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The Renegade Heroes: A Discussion of 19th Century Popular Western Fiction


The purpose of this paper is to highlight the discursive connection of three of these novels. John Rollin Ridge's Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit (1854), Edward Wheeler's Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road; or, The Black Rider of the Black Hills (1877) and W.B. Lawson's Dashing Diamond Dick; or, The Tigers of Tombstone (1898) develop a genre that portrays a type of character I call the "Renegade Hero."

The first chapter of this study examines Ridge's Joaquin Murieta as a text that creates a set of thematic elements that will become integral to the construction of both Deadwood Dick and Diamond Dick. These discursive features include the renegade hero's "naming" of himself, and female characters whose gender is obscured because they dress in drag. I also argue that Ridge's authorship of Joaquin Murieta affects the novel in such a way that it can become a precursor text to Deadwood Dick and Diamond Dick because of the way that Ridge separates his text from the sensationalist novels that precede it.

In the second chapter, I build on my established discursive framework to analyze the development of thematic elements in Deadwood Dick. I discuss a scene from Deadwood Dick that seems to directly cite Joaquin Murieta; additionally, I compare the author of Deadwood Dick, Edward Wheeler, to John Rollin Ridge as another way to show that the discursive elements in Deadwood Dick do not seem to be an independent discovery based on Wheeler's life experience.

The final chapter is meant to demonstrate how Diamond Dick continues the development of the renegade hero. It focuses on the re-appropriation of the discursive elements from Deadwood Dick and how the dime novel fits into the renegade hero subgenre. This chapter also attempts to demonstrate how the thematic focus throughout the course of the novels shifts from the renegade hero's "naming" of himself, to the gender obscuration of a primary character in the novel.

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