Boys' Adventure Magazines and the Discourse of Adventure, 1860-1885

Richard D. Fulton


The meteoric rise in popularity of boys' adventure magazines in the period 1860-1880 can be attributed in part to their common discourse, which they shared with each other and perhaps 6 million boys and girls. That characteristic discourse included a rhetoric that emphasized sensational actions, simple good/evil characters and situations, simple language, colorful slang, jargon, and recurring metaphors (especially sporting and military metaphors) to emphasize action and excitement. Although readership cut across class lines, the common values were gendered male and located in the lower middle and working classes: cleverness, personal honor, strength, generosity, a predilection to violence, respect for physical achievement, and the satisfaction of revenge. This paper examines the discourse in detail and indicates how it filled all elements of the magazines, from advertising to images to articles and stories, and speculates on the role of magazines in spreading these values in popular culture.


adventure fiction; popular culture; periodical press; discourse

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