Friday, March 14, 2014

"Nothing Higher or Nobler Than the Typical Dime Novel"

By Tom Gallon (1866-1914).
Ward Lock & Company Limited.
1907. 315 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Tom Gallon's ambition must have been to be the next Charles Dickens:
Whenever a novel appears which does not deal too exclusively with the aristocracy, its admirers hasten to assure the public that Dickens has again come among us, improved and brought up to date! Many people professed to find this flavor in Mr. De Morgan's delightful "Joseph Vance"! The unbiased criticism on the cover of "Tinman" claims that "In plot, style, and treatment, it compares favorably with Dickens"! It is well that this has been pointed out, since unaided no sane person would have discovered it. "The House on the Marsh" at a stretch—but Dickens!
Tom Gallon is gifted with the lurid manner. The clouds hanging over "The House of Usher" are as a dawn in June compared to the blackness permanently settled about Hammerstone Market. Even at twenty a young man might have experience enough to call in the police when his guardian went on so that "in all my life I never remember to have seen a man so suddenly become a wild beast as Jerry Fanshawe did then."
Jerry ran about banging doors and blaspheming, "pulling at his lips with his long fingers. . . ." But he was not having things all his own way, since ". . . I had never seen on any face such a look of mingled fear and hopelessness and longing and misery as I saw in his face then." Although Jerry "clinched and unclinched his hands and moistened his lips and strove to speak," and also had that habit of examining his nails which is the primary impulse of every villain, Charlie had no suspicion of him (otherwise Jerry would have been immediately consigned to Bedlam or Reading Gaol, ending the story promptly at page forty-nine).
As it is, notwithstanding an important manner, "Tinman" has only been strung out to store size by the ingenious device of repeating the heroine's adventures in the person of her daughter, merely giving a happier outcome to the fortunes of Barbara number two. — THE NATION (August 15, 1907)
Tom Gallon's book is of less virile calibre, although the theme possesses greater novelty. Here we have a man of weak will and "Tinman" chivalrous instincts, upon whose credulity the villain of the story works, until he convinces him that the honour of the woman he loves is at the mercy of a third man, whom it is his duty as a sort of modern knight-errant to kill. He commits the murder, is of course discovered, refuses to reveal his real motive, which might have won him a recommendation for mercy, and is sentenced to be hanged; but the sentence is afterward commuted, and eventually he is released after serving twenty odd years at hard labour.
The first portion of the book, though somewhat lurid in method, would have made a strong and unusual short story; but the further development of events, after the murderer's release, and the way in which history is forced to repeat itself, so that a second murder may add a cumulative thrill to an already overburdened plot, conveys an unmistakable flavour of nothing higher or nobler than the typical dime novel. —Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Factor of Style and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (October 1907; scroll to page 165)

Category: Detective fiction

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