The Book of Stone: Ainsworth’s Gothic History of England

In 1840 William Harrison Ainsworth, the author of the infamous Jack Sheppard, emerged from the storm of the ‘Newgate Controversy’ with his critical reputation in tatters and his public popularity soaring. Outraged at being included in the ‘Newgate School,’ Dickens had quickly dissociated himself from his close friend Ainsworth and it was commonly believed that a rivalry existed between the two men, at that time the most popular novelists in England. This would not seem to have been the case with Ainsworth, who always cheerfully deferred to the superior stature of Dickens. In arranging a visit to Manchester with Dickens and Forster in 1838, Ainsworth had written to the proprietor of The Temple Inn: ‘I need not enlarge upon the merits of Mr. Dickens; as, by common consent, he has been installed in the throne of letters, vacated by Scott’ (Ainsworth, letter to Hugh Beaver 1838). Nevertheless, the bells of St. Sepulchre’s had tolled for Ainsworth and his critical execution was so ruthlessly thorough that his name and novels are now as obscure as they were once famous.

Down, but not yet out, Ainsworth, who had succeeded Dickens as Editor of Bentley’s Miscellany the previous year, began the remarkable feat of producing two serials simultaneously: The Tower of London and Guy Fawkes. Thus began a series of historical romances that the author continued to produce, long after the form had ceased to be fashionable, until his death in 1882. When he attempted to deviate from his established style with, for example, the mischievously self-satirising Mervyn Clitheroe in 1851, his audience would rebel, sales would dramatically fall and financial necessity would invariably give birth to another regal bloodbath. Taken together, this body of work – forty-three novels in all – comprises a history of the English monarchy from Henry VIII to George III.

Ainsworth’s literary development had produced a curious, generic hybridisation in his writing. His earliest short stories appearing in Arliss’ Pocket Magazine and, notably, The European and collected together in December Tales in 1823 are written in the eighteenth century gothic tradition. His first novel Sir John Chiverton, a collaborative work with school-friend J.P. Aston published in 1826, was mistakenly taken by Scott to be an ‘imitation’ of his own very different historical style but is in actuality an Otrantoesque gothic romance, tentatively set in Medieval England. This relocation of the gothic to the shores of England became more confident with the enormously successful Rookwood in 1834, of which the author later wrote:

I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe (which had always inexpressible charms for me), substituting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of the great mistress of Romance (Ainsworth, preface to Rookwood).

‘The old English highwayman’ was of course Dick Turpin, whose ‘Ride to York’ carried its author first to stardom and then to ignominy, but the gothic revival so central to Rookwood remained, and was further refined, in The Tower of London. The romantic outlaw was now prudently absent, but a hugely symbolic landmark, rather than the fictional, albeit still English, estate of Rookwood Hall, was now transformed into Udolpho. Never before had the archetypes of the literary gothic been so implicitly connected with the history of England.

Like its companion piece, Guy Fawkes, The Tower of London is set during a period of enormous political upheaval, in this case the events following the death of Edward VI: the nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey, the coronation of Mary I, her marriage to Philip of Spain and the restoration of the Catholic faith in England, along with Sir Thomas Wyatt’s failed insurrection. The luckless life of Lady Jane gives the novel its temporal frame. Ainsworth begins with her entry to the Tower as Queen on July 10, 1553, and ends with her execution on February 12 the following year. This allows the author the use of two coronations, a royal wedding, several executions and a siege without recourse to undue invention as, he explains in his original Preface, he was ‘Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison, and a fortress’ (Ainsworth, preface to The Tower of London). Here the author’s intention is clearly stated, the Tower itself is the focal-point of the novel, a controlling metaphor for the nation’s history:

‘There you behold the Tower of London,’ said Winwike, pointing

‘And there I read the history of England,’ replied Renard.

‘If it is written in those towers it is a dark and bloody history,’ replied the warder

(Ainsworth, The Tower of London 138).

'Simon Renard and 'Winwike the warder on the Roof of the White Tower' by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)
‘Simon Renard and ‘Winwike the warder on the Roof of the White Tower’ by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)

Frank W. Chandler wrote of the Newgate fallout that ‘Ainsworth himself forsook roguery for historical romance in the vein of Hugo’ (Chandler II.370). The comparison is by no means erroneous if the form and function of the novel are fairly considered. If The Tower of London has a model it is Notre Dame de Paris. Ainsworth was no Hugo, it is true. He was rarely subtle and, as deadlines loomed, his plots often contained holes that could accommodate the passage of an Armada. Yet the novels do bear some comparison, especially given the critical reaction to Hugo’s novel in England on its arrival: The Literary Gazette, for example, had raised the urgent question, ‘Are these volumes fit for the youthful eye, or for the girlish ear?’ while the Englishman’s Magazine described the final, necrophiliac embrace of  La Esmeralda and Quasimodo as ‘an idea … both unnatural and disgusting’ (qtd. in Hooker 38). This critical rhetoric was repeated in the unilateral damnation of Jack Sheppard. Obviously, the central ‘characters’ of both novels are the buildings themselves; each is a ‘book of stone’ (Hugo 175) deciphered by narrators who are at once antiquarians calling for preservation and historians concerned with progress and change, offering along the way a great diversity of elaborate personal dramas unfolding beneath the towers, some of which are comic, many of which are nasty. The unwarranted state-murder of the innocent La Esmeralda is heart-breaking, the description of the public burning of Edward Underhill on Tower Green disgusting:

