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Popular Fiction: The Dime Novel

The Dime NovelThe most popular adventure literature in the late 1800s is the Dime Novel or pulp magazines.  They were either a newspaper format: 5-inches x 7-inches with 100 pages or 8-inches x 12-inches magazine with 16 to 32 pages.  It contained between 30 to 50 thousand words.  The price varied from a nickel to 25 cents.

In the late 1800s, Beadle and Adams, Frank Tousey, Streets and Smith and other publishers publish hundreds of dime novels.  These dime novels ingrain as heroes the scout, the cowboy and the outlaw.  This kind of fiction becomes the driving force behind the Western and especially the B - Western. 

Also, over the years more people read dime novels than the fiction of writers like Cooper.  People love to read about brave and handsome frontiersmen who take on hundreds of painted savages or masked outlaws and defeat them single-handed, while beautiful young women faint in approval at his feet.  

In the dime novel, especially we can find the roots of the simple and elemental conflict between individual goodness and villainy, and the impulse towards physical action and adventure that form the basis of the B - Western.

Hack dime novel writers provide the fodder of "larger that life characters" and the unbelievable situations of the heroes.  Yet, there is a connection, though often shaky, with the truth.  Dime novel heroes like Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill, and Jesse James, are real people.  However, in real life, they do very few of the feats dime novels credit them.  Ned Buntline writes about Wyatt Earp and makes him, even today, a character "larger-than-life."

One of the most dramatic depictions of the dime novel myth writes is the 1992 Unforgiven (1992).  W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), a dime novel writer comes to Big Whisky, Wyoming following the exploits of English Bob (Richard Harris).  After Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) debunks the English Bob myth, Beauchamp quickly turns to writing about Little Bill.

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