Research Exercise 3: Great Expectations in All the Year Round: intensive, extensive, and searching reading

Great Expectations was serialized weekly in Charles Dickens’s very popular magazine All the Year Round (AYTR) between December 1, 1860 (volume IV issue 84) and August 3, 1861.  We’re each going to choose one 24-page issue and read it to learn more about the cultural context of Great Expectations.

The assignment is simple; find and choose pick one issue of ATYR containing an installment of Great Expectations, and read it. You can find an amazing archive of almost all of the periodicals Dickens edited, including ATYR, at Dickens Journals OnlineTry to read the installment of GE, and perhaps a few of the articles you find interesting, slowly and intensively; take this opportunity to dwell on a relatively short section of GE in a way that you might not otherwise do.

Then, do the opposite; go back to the main DJO site, think of a topic that interested you in relation to GE, generate some keywords related to that topic, and search the archive to Dickens periodicals to see what you turn up.

You need not do any writing in response to this research assignment, but do think about some of the questions below.

Before or during your reading of the issue, read the two short essays on All the Year Round volumes IV and V (in dropbox); these should give you some background and a sense of what you are looking at.

To think about:

What is it like to read an installment of Great Expectations  – which we tend to think of as a literary, canonical novel by a “great” author – in the context of a periodical like this, full of advertisements, ephemeral genres of articles, and in a form much shorter than our Penguin? What is it like to read Great Expectations in installment form? Can you speculate on what it would have been like to read the entire novel this way, week by week? How would such reading change your relationship with the reading experience? How might you feel or experience the relationship between part and whole?

What do you think of the intensive or “slow reading” of a novel or a short article that I’ve asked you to do here? Scholars of reading often distinguish between “intensive reading” (where we dwell on each word and do multiple readings of the same text, as we often do with poetry) and “extensive reading” (where we read  quickly, for pleasure and for plot or for the basic idea and concept as we often do with novels and journalism).  Is this kind of slow reading like intensive reading? And if so, is it strange to read a novel and a magazine intensively?

Is this style of “slow reading” reading closer to a Victorian reading of Household Words, or further away than our “usual” reading for seminar of material like this might be? On one hand, one could say that what we’re doing here is read intensively a magazine which Victorian readers would have read extensively, or at least less closely than we are doing. On the other hand, Victorian readers had access to much less recreational print than we do today (even with all of our screens and multi-media content), so perhaps they would have naturally read slower to savor what they had.  And whatever we think about this, on the third (?) hand, editors of magazines (like Dickens) would certainly have themselves experienced something like the reading that we’re doing as they read printed proofs before each issue went to press.

What different kinds of access does an archive like DJO – with its search and browse capabilities -offer us, compared with what we might imagine the access of an average Victorian reader might have been to a periodical like ATYR?