The Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography

Item - Camille, the Card Queen; or, The Skeleton Trail. A Story of a Detective Nemesis

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(source: NIU Libraries)
Online Full Text: Northern Illinois University
Series: Beadle's Half-Dime Library — no. 570
Subjects / Tags: Bandit, outlaw, and highwayman stories
Brigands and robbers
Inheritance and succession
Overland Trails
Powell, David Franklin, 1847-1906
Saint Louis (Mo.)
West (U.S.)
Western stories
Companion Story: The Buckskin Avenger; or, Pawnee Bill's Pledge
The Surgeon-Scout Detective; or, Running Down the King. A Romance of Border Trails
Companion Story: Kent Kingdon, the Card King; or, The Owls of the Overland. A Tale of Border Mystery
Author: Ingraham, Prentiss, 1843-1904
Date: June 26, 1888
Publisher: Beadle and Adams (1872-1898) (New York (N.Y.): No. 98 William Street) -- United States
OCLC Number: 07889018
user_reviews's Thoughts:

“Camille, the Card Queen” was written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham (1843-1904) and published in 1888 in Beadle’s Half-Dime Library. Ingraham’s popular character Kent Kingdon, who appears in other stories as the Card King, is the antagonist in this dime novel focused on his former lover Camille Cameron as she tracks him down to avenge her murdered fiancé.

The story takes place largely in a gold mining town called Sport’s Paradise, located somewhere in the mountains along the Overland Trail. The town is populated mostly by male miners, gamblers, and stagecoach drivers, and a handful of their wives. Camille comes to Sport’s Paradise in pursuit of Kent Kingdon, who murdered her fiancé in a duel and fled from the East to escape punishment for it. The novel gives a lengthy account of Kingdon’s activities in the mining town, most prominently his murders and marriage to Isabel Drew in order to steal her deceased father’s mining fortune, before switching to Camille’s vengeful search for him. The novel takes elements of the western, detective, romance, and revenge genres in a way that’s typical of dime novels. However, what makes this story unique is its discussion and treatment of gender identity, both masculine and feminine.

From the beginning of the novel, Camille is described in terms that seem to give her both feminine and masculine qualities. She’s noted as a “strange, Italian beauty, with eyes that could melt in tenderness, or flash in anger,” and as being “handsome rather than beautiful” (2). The adjectives “strange” and “handsome” are repeated to describe her throughout the novel. Camille being “handsome” and having the ability to be vengeful seem more in line with descriptions of male characters than female ones. Furthermore, Camille is repeatedly described as “cold and heartless” (11)--a stereotypically unfeminine trait--and participates in masculine activities such as gambling, riding, driving, and of course, seeking revenge. The fact that she crossdresses several times in the story (a typical plot device in dime novels) only emphasizes her masculinity.

Yet Camille has a distinctly feminine side as well. In her persona as the Card Queen she begins to be described as “very beautiful” (10), and it seems that every man in Sport’s Paradise is in love with her, though she rejects them all. She seems enamoured by Frank Powell, who saves her from a spurned suitor in a classic “damsel in distress” moment, and cries when he leaves Sport’s Paradise. Most tellingly, once she meets Kent Kingdon’s cast-off wife Isabel, Camille is “touched to the heart” (14) at Isabel’s suffering and cares for her until her death. These all showcase the more stereotypically feminine traits of beauty and caring, and remind us that Camille is still a lady and ladylike. These descriptions are more akin to the completely feminine Isabel, the novel’s other female character, though Camille is significantly more capable and strong than her, both physically and emotionally. In this way, Camille is both masculine and feminine in regards to both plot and personality.

Camille’s dichotomy between masculinity and femininity becomes especially interesting when one examines the fates of the novel’s two female characters. Isabel wastes away from a broken heart and dies after being abandoned by Kingdon. This does not speak well of her highly feminine personality. However, despite Camille’s masculine capability, her story ends in disappointment as well: in a shocking turn of events atypical of the genre, Camille is betrayed and does not succeed in enacting revenge against Kingdon. Instead, she returns East to sort out Isabel’s financial affairs and resolves to let heaven punish Kingdon instead of doing it herself. This is a significant break from the revenge story formula. In the end, it’s only Kingdon--somehow both “a man to admire” and “as wicked as Satan” (3), but always masculine--who escapes the avenger and finds something closest to a happy ending.

With the usual expectations of good winning and evil losing being subverted, the story seems to preach the weakness of women no matter how capable or masculine they seem. The novel seems to believe that women belong only in the West as wives, considering that any other woman mentioned in Sport’s Paradise is a miner’s wife, and that if women are not wives then the West is not for them. However, the novel also seems to believe that this is because of the nature of men. The masculine characters, such as Kingdon and Camille, are the ones most often criticized and the ones doing harm in the story. The feminine characters are the ones who pay the price for their deceptions and violent attitudes or designs. When examined along with other dime novels featuring female protagonists, as well as female characters who crossdress or are assigned masculine characteristics, “Camille, the Card Queen” may offer valuable insight into the American perception of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles in the late 19th century.

--Madelyn Maxfield

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