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"As Many Street Cops as Corners": Displacing 1905 in the Pinkertons

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image of Russian History

Renewed popular interest in the Pinkertonovshchina – pre-Revolutionary, Western-styled detective fiction – invites a closer look at this fascinating phenomenon. An examination of the original serial's reception among young readers holds out clues to the psychological motivations of those who devour popular cultural genres in times of social flux. Memoirs and letters by Valentin Kataev (1897-1986), Leonid Borisov (1897-1972), and Sergei Esenin (1895-1925), who had all experienced the first Pinkerton craze as 10- and 12-year-olds, indicate that these colorful, readily accessible parables of Manichean justice in exotic locales allowed young readers to displace their own anxieties about an all-too-confusing domestic situation in the wake of the 1905 Revolution and the subsequent "Reaction". In this, the Russian Pinkertons of the 1900s and '10s functioned in much the same way as American comic books of the 1940s and '50s – another cheaply priced, fixed-format, violent, and markedly graphic (i.e., visual) genre which captivated young readers during a highly reactionary period in their nation's history.


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