Women and the World of Dime Novels

Full of romance and adventure, dime novels were a variety of melodramatic fiction that was popular in the United States from about 1860 until the early 1900s. Published as cheap paperbacks (most cost only ten cents), they were generally regarded as low-quality fiction. The characters fought, fell in love, got married, and occasionally killed each other (or sometimes themselves).

Women, more often than not, were major characters in these novels. Many of the novels were described as "romances" and featured a hero and heroine struggling against all the odds (or recalcitrant guardians) to get married. Dime novel heroines played leading roles even in the adventure stories and the historical fiction focused on Colonial times or the American Revolution. These women could be daughters, wives, mistresses, captives, and even experts with firearms.

Please explore this exhibit as you see fit. You can begin with some of the common tropes used in the portrayal of women, such as the Sundered Lover, the Independent Woman, or the Brokenhearted Wife; survey some female characters from selected dime novels in the American Antiquarian Society collections; or choose a novel that looks interesting and go from there. The tropes, characters, and novels link to each other, so please start digging and follow any of the paths provided.

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