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By Pamela Bedore (auth.)

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Denning’s attention to detectives deployed beyond their generic boundaries allows him to make connections across genres, as when he Reassessing the American Contribution to Detective Fiction 17 characterizes both Nick Carter, the most famous dime novel detective, and Frank Merriwell, the most famous dime novel schoolboy athlete, as ‘figures of the Anglo-Saxon chauvinism of the turn of the century’ and as products of the attendant fragmentation of working-class culture (205). The comparison between these two central dime novel heroes speaks as much to scholars of detective fiction as of working-class culture.

This is not to suggest that individual detective works do not reflect specific concerns of their time and place; it is rather to argue that these reflections are more complex than a one-to-one relationship to a historical moment, often drawing simultaneously upon multiple tropes that are generally associated with different periods. In the various subgenres developed in the dime novel, we see a tension in the representation of the detective that works at several levels, reflecting an anxiety typical of nineteenth-century newspaper and magazine representations of the new profession of the police officer.

Teresa Ebert takes up this point in her argument that detective fiction is fundamentally accomplishing the work of patriarchy, regardless of the intentions and orientations of its writers and readers. In some ways, Ebert and I are both doing what David Morley calls ‘oppositional readings,’ albeit from two different perspectives. Ebert examines seemingly feminist texts while the corpus I am analyzing is generally considered patriarchal, but we both look to structural features to tease out potential gendered readings almost certainly not intended by authors but nonetheless available to readers.

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