A Tale of Two Cities: First Installment
By Open Air Theatre
Initially published in 31 weekly parts, from 30 April to 26 November 1859, A Tale of Two Cities was the lead piece in Charles Dickens’ journal, All the Year Round. The journal was a miscellany, costing 2 pence per week, which featured serialised novels, short fiction, poetry, travel writing and various non-fiction pieces, written by a multitude of authors. To keep the price of the journal low, Dickens avoided a tax on newspapers by ensuring All the Year Round did not feature any news, although it did report some international events. A Tale of Two Cities featured prominently on the front page, and inaugurated a popular tactic, used by Dickens and many other magazine editors of the 1860s, of drawing in readers and securing their loyalty with new, serialised works of fiction.
Whilst A Tale of Two Cities is now read as a single novel, Professor John M L Drew, launched a blog in 2012 which would rediscover the novel in its original episodic form. “Rules were strict: no reading ahead! It meant that for 30 weeks those involved were living the novel in the present, which is–if you like–a kind of updating of it in modern dress.”
This season, with Dickens Uncovered, we’re bringing Charles Dickens to the Open Air Theatre for the first time with new adaptations of A Tale of Two Cities (7 Jul-5 Aug) and, for families, Oliver Twist created for everyone aged six and over (17 Jul-5 Aug).
Both novels began life as serialised stories in journals, with Oliver Twist published in 24 monthly instalments from February 1837, and A Tale of Two Cities across 31 instalments in Dickens’ own weekly publication, All The Year Round, from April 1859.
Professor John M L Drew, Professor of English Literature at The University of Buckingham:
“Serialising his writing meant that Dickens was reaching readers that other writers at the time, like Thackeray or Trollope or George Eliot, simply weren’t getting to. They were being read – pretty exclusively – by well-to-do, middle class readers, whereas Dickens’ reach through his weekly publication was very broad. And he was a brilliant businessman too; he repackaged the weekly magazine as a monthly, simply getting his printers to collate the four or five episodes belonging to that month and publishing them in a blue wrapper with advertisements. And then he sold handsome bi-annual volumes twice a year!”
When Dickens later agreed a bi-lateral publishing deal in America for the publication of Great Expectations (1861), it was estimated that his global readership was about 5 million. And this was just one man, and a maximum team of six people, working in an office off the Strand.
We’ll be uncovering more about Charles Dickens in a series of blogs as we approach our productions of A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist created for everyone aged six and over, including contributions from both Professor John M L Drew and the Charles Dickens Museum.
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