Following the trend towards authoritative ‘collected works’ and definitive ‘libraries of classics’ inaugurated in both Britain and the United States in the 1860s, publishers today tend to package old novels in a seamless, self-contained, visually uniform way which encourages readers to approach them in a rigidly consistent fashion.1 Indeed, these reading conventions are so powerful that, even as the rise of book history has sensitised literary scholars to the material contingencies of any text’s publication, circulation and reception, the centrality of ‘the book’ to this discipline has led to a continued privileging of the novel in its bound form. This often unconscious partiality is to some extent the legacy of a Romantic predilection for aesthetic wholeness and unity. Thus modern editions of many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels retrospectively elide the piecemeal nature of their original publication in order to achieve that ‘totality of effect’ which Poe deemed ‘a vital requisite in all works of art’.2 Precisely because the weekly or monthly instalments of serial novels are so embedded in their moment of production they cannot satisfy the Romantic desire for texts which stand outside society and transcend history. As Laurel Brake has put it, ‘these forms of serialisation are part of a popular pre-history of many … canonical nineteenth-century book texts, which have been disciplined and stripped out to resemble the comparatively austere volume form of reading material….
PETHERS, M. (2014). The Early American Novel in Fragments: Reading and Writing Serial Fiction in the Post-Revolutionary United States. In N. Wilson, A. Nash, & P. Parrinder (Eds.), New Directions in the History of the Novel, 63-75. Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137026989_4