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date: 20 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The close of the Victorian era is often regarded as marking the inception of the modern system of popular genres. But an examination of some conspicuous anomalies in recent histories of the nineteenth-century literary field suggests that the emergence of the kinds of generic labels by which readers oriented themselves to the market for popular fiction was a messy, uneven, and never fully completed process. Tracing the pivotal role played by Robert Louis Stevenson in the modernization of romance novels, particularly his influence on the rise of the single volume imperial adventure story, this chapter looks at the latter’s eclipse by two overlapping yet frequently rival domestic subgenres: the spy thriller and the detective story. Genres seldom comprise neat self-contained narrative structures, but are best understood as loose clusters of literary devices, branching off in a variety of competing directions, and creating what critic Franco Moretti has called ‘super-niches’.

Keywords: best-seller, genre system, imperial adventure, niche, triple-decker, spy thriller

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