The first dime novel
A hundred and fifty-six years ago today, a new literary format was unveiled. The Dime Novel was born in an attempt by the publishers Erastus and Irwin Beadle to make money on inexpensive, ephemeral literature entitled Beadle’s Dime Novels. The first of this new series of books was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann S. Stephens. It had a cover date of June 9, 1860. As was common with dime novels, this work was a reprint of an earlier publication, Malaeska had been serialized in Ladies’ Companion magazine in February, March and April 1839.
Malaeska is a story of interracial marriage and many of the tragedies that result from that. By today’s standards it is irrecoverably racist and written in a prose style that is difficult for many moderns to read. It is however a significant window into early 19th century, and the racial politics of the time, much like Poor Sarah, which Special Collections also holds.
Dime novels were very popular, particularly with younger, working-class readers, and were snubbed by the more upper-class literati, effectively establishing the genre ghettoization still prevalent in popular literature today. The term dime-novel itself eventually became a high-brow slur for any sort of cheap , sensational fiction.
Eventually dime-novels were superseded in the early 20th century by their heirs, the pulps.
Other in this blog on this topic can be found here.
The department of Special Collections has over 4,000 issues of dime novels, of which only a fraction have been cataloged individually. The series currently held include the following: Adventure series, All around weekly, All Sports Library, Annapolis Series, Beadles American Sixpenny Library, Beadles Dime Biographical, Beadles Dime Dialogues, Beadles Dime Novels, Beadles, Frontier, Beadles Half Dime, Beadles Pocket, Beadles Sixpenny Tales, Bowery Boy Library, Boys Best Weekly, Buffalo Bill Borders Stories, Buffalo Bill Library, Buffalo Bill’s Far West Life, Comic Library, Comrades Tales, Cowboy Series, Deadwood Dick Library, Diamond Dick Jr. Boy’s Weekly, Do and Dare, Fame and Fortune Weekly, Far West Library, Great Western Library, Liberty Boys of the 76, Log Cabin Library, Medal Library, Merriwell Series, Frank Merriwell Stories, Might and Main Library, Millionaire Library, Munro’s ten cent novels, New Buffalo Bill Weekly, New Nick Carter Library, New Tip Top Weekly, Nick Carter Stories, Novelette Library, Ol Cap Collier Library, Old Sleuth’s Own, Pluck and Luck, Railroad Series, Red White and Blue, Secret Service, Snaps, Sports Stories, Three Chums, Tip Top Weekly, Top Notch Magazine, Western Story Library, Wide Awake Library, Wide Awake Weekly, Young Athletes Weekly, Young Rough Riders, Young Rover Library.