Quiz time: What connects The Three Musketeers, Great Expectations, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Madame Bovary, Sherlock Holmes and Feluda?
The answer is of course, they were all serialized in a newspaper or magazine before they were books.
The serialized novel‘s story begins in the 19th century in Europe, when technology lowered printing costs, and publishers began to bring out a slew of magazines and newspapers and needed more than just the news to connect with their readers. Charles Dickens was of course one of the first big stars, whose weekly instalments of his novels were wildly successful. He began with The Pickwick Papers, but the other classics such as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist were serialized as well.
In mainland Europe, Alexander Dumas was one of the writers who revelled in this form. The Three Musketeers was published in the newspaper Le Siècle between March and July 1844, while The Count of Monte Cristo appeared in 18 instalments in the Journal des Débats between 1844 and 1846.
Soon after, Arthur Conan Doyle immortalized the adventures of Holmes as recounted by Watson in Strand magazine — the serial novel now reached thousands and thousands of readers, made possible by the magazines’ low prices and a widespread distribution network. Closer home, Satyajit Ray published a Feluda story almost every Dussehra in Desh magazine, and earlier in Sandesh magazine.
In the age of the internet, digital publishing has brought back serialized fiction: David Mitchell’s most-recent work, Slade House, grew out of a series of tweets he did post the publication of The Bone Clocks; Philip Pullman tweeted the story of Jeffrey the Housefly; and Nigerian novelist Teju Cole did a series of tweets called Seven Stories about Drones.
1. Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. Pity. A signature strike leveled the florist’s.
— Teju Cole (@tejucole) January 14, 2013
Badly disturbed by an article on monetary policy, Jeffrey flew very close to the frying pan and almost perished among the bubble and squeak. — Philip Pullman (@PhilipPullman) November 19, 2013
The fascinating bit about serialized fiction is the sense of expectation a reader possesses. While the correlation to thrillers and crime fiction in serialized form is quite obvious, Mitchell, Pullman & Co. have shown that the serialized form is equally given to literary writing. The form, it seems, is not as relevant any more; it’s the story that drives the reader onto platforms never thought-of before.