In the first chapter of his book Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves, Malcolm Andrews attends to the particular relationship that Charles Dickens had with his readers – both in his imagination and in theirs. Andrews discusses the influence of serialization on the relationship between writer and reader, drawing heavily on Hughes and Lund’s The Victorian Serial, to argue that “Dickens could use serialization as a means of intervening regularly in the lives of his readers, thereby creating in them a degree of reliance on himself…that matched his reliance on their affection and attention” (16). For Andrews, this particular and intimate reader-writer relationship set the stage for the remarkable popularity of Dickens’s public readings.

As part of this discussion of how Dickens’s work intervened in the lives of his readers, particularly their affective lives, Andrews quotes from Henry Mackenzie’s discussion of periodical writing (an excerpt that Dickens also drew upon as he concluded Nicholas Nickleby). Mackenzie contrasts the periodical writer with a writer who publishes his or her work upon its entire completion and who “‘must have withdrawn many an idea which in the warmth of composition he had conceived, and altered many an expression which in the hurry of writing he had set down’” (18). For Mackenzie, the writing of a serial author is instead characterized by its immediacy because“‘[h]e commits to his readers the feelings of the day, in the language which those feelings have prompted’” (18).

This contrast between extended revision and an immediate conversation between writer and reader – or, as Mackenzie puts it, “‘deliver[ing] [one]self with the freedom of intimacy and the cordiality of friendship’” – parallels the discourse around blogging. For instance, if an academic’s publication in journals and books constitutes research and thought that have the benefit of time, revision, and the feedback of outside readers, then blogging, as a form of writing serially, might be understood as akin to the more informal, more affective, more immediate form of writing that Mackenzie – and perhaps Dickens – attribute to writing serially.

However, we might want to attend to potential oversimplifications of this dichotomy. For one thing, what kinds of alignments of time with effort, contrasts of thought and feeling, and assumptions about tone of writing buttress the notion that an installment of a narrative or an argument published serially is less thoughtful and more emotionally involved and colloquially expressed? And, in the case of academic blogging, how might the two forms – blog writing and writing for publication – affect each other? Is the blog a space to try out ideas so that it becomes part of the lengthy revision process for our ideas? If so, how will the tone of the writing, and especially the relationship between writer and reader, change from blog to book?

Here at the Floating Academy, many of us have written about serialization such as when Emily helpfully assessed her experience of reading – and not reading – Collins’s the Law and the Lady serially. We have also considered our experiences of, and expectations about, blogging in posts including Tara’s meditation on gossip, Victorian novels, and contemporary anxieties around blogging. I’m interested in thinking about how the two issues collide.  How might our thinking about serialization as Victorianist scholars influence, or provide insight into, how we write serially in this on-line form?

Andrews, Malcolm. Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

2 thoughts on “Writing Serially

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