Pulp Fiction in the Victorian Age

I  thought pulp fiction was a 2oth century phenomenon, but it turns out the Victorians were the first to publish the potboilers, beginning in 1860 with what were called “dime novels.” These novels were bound in salmon- colored paper (the first paperbacks) and were usually stories containing  lots of action and outrageous plots.

The first dime novel, written by Ann S Stephens, was titled Maleska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. Some of the most prominent authors of the time, including  Upton Sinclair and possibly Theodore Dreiser, wrote dime novels as part of a series of more than 300 such works published by Beadle and Adams. It is said that Sinclair wrote boys’ adventure stories, dictating them to a stenographer.  In the twentieth century, a British author dictated dozens of romance novels to her secretary. I can’t imagine writing in such a fashion, but it seems to have worked for them.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott, author of  the classic Little Women, was  also a pulp fiction author. Writing to her friend Alfred Whitman, Miss Alcott stated her intention to write ” a blood and thunder tale, as they are easy to ‘compoz’ and better paid than…Shakespeare, so don’t be surprised if I send you a paper containing a picture of Indians, pirates, wolves, bears and distressed damsels. ” She went on to write 130 dime novels using the pseudonym A M Barnard. A surprising side of an author who seems so prim and proper.