A Serial Reading of Bleak House

A Newberry Library Adult Education Seminar

See https://www.newberry.org/F20BleakHouse for full registration information.

This seminar presents Charles Dickens’s masterpiece Bleak House in eight manageable weekly serial installments. We’ll read each installment and discuss it—with no spoilers—until we reach the novel’s end. Our discussions will explore Dickens’s humor, social commentary, psychological depth, and dazzling assortment of narrative styles. It may look like a novel, but we’ll come to see that Bleak House is really a variety show with a plot, and serial reading invites us to fully experience the many layers of this fascinating work. For the first session, please read only chapters 1-3. Do not read the book’s introduction or preface. After that, we will follow the schedule of installments below.

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Middlemarch Serial Reading Guide

This guide will help you read George Eliot’s Middlemarch in nine sessions. It can also help teachers bring a serial reading of this novel to students.

This serial reading guide is not designed to be read all at once, but studied in parts, along with the corresponding parts of the novel.

Middlemarch was first published from December 1871 through December of 1872, in monthly installments of approximately 110 pages each. Victorian readers enjoyed and absorbed the novel one portion at a time, discussing the story’s gradual unfolding with friends and family and anticipating the turns each new installment would take. Eliot’s original installments will naturally form the framework of these serial readings.

Begin with the first part of the guide (for “Book One” of the novel, as it is indicated in all editions), then read only Book One. At that point, stop and reconsider the questions and issues raised in the serial reading guide. These “enforced pauses,” as the novel’s original readers encountered them, offer the chance to absorb some of the dense matrix of plot, character, theme, and style that the novel establishes. Items in each study guide provide spoiler-free prompts for focusing on specific issues, moments, and even sentences that are significant not only for the installment at hand, but for subsequent points in the novel.

After consideration of Book One, read through the second serial reading guide and proceed to Book Two of the novel. You will find that your experience of the novel is already becoming deeper and your observations more acute. After you’ve covered Book Two, review the study guide for Book Three, and move on to that installment, and so on.

Over the course of a novel of nearly eight hundred pages, you will find that the enforced pauses and discussion points offered by the serial reading guides help you to retain plot details, appreciate subtle character traits and relationships, analyze thematic points, and learn from the narrator’s voice. In short, you will grow into the novel itself, as the novel’s details grow into your own experience and concerns.

Any edition of Middlemarch will do, since the guide refers to chapter numbers, which will be the same across all editions. Page numbers are occasionally included for specific references, and these page numbers refer to the Norton Critical Edition (2000).

The original posting for my Newberry Library Seminar is here.

Links to the Middlemarch serial reading guide:

Book One (Prelude and chs. 1 – 12)
Book Two (chs. 13 – 22)
Book Three (chs. 23 – 33)
Book Four (chs. 34 – 42)
Book Five (chs. 43 – 53)
Book Six (chs. 54 – 62)
Book Seven (chs. 63 – 71)
Book Eight (chs. 72 – 86 and Finale)

Next: Serial reading guide for Middlemarch, Book 1 (chs. 1 – 12) >

Continue to the first guide here.

Image: Cake for George Eliot’s 200th birthday celebration at the Newberry Library in Chicago, November 2019. With thanks to Katie Dyson for helping to make it all happen.