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In 1836, when Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers to accompany comic prints, prose writing was "a low-rent activity," Pool notes. Yet within ten years, Dickens was besieged by fans during a visit to America, and the novel was well on its way toward such solid respectability that George Eliot's books could be termed "second Bibles." When Wilkie Collins broke through that respectability with his "sensation novels," the public gleefully responded by snapping up not just his writing but Woman in White cloaks and perfume—the commercial tie-ins of the day. It is with a puckish sense of humor and a sharp ear for gossip that Pool puts a human face on his account of the progress of English publishing. In his hands, subjects such as the constraints and demands of serial writing, the power of lending libraries, and the challenges of satisfying an increasingly straitlaced public morality become plot twists with which his characters must contend. And what characters! Charlotte Brontë innocently setting off rumors by dedicating the second edition of Jane Eyre to Thackeray, whose wife was insane. Thackeray and Dickens squabbling publicly, ostensibly over a magazine article about the author of Vanity Fair (Urged to make peace, Thackeray said, "It is a quarrel, I wish it to be a quarrel, and it will always be a quarrel."). Dickens haunted by memories of working in a blacking factory: "I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children . . . and wander desolately back to that time." Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiastically producing a biography of her friend Charlotte Brontë that turns out to be far more colorful than accurate.
Great Books meets celebrity gossip: a rare, literate entertainment.
|Pt. 1||"A Low, Cheap Form of Publication": Charles Dickens, the Coming of Pickwick, and Murder by the Book||1|
|Pt. 2||"It Would Never Suit the Circulating Libraries": Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, and the Three-Volume Straitjacket||41|
|Pt. 3||"What Shall I Be Without My Father?": Women Novelists in the London of Dickens and Thackeray, the Coming of Real Money, and the Novel Becomes Respectable||75|
|Pt. 4||"Do Let Me Abuse Mr Newby": Literary Executors, Gossip Columnists, and the Emergence of the Novelist as Celebrity||111|
|Pt. 5||"Terror to the End": The Sensation Novel, Dickens "Dreadfully Shattered," and Anthony Trollope Gets a Traveling Bag and an Audience||157|
|Pt. 6||"We Are a Novel-Reading Country": Middlemarch and Mr. Mudie's Library, the Novel Apparently Triumphant, but Henry James Fails, Ominously, to Write a Happy Ending||187|