Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Published: February 7, 2013

In honor of Charles Dickens’ 201st birthday, we thought we would share one of the many Dickens items that Mr Clark collected.  Though Dickens is not really in the Clark’s usual scope, he was one of our founder’s favorites and we have a nice collection of Dickens in parts as a result.

“What is Dickens in parts?” you might ask.

Dickens’ novels were originally published serially — either on a monthly or weekly basis –and issued in paper-bound booklets (each almost the size of a National Geographic, if you are looking for a visual).  When the novel was done, readers had the option of having their novel bound together in a nice leather binding — but not everyone did.

All of the parts of David Copperfield stacked together
All of the parts of David Copperfield stacked together are over 4 inches high

To our modern eyes, these parts don’t really look like what we expect from Charles Dickens.  They don’t look very grand or important and the fact that they are bound in paper may seem a little anachronistic, if you are used to thinking of old books solely as leather-bound tomes.  However, though we might think of the paperback as a modern invention, in reality, most books issued before the mid-1800s were  issued in paper wrappers.  Just as a reader might have their copy of a serial like Bleak House bound in leather when it was all published, readers had the choice whether to have their non-serialized novels bound in leather or cloth, too.

David Copperfield, 1849.
David Copperfield, 1849.

Dickens in parts aren’t just interesting to see because they differ in physical appearance from what we might expect.  They also differ considerably from our modern expectations in terms of their content — there is of course the text of the novel, but each volume contains almost as many pages of advertising as it does pages of Dickens.

Because Dickens’ was such a successful and popular writer, the various issues of his novels were a great space for advertisers to show off their products.  Some of these products were other books or writers, which aren’t entirely unfamiliar to us — contemporary children’s series books, for example, contain those.

non-book advertising
non-book advertising

Where our David Copperfield (pictured here) in parts really diverges from our present-day conception of “the book” (not to mention “the book by a canonical author”) is in the ads that have absolutely nothing to do with books.

Locock's Female Pills advertised in David Copperfield
Locock’s Female Pills advertised in David Copperfield

David Copperfield was originally issued in 20 separate parts, which means it contains a rich repository of similar advertising and contextual information about the Victorian world.   If you are interested in learning more about Dickens and the original format of his works, the Clark owns several other Dickens novels in parts, all of which were purchased by our founder in the 1910s and 1920s.

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