shorter, the chapters were generally shorter too; the first chapter of HARD TIMES took up less than half of a single page. For his next novel, LITTLE DORRIT (1855-57), Dickens went back to monthly installments.

In 1859, he founded a new weekly journal, ALL THE YEAR ROUND, in which he published A TALE OF TWO CITIES, treating the French Revolution. The novel appeared without illustrations in its weekly form, but Dickens' publishers also produced a version in monthly numbers, with two illustrations per installment. His next novel, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, was issued in the pages of ALL THE YEAR ROUND (1860-61), but no monthly version was offered and there are no illustrations in the first edition.

Dickens' last complete novel, OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (1864-65), was published in monthly parts. He was relieved by the return to the bigger canvas of the 32-page installment, but also daunted by the challenges of the larger form. THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1870), his final novel, was to be completed in 12, rather than 20, monthly installments. Unfortunately, that plan was interrupted by the author's death; Dickens suffered a massive stroke and died the next day, June 9, 1870, at the age of 58. Because Dickens not only published but also composed serially, his death left his readers in real suspense: only six of the projected parts were released, and though many have guessed at the solution to the mystery, no one will ever know for certain who killed young Edwin Drood -- or even if Edwin is really dead. Readers have studied the wrapper design for this last novel with great intensity, hoping to find a clue enabling them to solve the mystery.

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Photo Credits:
Robert D. Fellman Collection (left, middle and bottom right), used by permission of George C. Gordon Library, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Library of Congress (top right).
Dickens' Contemporaries

Anthony Trollope

Novelist and magazine editor who penned THE WAY WE LIVE NOW.
Anthony Trollope
Dickens Biography
Portrait of Charles Dickens
A profile from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD BIOGRAPHY.

Learn more

First page of HARD TIMES
The weekly publication, which Dickens edited, took its name from a line in Shakespeare's "Henry V" -- "Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS."
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