[Ads-l] cliffhanger (UNCLASSIFIED)

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Thu Apr 14 00:24:31 UTC 2016

Bill, quite true, I was investigating "The Perils of Pauline", and came to the conclusion that the episode including the cliffhanging did not originally end with whoever still hanging.  

In any case, the episode from Thomas Hardy's 1873 serial (if I remember correctly, around the time of the peak of serial publications in British magazines) antedates "Perils of Pauline" and presumably can be verified.

Also, as Jon suggested, I did not find the word "cliffhanger" earlier than the OED's 1937.


      From: "Mullins, Bill CIV (US)" <william.d.mullins18.civ at MAIL.MIL>
 Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 3:19 PM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] cliffhanger (UNCLASSIFIED)

Joel, I believe you were investigating "The Perils of Pauline" and whether one of the episodes ended with a cliffhanger.  Confusing the investigation was a statement that extant prints may have been re-edited, so that they do not currently end with what was the original endings.

These contemporary reviews:



imply that the cliff scene was not originally at the end of episode six.  (Other episodes included cliff scenes, but this appears to be the one that is closest to a "cliffhanger".)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Joel Berson
> Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 1:56 PM
> Subject: Re: cliffhanger (UNCLASSIFIED)
> ----
> Yes, a significant discovery.  When I was researching "cliffhanger" for a possible story, I did not find any scenes where there was a
> hero/heroine literally left hanging on a cliff.  There are plenty of earlier instances of leaving the reader in figurative suspense, but I found
> none of leaving the character in literal suspense.
> Did I mention at the time the peril -- but not cliffhanging -- in a news story in the 1736 New-York Gazette, published in two parts?  The first
> installment ends “The Capt.Dying------ [The Remainder of this Melancholy Relation will be continued, in our Next]” (brackets inoriginal).
> Joel

>      From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>  Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 2:21 PM
>  Subject: Re: [ADS-L] cliffhanger (UNCLASSIFIED)
> Other than the misleadingly ambiguous "is attributed to...Hardy's...novel,"
> this is a significant discovery.
> The scene (oops! I must mean "meme"!) presumably impressed the story's readers, and may frequently have been alluded to.
> The actual word "cliffhanger," however, still looks and sounds like a 20th C. journalistic creation - by someone who may never have heard
> of _A Pair of Blue Eyes_.
> JL
> On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 2:00 PM, Mullins, Bill CIV (US) < william.d.mullins18.civ at mail.mil> wrote:
> >
> > In 2014 there was some discussion of cliffhangers on the list.
> >
> > This:
> >
> > https://michaelzmuda.com/2015/11/
> >
> > Suggests that the original cliffhanger was Thomas Hardy's creation:
> >
> > "The term cliffhanger is attributed to Thomas Hardy’s serial novel A
> > Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), in which, at the end of chapter 21, Hardy
> > chose to leave his protagonist Henry Knight hanging off a cliff, while
> > waiting for Elfride Swancourt to help. As his grip weakens Swancourt
> > returns in chapter 22, taking off her clothes and making a rope of her
> > petticoats, pulling Knight to safety with them. Unable to conceal each
> > others’ feelings any longer, they embrace."


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