My freshmen year of college introduced a new element of the publication of books that, I am certain, had I not pursued the furthering of my education, I never would have known. Reflecting now, as a junior, on my wealth of knowledge and inherent lack of it as well, I do know that I can never regress into not knowing what I have learned.
Textual scholarship is a layer of the publishing world that focuses on the origin of texts, usually manuscripts when considering the works of authors done in the 19th century and before, and preserving them as they were first originally published. (That is my favorable approach to textual scholarship but I will say some scholars approach texts with different means.) So imagine my excitement when having a conversation with a professor and he mentioned that Charles Dickens had published his novels in monthly installments! As a modern reader in the modern world there is hardly any piece of literature that is trickled out slowly to me, especially Dickens. I can pick up, say, David Copperfield and flip through every chapter until I’m satisfied. But Dickens wrote David Copperfield in a way that reflected how it was published.
So, in the pursuit of finding out what it is like for a modern audience to read the text of David Copperfield in a very slow, un-bingeful way, a small group has taken a step towards preserving its original structure. Each installment of David Copperfield, there being 19 of them, is distributed monthly with all engravings provided to recreate the response Dickens was going for originally. Each piece of this installment has significance that is lost to many readers when trudging through Copperfield in its complete form. But that’s where the purpose of pursuing the preservation of this novel begins to gain momentum.
Here’s to hoping that a modern audience learns more about their modernity when reading something in a very classic, out-of-date, bizarre way. Here’s to hoping the readers engage with and understand Dickens on a deeper level, like his original readership did. Here’s to preserving, and here’s to textual scholarship.
By Kimberlee Roberts