Literature of the 1830s and 1840s

George Lippard.

While much of literature during the 1830s and 1840s was dedicated to religiosity and piety, a new type of literature was emerging during this time. George Lippard and other authors were achieving commercial success writing novels that have stood the test of time and have had appeal to ordinary Americans in generations since: novels about the Western United States. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 631.

Lippard targeted an emerging audience: “young working-class males with sensationalism, violence . . . , social criticism, and escapism.” Id. These “dime novels,” as they were colloquially known, were first in weekly “story papers” as early as 1839, then had pamphlets printed after that. See id. at 632.

These novels were not just entertainment, however. Many were adventures set in the western frontier of America and would “popularize imperialism,” as Americans began to embrace the idea of manifest destiny. Id.

Many were not so pleased with this development in literature, as they hoped that Americans would embrace books that promoted self-improvement. See id. However, there is no question that the dime novels that Lippard and others wrote and distributed would have a significant impact on Americans.

That impact is a prime example of how culture can impact politics and public opinion. Americans were able to escape the troubles of their normal lives by reading these dime novels, and the themes in these novels would make manifest destiny, as well as violence, more appealing to Americans. There was a romance developing about the expansion of the country and the dime novels played a significant part in fueling that developing romance.

While other factors were inevitably at play, dime novels were certainly one factor. Modern Americans should consider this. Forms of media, whether they are books or not, influence public opinion, which inevitably impacts American politics. That interaction is powerful, as American politics are subject to the changing minds and passions of Americans.

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