Brandeis University recently acquired a significant quantity of material originally belonging to the dime novel author Ernest Avon Young. This unique assemblage of manuscripts, typescripts, and business and personal correspondence was generously donated by Victor Berch (Brandeis University’s first Special Collections librarian) and Elliott P. King. Spanning roughly two linear feet and containing materials dating from 1871 to 1936, this collection came about through Berch and King’s lengthy search for the avid writer’s personal history. The story of this exciting scavenger hunt can be read about in the June 1988 volume of The Dime Novel Roundup, (Vol 57, No. 3 / Whole No. 591). Through the hard work of these two researchers, this wonderful collection of Young’s writings, both personal and professional, was compiled and identified.
A passionate writer of dime novel fiction during the late 19th century through the early 20th century, Ernest Young provided many publishers with a consistent stream of stories to be enjoyed by readers. Street & Smith and Frank Tousey--two of the largest publishing houses at the time--sought out Young’s pieces for their innate complexities and relatable plots. Dime novels initially focused on mostly western and frontier tales, but later expanded to include detective, school, sports, science fiction, and comic stories. Ernest Young is considered the father of detective dime novel stories published and disseminated in Massachusetts.
The correspondence between Young and Street & Smith and Frank Tousey shows the high degree to which these dime novel publishing giants wanted to feature Young’s work within their papers. At one point, when Young took a leave of absence to deal with some family matters, his publishers were quite compassionate and showed great leniency in extending his deadlines. In some cases, though, Young still failed to meet the cutoffs for certain publications. Even so, and despite repeated stern warnings, his publishers never fired him or ceased to treat him as one of their most cherished writers.
The Ernest A. Young papers house a variety of manuscripts and typescripts of Young’s works, many of which are complete. However, a good number of pieces are left untitled or incomplete. Despite being unfinished, these pieces are of great use to scholars, representing as they do Young’s writing process. As well, though not a great deal about Ernest Young’s personal life is known, this collection offers insight into his personality. His comical side is plainly evident in the birthday verses he wrote, and his serious side is clear in his correspondence about the deaths of his family members. On a humorous note, like many dime novel authors, Young held a variety of pseudonyms, ranging from Wesley Henshaw to a more feminine Ernestine Youtz. Young impacted the dime novel culture with his fascination for the genre of mystery and opened the door for many more writers to follow in his footsteps.
Description by Hansol Lee, undergraduate student in Biochemistry and Archives & Special Collections assistant.