Trashy Reads

By Lawrence Goodman / May / June 2007
May 16th, 2007

In their time they were thought to be puerile, debauched, and injurious to all morality. But pulp magazines are now considered iconically American, and one of the genre’s finest practitioners, H.P. Lovecraft, is even seen as a literary giant. This and the fact that Lovecraft’s house was actually located on Brown’s campus prompted the Brown public humanities program to mount a retrospective of pulp’s impact on early twentieth-century U.S. society and culture.

“Americans unleashed their collective imagination in the pages of the pulps,” says organizer Scott Tiffany, a graduate student in the humanities program. “These magazines helped solidify the pop genres of sci-fi, the hard-boiled detective, and the modern horror story.”

The Argosy All-Story Weekly typically contained stories about aliens and spaceships, fights in the old West, crime, and horror. During its original ninety-six-year run, which began in 1882, the Argosy published some of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan stories and works by P. G. Wodehouse, Horatio Alger, Louis L’Amour, and Dashiell Hammett.

By the 1940s the magazine had turned to more male-friendly fare running “true-life” accounts of jungle adventurers and combat soldiers, and then featuring soft-core porn. Today the Argosy Quarterly is a highbrow literary journal (

Go figure.

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May / June 2007