Frank Reade and His Steam Horse, an early science fiction dime novel
If you have been following this blog, you will have noticed a lot of activity related to dime novels ever since we discovered our forgotten 19th-century collection.
The latest development is the announcement of a free, day-long conference devoted to the subject. Paper for the People: A Conference on Dime Novels and Early Mass Market Publishing will uncover some of the fascinating early history of commercial entertainment “for the millions.” Highlights will include an examination of the origins of science fiction in “steampunk” dime novels, courtesy of expert and world-class collector Joe Rainone; a tribute to legendary bibliographer Edward T. LeBlanc; and the unveiling of a new library exhibit featuring some fascinating rarities.
All are welcome — if you are interested in attending, please register at the conference web site. We are also still accepting proposals for presentations, should you have a special interest in the subject!
We recently received a shipment of international dime novels from a seller in The Netherlands. We are now the proud owners of dime novels in Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as a smaller number of titles in Polish and Swedish.
“Texas Jack” titles in several languages.
Most of the covers are full of vibrant colors depicting graphic scenes of mischief and mayhem. Many of the illustrations are quite violent and full of the racism that was common at the time these were published. One title in Spanish has already been digitized and is now viewable online: Un hechicero infernal (in English: “An infernal sorcerer”). We will, of course, be digitizing more over time.
A selection of international dime novels.
As we prepare to catalog these titles, we are requesting help in translating some of the information about them. We’re not looking for full-text translations, but rather translations of the basic information such as the title and some possible subjects. To facilitate this crowdsourcing endeavor, we will be posting images of the front covers and/or title pages of these works on our Flickr account. Keep an eye out for more info here on the blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on the above-mentioned Flickr account. (If you would like to be notified by email when these images are added to Flickr, please send an email to email@example.com and include which language(s) you read.)
Yet another of our proofreading projects has been completed.
This week’s offering is The Shadow of a Sin by Charlotte M. Brame (alias Bertha M. Clay), a dime novel romance examining (in high melodramatic form) the long-term consequences of a single impulsive action.
This book is considerably more sedate than our previous romantic offering, Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller’s The Bride of the Tomb; and, Queenie’s Terrible Secret. While Mrs. Miller’s stories are filled with dramatic incident and sudden violence, Brame’s are considerably calmer, concerning themselves more with British society and emotional misunderstandings than with kidnappings and fiendish conspiracies. That is not to say that there is no drama here or that Brame’s heroine suffers less than Millers’; however, The Shadow of a Sin is less likely than The Bride of the Tomb to shatter preconceptions about 19th century popular fiction.
The book can be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular e-reader formats at Project Gutenberg, which also has a variety of other works by Brame.
To learn more about the book and its author, see our previous post about this project.
Regular Blue Electrode readers will remember that we discovered a hidden cache of “dime novels” (and other turn-of-the-century popular literature) last summer and that we are adding some of our digitized titles to Project Gutenberg’s distributed proofreading project. We are pleased to announce the combination of these efforts with the completion of our first dime novel to go through the Project Gutenberg process: The Bride of the Tomb; and, Queenie’s Terrible Secret, a two-in-one volume, by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller, now available to read online or in a variety of electronic formats for various ereading devices.
Demian and I both read this and we had a lot of fun! Both of the novels in this two-in-one edition were full of clichés and extremely predictable plot “twists,” but they each also had a few surprises, which was nice — not quite the formulaic romance novels we were expecting! Both of the stories have fairly similar basic plots (people who seem to be dead but are not really dead and instead have been abducted), which is probably why they were packaged together, but they each have their own slightly different twists and turns. Of particular interest, the women characters in these stories are much more active than the men, even the supposed “heroes” (but of course the women still do their fair share of swooning). Queenie also makes use of some unexpected narrative devices, such as nonlinear storytelling (it may not be done particularly well, but it’s still noteworthy in a late-19th-century text).
If you’re into marginalia, you should make sure to look at the page images of this book in our Digital Library as well. This book was part of our original dime novel discovery, so we believe the writing may be that of Dr. Charles Magee, language professor and literary adviser to The Villanovan in the 1920s (we’ll have more about Dr. Magee later). There are many brief (mostly one-word) notes on the plot and literary devices.
Although they may not be paragons of literature, these stories are quite fun and they do offer several surprises. And if you’d like to join our Mrs. Miller fan club, just let us know!
Our latest proofreading project is another dime novel romance: The Shadow of a Sin, by “Bertha M. Clay.”
“Bertha M. Clay” is an interesting figure in the history of 19th century literary piracy. Prior to 1891, there was no American law governing republication of foreign works. As a result, many American publishers reprinted foreign works without obtaining permission or paying authors. While this may have been unethical (and many authors, including famous names like Charles Dickens, objected loudly), it wasn’t technically illegal, and the practice was widespread.
One victim of this piracy was prolific British romance novelist Charlotte M. Brame. Many of her works were reprinted in America by multiple publishers, sometimes under false names. One of the most common Brame aliases was Bertha M. Clay (note the similarity of initials), which was frequently used when Brame novels appeared in dime novel format. In fact, the fictional “Bertha M. Clay” was so successful that, after Brame’s death, American authors began to write additional “Clay” books in imitation of her style.
It probably goes without saying that this situation makes it a bit difficult to figure out the origin of some books from this period. Fortunately, a very detailed Charlotte Brame bibliography is available through Victorian Secrets’ Victorian Fiction Research Guides to help sort out the confusion.
According to the guide, The Shadow of a Sin was first serialized between November, 1874 and January, 1875 in the Family Herald, a British story paper. The edition in our collection is undated, but we know that it was printed in Philadelphia, most likely in the late 19th or early 20th century.
If you would like to help turn this old volume into a modern eBook, you can read about our proofreading project and then visit the project page.
The latest Digital Library offering to enter the distributed proofreaders project is an omnibus volume containing two vintage romance novels: The Bride of the Tomb and Queenie’s Terrible Secret.
The Bride of the Tomb was an early hit from Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller, a successful author in her day, and it remains prominent enough to merit scholarly analysis. Queenie’s Terrible Secret is a less well-known novel by the same writer, but it offers the same brand of melodrama, telling (as its subtitle explains) of “A Young Girl’s Strange Fate.”
This particular combined edition is part of Street & Smith’s Eagle series of dime novels; covers of other volumes from the series can be seen in Syracuse University Library’s Street & Smith Cover Art Collection.
If you want to learn more about our proofreading efforts and find out how to help, see Proofreading the Digital Library.