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THE DIME NOVEL IN AMERICAN CULTURE

“This type of fiction was our very own… it was the literary outcropping of a pioneer people.”
- Albert Johannsen, The House of Beadle and Adams, Volume I1

<em>King of the Winds; or, The Quaker's Horse</em> (Series of Prize Novels)

This 25-cent publication by Dick & Fitzgerald contained three other short stories in addition to the title story, all reprinted works by well-known French novelist Eugène Sue. Click for more information and to browse the extensive Dick & Fitzgerald catalogue included in this anthology.

The first paperback fiction in the U.S. was cheap reprints of European classics, like this volume compiling a complete novel and three short stories for 25 cents (exact publication date unknown). It wasn’t until around the Civil War that the New-York-based publishers Beadle and Co. began distinguishing themselves with “all-American” frontier stories sold to working-class audiences for ten cents or less. In simple, action-packed stories of Indian wars and bear-fighting, the literature narrated the clash between civilization and wilderness. Dime novel authors and publishers were the first to build the myth of the American West as it is known today and populate it with its most iconic heroes - outlaws, backwoodsmen, and cowboys.

<em>Wild Jim, the Traitor Spy</em> (Beadle's Frontier Series no. 3)

Early dime novels like this one, first published in 1867, sport covers depicting violent altercations with Native Americans or wild animals. But as the frontier closed, dime novels focused less on depicting clashes with the wilderness and more on conflicts within frontier society itself. Click here to browse a gallery of covers from Beadle's Frontier Series.

Yet the Western wilderness imagined in dime novels is just that - imagined - a vision packaged and sold primarily by urban Easterners who had never seen the frontier. Dime novels are most useful, then, not as realistic portrayals of frontier life (or urban crime-fighting, as the case may be) but as documentation of the fantasies and anxieties of their readers. Dime novel fans across the U.S. may have been seeking an escape from more mundane lives, but they found their own most salient concerns reflected back.

1. Johannsen, Albert. The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels: The Story of A Vanished Literature. Vol. 1. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1950. Print. xxiii.

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