“Teaching Wilkie Collins and the Periodical Press”

Ellen Stockstill

Periodical Pedagogy and Wilkie Collins

In this essay, I demonstrate the impact of teaching Victorian popular journalism alongside serialized fiction in introducing students to the conventions of Victorian writing, reading, and publishing. While other teacher-scholars have described the benefits of teaching serialized fiction, no one has made a detailed argument for studying Collins’s work in this light since digitizing projects have made Victorian periodicals much more accessible for college and university students and professors.[i] Victorian print culture, as Linda K. Hughes has argued, “initiated and sustained a pervasive dialogism – ideological, political, visual, aesthetic, and commercial… an interconnected web of discourse” (3). Collins’s incredible skill in weaving together multiple voices and perspectives to build a compelling plot thus uniquely suited him to the periodical press, and the approach to teaching Collins I present here provides an opportunity to engage with this writer in the format in which he excelled. This essay provides the rationale for teaching Collins alongside Victorian popular journalism, describes the variety of courses and learning environments in which this kind of approach would work, and highlights key resources, including digital archives, that students and faculty can employ for course readings and projects.

While most professors read and teach Victorian novels in the form of authoritative or critical editions, doing so significantly alters our understanding of these works and how they were produced and consumed. These critical editions certainly offer students and teachers a wealth of materials through footnotes, introductory material, and, in some cases, contemporary documents, upon which to base their reading, but these editions also expunge much of the material that first appeared alongside the text during its initial serial publication and distort how many readers first encountered the novel. As Philip V. Allingham writes, revised one-volume editions “were not those upon which many a Victorian novelist built his or her popular reputation; rather, the serial texts were those to which the greatest number of Victorian readers responded” (np). In teaching single-volume editions of Victorian novels, then, we lose a tremendous opportunity to expose our students to this historical reality.

Take, for instance, the serialization of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, which began in the 11 November, 1859 issue of All the Year Round. It appeared alongside Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, poetry, essays, memoir, and reporting. If students were assigned issues of All the Year Round each class rather than pages in a single volume, they would gain perspective on a variety of issues that concerned Victorian readers at the time of The Woman in White’s publication, allowing an instructor to situate students’ reading of this touchstone work of sensation fiction in its original context. In the case of this first instalment of Collins’s novel, the works of journalism included in the 11 November issue would draw attention to technological advancements with a report on “House-top Telegraphs” and to the relationship between England and Italy, particularly anti-Catholic sentiments, with an essay on “Italian Distrust,” which the author describes as “the bane” of the nation. Furthermore, Patricia Okker and Nancy West note that “Readers of All the Year Round” would recognize “a close correspondence between developments in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White…and the journal’s coverage of various murder cases” (585). Dickens, the shrewd editor, “ensured that The Woman in White’s instalments were accompanied whenever possible by articles and stories which echoed its themes of crime, danger, and ‘nervousness’” (Wynne 38). The works of journalism published alongside Collins’s novel may not alter our understanding of it dramatically, but they do create “an intertextual environment” rich with possibility and offer students an opportunity to explore the implications of writing and publishing in this format (Bernstein and Chavez). In her class on Victorian serials, Mary Poovey tells students that the format of periodical publishing “challenges the model of textual autonomy that governs most modern forms of literary study because it obscures the beginning, end, and formal coherence of the ‘individual’ text” (1). Victorian readers encountered literary texts alongside writing on the sciences, technology, politics, and art, and examining serials opens up the potential to discover meaningful interplay between these texts and to challenge, or at least complicate, that notion of “textual autonomy.”

One breakdown of textual autonomy in Victorian serials like All the Year Round is the lack of delineation between fiction and non-fiction, fabricated experience and genuine memoir or reporting, as well as the lack of author attribution. Indeed, reading issues of Dickens’s journals can be a bit disorienting for a twenty-first century reader accustomed to more clearly categorized materials – used to periodicals that have designated sections of reporting, opinion, fiction, and poetry. Students will immediately recognize this key difference: while today’s single-volume “classics” have a detailed table of contents that clearly specifies fictional text from editorial apparatus and supplementary non-fiction material, these weeklies do not. In short, what students can encounter in reading serials is the sometimes-thin dividing line between popular journalism and fiction of the Victorian period. This does not mean that readers face an impossible task in determining this dividing line, but it does mean that they will be challenged to consider different conventions of publishing that do not privilege the identity of the author. Furthermore, they will develop critical reading skills that help them recognize key characteristics of journalistic writing in the mid-nineteenth century and the ways it borrowed or differed from fiction writing.

