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 Nineteenth-Century Paperback Literature

 

A publishing craze that hit both America and England from the mid- to late nineteenth  century attracted  the  readership  of the  semiliterate working  class. In  America,  dime  novels  typically  centered  on  tales  of  the  American Revolution and the Wild West, while British penny bloods  (later called penny dreadfuls)  told  serial  tales  of horror  or  fictionalized1  versions  of true  crimes. These paperback novels were sold at newsstands and dry goods stores and suc­ceeded in opening up the publishing market for both writers and readers. The industrial revolution facilitated the growth of literacy, making it easier to print and  transport publications in large quantities,  thus  providing  inexpensive entertainment for the masses.
 
Though  Johann  Gutenberg’s  printing  press  was  designed  in  the  fifteenth century, it was not until after the first newspapers began circulating in the eigh­teenth century that it became a profitable invention. Throughout the nineteenth century,  commoners  in  England  were  becoming  educated  through  normal schools,  church  schools,  and  mutual  instruction  classes,  and  by  the  1830s, approximately 75 percent of the working class had learned to read.  In  1870, the Forster  Education Act  made  elementary education  mandatory for  all  children. Though few children’s books were available, penny dreadfuls were highly acces­sible, especially to male youths who  created clubs  in order to pool their money and  start  their own  libraries.  Similar to  reading a newspaper,  dime  novels  and penny dreadfuls were meant to be read quickly and discarded,  unlike the hard­bound high  literature  that was written  in volumes  and published  for  the  elite. Struggling  authors,  many  of whom  had  limited writing  and  storytelling  skills, suddenly found an audience desperate to  read their work.  When the first type­writer became available in the  1870s,  authors were able to maximize2 their out­put. Successful authors, some of whom wrote over 50,000 words a month, were able to earn a decent living at a penny per word.
 
From  the  1830s  to  1850s,  penny  bloods  featured  tales  of gore  that  often depicted the upper class as corrupt. One of the most beloved characters from the penny blood serials was Sweeney Todd.  In the original story,  String of Pearls: ARomance,  published in  1846,  Sweeney Todd was a demon barber who  used his razor to  torture his victims before turning them into  meat pies.  In  1847, hack- playwright  George  Dibdin  Pitt  adapted  Thomas  Prest’s  story  for  the  stage, renaming it  The String of Pearls:  The Fiend of Fleet Street. With no copyright laws, authors were always at risk of having their ideas pilfered.  Pitt’s play was released again  one year later at one of London’s  “bloodbath”  theaters1  under the name  Founded on  Fact. The Sweeney Todd story also  made its way into musicals  and  comedies.  Controversy still exists  over whether Thomas  Prest’s character was  based  on  a  real  person.  No  records  of a  barber shop  on  Fleet Street,  or a barber named Sweeney Todd have  been  found,  though Thomas Prest  was  known  for  getting  his  inspiration  from  “The  Old  Bailey”  of the London  Times, a section devoted to real-life horror stories.
 
Despite the warning from Lord Shaftsbury that the paperback literature was seducing  middle-class  society  into  an  unproductive  life  of evil,  the  penny bloods grew in popularity. They provided a literary voice for commoners at an affordable price. Eventually, penny bloods became known as penny dreadfuls and began to focus more on adventure than horror.
 
In  1860, Beadle and Adams was the first firm in the United States to pub­lish a title that would be categorized2 as a dime novel.  Malaeska:  The IndianWife  of the  White Hunter,  by Anne Stephens,  had originally been  published twenty years  earlier  as  a series  in  a magazine.  In  novel  form,  approximately 300,000  copies of the story were sold in the first year, paving the way for the new fad in America. Many dime novels were written as serials with recurring characters,  such  as  Deadwood  Dick,  Commander  Cody,  and  Wild  Bill. Originally, the paperbacks were intended for railroad travelers; however, dur­ing the Civil War, soldiers quickly became the most avid dime novel readers. Beadle dime novels became so popular that the company had to build a fac­tory of hack writers  to  mass  produce  them. As  urbanization3 spread,  stories of the Wild West were  in  less  demand,  and  tales  of urban  outlaws  became popular.  At  that  time,  dime  novels  were  chosen  for  their  illustrated  covers rather than  their sensational stories and characters.  Despite their popularity, by the  late  1880s  dry goods  stores were  so  full  of unsold  books  that  prices dropped to less than five cents per copy.  Many titles that could still not sell were given  away or destroyed.  The  International  Copyright  Law,  passed  by Congress  in  1890,  required  publishers  to  pay  royalties  to  foreign  authors. Selling  at  less  than  five  cents  a  copy,  the  paperback  industry was  doomed until the arrival of pulp paper.

Choose the right type of literature for each of the characteristics below. 

1. They were popular in America
A. dime novels
B. both penny bloods and dime novels
C. penny bloods
Explain:


2. They were popular in Britain
A. dime novels
B. both penny bloods and dime novels
C. penny bloods
Explain:


3. They showed members of the upper class as corrupt
A. dime novels
B. both penny bloods and dime novels
C. penny bloods
Explain:


4. They were inexpensive
A. dime novels
B. both penny bloods and dime novels
C. penny bloods
Explain:


5. They featured tales of the Wild West
A. dime novels
B. penny bloods
C. both penny bloods and dime novels
Explain:


6. They were popular among members of the working class
A. both penny bloods and dime novels
B. dime novels
C. penny bloods
Explain:

Match each year with  the event that occurred during that year.   

1. 1870
A. A law about copyrights was passed
B. A law was passed requiring children to attend school
C. if it is characteristic of both penny bloods and dime novels
D. The first dime novel was published in the United States
E. Lord Shattsbury vvarned people about the dangers of penny bloods
F. The first Sweeney Todd story was pubiished
Explain:


2. 1846
A. A law was passed requiring children to attend school
B. The first Sweeney Todd story was pubiished
C. Lord Shattsbury vvarned people about the dangers of penny bloods
D. The first dime novel was published in the United States
E. if it is characteristic of both penny bloods and dime novels
F. A law about copyrights was passed
Explain:


3. 1860
A. The first Sweeney Todd story was pubiished
B. Lord Shattsbury vvarned people about the dangers of penny bloods
C. A law about copyrights was passed
D. A law was passed requiring children to attend school
E. The first dime novel was published in the United States
F. if it is characteristic of both penny bloods and dime novels
Explain:


4. 1890
A. Lord Shattsbury vvarned people about the dangers of penny bloods
B. A law about copyrights was passed
C. if it is characteristic of both penny bloods and dime novels
D. The first Sweeney Todd story was pubiished
E. The first dime novel was published in the United States
F. A law was passed requiring children to attend school
Explain:

Do the following statements agree with the information  in the reading passage?
YES             if the statement agrees with the information
NO              if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN  If there is no information on this in the passage

1. The literacy rate in England rose in the nineteenth century
A. NO
B. NOT GIVEN
C. YES
Explain:


2. Children′s books were popular in the nineteenth century
A. NO
B. YES
C. NOT GIVEN
Explain:


3. Most people agree that Sweeney Todd was based on a real person
A. NOT GIVEN
B. YES
C. NO
Explain:


4. Dime novels were popular among Civil War soldiers
A. NOT GIVEN
B. YES
C. NO
Explain:

Total: 65 page(s)
Score: 0/10
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