Please log in to manage your collection or post a review.
|Online Full Text:||
Northern Illinois University
Beadle's Half-Dime Library
|Subjects / Tags:||
Detective and mystery stories
Gold mines and mining
Search and rescue operations
Eyster, William R. (William Reynolds), 1841-1918
August 31, 1897
Beadle and Adams (1872-1898)
(New York (N.Y.): No. 92 William Street)
“Queen Edna Of The Panthers,” otherwise known as “Cyclone Saul’s Search,” was written by William Eyster Reynolds (1841-1918) and originally published in The New York Saturday Journal as a fifteen page installment. The story was later published in a reprinted format on August 31, 1897 in Beadle’s Half-Dime library. A popular pastime for youth in the turn of the 19th century, Beadle’s Half-Dime library contained an astonishing collection of nuanced themes and political views that both agreed with and contradicted the social hierarchy of the time period. One of these opposing views present in “Queen Edna Of The Panthers,” is the notion that women were expected to be subservient to their fathers and husbands. William Reynolds pursues this issue with the paradoxical character of Queen Edna herself.
The story takes place in an arid, desolate desert located in the Post-gold rush era of California. At first glance, the scene appears devoid of any interest or breath of life. A lone rider then penetrates our reader’s eye and will be later confirmed as the adventurer Saul Sanders. Sanders is not the central character in this plot, but he does allow us to glean an understanding of the author’s intended controversial views about women. Saul observes, as he is taken prisoner by Queen Edna of the Panthers, that men are taken and used as slaves for the purpose of mining treasure in the depths of the earth. When two men dare to oppose Edna’s views, she intones to her loyal servant, “It is not too late to rid ourselves of them; and out of sight they will be out of mind. You Ahab, walking or dreaming, here or elsewhere, will forget you have ever heard of them.” This is a parallelism to the cruel irony that women in the 19th century were exposed to. Women were the ones expected to be, “out of sight out of mind,” yet the author in a satirical twist bends the long-accepted social ideal to encompass the men rather than the women.
Queen Edna dislikes the influence of men in her own kingdom so much that she plots murder against her domineering hedonist husband. The plot however, is irrelevant to the novel and perhaps the least interesting aspect of the novel as a whole. What makes it unique for its time period was the conception of a strong female protagonist. Queen Edna was ruling a kingdom, a thought seldom fantasised by the overworked women in the 19th century, let alone the boys who would be reading the bi-weekly papers that published the story. This exemplified the significance that Queen Edna was not someone you would cross [nor harbor a desire to] and not immediately anticipate a consequence. She is seen in one point of the novel threatening another prisoner that dared evoke her wrath. “You do not answer. So much the worse for you. That is right! Snarl if you please, but you are fixed so you will not bite. I will give the fool no chance.” Was the author’s intent to encourage an implication of the respect Queen Edna demanded and project it on the women of the 19th century? Or did he simply wish to convey his opinion that women should be seen and valued enough to be taken seriously?
Frontier novelists of the 19th century, [Dime novelists included] supported the archetypal of an implied ‘honor code’ present among stereotypical male characters. The ‘honor code’ constituted of the principle that women must uphold their virtue under all circumstances. Parallel to the presumptions of the Victorian Age, gender polarization was acknowledged and rigorously upheld in literature. This then presents the oxymoronic query of how Reynolds conveyed his views on women as being strong, independent, and willing to confront the oppressive reality that death can occur at their hands. Queen Edna debauches the perceived racial conceptualization of virtuous women by prognosticating the death of her husband as she struggles to rid herself of his subjugation. “Too late, or else too soon. A day or two later, when the last blast has been fired, and I know the best, or the worst, I might not care to take such chances. The chances of the darkness, the waterfall, the sunken channel, with its jagged rocks; it is certain as fate. He goes to his death.” The author asserts that the virtue of a woman is not an enduring romanticized notion. It is something that can be tarnished or done away with.
While we assume the author’s intent is to impose a greater sympathization for the independence of women, it is also of great importance to note the darker conjecture behind the unorthodox character of Queen Edna. Perhaps Reynolds wished to examine the anticipated tyrannical influence women possessed if allowed more freedom to do as they pleased. Queen Edna was not a benevolent queen, and often charmed male intelligence into complying with situations or occupations they would not ordinarily consent with. “Standing behind her, Ahab [a servant] allowed his eyes to rove over the prisoners without showing a mere spark of more than the idlist curiosity. To all intents and purposes he was a thing of springs and hinges, moved solely by a master hand.” The views of a 19th century societal standpoint, concerning the particular point that women should be seen and not heard, seem favorable as opposed to the figment of tyrannical femininity. The author himself revealed his objectification that a woman's behavior of domineering independence was not tolerable, contradicting his earlier views with the death of Queen Edna. “She [Queen Edna] called to stay, that he [an escaping prisoner] was safe, and as she called she shot. As if in an answering echo, there came a roar, a shaking, and-darkness. She fell forward on her face, and even as she fell she felt the fingers of her foe at her throat.” Was the death of Queen Edna by the hands of her husband a mordant method for preserving the domineering male prestige present in the 19th century? As an antinomy, was it a way to examine how the effects of men in society can be overbearing and even detrimental to women, or vice versa?
In this particular dime novel, the role of the western frontier trope is emphasized by the characters’ desires to find love, escape death, and essentially prove to themselves and the world what it means to be a leader and [or] tyrant. The border between fact and fiction concerning the west and societal concepts of the 19th century tends to blur, but we can infer from textual evidence that a woman leader was thought of as both a negative and positive ascendancy. In the words of Ahab, Queen Edna's servant, “Yet if Edna had prevailed, there would have been black disappointment for her.” This may have been a final attempt of the author to reconcile with his contradistinction over viewing women as leaders; however, it could have also been an act of the publisher to signify that the concept of women as leaders was not fully advocated by the cultural standards of that time.