Pulp Fiction in Medieval Latin Literature?
By Lucie Doležalová
Slovo a smysl / Word and Sense, Vol. 20 (2013)
Introduction: Pulp fiction is a term that is generally not used in connection to medieval culture. Its definitions usually include the etymology of the word, which points to the specific context of its origin in the 19th century. For example, the definition offered by Lee Server:
… Originally used to describe a mere physical characteristic of the periodicals of the 1880s to 1950s whose pages were made from the cheapest grade of pulpwood paper, the word came to have an expanded meaning both categoric and aesthetic: pulp as a genus of imaginative reading matter distinguished by mass production, affordability, an intended audience of common as opposed to elite readers, a dependence on formula and genre; and pulp as a literature aimed at the pleasure centers of the reader, primarily concerned with sensation and escape, variously intended to excite, astonish, or arouse. Pulp … owes its existence to revolutionary developments of the 19th century, enlightened and industrious years before which the possibilities for a truly popular literature were severely restricted. Few people could read, for one thing. Methods of producing printed works were time-consuming and costly, and their distribution limited.
Thus, looking for pulp fiction in the Middle Ages can be carried out merely as an intellectual exercise: crucial aspects of this literary type — mass circulation and wide popularity — are simply missing in medieval culture where literacy tended to be an elite phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, there is no such thing as literature aimed at “common” readers because reading itself is not a “common” activity. No medieval text can thus be categorized as pulp fiction.