This article is a nice appreciation of the nickel novel (also called the dime novel), which appeared to be on its way out but actually survived another 30 years or so.
Not every age produces a Shakespeare, a Dante, a Kipling, or a man destined to have his name written high in large thirty-two candle power incandescents. Every so often comes an apparent literary famine, and women who wear thick glasses and large cameo breastpins and little bearded moles arise at Friday Afternoon Literary Clubs to express wonderment about what the country’s coming to anyhow. Why is it, they inquire, that we’re not producing any more real mahstahs of literachuah?
There’s going to be equal consternation one of these days in an entirely different circle when it is learned that we’re going to stand vis a vis with a famine in another brand of literature. I refer to the five and ten cent literature known as ‘nickel libraries” and “dime novels.’ Unless there appear new men of inventive genius to give birth to an “Old Sleuth” or a “Nick Carter” adventure each week, then the people who read that sort of fiction must get their taste educated down, or up, to something else — either that or do without.
The present supply of men who can turn out a 50,000-word thriller a week isn’t going to last always. As it is there are less than fifteen men in the country who can be depended on for this type of marrow-chilling reading matter. Some of the star performers among these are men advanced in years. One or two are already in poor health. They cannot stand the nervous strain of their stupendous weekly tasks many years more. It is inevitable that they must retire from the field and permit younger men to think up exploits for “Nick Carter,” “Old Sleuth,” and the rest of the “world-famous detectives,” as the heroes are invariably referred to in the chronicles.
You can read more about Nick Carter at ThrillingDetective.com. And you can read one of his earliest adventures (from 1889) courtesy of Google Books.
MUST THE NICKEL NOVEL DIE OUT? IT IS IN DANGER NOW: It Calls for Ability to Write One, Though You Might Not Think It, and The Supply of Authors Is Decreasing — Less Than Fifteen of Them Left to Supply the Demand. (PDF)
From July 30, 1911
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