Dime Novels

Dime novels once were a very common form of entertainment. They were fairly short, cheaply printed and mass-produced stories. They were long on adventure and short on literary content. Their readership was younger urban boys and men, but a few were written for girls and women. The subject matter was very often some melodramatic aspect of the American West, particularly outlaws, adventure and Indian wars. Some dime novels were about urban crime. They tended to be written to a formula. The authors were mostly men, some of whom cranked out hundreds of titles. A few of the writers became wealthy because their fans kept buying. There was a few women among the dime novel writers, such as Ann S. Stephens. The novels were most popular from about 1870 through the 1920s. They faded out as movies became popular. Early movies often had scripts not so different from the dime novels. The dime novels did much to create the enduring stereotype of the cowboy and the Western hero. In Britain, the form was usually called “Penny Dreadfuls.” They were closely related to story papers, which typically had 8 newspaper style pages in tabloid format that printed stories, often with more illustrations than the dime novels had (the novels usually had only the cover illustration). The story papers came out weekly, and reached high circulation levels, as high as 400,000 an issue. Today they are collector’s items.

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