Pet Book 9: Serialization and Distribution

When my Pet Book research first began, one of the first places that searching for the book’s name on Google led me was the British Library’s website, which features a slideshow of the copy of the book housed at the library, as well as a few short paragraphs of information about the novel. According to their website, before being published as a complete novel, Kinglsey’s The Water Babies was “first appeared in serial parts from 1862–63 in Macmillan’s Magazine.” The Magazine, which began publication in 1859, was a literary magazine that came out monthly to subscribers, and is known as “one of the first periodicals in which authors were expected to sign their names.” Despite being originally published as a monthly magazine, archived versions of it exist in groups segments of six months combined together to form one large bi-annual volume. Luckily, thanks to archive.org, the editions with Kinglsey’s work in them were relatively easy to find.

In Volume VI, the May – October 1862 issues, we find chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Kingsley’s novel dispersed among the pages of other literary works like poems, short stories, and chapters from other novels. Flipping through the digital pages, each chapter section ends with a small, italicized (To be continued.), letting readers know that they will be able to finish reading about Tom the chimney sweep and the water babies in subsequent editions of the magazine. Volume VII, the November 1862 – April 1863 issues, feature the remaining five chapters of the novel. Though this volume also exists on archive.org, the visible content does not begin until February 1863, thus cutting out chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Kingsley’s work (though I did find a more complete, albeit harder to flip through, version of the volume on Google Books).

Having just gone through our class discussion about serialization in reference mainly to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I have to wonder if Kingsley’s book was already in production to be published when it began running individual chapters each month in Macmillan’s Magazine. Though it was first published in 1863, Kinglsey had begun to run chapters in the magazine in August 1862 and ended in March 1863. Though no exact publication month can be found for the novel, I would infer that it was published sometime in the early months of 1863, before the final chapters had been published in Macmillan’s, though I am hesitant in believing so. On one hand, it would make sense for the book to be published before the final chapter was released to subscribers in order to drive them to purchase the novel itself to find out what will happen in the end. On the other hand, however, it might have simultaneously made sense to publish all of the chapters in the magazine before the release of the book to encourage readers who enjoyed it to pick up the full text and be able to read it cover to cover, rather than having to flip through months and months of the magazine to find each chapter individually.

I think the case of The Water Babies serialization is particularly interesting because of the method by which it was distributed. Up until this point, our class has mainly focused on the distribution of texts through newspapers and their various methods of reprinting. Seeing the chapters of the book printed in what is considered “the first shilling periodical in Britain” is particularly interesting because it was strictly created for the spread of literature, making sure to keep the author’s name attached. Talking about serialization and distribution of literary materials in this way has made me think back to the reading a few weeks back about “writing with scissors” and the way that reprinting and distributing in newspapers often left writers without credit for their work because their name had been clipped away by the newspaper editor when compiling things for the next edition. With Macmillan’s Magazine, however, it was made a point to keep that authorial name in order to spread not only the literature, but also the reputation of the writers themselves. By including the most recent work of Kingsley, a respected Professor and Reverend, the magazine would be simultaneously promoting his work while cultivating a particular audience, following, and academic reputation for itself.

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