I’ve written previously about my experiences cataloging the AAS dime novel collection. I was still fairly early in the process when I discussed the relative quality of three publishing houses: Beadle and Adams, George Munro, and Elliott, Thomes & Talbot. As I have continued working with the collection since, I have had a chance not only to explore more novels by these firms, but also novels from even lesser known firms, in series that only lasted for a couple dozen, or even only five or six numbers. As I’ve had the chance to delve into the truly wide array of dime novel publishing, I couldn’t help but notice how many tropes were common to the genre as a whole. I found it absolutely mind-boggling how many novels included the following general plot device: a woman is in love with Man A, but Man B wants to marry her. When the woman turns down Man B, he has her kidnapped in an effort to coerce her into marriage. The woman is eventually freed to marry Man A and Man B’s villainy is revealed to the world. It was then that I realized just how many of these tropes I’d been seeing, and how many centered around the women in the novels.
I have some wonderful college and graduate school professors to thank for fostering my passion for women’s history, and my imagination was fired by the world of dime novel women. The novels certainly contained some of the stereotypical characters I expected, but they also included many strong, fiery, independent woman. When Molly O’Hagan Hardy, our digital humanities curator, brought Ken Albers to AAS to train us in using Omeka, providing us with the opportunity to curate our own online exhibitions, it didn’t take much thinking to know I wanted to work with the women in dime novels. Their stories were so funny and tragic and just unexpectedly sensational or delightful that I wanted to be able to share a glimpse of this world.
The exhibition, called Women and the World of Dime Novels, is divided into two main sections: the Tropes and the Women. The Tropes section provides an overview of six of the more common character tropes I have found in dime novels, such as the Brokenhearted Wife or the Ruined Woman. The Women section explores specific characters from the dime novels, providing summaries of their stories, highlighting how they exemplify certain tropes. These summaries include quotations from the novels, both to highlight key scenes and to provide a flavor of the writing styles present in dime novels. The Trope pages link to the relevant characters who exemplify them and the Women pages link both to the tropes and to pages providing information about the novels themselves, all of which come from the AAS collections. These links and connections are provided to encourage readers to follow their own path through the exhibition, so please explore and enjoy!