George Eliot’s Serial Fiction

Carol A. Martin



348 pp. 6x9

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“Martin analyzes Eliot’s reasons for serialization, use of serial techniques, writing context, and responses of contemporaries—especially general readers of daily and weekly newpapers—and effectively creates the milieu of popular expectation and response by including quotations from many unindexed reviews. . . . This scholarly yet readable investigation should have a place in every Victorian collection.” —Choice

Serialization was a form of publication used extensively by many Victorian writers, although it was primarily associated with more dramatic and sensational novelists than George Eliot. Reviewers of Eliot’s Middlemarch noted that many serial installments would “leave their heroine in a position of perplexity or peril. Either she has run away from home, or is left on London Bridge with only fourpence-halfpenny and an opera cloak; or her soul has been softened by the charm of a dragoon, who has killed his first wife.” But George Eliot offered only “the commonest incidents of daily life.”

To some, Eliot seemed a figure apart, aloof not only from Victorian sensationalism but from the entire world of serial publication. Yet half of her book-length fiction originally appeared in installments, either in magazines or in eight bi-monthly or monthly individual parts. She also originally planned to serialize Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, but John Blackwood’s reaction as he received individually the installments of “Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story,” “Janet’s Repentance,” and the early parts of Adam Bede, along with fear of the impact of public response on her personal life, caused Eliot to change her mind. Nonetheless, like Dickens and many others, Eliot was an effective serial writer who paid close attention to the special requirements of installment structure and endings and who occasionally altered her plan for an installment in the light of public response.

Carol A. Martin traces the development of Eliot’s technique as a serial writer, exposing the sometimes conflicting demands of serial and whole work and the challenges of serialization: meeting deadlines, overcoming anxieties about public response to a work in progress, and deciding whether to hold fast to artistic vision when response was negative or to reconcile artistry to commercial demands. Martin incorporates material from Eliot's manuscripts, unpublished letters and journal entries, and original reviews, most of which are not indexed or reprinted elsewhere. this engaging study will be of great interest to scholars and students of Victorian literature, especially that by women writers.

Carol A. Martin is professor of English at Boise State University, where she also serves as department chairperson. She has published extensively in Victorian Periodicals Review, Studies in the Novel, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, and Victorian Newsletter.