Recurring Themes and Settings

If, with Marc Angenot, we can postulate that popular culture represents “the latent reverie of an epoch,”[1] many of the settings and themes represented in dime novels speak volumes about Quebec society’s postwar fantasies.

 

To begin with, these stories take place primarily in the city: Montreal dominates regardless of whether it concerns adventure, detective or romance novels. An air of “modernity” and wealth surrounds these novels. The Black Domino observes the city from the heights of his penthouse; Diane the beautiful adventurer, an heiress who practices journalism to escape boredom, drives a convertible... In the romance novels, love is found either at the office, where the young typist falls in love with her boss, or at cabarets or movie theatres frequented by the youth. And ideally, the suitor has enough money in pocket to take his lady to a restaurant and offer her a nice honeymoon in New York, before returning to live in his sprawling Outremont or Westmount mansion.

 

Dime novels offer an American dream à la québécoise: all the big bosses in the romance novels, for example, are francophones. We are in the presence of what Denis Saint-Jacques would call a “realistic fiction” or “waking dream,” involving the skillful mixing of very concrete elements (the names of streets, for example) with fantasy to produce a universe that readers can buy into, despite its fantastic character. The result is a “lifting of prohibitions” for readers willing to “participate in the fantasy offered up as fiction,” which allows them to live out this adventure “in a world freer than the reality intertwined with it.”[2] 

 

[1] Marc Angenot, “Qu’est-ce que la paralittérature?”,  Études littéraires, vol. 7, no 1, 1974, p. 21-22.

[2] Denis Saint-Jacques, “L’idéologique dans le texte,” in Le Phénomène IXE-13, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1984, p. 288.

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