Williams's essay examines the complex portrayal of imperialist themes in the long-running series of nineteenth-century dime novels featuring boy inventor Frank Reade Jr. Authored primarily by Cuban-American writer Luis Senarens under the pseudonym “Noname,” these works provide a case study into dime-novel authorship and the cultural work of American proto-science fiction. The prevailing understanding of these novels asserts that their repeated retellings of a technocratic expansionist narrative shaped U.S. audiences' understanding and acceptance of subsequent American global imperial endeavors. Approaching the novels utilizing Franco Moretti's “distant reading” approach demonstrates precisely how the works' expansionist themes developed as newer, more powerful martial and transportation technologies were imagined by Senarens between 1880 and 1895. The recurring narrative of the Reade novels, however, also contains motifs that resist direct analogues to imperialism. Senarens's earliest stories frequently feature elements that undermine the conceptualizations of race and nationalism that enabled U.S. global territorial expansion. This approach reaches its fullest expression in Frank Reade, Jr., in Cuba (1895), a novel that presents Reade Jr. aiding the Cuban revolution against Spain and interacting with fictionalized portrayals of Cuban patriots Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo. By applying the Reade novels' narrative formula to create an overtly political text valorizing Cuban sovereignty in the era just prior to U.S. imperial involvement in Cuba after the Spanish-American war, Frank Reade, Jr., in Cuba demonstrates how central elements of the boy inventor novel simultaneously imagine technocratic expansion while subverting foundational concepts of empire.
Research Article|June 01 2011
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Nathaniel Williams; Frank Reade, Jr., in Cuba: Dime-Novel Technology, U.S. Imperialism, and the “American Jules Verne”. American Literature 1 June 2011; 83 (2): 279–303. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1266063
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