This week marks the beginning of the third season of my steampunk-fantasy serial-fiction project. For thirteen weeks I’ll be sending the episodes out to subscribers (and Amazon, etc.) every Monday. So you can understand why I have serial fiction on my mind. For my inaugural post here at Steampunk Cavaliers, then, I’m going to write a bit about the history of serialization in the Victorian era.
Serialized works and steampunk seem like an ideal fit to me. The image of Victorian-era readers eagerly buying a new issue of some magazine or other to catch the latest episode of one of Dickens’ novels is a familiar idea for many of us, even if we don’t know much about the details of what novel, what magazine, etc. The growing use of the printing press and increased literacy made it an ideal time for serialization.
Historians pinpoint Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers as a key spark to the popularity of serialization for English readers. Dickens was brought in initially to provide some narrative to a series of prints, with the pictures themselves intended to be the primary focus for the magazine subscribers. Dickens’ writing ability plus the death of the original artist after only a few episodes flipped that focus, and the serialized novel burst into the English literary scene.
I’m always keen to learn about what was happening in other countries and cultures at this time as well. Steampunk always benefits from opening itself to as many influences and cultures as possible. In Russia the serialized novel was common, with both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky publishing famous novels that way (Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov). Madame Bovary was first published in France as a serial, as were Alexandre Dumas’ works. In China the serialized The Nine-Tailed Turtle was for a brief time one of the country’s most popular works.
All that kind of history you can dig into more on Wikipedia if you choose. One historical note you won’t find there I discovered in reading Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (while I haven’t been able to verify this fact elsewhere, Eco’s reputation and approach here leads me to grant this anecdote at least provisional trustworthiness).The novel is a historical mystery about the forger Simon Simonini. At one point in the novel, Simon recalls some details about the unification of Italy. At the time the government in Piedmont, fearful of the lower classes, banned the novels of Alexandre Dumas and other works of serial fiction that had been popular (in translation) among the common people. Couldn’t have any of that revolutionary French influence in Italy!
I like that image, that serial fiction itself is dangerous—that serialized works might be a source for revolution, among the peasants and those who are being mistreated by society. I hope it still can be, at some level, that steampunk and serial fiction both can call on the factory bosses and overbearing elite (and their contemporary/non-steampunk analogs) to end injustices and create more just ways.
So what’s there to do with steampunk and serial fiction? Well, obviously I’d love for everyone to check out my Spire City series. And if you are a fan of something else or a creator of some other serialized steampunk work, I’d love to hear from you! Maybe I can feature your work here on Steampunk Cavaliers in the future.
But that’s not all. Barnes & Noble has recently introduced its Serial Reads, and their selection for the month of March happens to be steampunk! Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger is being released day by day this month. So if you have a Nook or the Nook reading app, be sure to check that out.
Then go out and create your own series, because nothing is more steampunk than making something with your own hands.
All images used in this post either belong to Daniel Ausema or are available either in the public domain or with permission from the owners.