On every first Monday of the month, a group of friends who admired Charles Dickens would meet and read aloud the latest instalment of his ‘Dombey and Son’. This was one of the many groups of Dicken’s admirers who looked forward to his serialised novel. This was in the England of 1847. But even before, he had used this method to arouse interest in the readers when he serialised ‘Pickwick Papers’. While the readership for the first instalment was just 1000, the last instalment was read by 40,000 persons.
Dickens used this form all his life for all his novels. So did William Makepeace Thackeray for ‘Vanity Fair’ and Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes stories too were first published as serials.t The public response was so warm that there was a major protest in the form of fan letters when, tired of writing the series, wanting to write something else, Doyle ‘killed’ Sherlock Holmes. The writer had to resurrect his detective!
Serialising was popular in America too where Henry James divided his work into segments of similar sizes and let it first be published as a serial even when his story was already ready. Others, often, wrote the subsequent instalments even as the earlier one’s were in readers’ Often a novel would be read in instalments for as long as a year during which the authors would respond to the response of the readers. But in Russia, Leo Tolstoy‘s ‘Anna Karenina’ ran for four years!
As the world changed with the World Wide Web, a serial format on the net began when Stephen King wrote The Plant and many others did the same.
Websites like FanFiction.Net and web-based communities like LiveJournal, FictionPress and Fictionhub have even produced bestsellers that have overtaken the traditional novels.
The mobile devices too have made the serial format popular with JukePop Serials and the like promoting serialised novels.
India too has a similar tradition.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee‘s ‘Anandmath’ was first serialised in his own magazine Bangadarshan (Bengali) in 1882. It was a heart warming novel about the Sanyasis who fought for the freedom of India. Bankim wrote the song ‘Vandematram’ for this novel. It was later published in book form.
‘Anandmath’ went on to get a cult status and Vande Matram ended up as the National song of India. Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram, a novel by Mayuram Pillai, written in 1857 was the first serialised novel in Tamil. Serialised novels with the freedom struggle, instilled patriotic pride in the people.
Krupa AJ Satthiananadan, considered the first Indian woman novelist writing in English. ‘Suguna’, her novel was serialised between 1887 and 1888 in Madras Christian College Magazine.
Chitralekha (Gujarati) often serialised novels written by Harkisan Mehta and Tarak Mehta. So did Sushma (Hindi) and Shamma (Urdu). I remember writing my first novel (‘Roop ain Sadhana’) for Jagruti, a Sindhi weekly when I was in my late teens. This is the only serialised novel in Sindhi. Writing a serialised novel is writing under a pressure. There always is a deadline though the magazines prefer to have at least one extra instalment in stock. But a deadline, more important, is in the head of the writer. He doesn’t forget his story and doesn’t part with his characters even when he goes to bed. There is a flow about it.
My friend, author and journalist Om Gupta has started his serials novel and seeing the first chapter I’m sure this is going to be a sure winner, an important step that would be noted as a part of the history of serialised novels. His link is profOmGupta.blogspot.blogspot.in
Om Gupta is a talented veteran. I look forward to his next installments.