This issue of textual autonomy, or lack thereof, is particularly important when considering the novels of Wilkie Collins. Collins’s two most famous and most taught novels The Woman in White and The Moonstone (1868), both play with the notion of textual interplay. These multi-voiced novels are a collection of texts that together work to tell the story and reveal the secret Collins has so craftily concealed. This means that while reading the initial serialized run of any Victorian novel may be a worthy enterprise, Collins’s novels practically beg to be read in this form because the novels in and of themselves are intertextual documents.

Inviting students to think critically about Collins’s skill with textual interplay and introducing them to the serializations of his fiction creates a “hands on” learning experience. For courses that include both historical and literary instruction, it becomes a “history made real” encounter for students who may be wholly unfamiliar with old documents and the cultural history of the nineteenth century. When teaching Victorian literature and history in a single unit (as is the case in a British literature survey course) or over a whole semester, many of us have a lecture or reading assignment that situates students in the period and helps them understand the expansion of literacy and readership during the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution and its impacts on publishing, and the growth of the periodical press in response to those historical, economic, and cultural phenomena.

For example, the most recent edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2013), a commonly adopted textbook in college survey courses in the United States, introduces this topic in its historical and cultural overview of “The Victorian Age:”

The circumstances of periodical publication exerted a shaping force on literature. Novels and long works of nonfiction prose were published in serial form….Serial publication encouraged a certain kind of plotting and pacing and allowed writers to take account of their readers’ reactions as they constructed subsequent installments. Writers created a continuing world, punctuated by the end of installments, which served to stimulate the curiosity that would keep readers buying subsequent issues. Serial publication also created a distinctive sense of a community of readers, a sense encouraged by the practice of reading aloud in family gatherings. (Greenblatt 551)

This is an excellent and concise description of Victorian publishing and its impacts on writers and readers – one wholly appropriate for an introductory course on British literature. What The Norton Anthology lacks, though, is a tangible example of what it describes. In fact, one downside of this anthology and others like it in terms of the Victorian period is that it does not include a single Victorian novel.[ii] We can assume that this is for two reasons: first, the length of Victorian novels (especially those that were serialized) makes it difficult for publishers to include them in an already thick volume; second, publishers want to incentivize faculty to adopt critical editions to supplement the anthology and maximize earning potential. While these seem understandable rationalizations from the publisher’s standpoint, they undermine the effectiveness of the anthology as a teaching tool since it misrepresents the incredible import of the novel during the Victorian period. It becomes incumbent on the instructor to find ways to “make room” for a novel in the syllabus and adopt a single-volume edition. Even with this effort, however, one misses the opportunity to connect students with the historical reality: that publishing in the serial form uniquely affected the way authors composed their work and the ways readers consumed them.

In order to rectify this gap in the anthology-based course, faculty should consider incorporating in-class activities or homework assignments that utilize Victorian periodicals. Later in this essay I will identify sources for these materials and potential activities, but here I highlight their utility in making a historical overview tangible. We know that students need to be able to “practice” concepts in order to learn and that enhanced learning results from engagement with “authentic, real-world tasks” (Ambrose et al. 83). In the context of a literature course, the task we frequently assign students is critical analysis of a work, but what examining periodicals affords is an opportunity for students to engage in a number of other important tasks. To return to the excerpt from The Norton Anthology and the example of The Woman in White, for instance, students can read the historical introduction in the anthology and then examine issues of All the Year Round containing instalments of Collins’s novel. In doing so, they will observe conventions of publishing described in their historical reading and test the claim put forward that “periodical publication exerted a shaping force on literature.” In short, it gives students hands-on engagement with primary materials (or a digitized version of primary materials) and reinforces or complicates “facts” learned from historical readings or lectures.

