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Victorian Cliff-hangers

Did Dickens anticipate the experience of modern soap opera?

Issued on 17 September 2010

Stories of American readers crowding the dock as the shipment of the final part of the Old Curiosity Shop arrived in Boston, desperate to know if Little Nell lived or died, suggest the experience of reading Victorian literature was very different to today.

In a special event at the University of Leicester, Dr Holly Furneaux of the School of English, will show that the Victorian experience of Charles Dickens was in some ways more like watching an episodic TV programme than reading a novel.

‘Serial Readers: Dickens and the Victorian Soap Opera’ will take a look at the original publication of Dickens’ novels in weekly or monthly parts within popular magazines. Rare first editions of works by Charles Dickens and some of the author’s personal belongings will be on show at the event at the University of Leicester on Tuesday 5 October.

The University of Leicester’s library collection includes a rare complete set of Martin Chuzzlewit in its original serial form plus full runs of the two weekly journals which Dickens himself edited for twenty years in total. The library also has several first editions of Dickens works in book form. Attendees will have the chance to examine these precious items as well as some unique objects loaned by the Charles Dickens Museum including original manuscripts and personal possessions.

“By looking at Dickens's publishing of his novels in weekly or monthly parts I'm hoping to show that Victorian experiences of reading were not so far from our own of soap opera,” says Dr Furneaux, who recently published a book on sexuality in Dickens’ novels. “I want to look at the collective experience of expectancy after a cliff hanger as the next instalment is eagerly awaited - a kind of Victorian experience of today's 'water-cooler' conversation.

“We'll endeavour to recreate this, with a costumed reading by a student from our drama society. I'll also use the press discussions around Andrew Davies' recent serialisation of Bleak House which tried to recreate this experience, to open up a discussion of the way we feel now about reading and viewing in instalments.”

‘Serial Readers: Dickens and the Victorian Soap Opera’ is part of the ‘Everybody’s Reading’ festival of literature being held across Leicester during October. The event takes place in the Special Collections Room of the David Wilson Library on the University of Leicester campus at 5.30pm on Tuesday 5 October 2010.

This event is free and open to anyone with an interest in the subject but numbers are limited and places must be reserved. To book a place or for further information, please contact Dr Holly Furneaux at

Notes to editors

Title of event: Serial Readers: Dickens and the Victorian Soap Opera?

Date: Tuesday 5th October

Time: 5.30pm

Venue: Special Collections Room, University of Leicester Library


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