Monday, August 11, 2014

The Publication of Middlemarch

At the last Wednesday discussion, someone again asked about the original publication of Middlemarch. We know it was released in a serial format, like many of Dickens' works, but how did that come about? Finding myself curious to know the answer, I went looking.

Like any good question, finding the answer often leads to more questions, as well as information that is almost more interesting than the answer you were originally looking for. Having only read the brief biography printed in our discussion guide (bad librarian!), I quickly discovered that Mary Ann Evans (or Marian, as she preferred to be called later in life) was something of an anomaly, especially for her time. She first got her start writing for the Coventry Herald, her local newspaper. But it was after meeting John Chapman that she got her first big break in 1850 writing a review for the Westminster Review. She then moved to the Strand area of London the following year to help Chapman with his publishing business and to start a career of freelance writing. After several months of ups and downs mostly related to the fact that the married Chapman was carrying on an affair with her and another woman, and all three women in his life were living under the same roof, she returned to Coventry. Not long after this (and after a reportedly horrible conversation with Chapman), she returned to the Strand to work as an assistant editor at the Westminster Review (without being credited, of course). With Chapman as the public face of the editorship of the magazine, Marian did most of the work, and by all reports, did a damn good job at it. It was around this time that she met George Henry Lewes.

A fellow writer, Lewes was married, but already on the outs with his wife when he met Marian. They eventually fell in love, and she moved in with him. It was at this time that she decided to write fiction, starting with Scenes from a Clerical Life. Lewes and Marian decided to send the first part to Blackwood's Magazine for publishing. John Blackwood was a friend of Lewes', and after a few back and forths, agreed to publish (under the name George Eliot) the first part without seeing the rest. This was the start to a beautiful publishing relationship. For Middlemarch, Lewes and Marian decided they wanted to find a different way to publish. At that time, the predominant way to sell a novel was in three parts, known as a three-decker or triple-decker, and through a circulating library like the one Charles Mudie ran. Mudie, though, wanted major discounts in order to publish and sell books through his library, which was something that Blackwood, Lewes, and Marian wanted to avoid. It was Lewes who came up with the idea to publish Middlemarch "in half-volume parts at intervals of one, or as I think better, two months" (Pool 201). With this mode of publishing in place, Middlemarch became the eight-part book that we know. It also turned out to be a great way to publish, as many readers waited with bated breath for the next part to come out.

So there you have it. The release of Middlemarch was unconventional for its time, just like its author. In my search, I also came across this article, "Going to Middlemarch", which looks at the history of the novel, especially as it pertains to its focus as a historical novel. It includes some interesting information on Marian's life. Most of the information used in this post was found in the biography George Eliot: The Last Victorian (check our catalog) by Kathryn Hughes, and in the book Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters: the Rows and Romances of England's Great Victorian Novelists by Daniel Pool (check our catalog). I also came across this auction listing from Bonhams (also where I got the photo from) - an original set of Middlemarch that went for $56,250. Wow!

No comments:

Post a Comment