Dime Novels by American Women: Text-Mining a New Corpus

In the United States, cheaply produced dime novels were widely popular from the mid- to late nineteenth century. Nathaniel Hawthorne criticized this “damned mob of scribbling women” (and men) who were selling sensational stories as fast as they could write them. After serialization in story papers, some novels sold tens of thousands of copies and had multiple editions. Publishers also profited by compiling these novels into “libraries” under recognizable titles. To be sure, literary critics have shown sustained interest in recovering women’s writing since the 1990s and have made many advances in scholarship. However, even though organizations have digitized many of the texts and scholars have written about notable authors, the discursive topic nodes and structures of production remain mostly unexamined.

The selection of texts is based on gender, genre, location, and size of the publishing house. This project examines literature written by women between 1850 and 1915 by three major publishing houses in three large cities, New York City, Boston, and Chicago, in order to compare readership, top contributors, and content.

The project is driven by two central research questions. First, what are these widely popular, mass-produced nineteenth-century novels about, i.e. how are they responding to class stratification, shifting gender roles, industrialization, and other significant changes of the nineteenth century? Second, how can network analysis illuminate relationships between and among publishers, cities, and authors? Furthermore, this project will address gaps in American literature scholarship regarding reading habits of working-class people.

Download the data generated by this project, a corpus of 211 19th-Century American dime novels (.txt files)