Victorian Chapter Headings
March 29, 2004 9:42 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of Victorian novels with elaborate (and ridiculous) chapter titles? I know these ("In which our hero meets an extraordinary figure, who resolves some puzzles, and at last explains the purpose of his life, and the meaning of his many adventures") are satirical examples, but what about the genuine article? Are there particular authors (or genres) notorious for the practice?
posted by Aaorn to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first two that leap to my mind are Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Dickens' Oliver Twist. Neither uses the "In which" prefix, but each chapter number comes with a nutshell, occasionally humorous.
posted by brownpau at 10:05 AM on March 29, 2004

Here's one from Project Gutenberg: Mr. Midshipman Easy, by Frederick Marryat (1836), which may be the original source of that particular phrase. Includes:

CHAPTER I Which the reader will find very easy to read.
CHAPTER III In which our hero has to wait the issue of an argument.
CHAPTER XII In which our hero prefers going down to going up; a choice, it is to
be hoped, he will reverse upon a more important occasion.
posted by smackfu at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2004

See "Lucas Malet's" The History of Sir Richard Calmady, which, apart from the amusing chapter titles, is one of the nineteenth century's weirder novels. W. M. Thackeray likes satirical chapter titles, as in Vanity Fair. Jerome K. Jerome does rather comical chapter summaries (e.g., Three Men in a Boat).

I've never studied the history of chapter titles, but I suspect that they derive from the book titling conventions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The title used to do double duty as the cover blurb. (Customers would browse through title pages hung up in the bookstalls, much as we now browse through back covers.)
posted by thomas j wise at 11:06 AM on March 29, 2004

Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat

Chapter 1:
Three Invalids. - Sufferings of George and Harris. - A victim to one hundred and seven fatal maladies. - Useful prescriptions. - Cure for liver complaint in children. - We agree that we are overworked, and need rest. - A week on the rolling deep? - George suggests the river. - Montmorency lodges an objection. - Original motion carried by majority of three to one
posted by turbodog at 11:07 AM on March 29, 2004

Yes, but JKJ was himself taking the mickey.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:07 PM on March 29, 2004

Completely off-topic, but I was wondering about the progression from "piss" to "mickey", and here it is. Rhyming Slang Phrase of The Day.
posted by Danelope at 12:17 PM on March 29, 2004

turbodog That was going to be my example. JKJ is my absolute favorite Edwardian author.
posted by Grod at 12:52 PM on March 29, 2004

Grod: then I'd recommend Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog
posted by turbodog at 2:26 PM on March 29, 2004

weren't older novels (i know it's the case for dickens, for example) published chapter by chapter? there may be something related to the format used that encouraged this kind of thing.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2004

Serialized fiction looong predates Dickens, but in many ways he revolutionized it as a commercial proposition. See the excellent essay by Robert L. Patten. While novels released in magazine/newspaper serials or in "parts" weren't necessarily broken down into chapters--some Penguin and Oxford editions indicate the original section breaks--it's true that such chapter titles would have helped the reader along, especially since it could take up to a year or even more to complete the book. (Of course, if the serial didn't sell copies, it might just end...) Scroll down to see an explanation of how Victorian authors often structured serial novels.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:23 PM on March 29, 2004

It's not Victorian, but what immediately sprang to my mind is the Caxton's edition (as opposed to the Winchester Manuscript, which is now considered more authentic, though not necessarily more popular) of Malory's Morte D'Arthur. I don't have a copy handy, but it's divided into several hundred short chapters, all of which have titles like that. None are (intentionally) funny, to my recollection, but they tend to be in that general style.
posted by rorycberger at 6:26 PM on March 29, 2004

Cervantes' Don Quixote is probably the best-known example of this style of chapter heading. Obviously not Victorian though.
posted by cbrody at 6:45 PM on March 29, 2004

As others have suggested, the comic novels that have these kinds of headings were at their zenith before Victoria. Cf. Tom Jones or Rabelais.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:59 PM on March 29, 2004

It's been a couple of years since I've read them, but Alexandre Dumas' 3 Musketeers series started chapters like that (I think).

Also, Boccacio's Decamaron (circa 1350 approx) does something similar: Under the pretext of going to confession and being very pure-minded, a lady who is enamoured of a young man induces a solemn friar to pave the way unwittingly for the total fulfiment of her desires (Third Day, Third Story)

Also, I just remembered that Arthur Conan Doyle's "The White Company" starts each chapter almost exactly like your example
posted by smcniven at 5:47 AM on March 30, 2004

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