Any literature course that exchanges a critical or “classics” edition with Victorian serials can also create a learning environment that empowers students to draw their own conclusions about the material. Students often passively accept the conclusions and decisions made by editors as self-evident fact or obvious choice. Removing the critical edition from the syllabus, though, can help demythologize experts and help students develop their own expertise by pushing them to draw their own conclusions about the source material, which can be a particularly impactful experience for advanced undergraduate or graduate students. In their case study of periodical pedagogy, Kristen Mahoney and Kaitlyn Abrams assert: “[t]he opportunity to make an original contribution to the critical conversation on Victorian literature and culture holds real appeal for undergraduates, who are often told to make an intervention but struggle to see how this might be accomplished” (228). Getting students away from secondary materials and critical editions – even excellent ones – for a period of time pushes them to follow their own intellectual interests and curiosities and find new avenues for inquiry. Furthermore, the practice of engaging with the serialized novel exposes some of the choices that editors routinely make and can lead to discussions or further coursework on editorial practices and philosophies.

Professors of canonical British literature face the challenge of engaging sometimes-reluctant student readers in texts whose summaries are freely available on the web through sites like SparkNotes, Schmoop, and Wikipedia. For time-pressed students without much interest in reading novels, online study guides or summaries provide them with shortcuts to general, albeit incomplete, knowledge of the work. One way to get students engaged with the novel itself instead of the online summary is to assign the serialized text along with specific reading tasks or assessments that require they examine the periodical closely. For example, if assigning The Woman in White, an instructor might ask students to reflect upon Dickens’s short introduction to the novel following the final instalment of A Tale of Two Cities. What impact might Dickens have had on the reception of Collins’s novel? Or, the instructor might ask students to analyse the instalment in light of one of the pieces of journalism included in the issue. Each of these activities asks that students read carefully and that they engage primarily with the periodical. The more specific and defined the tasks, the less likely students will be to turn to online summaries and study guides.

Another way to engage students is to have them study not only the texts themselves but also their way of reading these texts. Although it is impossible to experience Collins’s work precisely the same way that the Victorians did, we can approximate key aspects of it and ask students to reflect on their reception of the material. Robyn Warhol, creator and editor of Victorian Serial Novels, writes that “Victorian readers of new novels would follow multiple stories at the same time, just as modern audiences follow TV serials, turning their attention from one storyworld to the next while waiting for subsequent instalments to appear, and holding many plots in their minds simultaneously. Processing stories in this way has a significant bearing on how readers interpret, categorize, and evaluate them” (874). She imagines and describes what it would be like for a reader in 1847 and 1848 to be reading Dombey and Son, Vanity Fair, and Jane Eyre at the same time or in close succession and how their appearance “in one serial moment underlines the parallels between them” in a way that would be lost if one were to read the novels separately from beginning to end (874). Warhol’s comparison of serial reading to TV watching suggests that modern students will be familiar with consuming media simultaneously in instalments, though they may not be familiar with this as a reading experience. Professors can encourage students to track their experience of reading in this way in a journal assignment, class discussion, or formal essay assignment focused on the student’s critical reception of multiple works published in the same “serial moment.”

One concern faculty have with teaching serializations of Victorian novels is that these iterations of the fictional text are perceived as a kind of draft “not particularly indicative of the author’s final intentions” (Allingham np). Most critical and “classics” single-volume editions acknowledge that a novel was initially serialized and may indicate where instalments began and ended but utilize a revised three-volume or one-volume publication as their primary text.[iii] For example, Penguin, Oxford, and Broadview use the 1871 edition of The Moonstone that was revised by Collins and note in different places where the serialization split up the narrative –

a sensible editorial decision since Collins writes in his preface to the 1871 publication that “the present edition has had the benefit of my careful revision. All that I can do towards making the book worthy of the reader’s continued approval has now been done” (Collins lvi). From Collins’s perspective, then, this is the ideal version, and why should we disagree with him? My suggestion to choose the serialized version of the novel does not arise from a belief that it is necessarily better – Collins says himself that it is not – but because it can do dual duty as a literary and historical text in the college classroom. As Jim Mussell writes: “[r]esearch using periodicals is always partly an attempt to reconstruct a lost context, whether this is alternative forms in which a text was published or the broader historical culture in which such forms were meaningful” (204). One way of highlighting Collins’s status as a “skilled and practiced serialist” in the context of the mid-Victorian period is to introduce students to those original instalments (Sutherland xxxiv). In the same preface in which Collins writes that the 1871 revisions produced the best version of The Moonstone, he also describes the difficulty of writing the novel while his mother was dying and while he was bedridden with gout. He writes:

