Yellowbacks!


No, that’s not an insult or a racial slur. The word refers to what is essentially 19th century pulp fiction, cheesy swashbucklers, penny dreadfuls and the like.

And now, for those who can’t get enough of these, you can find loads online, courtesy of Emory University:

Yellowbacks were cheap, 19th century British literature sold at railway book stalls, with colorful, sensational covers to attract buyers. While some were well-known books such as “Sense and Sensibility,” many of the yellowbacks were obscure titles by authors unknown today. “They were the equivalent of a popular novel you’d read on a plane today,” says David Faulds, MARBL’s rare book librarian.

However, be forewarned, this is more like a raw data dump when looking through titles. There are no quick synopses to tell you what’s what. You’ll need at least Adobe Acrobat reader for these, so no special equipment (i.e., Kindle or Nook) although this writer at Research Buzz was going to send it to a Kindle.

Here’s a quick sample of a few titles:

A Race for a Wife, by Hawley Smart
Robert the rover, or, Adventures on the Spanish Main, by William Stephens Hayward (honestly, how can you resist?)
The Cloud King, by William Stephens Hayward (perhaps the Tom Clancy of his day?)
The American, by Henry James (wow!)
Mildred’s cross, or, The high road to ruin, by William Stephens Hayward

There are over 1200, so lots to choose from. And I must give credit where credit is due: I found this via a Tweet from @torbooks! Maybe Twitter does have its uses after all.

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8 thoughts on “Yellowbacks!

    1. I am so ready for Robert the Rover. The title reminds me of this old b/w French film I saw last summer called “Bob le Flambeur”

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      1. Hmmm… so the question that springs to mind is, do I want to know what that translates as? 🙂

        I’ve just gotta find out who this William Stephens Hayward guy was, there may be some real gems in there. And with over 1200 titles to choose from… well, the mind reels!

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      2. I know – it sorta sounds like some kind of flaming dragster, no? Actually tt means “Bob the High Roller” – he’s sort of a washed up gambler/cat burglar who shows up at some casino in Europe for one last score , not unlike a dour, early ancestor of the guys in Ocean’s Eleven.

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      3. Heh heh. I did run it through Google’s translator and it came out “Bob the Gamble” which I assumed was kind of a half-assed translation, thinking it should have been “Gambler.” Google’s kind of iffy that way.

        I tried to download a couple of those books last night, but couldn’t get the PDFs to load. I may try creating an ‘account’ there, if they allow non-students to do so, and see if that helps.

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  1. Hi Jenna,

    Fair warning: I did manage to download two of them, and they are large files. One was 13MB and the second one was 17MB! They apparently include everything in the book: Front cover, interior illustrations, blank pages at the front and back, etc. All they seem to lack is the ‘old book smell’ 🙂

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