Scorned Literature

Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America

by Lydia Cushman Schurman, ed., Deidre Johnson


Explores the lasting significance of mass-produced popular American literature from the 1830s to the 1950s, including dime novels, comic books, and juvenile fiction.

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Cover image for Scorned Literature

January 2002


Pages 264
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics The Arts/American Literature

Many works now considered classics were scorned by critics when they were first published. While some of these works received little attention when initially released, others were enormously popular. So too, there is a large body of popular American fiction that is only now beginning to receive critical attention. This book examines the growing respect given to American fiction that was scorned by cultural gatekeepers such as librarians and educators, though these works were widely read by the American public.

The volume looks at such scorned literature as dime novels, comic books, juvenile fiction, romances novels, and pulp magazines. Expert contributors discuss what these works say about the mores and morals of the people who so avidly read them and the values of those who sought to censor them. The book covers the period from the 1830s to the 1950s and shows how popular literature reflected such concerns as feminism and anti-feminism, notions of the heroic and unheroic, and violence and racism. In doing so, the volume helps fill a gap in scholarship about literature that was clearly important to a large number of readers.

Table of Contents

Foreward by Madeline B. SternIntroduction by Deidre A. Johnson and Lydia Cushman SchurmanGresham's Law of Culture: The Case of Mickey Spillane and Postwar America by Jesse Berrett"Expressing" Herself: The Romance Novel and the Feminine Will to Power by Sarah S. G. FrantzCalamities of Convention in a Dime Novel Western by Janet DeanMarvel's Tomb of Dracula: Case Study in a Scorned Medium by Donald Palumbo"Blood in the Sky": The World War II Era Boys Series of R. Sidney Bowen by M. Paul Holsinger"It is a pity it is no better": The Story Paper and Its Critics in Nineteenth-Century America by Dawn Fisk ThommsenThe Effect of Nineteenth-Century "Libraries" on the American Book Trade by Lydia Cushman Schurman"The ragtag and bobtail of the fiction parade": Pulp Magazines and the Literary Marketplace by Erin A. SmithFrom Abbott to Animorphs, from Godly Books to Goosebumps: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Modern Series by Deidre A. JohnsonPoisoning Children's Culture: Comics and their Critics by Amy Kiste Nyberg"Wise Censorship": Cultural Authority and the Scorning of Juvenile Series Fiction, 1890-1940 by Kathleen ChamberlainRomance in the Stacks; or Popular Romance Fiction Imperiled by Alison M. ScottIndex



...a valuable addition to the literature on the genres addressed...Upper-division undergraduate and graduate students; general readers.—Choice

This collection turns long-withheld serious attention to several scorned genres, including detective fiction, westerns, romance novels, war adventures, and horror stories.—American Literature March 2003


^IScorned Literature:Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America^R provides fresh and provocative insights into American culture. A worthy and informative compilation of essays on the controversial response to popular fiction in the 19th century and 20th centuries, it is a valuable addition to any library with holdings in mass-produced culture.—Clark Evans^LCurator^Rare Books and Special Collections^LLibrary of Congress

Dime novels, romance novels, story papers, pulp magazines, juvenile series, and comics-what do these share in common? They are all forms of popular literature that have been scorned in our culture as inferior. ^IScorned Literature^R reveals that such popular literature often reveals as nuanced views of human culture as any other form of literature. This insightful and varied anthology opens up new vistas for exploring such work.—Dr. Sherrie A. Inness^LDepartment of English^LMiami University

The essays in this book illuminate the incredibly rich history of our favorite kinds of fiction. It is a history that is at grave risk of being lost to us forever because of elitist critics do not consider it sufficiently important to be preserved. But the greatest contribution these essays make is to lift the veil that those same critics have tried to throw over scorned lit. The contributors to the volume reveal what so many earnest and serious folks have gone to such great lengths to ignore or deny: The seething, roiling, power and incredible diversity of the creative forces at work in the stories and novels traditionally treated as scorned literature.—Jayne Ann Krentz^LAuthor

By focusing on a wide variety of genres--dime novels, pulps, story papers, romances, detective stories, comics, books for children or adolescents, series books, and cheap reprints--over two centuries, this collection illuminates the common class-based, sexist, and political underpinnings of much of what passes for highminded cultural criticism of mass entertainment.—Kay Mussell^LDean, College of Arts and Sciences^LAmerican University

This unique collection of critical essays examines several genres with more than a single critical approach. New criticism, feminist criticism, character studies, as well as historical and sociological methods are used to effect.—J. Randolph Cox^LEditor, Dime Novel Round-up

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