Taste and trends in best seller fiction: 1930-1939
Tyler, Bernice Mason
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This study is undertaken for the purpose of discovering what factors have influenced the taste and trends of best seller fiction of the decade nineteen thirty to nineteen thirty-nine inclusive. In pursuing this study the first step was an examination of the nature of best seller lists; and, secondly, a survey of the literature concerning best seller fiction in order to determine the extraneous factors which influence the appearance and position of a book on such a list. Next, a brief review was made of the social, economic, and political aspects of the decade in order to discover what factors inherent in the background of the decade may have exerted an influence on the best seller fiction of the period. Then a survey was made of the trends in literature throughout the decade, with special attention to fiction, in order to determine how and to what extent the popular fiction of the decade was influenced by the dominant literary trends of the period. Lastly, an examination was made of the five, leading best sellers for each year of the decade for the purpose of revealing the factors intrinsic in the books themselves which influenced their selection as the decade's most popular fiction. The data on which this study is based consists largely of the discussions of the various aspects of best sellers by authors, editors, critics, and reviewers as reported in the newspapers and literary periodicals or the decade. A relatively small amount of material reviewing the literary aspects of the decade has been published since its close and whenever such material has been pertinent it has been used. The review of the social, economic and political background is basea on competent authority. The findings of the study indicate that (1) the whole subject of popular fiction is of a constantly recurring and controversial nature. (2) best seller lists were in disrepute at the beginning of the decade but that reforms have since been effected in compiling them which have made them more reliable. (3) there are many extraneous factors which influence the appearance and position of a volume on a fiction best seller list. (4) of these extraneous factors the influence of editors and professional reviewers appears to be strong and has aroused much discussion. (5) a literary cleavage has taken place which leaves popular fiction in the position of being disdained by one group as mediocre or less and by another as being an escape from the vital issues of the times. (6) the social, economic, ana political back ground of the decade has been one of depression ana startling changes and in which the dominant note has been fear---fear of economic insecurity and fear that the familiar pattern of the American way of life would be irrevocably altered. (7) the element of fear is reflected, in the popular literature of the decade. (8) certain literary trends are discernable in the popular fiction of the decade; namely, the novel with no central character, the novel of family life through more than one generation, the predominance of the South in the field of regional novels, and the proletarian novel. (9) the general level of merit of popular fiction is relatively high and seems to be gaining with the years. (10) the decade was too chaotic and is still too near to be able with any degree of validity to predict which books will have a lasting significance. (11) many of the popular books of the decade, although they may not have a lasting significance and although they may be lacking in the finer technical qualities, so have validity in that they serve to reveal, develop, and emphasize themes which are vivid for the moment, though they may eventually pass on, and serve to expand experience, which after all is a primary function of fiction.
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