Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "Dime Novel"...not great literature but great adventure

The Writer's Almanac...

It was on this day in 1860, exactly 150 years ago, that the first "dime novel" was published: Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann S. Stephens.

Most dime novels were filled with crime, violence, and romance. They were mostly set in America during romanticized periods in the nation's short history — the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or on the frontier. There were mistaken identities, villains, love stories, daring escapes, and sudden wealth. Outlaws like Jesse James and Buffalo Bill were heroes, women were swept off their feet by ne'er-do-wells, the life of frontier settlers seemed much more exciting than that of regular people stuck in nice towns, and violence was glorified. Dime novels were perceived as dangerous, especially for young people, on whom they might have a bad influence.

The content of Malaeska was no exception. Malaeska is a Native American, and her husband is white. And although he adores her, he makes no attempt to introduce her to any of his friends or relations, and has dramatic internal struggles over his son's biracial identity. Then the settlers and the tribe become hostile, and Malaeska's husband and her father end up killing each other. As her husband is dying, he orders his wife to take their son and have him raised a Christian by his white grandparents. They take in the boy, but force Malaeska to become a servant, and the boy grows up believing he is white, and gets engaged. But just before he is married, Malaeska reveals that she is his mother, and her son is so upset at the idea that he almost disgraced a "pure" white woman by marrying her, that he kills himself, and Malaeska dies of grief.

From Stanford's Dime Novel and Story Paper Collection...

In reference to Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls...

Both genres flourished from the middle to the close of the 19th century in America and England (where the novels were known as "penny dreadfuls"), and benefited from three mutually reinforcing trends: the vastly increased mechanization of printing, the growth of efficient rail and canal shipping, and ever-growing rates of literacy.

The dime novels were aimed at youthful, working-class audiences and distributed in massive editions at newsstands and dry goods stores. Though the phrase conjures up stereotyped yarns of Wild West adventure, complete with lurid cover illustration, many other genres were represented: tales of urban outlaws, detective stories, working-girl narratives of virtue defended, and costume romances.

Story papers, weekly eight-page tabloids, covered much the same ground, but often combined material and themes to appeal to the whole family. The chief among them had national circulations greater than any other newspaper or magazine, some reaching 400,000 copies sold per issue. Unlike the dime novels, which generally confine illustration to the cover, the story papers integrate text and illustration (in the form of wood engravings) throughout.

Dime novel [Wikipedia]

Here is a complete Dime Novel...

The Solution of a Remarkable Case

Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls [Stanford]

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