The first English language forum dedicated to one of the most enigmatic and successful German writers of all time
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 Post subject: Colportage.
PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:09 am 

Joined: Tue Mar 06, 2007 12:30 am
Posts: 38
What's colportage? In the Netherlands it is still in "legalese" use for door-to-door selling, tupperware parties and the like, in English it is a word referring to the sale of devotional texts, but in German (though nowadays spelled with a K, just like Carl May) it has the meaning of "Trivial literature", the likes of pulp, dime novels, penny dreadfuls.

All those uses give a glimpse of what colportage was, the sale of books (well booklets) by pedlars, carrying their books by a contraption using the neck "col" for the carrying "portage" .Originally the colporteurs were working for publishers, but in the second half of the 19th century they became independant entrepreneurs. Concurrence was often severe and that led to the sale (among other things like prayers, pious song texts and the like) of tasty books with exciting, violent, romantic and exotic adventures. The colporteurs became thus known as "Shame sellers"

It all had to do with the prohibition to sell serial publications in any form but on subscription, which existed in the German realms (as well as in the Austrian, Dutch and Swiss), but not in the French, British and American.
The colportage periodicals were sold per issue, much like comics were for a long time, but from door to door, there were magazines, novels specificically written for the format (in which each issue should be a stand alone story, quite like the Penny Dreadfuls or better said dime novels), but also pre-existing books cut up into a series. The difference between subscription and colportage publications was not so much in content as in the way the issues were sold, one issue at the time or with subscriptions.

Carl May has been a colportage editor, author of a cut up novel published this way and a writer of specific colportage texts. The latter texts gave us the "Ich" who would become Old Shatterhand (I personally prefer to use the designation Karl May for that "Ich"), Kara ben Nemsi and (the old version of) Winnetou himself. Karl May was one of the two most important, if not the most important authors of the #1 publisher in this field. He was at the top and that his creations became one of the most enduring remnants of this in German culture is both natural and fitting.

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 Post subject: Re: Colportage.
PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:25 am 
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Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2007 2:25 am
Posts: 12
Location: Pierpont SD USA
Colportage - the work of a colporteur - the latter being defined as a peddler of devotional literature. It is interesting to note the French influence here as the French word comporteur, meaning to conduct or peddle, has been altered to colporteur in order to reference the neck (col) from which such peddlers suspended the trays containing their wares. One might recall images of the cigarette girls in the cinemas of a time long ago. Anyhow, today we would no doubt call these peddlers, itinerant salesmen, hawkers, pushers or cheapjacks. In other words, vendors or dealers that sell cheap goods. The operative word being cheap, perhaps even inferior or appealing to the many vices of mankind.

This then is the basis of the colportage 'literature' that caused Karl May so much strife in his day. Today, however, our world has become far more accepting of the things that were written about in these 'pulp' novels.

I recently came across a 'softcover' book published in 1913 by the 'Verlag der Rundschau Publishing Co.' from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The dual title of this 24th volume of their 'library', containing two stories, being 'Eine germanische Fuerstentocher' and 'Die Liebe siegt' - the titles alone give some idea of what these stories might be about without my elaborating on them.

In comparison to these two stories, 'Die Liebe des Ulanen' [see the English version (part 1) translated by Robert Stermscheg under the title 'The Prussian Lieutenant'] is far richer in plot and excitement and yet much more mundane whilst still appealing to the senses that keep the reader turning the pages with anticipation.

Why then was there so much ado about these colportage novels? The answer can be found in Karl May's own writings.

Michael M. Michalak MACS
Nemsi Books

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