A tale of two part-issues

Most of Dickens’ novels were first issued in serial form, either as monthly parts or in some cases serialised in his journals, ‘Household Words’ or ‘All the Year Round’. ‘A tale of two cities’ combined both of these forms.

Dickens used it as the lead story when he launched ‘All the Year Round’ in April 1859, running it in 31 weekly parts from April to November 1859, and so copies of ‘All the Year Round’ represent the true first publication of the story. It was printed in huge numbers and many copies were kept, so it’s not too difficult even now to pick up copies at reasonable cost. Many surviving copies are in bound volumes, but still offer an affordable way to own a Dickens ‘first edition’.

That though is not enough of a challenge for many book collectors. Dickens followed up publication in ‘All the Year Round’ by publishing it in eight monthly parts (six single parts and a final double one) from June to December 1859 and these are much rarer. One bookseller is currently offering a full set of the parts at a mere $30,000, for what is clearly neither the first publication nor the first book edition.

Part 4 of 8 monthly parts

The first book edition followed in November 1859 and you can buy a copy for considerably less than $30,000 although maybe in the thousands rather than the hundreds of dollars.

But over the same period, the story was also being published in English in Continental Europe. Dickens was on friendly terms with the publisher Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, and offered him the choice of taking the novel either in weekly or monthly parts. Tauchnitz chose to issue it in monthly parts and publication of the first part was announced on 30th June 1859. It’s likely that the parts appeared shortly after the UK parts, although it’s possible that the Tauchnitz part-issues were actually ahead of the equivalent parts in the UK.

The print run would have been much lower than in the UK and surviving copies of the Tauchnitz part-issues might be expected to be much rarer. It’s a meaningless question to ask how valuable such parts might be, because no copies of them have ever been publicly recorded. Until now.

Copies of the first four part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ have recently been discovered by a book collector in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where they had been held in a local library and were being disposed of. Some books were being offered free to local residents, but these ones had to be rescued from a dumpster, by someone who recognised their importance before they disappeared. They are now in his personal collection – a reminder of how narrow the line is between survival and destruction.

They’re certainly not pretty. Three of the four parts have been taped around the edges, which is really not a great look. Only Part 4 is untaped and only the first four parts are present. However they offer the first conclusive proof that such part-issues exist at all. The fourth part contains at the front preliminary pages so that the four parts could be taken to a bookbinder and bound up as a single book, which would be identified as volume 479 of the Tauchnitz series.

Tauchnitz itself then published ‘A tale of two cities’ in book form and it’s not entirely clear whether there’s any way of distinguishing copies issued by Tauchnitz as a single book, from copies that might have been bound up from the parts. One thing that the part-issues do make clear though, is that copies with ten preliminary pages, including a dedication and preface, are not the first printing in book form, as suggested in the Todd & Bowden bibliography. To qualify as a first printing in book form, copies must have only 6 pages of preliminaries, with the contents on pages v and vi. Sadly that means that copies in the British Library in London, the Bodleian in Oxford, in Frankfurt, Munich and in Stockholm, can no longer be considered first printings.

The first printing, whether in parts or in book form, has contents on pages v and vi

The second set of four parts could be bound up as volume 480, and Tauchnitz announced publication of the entire novel in book form in these two volumes on 22nd December 1859. This was about a month after first publication of the complete novel in the UK, although it’s likely, in line with previous practice, that the first Tauchnitz volume would have been sold on its own in advance of this, possibly from September or October.

When Todd & Bowden published their bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions in 1988 they were able to locate only a single Tauchnitz part-issue of any novel, in any of the major Tauchnitz collections, including those in national, state or university libraries around the world. In total 84 different parts are believed to have been published from a total of six novels, but the only remaining example they could find was a tattered copy of one part of ‘Little Dorrit’ in the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris.

Since then copies of individual parts of ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Our mutual friend’ have come to light, followed by the discovery of a full set of 20 parts of ‘Bleak House’, although the location of these is now unknown. The discovery now of part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ means that parts are known of, for four of the five Dickens novels published in this way. No parts of ‘Edwin Drood’ are yet known, nor any of the one non-Dickens novel to be issued in parts by Tauchnitz – ‘A strange story’ by Bulwer Lytton.

All 20 parts of ‘Bleak House’

Posted on March 31, 2020, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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