The Armenian Serialized Novel of the 19th Century

Raffi’s readers experienced reading the novella in serialized form when it was first published in 1878. 

In the 19th century, readers consumed books in the same way that we watch television today. Instead of “tuning in” each week for the next episode of the latest addictive TV drama, readers would turn to the next issue of their favourite literary periodical. Even though periodicals existed prior this, it was only during the 19th century that reading novels in serialized form became popularized. This rise in popularity of the serialized novel is often attributed to Charles Dickens’ publication of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, over 19 monthly installments between March of 1836 and October of 1837. With each issue of a periodical generally being quite cheap (e.g., each installment of The Pickwick Papers only cost one shilling), this form of publication made reading more accessible for the middle class who might not otherwise have been able to afford a complete edition of a full-length novel.

Publication in serialized form did place constraints on the novel as an art form, especially considering that works were often published over extended periods of time (for long novels, this could be up to two years). For success in this format, each installment ideally needed to end on a cliff-hanger that would encourage readers to keep coming back for more, just like episodes of modern TV drama series. The format also helps to explain certain idiosyncrasies of 19th century fiction that can be puzzling for modern readers, such as the reintroduction of lesser characters throughout a novel that the reader has already met.  British authors who found success in the 19th century through serialization included such greats as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins (who pioneered the ‘sensation’ novel, the early precursor to the modern thriller), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who famously published his Sherlock Holmes stories in serialized form in The Strand magazine

Following the rise of the serial novel in Europe, literary periodicals gained popularity elsewhere in the world as well. In America, many popular authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry James published in serialized form. Similarly, the serialized novel found wide readership among Armenians throughout the Ottoman and Russian Empires. In the second half of the 19th century, a large number of Armenian periodicals were published in Constantinople, Moscow, Tiflis, and Paris, although it was not until the late 19th century that purely literary journals appeared. This rise of serialization had an important impact on the Armenian literary scene and helped to establish some of the great Armenian authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Raffi. Indeed, Raffi became such a popular novelist that it has been noted in The Heritage of Armenian Literature, Vol. III (p. 93), that his novels “usually began to appear [in periodicals] in December, to motivate readers to buy a subscription for the following year.”

Jalaleddin was first published in Mshak over the course of eight issues in 1878. Mshak was a popular Tiflis-based daily newspaper, published in Armenian, that cost 10 rubles for a yearly subscription (6 rubles for half a year). If you would like to experience reading Jalaleddin in serialization—the way it was initially published and read—we invite you to join us in the chapter-by-chapter section of the website, where you can start reading Chapter 1 now.


Hacikyan, A. J., Basmajian, G., Franchuk, E. S., & Ouzounian, N. (Eds.). (2005). The heritage of Armenian literature: From the oral tradition to the golden age (Vol. III). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.