By Larry Trudeau
I was recently reviewing an entry on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations for an upcoming volume of Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism (NCLC), and was surprised—delighted, really—to see that we were including two reviews of the novel from 1861, the year it was published in book form.
What’s more, there was another article from 1877, in which the reviewer recalled the experience of reading the novel as it came out in weekly installments, between December 1860 and August 1961, in Dickens’s own magazine, All the Year Round. The reviewer, Edwin P. Whipple (how’s that for a good, Victorian-sounding name?), extolled Dickens’s skill at constructing his great novel essentially on the fly, with deadlines constantly looming. “When the novel is read as a whole,” Whipple marveled, “we perceive how carefully the author had prepared us for the catastrophe; but it required feminine sagacity and insight to detect the secret on which the plot turns, as the novel first appeared in weekly parts.” (Feminine sagacity and insight—another echo from another century!)