I only look back now at the blessed relief which my occupation (forced as it was) brought to my mind. The Art which had been always the pride and the pleasure of my life became now more than ever “its own exceeding great reward.” I doubt if I should have lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind – to dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains. (lv)

So, while Collins argues that this revised edition represents his best efforts, its initial serialization saved his life. What Collins reveals is not only the personal troubles he faced during this stage of his career but also the unique pressures of writing for serial publication – particularly the sense of a waiting and eager public. To return to Mary Poovey’s apt phrase, the “textual autonomy” of the 1871 edition lacks the kind of urgency inherent in the “publication structure” of All the Year Round (Bernstein and Chavez). This urgency was one felt by readers as they picked up issues week after week, but it was one also felt by writers who needed to produce at a rate that met this demand. Delving into the magazine issues can give a better sense of Victorian readership and publishing while also stripping away the illusionary textual autonomy of the single-volume paperback by examining the novel in its initial intertextual environment alongside works of popular journalism. I think these benefits outweigh those of the revised text – especially since the changes Collins made to The Moonstone, for instance, were fairly minor. Here again is a way in which Collins’s novels suit this teaching model well since he did not make drastic changes after serialization. Teaching the serialized version of The Moonstone is much less fraught with editorial challenges than, say, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) that underwent significant revision after its initial publication.

Another concern faculty have with teaching Victorian periodicals is the practicality or desirability of reading a series of magazine issues in comparison to a single-volume paperback. Although digital archives like Dickens Journals Online and Hathi Trust have made collections of Victorian periodicals freely available for anyone with a computer and internet access, one still might not choose this as an ideal format for extensive reading. If you or your students find the idea of reading online burdensome, consider using these periodicals as supplemental reading to a single-volume edition. While some instructors may choose to assign entire serial runs of a novel along with the accompanying journalism, this is not the only way to incorporate Victorian periodicals and popular journalism into the college classroom. It can be one component of a unit on Collins or even a single class-period activity. For example, one might assign a single-volume paperback of The Woman in White, introduce students to images of its initial instalment in All the Year Round during class, and assign an excerpt from Deborah Wynne’s book The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Magazine (2001), which offers an excellent overview and analysis of the novel’s serialization and the ways that the magazine’s editors situated articles on similarly sensational topics like crime, accidents, and mental illness alongside it. Instructors who do choose to assign the complete serialized run of a novel may even discover that students appreciate the slim instalments to the imposing presence of a large single volume.

Whether you assign extended reading assignments from Victorian periodicals or just have students engage with a single issue, a number of open-access resources makes using these materials affordable. Students will need a computer and internet access to use a digital archive and hopefully these are provided to all students on campus via computer labs or libraries. If you are lucky enough to teach on a campus that has a significant nineteenth-century collection in its library or that is near an archive, you may also be able to arrange that your students get to see some Victorian periodicals in person.

I have already described how teaching a serialized novel in whole or in part can work in a British literature survey course to supplement an anthology, but Victorian periodicals can fit into a number of courses, and Collins is an ideal author to feature in this form. A course on the Victorian novel would certainly benefit from extended study of serialization in order to teach students about publishing conventions during the period. In the case of teaching Collins, his career reveals not only a man who was able to take advantage of the form, but his relationship with Dickens also has the potential to teach students about the latter’s important role as a cultural taste-maker in his position as editor. A course on Imperial literature and culture would also benefit from studying Victorian periodicals and the interplay between popular journalism and fiction. Edward Said claims that “neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations” including those broadcast by popular journalism and fiction in Victorian periodicals (9). Getting students to examine the serialization of The Moonstone alongside popular journalism regarding India could be an effective way to bring Said’s famous claim into the testing space of the investigative classroom. Victorianists also have the opportunity to bring the nineteenth century into conversation with contemporary popular culture since there has been a resurgence in the consumption and production of serialized media. What many describe as the “golden age of television” kicked off by The Sopranos on HBO (1999-2007) continues on cable networks and digital platforms with innovative storytelling in the serial form. Two of the biggest podcast hits in the past five years have also played with serialized documentary storytelling: Serial (2014-Present) and S-Town (2017). A cultural studies course focused on the history of seriality could be “transtemporal, transnational, and transmedia” and include a unit on the Victorian period and the rapid expansion of literary magazines publishing serialized fiction and could move into studying comic books, television series, and podcasts (Goodland 869). This course’s focus on periodic storytelling would draw students’ attention to the narrative strategies that writers and directors use to tell a narrative in parts and to gain, keep, and respond to their audience.

