Friday, January 13, 2012

Dime Novels

Enormously popular and critically maligned, the dime novel was one of the first forms of mass culture in the United States. The Western adventure story dominated the dime novel industry in the 1860s and 1870s. Tales of the frontier, wherever it was – upstate New York, the Great Plains, or the California gold country – defined a mythical American identity. These “Books for the Million!” justified Western expansion with mail-order myths of violent transgressions, passionate romances, and thrilling rescues.

The captivity narrative – in which a white protagonist (usually a woman) is abducted by Indians, with whom she sometimes comes to sympathize – was a popular trope in Dime Novels. In Stanley Henderson’s Prairie Chick, or, The Quaker among the Red-skins (New York: Frank Starr, 1877), the protagonist is revealed to be the daughter of a frontiersman who chose to live among the Indians; united with her white half-sister, she moves East, “where she was easily persuaded to renounce her Indian habits and attire, and become a civilized being.”

Rauner has a large collection of 19th–century Dime Novels.  You can see Prairie Chick by asking for Dime Novel 160.

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