Gudrun Weiland

“They were the heroes of our childhood and youth”

“They were the heroes of our childhood and youth”: The role of dime novels in children’s reading in the early 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new literary form of popular fiction was imported from America to Germany: the dime novel (Groschenhefte). The dime novel was a genre specific series written by a team of authors supervised by an editor. Every episode of the series was a self-contained story about one hero or heroine. Dime Novels were not sold by regular bookstores, but by stationer’s shops, newspaper kiosks, station bookshops or even hairdressers shops. They were highly standardised, recognisable goods; they functioned as brands and could easily be customized. Dime novels squeezed older forms of popular fiction, like colportage, out of the market. They came on the market at the right moment: Their first appearance coincided with total literacy. The Dime Novel was the first popular medium which enabled the youth to make independent reading choices. Even children and young adults of the working class could buy and read them without mediation of adults. For the first time they were integrated into the world of mass consumption.

This paper will focus on how this popular medium changed media socialisation in the early 20th century. I will ask two principal questions: Firstly, what did dime novels make attractive for a juvenile audience? Secondly, how did the appearance of this new medium create new reading practices and experiences of young audiences? To answer these questions I will analyse the dime novel both as a prodistribution system and as a textual form. The results will be related to the ways in which dime novels were used. Serialised texts and their adorable heroes created

early forms of fan culture. I will examine reading dime novels as a collective practice and experience within the peer group. I will also address how the role of the medium changed over the lifespan of its users: Grown up collectors of old dime novels often motivated their collection fervour by youthful memories. The former reading material had become nostalgic memorabilia. The description of reading practices and experiences will be based mainly on ego-documents of readers like autobiographies and on results of early empirical studies in readers.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.

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