What I hope these pages have revealed is that studying periodicals in the classroom can enrich our students’ understanding of the Victorian period and the ways in which one of its great authors learned to thrive in a unique and demanding publishing environment. In the pages that follow, I highlight some resources that faculty can employ when incorporating Collins’s fiction and popular journalism into the classroom along with some ideas for class activities and assignments. I have structured this section as an annotated bibliography in order to make it browsable and, hopefully, more useful. Each entry includes an overview of the resource as well as some ideas for classroom application. I have privileged free, open-access resources in a belief that these will be the most useful to the greatest number of people since my experience at research-oriented universities has taught me that even large research libraries do not always offer access to databases in British and periodical studies.[iv] Furthermore, because these open-access resources can be found with a simple Google search, they are a bit more student-friendly than some that have to be accessed through a school library with a registered account. The teaching ideas offered can be altered and personalized based on student population, access to technology, course objectives, and faculty interests. The activities described below could function as low or high-stakes assignments, could be worked into a small group activity, could accompany a lecture, or could be an integral part of an essay assignment. In short, they accommodate a number of teaching styles and learning environments. The bibliography is not a complete list of archives and databases related to Victorian periodicals but rather a list of archives and databases that faculty can intentionally incorporate into courses concerned with Collins’s serialized work and its connections with popular journalism. Entries in each category are listed alphabetically by editor.

Resources and Potential Classroom Applications

Bassett, Troy J., ed. At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901, www.victorianresearch.org/atcl/index.php.

At the Circulating Library (ACL) is a useful bibliographic resource that provides researchers with information on over 200 periodicals that published fiction during the Victorian period. While the database does not offer full-text facsimiles of the materials it references (meaning it does not offer users the opportunity to read the materials within the site), its lists of titles and publication information is helpful for determining where, when, and by whom a text was published. Users can browse by author, title, periodical, year, genre and publisher, as well as search the database. On the author page for Wilkie Collins, one can see a list of 30 works of fiction, and the database includes bibliographic information for each title, including details on serialization and first edition publishing, pricing, and frequency. For those interested in Collins and popular journalism, use ACL as an early step in locating the initial serialization(s) of Collins’s fiction. From there, one can seek out digital or physical archives that feature those titles.

Classroom Application:
ACL’s format and content can help students understand the vast scope of the periodical press in the Victorian period. Simply telling students about the proliferation of weekly and monthly magazines during this period will not communicate that truth nearly as well as looking through bibliographic data on over 200 titles of nineteenth-century periodicals. To illustrate the growth of the periodical press, go to the “Serials” tab and click on “Years.” This page lists the number of “serialized novels, novellas, and short stories appearing or beginning in a given year” and shows how the number of titles steadily increased and reached its height in 1889-1890. Furthermore, instructors might use ACL in the classroom as a way to teach students about the common practice of publishing a novel first in a periodical and then in a multi-volume or single-volume book. Because ACL includes pricing information, students can get a better sense of how authors had the opportunity to make money on multiple occasions as the novel was serialized and then published as a book. ACL could also be useful in a unit on research methods and primary materials – potentially in a graduate course devoted to the subject. As suggested above, ACL can be a launching pad for continued research; after perusing the bibliography, students would be tasked with locating the primary materials listed in a physical or digital archive or library collection.

Drew, John and Tony Williams. Dickens Journals Online, www.djo.org.uk/.

