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Trash: The Dime Novel

ENGL 2135.401
also offered as: LALS 2135
Wednesday 3:30-6:29pm


During the nineteenth century, a genre of the literature arose in Europe and the Americas that would be both widely reviled and wildly popular. Alternately called the dime novel, the yellow-back, railroad literature, the urban mystery, and pulp fiction, among many other monikers, this genre was one of the first examples of mass-produced culture. The inheritor of previous forms of popular culture, such as ballads, broadsides, and “freak shows,” this literature would in turn influence subsequent genres of popular culture, including westerns, romances, noir, radio plays, soap operas, film, and t.v. While these texts were dismissed as “trash,” and sometimes even suppressed as criminal—because they were full of sex, violence, gender defiance, the crossing of race and class boundaries, and all manner of passing, deceit, and depravity—readers from all walks of life devoured them. In this course we will study the nineteenth-century rise and development of this controversial, unruly, and salacious genre in the United States. We will consider its conditions of production, consumption, and circulation; the histories in which it was embedded; and the ways the texts themselves were allegories of their times. What might we learn from such a decidedly low cultural form about its own times? And what might that form teach us about our present?

English Major Requirements
  • Literature Seminar pre-1900 (AEB9)
  • Sector 2 Difference and Diaspora (AEDD)
  • Sector 4 Long 18th Century (AE18)
  • Sector 5 19th Century (AE19)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Africana Literature & Culture Concentration (AEAC)
  • Gender/Sexuality Concentration (AEGS)
  • Literature, Journalism, & Print Culture Concentration (AELJ)
  • The Novel Concentration (AENV)
  • Theory & Cultural Studies Concentration (AETC)
College Attributes
Additional Attributes