Postbellum, pre-harlequin: American romance publishing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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The years between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century were highly consequential for the evolution of the popular romance genre in the United States. Yet our accounts of this crucial period—spanning the emergence of new and often short-lived weekly romance story papers in the 1870s and the consolidation of romance-centered dime novel series and libraries by the 1890s—remain underdeveloped. 1 A clearer view of this period can help shed light not only on the specific contours of postbellum romance publishing but also on the complexity and heterogeneity of American romance in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, an era marked by diversity and multiplicity that we too commonly think of as an exclusively contemporary phenomenon. In what follows I will describe the dominant modes of popular romance publication in the US between 1870 and the early 1900s in two distinct phases, highlighting the shift from the experimentation of the romance story papers to the relative stability of the romance libraries and series. I will propose revisions to several longstanding critical assumptions about the genre’s late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century form, including its place in the genealogy of American romance fiction. In the process I will also suggest that many of the elements of American romance publishing we currently take for granted as late-twentieth century innovations, including multiple points of view, proliferating subgenres, and diverse publishing venues, were already distinctive features of the buzzing, blooming, romance market at the end of the last century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRomance Fiction and American Culture
Subtitle of host publicationLove as the Practice of Freedom?
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781134806218
ISBN (Print)9781472431523
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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