Charles Dickens's early popularity in the United States?
October 15, 2014 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Wondering, for an article I'm researching about a real-life Dickens fan in Maine, 1839, in what form he might have gotten his hands on early Charles Dickens stories. Would local northeastern newspapers have bought serialization rights to his stuff, then reprinted it themselves? Or would copies of Bentley's Miscellany have been shipped Stateside?
posted by johngoren to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think a lot of Dickens' work was effectively pirated, since there was no system of international copyright at the time.
posted by pipeski at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

They might well have been reading pirated editions-- murky copyright law at the time meant foreign works were reprinted with abandon. Dickens in particular was a famous crusader for copyright in America.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm inclined to go with pirated serialization, or else a domestic magazine serialized it (legitimately or not)-- some candidates whose archives you may be able to search include The Atlantic and Harper's Magazine.

I would check the local newspaper archives, if possible, for serial novels in general, and for Dickens specifically.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:41 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a bit more complicated than that: as of 1839, (grudgingly) authorized editions of Dickens' works, for which Dickens received some money but certainly not in proportion to actual sales, were competing with pirated copies. For a convenient potted account, see Paul Schlicke's Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens (you can pull it up on GoogleBooks) and look at the entries on "copyright" and "editions: foreign english-language editions."
posted by thomas j wise at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting find:

FIRST COMPLETE AMERICAN EDITION IN BOOK FORM . The first two chapters of Oliver Twist had first appeared in America in Bentley's Magazine (1837), followed by an abridged version by Carey, Lea & Blanchard issued as a prospectus for use of salesman (1838). A parts issue was published in New York by James Turney in 1838. According to the publisher's notice facing the title: "a large portion of the last part of Oliver Twist having been sent to the American Publishers in manuscript, they hasten to place before the public the work complete in the present form. At the same time, they have to regret that the illustrations by Cruikshank, were not ready to accompany the manuscript from London. On their receipt, no delay will take place in laying the remainder of the illustrated edition before the public." In fact, it was reprinted from the three volume London edition as evidenced from the fact that Chapter I begins "Among other public buildings in a certain town..." Lea and Blanchard were one of the great American literary publishers of the time. Their catalogue at the end of vol. 2 lists new works by Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Dickens (Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Sketches by Boz and Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi). All early American editions are very rare, with only a copy of a later New York edition appearing in American Book Prices Current in the last thirty years. Edgar & Vail, p. 17; Wilkins, pp.13-14; Yale/Gimbel A33. (2)
posted by johngoren at 8:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you've answered your own question, but I will try to contact a friend who is a Dickens scholar. If I hear anything more enlightening, I will post it here.
posted by trip and a half at 1:36 AM on October 16, 2014

Thanks, much appreciated. I wonder about the American distribution of Bentley's. (The Dickens fan in question lived in a tiny town in Maine. He went on to become a Civil War general and oppressor of native Americans, joining the Army after Dickens threw shade on him for wanting to move to London and become an author.)
posted by johngoren at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2014

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