Sunday, June 17, 2007

The dynamite romance

An interesting article by Tom Armitage about the genre of the dynamite romance:

These 19th-century terrorists achieved something their modern-day counterparts have not yet done: they captured the imagination of both writers and readers, giving rise to the now-forgotten genre of the "dynamite romance". The culture of the dynamitard - with its secret societies, code names and meetings by moonlight - appealed to the Victorians, who had such a taste for suspense and sensation. Today, such a genre would no doubt be criticised for trivialising a serious issue, or for offending the victims. Then, however, it was a way of channelling fear and uncertainty into a few hours' entertainment.

The slim fictions of the "dynamite romance" depicted shifty, intelligent young men in dark coats, darting about the city, smoking doctors' bags in hand. Most of these books are now out of print, and not without reason: they were the airport thrillers of their day. The genre had an influence on literature that did stand the test of time, however - notably through Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and G K Chesterton's surreal comedy The Man Who Was Thursday (both published in 1907). Conrad's book has a dark, satirical edge, while Chesterton plays up the more absurd elements of anarchism, parodying the conventions of passwords, disguises and secret meetings.

Still title-searching...

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