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  • The Lifetime UK Editions of Our Mutual Friend
  • Jeremy Parrott

There is little or no disagreement amongst Dickens scholars concerning the first appearance of Dickens's last completed novel, either in its monthly parts or in book form. I will, however, summarize the facts concerning Our Mutual Friend's first appearance in print, as they have a significant bearing on the discussion of subsequent printings during Dickens's lifetime, which are considerably more controverted. The 20 parts, issued over 19 months (the final part, as was standard for Dickens's novels, being a double issue) appeared between May 1864 and November 1865 at a total cost to the purchaser of 20 shillings, i.e. £1. Somewhat unusually, the book publication of Our Mutual Friend was staggered over two volumes issued at different times. Once the first ten parts had appeared, volume 1 was published in January 1865, appearing in a maroon cloth binding lettered and decorated in gilt and available at the price of 11 shillings. The matching second volume followed in October, shortly ahead of the novel's completion in parts. It is important to note that the novel as it appeared in book form was not reprinted by or for the publishers, Chapman & Hall. Instead, a planned surplus of the parts were bound up without the advertising material or blue paper covers, and the plates were inserted in the text at the appropriate points. It should be borne in mind that the reason for publishing the novel in two volumes was not due to its inordinate length as, while certainly a very respectable 630 pp. in total, Our Mutual Friend is no longer than say Dombey and Son or David Copperfield, each of which first appeared in one stout volume. This format was rather determined by the logic of the marketplace in the 1860s, dominated by circulating libraries which favored multi-volume publication, as books were loaned to readers piecemeal, at so much per volume per week.

As noted by both Robert L. Patten and Sean Grass, sales of the early parts were encouraging but gradually fell off, dropping from roughly 35,000 stitched copies of Part 1 to 19,000 by the final double issue. Since [End Page 150] 25,000 copies of the later parts were printed, this left up to 6,000 available for binding up in book form to create the second volume. The records in the publishers' archive show that approximately 2,950 two-volume sets were sold by the end of 1866,1 leaving Chapman & Hall with a substantial number of unsold parts, unbound quires and bound volumes of the novel, and by which time the publishers may well have assumed that purchasers who wished to buy Dickens's "new" novel in its original format would have already done so. The normal practice at the time was to remainder unsold copies of multi-volume novels at bargain prices prior to their reissue in a considerably cheaper one-volume format.

In the case of Dickens's novels, the explicitly so-named Cheap Edition (CE) had been initiated by Chapman & Hall with the publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1847 (in weekly numbers or monthly parts, or bound up in book form at 5 shillings) and, by 1866, the series had been brought virtually up to date with Little Dorrit (1861), Great Expectations (dated 1864 but published in November 1863), A Tale of Two Cities (1864), Hard Times / Pictures from Italy and The Uncommercial Traveller (both dated 1866 but published in November 1865). In March 1865 Chapman & Hall also launched an initiative for making Dickens's books available to the newly emerging reading public of regular railway travelers. This was the People's Edition (PE), which used the double-columned text of CE but omitted the author's recently commissioned prefaces and divided the long novels up into two pocket-sized and separately paginated volumes. These were bound up in bright green, paper-covered boards, lettered and illustrated in black, and issued in monthly volumes at the price of 2 shillings. Starting with the perennially popular Pickwick Papers, volumes in PE were widely advertised and were principally sold through the nationwide chain of W...


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