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Preservation of pulp fiction on track

This long-derided subaltern class of literature has its own tale to tell.

ET Bureau|
Oct 15, 2019, 08.24 AM IST
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Printed books as a whole are a casualty of the age of technology but probably none more so than the ‘penny dreadfuls’ or mass-produced cheap literature, once sold on railway platforms and at bus depots everywhere.
Printed books as a whole are a casualty of the age of technology but probably none more so than the ‘penny dreadfuls’ (as they were called in Victorian Britain) or mass-produced cheap literature, once sold on railway platforms and at bus depots everywhere. With downloadable books and Wi-Fi available in most places, such books have practically disappeared as only the technologically challenged or terminally nostalgic spend even a minuscule amount on printed reading material for journeys any more. So, Delhi University’s Centre for Academic Translation and Archiving must be commended for its ‘Street Lit’ project that aims to document this near-extinct genre of pulp fiction in regional languages. Those wildly popular slim novels with garish covers — usually tales of crime, horror, mystery and sex — once made the miles melt away with their engrossingly graphic prose. Their contribution to national character, therefore, cannot be underestimated.

But this school of literature has been long regarded as the lowest of the low(brow) and, therefore, looked down upon by most elevated connoisseurs of the written word. Some would probably deny even a passing acquaintance with any of them. Hence, any move to collect and preserve examples of this long-ostracised class of subaltern books should be regarded as more than just a quirky literary exercise.
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