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What to Read: A treasure trove of serialized classics
A surge of new publications serializing classic novels have appeared on Substack. Inspired by Matt Kirkland’s popular Dracula Daily—a serialization of Bram Stoker’s epistolary gothic novel—these newsletters deliver the story directly to your inbox, as it happens.
Writers are making use of copyright expiration, which puts the work into the public domain (there’s a great list of books in the public domain, which can vary by country, on Goodreads).
Here, we round up some new additions and some well-loved newsletters, each bringing back to life timeless tales from hundreds of years ago.
Do you subscribe to a serialized classic on Substack? Tell us about it in the comments!
Matt Kirkland’s Substack, Dracula Daily, is the original godfather to other serialized classics, particularly those of a gothic genre. Now in its second year, the publication makes unique use of Bram Stoker’s fangsome tale, originally published in 1897, to deliver a new reading experience. As Matt writes on the newsletter’s About page:
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel—it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings—and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them.
We asked Matt to tell us a bit more about the response to his newsletter format and what makes it so successful.
“I think Dracula is in a sweet spot, where the idea of Dracula is culturally pervasive—but the actual plot of the novel is not. So lots of people get to have the fun experience of finding out what’s actually in the novel, and experience the story for the first time,” he says. “Obviously I am beyond thrilled at the response Dracula Daily got this year, and the huge outpouring of fan art and memes and comments to the story. I’ve loved seeing other literary Substacks popping up, and I’m subscribed to a bunch of them. The sincerest form of flattery!”
One aspect of penning Dracula Daily that Matt didn’t anticipate: “Many people just click ‘reply’ to the emails and respond directly to the characters! I never expected people would do that. Those replies only go to me, but I feel like I’m eavesdropping on conversations between readers and Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy.”
Two publications are dedicated to Herman Melville’s tale of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Kristen Felicetti writes Moby Dick Summer, which divides the novel into chapter chunks sent on Mondays and Wednesdays (and Friday bonus material) from Memorial Day (May 30) to Labor Day (September 5) in 2022. Kristen describes the newsletter as both a “book club” and “challenge,” confessing: “I’ve never read Moby-Dick, so this summer I’ll be reading it with the rest of you in real time.”
Directly inspired by Dracula Daily, Whale Weekly promises “a serialized (but unabridged) version of Moby Dick, delivered to your inbox.” Whether you’ve already read the book or not, starting in December 2022, this anonymous editor invites all readers to follow along: “Wish you could take 3 years to finish Moby Dick without feeling bad about it? You’ve come to the right place.”
Big Dalloway Energy is a summer reading group for fans of the Virginia Woolf classic Mrs. Dalloway, starting on June 1, 2022. Writer Maggie adds:
I hope it will be a place where people can comment on the subject matter, meaning, queerness, and the story of Mrs. Dalloway. If anything, I will finally have to read this book instead of pretending like I did & know all the references.
Shawn Andrew Gaston cites Edgar Allan Poe Daily as the “companion” to Dracula Daily: posting “Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems on the weekdays that Dracula Daily does not update.”
Get over your sadness at missing updates from your good friend Jonathan Harker by diving into a whole other world of gothic horror and mystery!
Published by the pseudonymous flightyhead, this publication takes another epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther by J.W. von Goethe, and gives it a modern twist. Each post also has an accompanying track, forming a publication playlist for readers. Here’s more from the About page:
Today I subscribed to Dracula Daily, which looks like enormous fun and gets me excited to open my e-mails. I immediately thought that posting epistolary novels on Substack is a great idea and that I wanted to try it, so Werther came to mind.
[...] I chose to rewrite large portions of the diary entries (but mostly in style) and to keep some of the original language. In my head, Werther always sounds like a poor little meow meow, like a teen or young adult who gets way too invested in posting on his 2014 Tumblr, and I wanted his sound to reflect that a bit.
Inviting new readers to join the ride at any point, flightyhead provides a cheeky “spoiler alert: There will be no vampires here, only emo boys.”
