So what exactly does Charles Dickens have in common with television soaps? He wrote about the everyday life of the ordinary man in the street, The Pickwick Papers was the Coronation Street/Days of Our Lives/Fair City of his day. At a time when authors were delighted to sell 400 copies of their newly published stand alone book, Dicken’s installments of his serialized fiction stories had a circulation of 30,000 – 40,000 per month. His readers considered one shilling well worth the cost, to find out what happened next to their favourite characters. Plus, it was cheaper than forking out a much larger sum for a full length novel, which most of the literate working class could not afford to buy. Some have estimated that during his lifetime, Charles Dickens had an audience of a million and a half people.
First published in 1836, The Pickwick Papers is often credited with establishing the appeal of serialized fiction in periodical literature. Today, some writers are emulating Dickens in publishing, either independently or traditionally, serialized fiction. Amazon has even added ‘amazon singles‘ to their website. No, it’s not an online dating service – although no doubt Amazon will get round to that eventually. People have busy lives nowadays and some readers like to download a quick read for the commute to work, provided they aren’t driving, of course.
If you’re not in the mood to take on a full length novel, there’s nothing like downloading a fifty page story to bring to bed with you, when there is zilch on TV. It can be read in the same amount of time it takes to watch one of the many movie repeats that are constantly aired. Shorter books and novellas can be written and published more frequently and usually cost less to download, so the reader is not waiting too long until the next installment.
I don’t watch TV soaps, myself, but I do like to read serialized fiction and now I’ve begun to write it, too. So thank you Charles Dickens, for still inspiring us, all these years later.
Here’s a BBC documentary on the life of Charles Dickens if you would like to find out more about this fascinating author.