Serial Reading Guides

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

I’m working to post serial reading guides for several novels, adapted from the weekly handouts in my college courses and continuing education seminars at the Newberry Library. Two of the shorter guides, for Edith’s Wharton’s The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, are now available. Other guides will follow for George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend.

In the meantime, here are a few words of general introduction:

Reading a long novel in a serial fashion allows us to develop an ongoing dialogue with even the longest and most complicated story. Serial reading invites us to read more carefully and devote more consideration of specific issues, recurring images, an author’s style, and our own opinions as they evolve over the course of reading.

The keys to serial reading are enforced pauses, spoiler-free suggestions for what to look for in an upcoming installment, and careful consideration of each installment. The multi-part serial reading guides are intended to introduce you to each portion of your reading. They are definitely not a substitute for that reading.  Shorter novels will take three or four weeks (or sessions) to complete, and longer novels will require eight or nine weeks (or sessions).

While readers in the nineteenth-century might spend months on a single novel, our own experience is almost always more rushed. For example, The House of Mirth was originally published in eleven monthly installments, but I have divided it into four intallments, none longer than about 100 pages of text. Each guide picks up and drops off at points suggested by a combination of the original publication schedule and other provocative junctures of plot, character, and theme. Guides also become progessively detailed and interwoven, following each novel’s own logic and pace.

The first installment: Each novel’s series of guides begins by referring to a very small portion of the novel’s opening, perhaps a chapter or two. Pausing after a novel’s first few notes helps us follow those notes as they develop and transform throughout the entire work. Pausing after a short installment also helps us see how the novel itself is specifically teaching us to read, and helps us make use of those insights as we continue to read. Following the first portion,  each guide asks you to read about one hundred pages of the novel before moving on.

I hope these guides will be of use to both scholarly and everyday readers by facilitating very close readings, prompting sustained attention to thematic issues and literary features, and providing a framework for genuinely enjoying an active reading experience.

Recommended Readings on Serialization

  • Delafield, Catherine. Serialization and the Novel in Mid-Victorian Magazines. New York” Routledge, 2016.

  • Hayward, Jennifer. Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera. Lexington: UP Kentucky, 1997.
  • Hughes, Linda K., and Michael Lund. The Victorian Serial. Charlottesville: UP Virginia, 1991.
  • Lund, Michael. America’s Continuing Story: An Introduction to Serial Fiction, 1850-1900. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993.
  • Payne, David. The Reenchantment of Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot and Serialization. New York: Palgrave, 2005.

  • Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985.
© Steven J. Venturino 2017

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