Jeremy Anderberg and readers are tackling Leo Tolstoy’s all-time classic War and Peace, as a group, at the pace of one chapter per day over the course of a year. Earlier this year, he told Substack:
The first year was so successful, and I had so many people clamoring to be part of War and Peace specifically, that I decided to do it again in ’22 rather than dive into a new book.
The primary takeaway was that a large group book club and discussion works really well on Substack. The commenting and discussion features are robust but not forced. It allows people to consume the book club however they want; they can read my weekly recaps or they can participate in discussions, or they can do both. A book club naturally invites discussion, which makes every week’s recap really fun and engaging.
You can read the rest of our interview with Jeremy here, and it’s not too late to join The Big Read too!
Tony Walker’s podcast shares a classic ghost story every week. From Edith Wharton, Bram Stoker, M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.F. Benson, H.P. Lovecraft, and others, the podcast acknowledges the masters of horror and ghost fiction.
Would you fancy classic gothic stories delivered to your inbox for zero cents? The Penny Dreadful takes its name from the serialized stories sold on the streets of 1830s Victorian England for a penny a chapter. “Penny dreadfuls” were “sensational, frightening, dramatic stories that served as one of the precursors to modern pop culture.”
Starting on October 1, 2022, writer S. Armstrong plans to feature authors including Sheridan Le Fanu, John William Polidori, Lord Byron, Florence Marryat, Bram Stoker, and others (though will skip Dracula, “as that’s Dracula Daily’s domain”). They invite readers, with a note of horror house intrigue, to “subscribe if you dare.”
Literary Letters will share lesser-known works of public-domain epistolary narrative, receiving letters as they happen in-story, inspired by Dracula Daily. The serialized classics will begin in November, with The Lightning Conductor: The Strange Adventures of a Motor-Car.
The Lightning Conductor, a 1903 romantic comedy written jointly by married couple Charles Norris (C.N.) and Alice Muriel (A.M.) Williamson, follows the letters of Miss Molly Randolph as she travels around Europe with her Aunt Mary. Plenty of fun for lovers of humor, romance, travelogue, motorists, and characters in disguise. Emails from Molly and friends will begin November 12, 2022, and continue through January 28, 2023.
Starting in January 2023, Letters from Watson promises “regular emails from your friend Dr John Watson about the adventures of his eccentric detective roommate.” The start date is timed with the final stories from Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon being available in the public domain in the U.S. after the copyright expires.
Also inspired by Dracula Daily, writer Helen Greetham explains the publication “will be following the chronological order of Holmes’ cases (…vaguely), rather than their publication order. This means we’ll start with stories about a young pre-detective Holmes in the 1870s and end with an elderly ‘retired’ Holmes getting up to shenanigans in WWI.”
Billed as a “Frankenstein book club for Tumblr,” Frankenstein Weekly will start in February 2023 and promises digestible updates from Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic to your inbox. Little else is said for now, but do we need to know anything else anyway?
Also coming soon
Les Mis Daily: “I once heard someone say that Les Misérables has a total of 365 chapters,” writes the editor of Les Mis Daily. “I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve decided to trust it.” Starting in January 2023, the publication promises a chapter via email every day from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.
Carmilla Quarterly: Jennie Ergott will deliver a serialized version of Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire novella Carmilla in four parts.
Gatsby Weekly: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s classic The Great Gatsby will be serialized weekly in this publication, starting in 2023.
Divine Comedy Weekly: Consider reading Dante’s narrative poem, Divina Commedia, through a twice-weekly newsletter.
MusketeersDaily: Alexandre Dumas’s swashbuckler classic The Three Musketeers was first serialized from March to July in 1844. Subscribers to this new publication will receive the novel in the same serialization timeline, 179 years on.
Pride and Prejudice Weekly: Jane Austen fans and new readers will both enjoy a weekly chapter from the Georgian gentry classic.
The Woman in White Weekly: This newsletter will release Wilkie Collins’s 1859 mystery The Woman in White as it was originally published—serially in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round.
Know a great serialized classic not listed here? Shout about it in the comments, or share one you’d love to subscribe to here on Substack.
Edit on June 11, at 13:33 GMT: This post was edited to correct the author of The Woman in White to Wilkie Collins.