Absolutely brilliant, must-read post for every fan of The Wire

By on March 30, 2011

Wow, just wow. I really don’t know how to describe this brilliant, um, examination of The Wire (the most critically acclaimed television show of all-time) as an 18th century pseudo-Dickensian piece of literature. Actually, it’s a ‘fake’ review of The Wire had the The Wire been an 18th century piece of literature rather than THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK OF ART, IN ANY MEDIUM, OF THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY. You just have to read this post for itself.

If you are a fan of The Wire, please, please read the following excerpt and then click through to the complete essay from Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson.

There are few works of greater scope or structural genius than the series of fiction pieces by Horatio Bucklesby Ogden, collectively known asThe Wire; yet for the most part, this Victorian masterpiece has been forgotten and ignored by scholars and popular culture alike. Like his contemporary Charles Dickens, Ogden has, due to the rough and at times lurid nature of his material, been dismissed as a hack, despite significant endorsements of literary critics of the nineteenth century. Unlike the corpus of Dickens,The Wire failed to reach the critical mass of readers necessary to sustain interest over time, and thus runs the risk of falling into the obscurity of academia. We come to you today to right that gross literary injustice.

The Wire began syndication in 1846, and was published in 60 installments over the course of six years. Each installment was 30 pages, featuring covers and illustrations by Baxter ?ubz?Black, and selling for one shilling each. After the final installment,The Wire became available in a five volume set, departing from the traditional three.

Bucklesby Ogden himself has most often been compared to Charles Dickens. Both began as journalists, and then branched out with works such asPickwick Papers andThe Corner. While Dickens found popularity and eventual fame in his successive work, Ogden took a darker path.

Dickens?success for the most part lies in his mastery of the serial format. Other serialized authors were mainly writing episodic sketches linked together only loosely by plot, characters, and a uniformity of style. WithOliver Twist, only his second volume of work, Dickens began to define an altogether new type of novel, one that was more complex, more psychologically and metaphorically contiguous. Despite this, Dickens retained a heightened awareness of his method of publication. Each installment contained a series of elements engineered to give the reader the satisfaction of a complete arc, giving the reader the sense of an episode, complete with a beginning, middle, and end.

One might likenThe Wire, however, to the novels of the former century that were single, complete works, and only later were adapted to serial format in order to make them affordable to the public. Yet, while cognizant of his predecessors, Ogden was not working in the paradigm of the eighteenth century. As a Victorian novelist, serialization was the format of choice for his publishers, but rather than providing the short burst of decisively circumscribed fiction so desired by his readership, his tangled narrative unspooled at a stately, at times seemingly glacial, pace. This method of story-telling redefined the novel in an altogether different way than both Victorian novelists and those who had come before.

The serial format didThe Wire no favors at the time of its publication. Though critics lauded it, the general public found the initial installments slow and difficult to get into, while later installments required intimate knowledge of all the pieces which had come before. To consume this story in small bits doled out over an extended time is to view a pointillist painting by looking at the dots.

And yet, there is no other form in whichThe Wire could have been published other than the serial, for both economic and practical reasons. The volume set, at 3

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