Dickens Journals Online (DJO) is one of the most useful and referenced digital archives in Victorian Studies. The DJO offers full facsimile access to Household Words (1850-1859), Household Narrative (1850-1855), Household Words Almanac (1856-1857), and All the Year Round (1859-1870) along with digital transcripts and text-to-speech options. Every page and issue of these publications is searchable, and substantive headnotes accompany each of these four Dickens publications providing historical information about the magazines. Professors teaching The Woman in White, No Name (1862-63), The Moonstone, or Collins’s short fiction who want to simulate as best as they can the experience of reading the original periodicals without access to copies in a physical archive will want to utilize the DJO because of the way it “offers a remarkably good simulation of the experience of reading Household Words and All the Year Round a hundred and fifty years ago” (Drew and Williams). The built-in accessibility options also make the site useful in the classroom for students with disabilities. Another useful feature of DJO is its collaboration with the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/djo), which offers users the opportunity to view Household Words and All the Year Round in a “flip book” format and gives a closer simulation of the “physical materiality” of the magazines (Drew and Williams).

Classroom Application:
Because students can get a sense of the physical qualities of Dickens’s magazines via DJO and its partner the Internet Archive, incorporate these open-access resources into reading and writing activities that focus on the magazine’s layout, format, and visually stimulating elements. Have students point out elements that mirror serial publications today as well as elements that differ significantly (like the absence of obtrusive advertisements and author attribution). With the full-page facsimiles offered by DJO, students can easily read works of journalism accompanying Collins’s fiction in Household Words and All the Year Round. Faculty might pair readings from The Woman in White and No Name with corresponding chapters in Deborah Wynne’s excellent book, The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine. Faculty who like to have students keep reading journals may wish to assign issues of the magazines over the course of the semester and ask students to reflect upon the experience of reading in this format – particularly the experience of reading the fiction as only one component of the publication.

 Hapka, Christopher, ed. Mousehold Words, www.mouseholdwords.com/home.

Christopher Hapka of Mousehold Words (MW) has designed an email subscription service that mimics the experience of getting a new instalment of a serialized novel. Users create an account, “subscribe” to a book, select their preferred format (HTML-formatted email, link to website, EPUB attachment), and choose delivery frequency. Some of the novels included in MW catalog include Collins’s No Name, Armadale (1864-66), and The Black Robe (1880-81) as well as titles by Dickens, Conan Doyle, Haggard, and Stevenson. While Hapka has uniquely adapted nineteenth-century publishing and reading practices to the email age, potential readers should know that what MW offers is the experience of an interlude more than the experience of reading Victorian magazines. MW does not deliver digitized magazine pages that give readers the ability to encounter the novel in its original form; rather, MW delivers the text of a novel in its originally divided parts at regular intervals.

Classroom Application:
Teachers might consider having students sign up for the service and commit to reading a novel in this manner throughout the course of the semester. This could accompany a journal-writing assignment in which students reflect on the experience of reading in this format. Students might brainstorm other ways to adapt serial reading to the twenty-first century as well as discuss the pros and cons of doing so.

Warhol, Robyn and Colleen Morrissey, eds. Victorian Serial Novels, www.victorianserialnovels.org/.

Victorian Serial Novels (VSN) highlights what they call “stacks” of novels: “group[s] of novels whose serial parts overlapped.” The result is a resource that emphasizes the intertextuality of Victorian fiction. Novels are organized by time period in order to show their run and when they overlapped with others. For example, the 1859-1861 stack includes Collins’s The Woman in White along with titles by Trollope, Wood, and Dickens. Because the stacks featured run from 1846-1872, Collins’s scholars will find VSN particularly useful as that period roughly corresponds with the bulk of his writing career. VSN links to other sites that host full-text material including Dickens Journals Online, Project Gutenberg, and LibriVox. The “stack” pages also list “Works Appearing in Volume Form & Other Notable Publications,” which gives users a sense of the cultural milieu of each stack’s time period. Readers should know that some titles link to “original document facsimiles – that is, scans of the original serial publications in which these novels appeared” while others link to “Project Gutenberg [HTML full text] or to facsimiles of end-of-year anthologies put out by the magazines in which some of these novels were serialized.” This means that users experience some novels in their original format, published alongside journalism, but not all.

