The Objects and their Circulation

As François Hébert has observed, in francophone Quebec, “popular dime novels made their first appearance in the early 1940s.”[1]  Printed on low-quality paper, with crowded text and numerous errors (some of the endings are not even related to the right story…), these novels were pumped out as quickly as they were intended to be consumed. In revealing the population’s concerns, aspirations and fantasies, they offer an exceptional window onto the society of their time.

 

Dime novels published in French in Quebec should not be confused with the pulp fiction phenomenon. Their format owes more to the older European tradition of the “roman à 10 sous,” literally “novel for 10 cents,” so named in reference to their price. The American pulp magazine is in fact more a product of the periodical press, that is to say, a “magazine with a much higher page count (between 100 and 120 pages) and including several stories in the same issue.”[2] In Quebec, however, popular novel series more closely follow the format of dime novels: “they measure 13 x 17 cm, have a soft cover, are comprised of 32 to 36 pages and offer a complete story.”[3] 

 

Dime novels are a type of serial or industrial literature. The total production of dime novels in Quebec is estimated at 11,000 titles published by 66 publishing houses. It is no wonder, given the intense competition on the market, that publishers had to find inventive ways to stand out from the crowd and get noticed. In addition to jostling for the most visible spots in tobacco shops, train stations, terminals, newsstands and restaurants, they sought to capture buyers’ attention from the very first glance. Hence the provocative cover illustrations, often far more audacious than the content itself, designed to attract onlookers and trigger their impulse to buy.  

​The result of these aggressive marketing policies was unequivocal: tens of thousands of copies of these cheap publications were sold every week. In Montreal alone, Police-Journal, run by Edgar Lespérance (1909-1964), the most powerful publisher of the time, was supported by a network of up to 1800 points of sale, located primarily in the east and on the South Shore.[4] Subscription sales made it further possible to extend and retain its readership: according to Vincent Nadeau and Michel René, the Police-Journal series attracted readers as far as New England, New Brunswick and Manitoba.[5].

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[1] François Hébert, La littérature populaire en fascicules au Québec, Québec, Les Éditions GID, 2012, p. 11.

[2] François Hébert, La littérature populaire en fascicules au Québec, Québec, Les Éditions GID, 2012, p. 11.

[3] François Hébert, La littérature populaire en fascicules au Québec, Québec, Les Éditions GID, 2012, p. 11.

[4] Vincent Nadeau and Michel René, “Une littérature industrielle,” in Le Phénomène IXE-13, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1984, p. 35.

[5] Vincent Nadeau and Michel René, “Une littérature industrielle,” in Le Phénomène IXE-13, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1984, p. 40.

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