Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dickens was a blogger

This is another post in my 'Blogs in history' series, and the stimulus for it is another example of those coincidences of thought I'm experiencing a lot at the moment: moments when you read something in an unexpected place that echoes a resonant idea you had already come across in a different context.

The latest Spitalfields Life blog post is on David Pearson, the typographical designer, who has worked on the recently-published Spitalfields Life book, to be launched this Friday evening ( 

(Cover design by David Pearson, Staffordshire dogs by Rob Ryan)

David has designed much of the recent output from Penguin Books, which generally have a striking and highly effective emphasis on typographics.  Familiar examples include the covers of the 'Great Ideas' series of extracts from classic authors, and a subtle redesign of the iconic penguin itself, slightly more active than its ancestors. 

(It hardly needs to be mentioned to regular readers of Spitalfields Life that the 'gentle author' has written a beautifully-illustrated (with pictures of Penguin Books!) and poignant piece about his personal connections to the history of Penguin Books and the family of the company's founder, Allen Lane).

The 'gentle author' of the SL blog describes discussing the design of the book with David, and sending him the nearest thing he could think of as a model:

For interest’s sake I sent David a copy of a page of Dickens “Household Words” from 1851, as the closest precedent I knew for a collection of short literary pieces. Dickens published these weekly and for tuppence his forty thousand readers in London received a pamphlet of half a dozen stories every Saturday morning – a publication that today would almost certainly be a blog.

As soon as you come across the idea that Dickens might have been a blogger, it rings true.  Almost his entire output was originally published in serialised form in weekly newspapers and journals, such as 'Household Words', illustrated above.  Imagine a series of blog posts which tell a story over several, perhaps dozens, of posts; imagine the story is a mystery, about a murder perhaps, or a plot to steal an inheritance, and that it incorporates social caricatures, commentary, and a strong set of implicit and explicit moral messages reflecting the opinions of the author: here you have many of the basic ingredients of a Dickens novel.  Most of his earliest readers would have read his books in sections as they came out, having to wait for the next instalment.

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