Classroom Application:
Teachers interested in historical criticism may want to use VSN because of the way it highlights particular periods of time and connects works of fiction, prose, and poetry published within those periods. Because of the way VSN links to a variety of open-access digital archives, teachers may also find VSN a helpful launching page for a variety of reading assignments and activities. Those looking to link popular journalism and Collins’s fiction may want to consult the “Facsimiles” page that includes links to digitized issues of Cornhill Magazine featuring Armadale alongside a wealth of prose from 1864-1866 including essays on penal discipline, middle-class education for boys and girls, recent legislation, and partridge shooting (vol. 10, July-December 1864). Teachers might assign Armadale along with a selection of prose from Cornhill and ask students to consider what the selections reveal about Victorian culture and the audience of this particular publication. This activity could connect to a unit (mixture of reading and lecture) on Victorian publishing practices and historical shifts in literacy, readership, class, and “leisure time.” Take advantage of VSN’s emphasis on time period and ask students to think about the implications of reading a novel (or multiple novels) over the span of several months or even a couple of years. What does that demand of the reader? What does it demand of the writer? You might ask students to write an essay on a work of popular journalism featured alongside an instalment of a Collins novel or have them work in small groups to identify key characteristics of a single issue of a weekly or monthly magazine that features fiction and journalism (Cornhill Magazine, All the Year Round, Household Words, among others).


More than ever before, college educators have the opportunity to expose students to Victorian print culture online. This essay highlights some ways to use these resources creatively and effectively in the college classroom but certainly does not offer an exhaustive list or a complete Wilkie Collins pedagogy. As always, the time restrictions of a course, the demands of our institutions, and the needs of our students shape how we teach, what we are able to use, and what we have time to cover. Despite these constraints, I hope this piece inspires faculty to re-imagine how they teach Collins’s writing and the kinds of courses that can benefit from incorporating Victorian serials. Future research might be done on whether studying serialized fiction in the ways I suggest significantly impacts student learning outcomes in comparison to courses that rely exclusively on one-volume editions. At the very least, however, the materials and methods showcased here indicate the richness of Collins studies and the numerous ways we can share his fascinating oeuvre with our students.


[i] For further discussion of teaching Victorian periodicals more generally see Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 45, no. 2, 2012 for “Forum: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities Classroom” featuring contributions by Jim Mussell, Seth Cayley, Bob Nicholson, and Linda K. Hughes; Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 48, no. 2, 2015 for “Periodical Pedagogy in the Undergraduate Classroom” by Kirsten Mahoney and Kaitlyn Abrams; and The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age by James (Jim) Mussell.

[ii] The Broadview Anthology of British Literature (2013) contains a similar entry on serialization in the Victorian period and like The Norton Anthology does not contain a novel within its binding: “Another mode of publication, one that made the novel a household word, was the monthly or weekly serial. Monthly installments of a few chapters, often accompanied by illustrations and advertisements, were initially published and purchased in separate parts with paper wrappers, generally appearing over a period of 19 months. By the 1860s, these serializations were more often appearing in monthly or weekly literary magazines….Serialization allowed readers with modest incomes to purchase new works when bound volumes were beyond their financial reach, and the regular continuation of a novel over a period of months or years meant that novels and novel reading became woven into the fabric of daily life, mingling with news, opinion, and readers’ personal experience. The serialized format also had an influence on the novelistic genre, establishing a particular pace and necessitating ‘cliff-hangers,’ ensuring the return of the audience week after week” (Black 534-35).

[iii] Broadview Press is unique in this regard as their 2006 edition of The Woman in White edited by Maria K. Bachman and Don Richard Cox claims to privilege the original serialized text from All the Year Round. Andrew Maunder notes in his review for the Wilkie Collins Journal, however, “It is and isn’t the serialized version.” Bachman and Cox “collated the serialised version…with both the 1860 and 1861 editions, as well as with Collins’s original manuscript and the annotated pages that exist for the 1861 edition.” This means that the resulting Broadview edition actually presents a synthetic document rather than the All the Year Round version. Maunder writes that “we are left with what seems to be a mongrel text – being neither one thing or the other and representing not what Collins ever saw but what twenty-first century editors imagine he would have liked to see.” Still, if faculty want their students to have a physical, paper copy of the text, they might adopt the Broadview edition and then supplement student reading assignments or create in-class activities with digitized facsimiles of the novel or the journalism that accompanied it in All the Year Round via Dickens Journals Online.

[iv] These databases include Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900, Victorian Popular Culture, 19th Century UK Periodicals, British Periodicals, and 19th Century Masterfile.

Please follow and like us: