The Production of Belief: the Serial, Middlemarch

  • David Payne
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Though the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton and the publisher John Blackwood had discussed the idea more than two decades before, Middlemarch was the first Victorian serial novel to be published in eight half-volumes, or “books,” priced at 5s., issued bimonthly from November 1871 to December 1872.2 It is possible that George Henry Lewes got the idea from Victor Hugo’s 1862 half-volume sale of Les Misérables; what is certain is that Middlemarch marked one in a series of attempts by the Leweses and Blackwood to escape the power of Mudie’s and other lending libraries, which were by 1871 exacting large discounts on large orders. The potential benefits of half-volume bimonthly publication were numerous: freedom from the pressures of the monthly norm dating from the onset of Pickwick Papers in 1836; the opportunity for end-page advertising; a greater chance of obtaining reviews of each part; and thus an accelerating sale to the appearance of the work in its final, four-volume form (L 5: 146, 179–80).3 The success of the experiment was not immediately obvious, however. At the outset of his year-long series of reviews in the Spectator, for example, R. H. Hutton expressed surprise that George Eliot could prosper writing novels in which painful enlightenment so apparently outweighed any pleasurable kind: “The ground-note of dissatisfaction, of pain, runs through all its melody.


Poor Relief Lending Library Moral Restraint Sexual Love Moral Beauty 
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© David Payne 2005

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  • David Payne

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