The flames again rose brightly and fiercely. By this time the lower limbs were
entirely consumed; and throwing back his head, and uttering a loud and
lamentable yell, which was heard all over the fortress, the wretched victim
gave up the ghost. A deep and mournful silence succeeded this fearful cry. It
found an echo in every breast (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 274).

Both authors read the dark side of human nature in those stones, charting humanity’s deadly obsessions and similarly understanding that the terror of the scaffold is, as Hugo wrote, ‘the most monstrous of all maladies, because it is inflicted not by the hand of God, but by that of man’ (Hugo 53); that is, the hand of man believing himself to represent the hand of God. In this sense these strongholds of state and religion are equally threatening. The rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral ‘flames like a cyclop’s eye lit up by the reverberations of the forge’ (Hugo 221) while the Tower has a ‘dark and gloomy archway, bristling with the iron teeth of the portcullis, and resembling some huge ravenous monster with jaws wide opened to devour its prey’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 280). Inescapably, The Tower itself becomes as synonymous with the block and the stake as Newgate Prison had with the rope:

Slowly, following his companion, Renard counted all the towers … The last object on which his gaze rested was the scaffold. A sinister smile played upon his features as he gazed on it.

‘There,’ he observed, ‘is the bloody sceptre by which England is ruled. From the palace to the prison is a step – from the prison to the scaffold another’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 151).

Renard’s observation contains the fundamental principle of the author. His histories are invariably concerned with a dark dramatisation of the will to power: from the sinister urge to control or possess an individual being to the desire for dominion over a whole nation. Typically, Ainsworth’s plots are almost Shakespearean in their representation of political intrigue. The single-minded obsession to hold the Crown inevitably leading to the slaughter of innocents and the destruction of even the most dedicated strategist, who never realises that such vaulting ambition contains the seeds of its own downfall. This is political gothic, and behind the veil lays a Nietzschean universe. It is perhaps here that the rebellious romance of the Rookwood ethos ends and a more disturbing philosophy of brutality begins to surface as a subtext to sensationalism. In Ainsworth’s history of England such savageries as the death of Underhill, who is pardoned by Queen Mary but then executed as an example by her Lord Chancellor, are a commonplace inevitability.

The Tower of London is chiefly concerned with the political plots and counter-plots to gain control of England after the death of Edward VI. The Tower is a metaphor for this ultimate power, and all know that to hold it is to hold the Crown. The Duke of Northumberland is determined to take power through the coronation of his daughter-in-law, Jane, and to consequently make his son, Lord Guilford Dudley, the King. When this fails and Mary I is crowned while Northumberland goes to the block, Dudley’s fanatical obsession to regain his former position leads to a doomed attempt at insurrection and the executions of himself and his wife. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury schemes with the French Ambassador to depose the Catholic Mary and replace her with the Protestant Elizabeth. The arch-plotter is the Spanish Ambassador Simon Renard, who manipulates everybody in order to force the marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain and ‘establish the Inquisition in the heart of London within six months’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 423). By remaining relatively faithful to historical fact, the novel concludes with what can only been viewed as a victory for Renard.

'The Execution of Jane' by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)
‘The Execution of Jane’ by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)

In addition to the primary power play, there is also a disturbing parallel narrative of sexual obsession on the part of Nightgall the Jailer for the imprisoned Alexia and her daughter Cicely. Again, the theme is of domination. Having kept Alexia locked away in secret for seventeen years, Nightgall eventually buries her alive in a particularly horrific scene, later confessing that after she had repeatedly rejected his advances, ‘my only motive for allowing her to exist was that she formed an object to exercise my cruelty upon.’ He does this because he can, having total control over the forgotten prisoner as ‘when any of the jailers beheld her, they fled, supposing her a supernatural being’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 407). When similarly spurned by Alexia’s daughter, the sadistic Nightgall kidnaps her and amuses himself by taking her to the dungeon that holds her tortured lover:

‘There,’ cried Nightgall, with a look of fiendish exultation, pointing to Cholmondeley. ‘I told you you should see your lover. Glut your eyes with the sight. The arms that should have clasped you are nerveless – the eyes that gazed so passionately upon you, dim – the limbs that won your admiration, crippled. Look at him, and for the last time. And let him gaze on you, and see whether in these death-pale features, in this wasted form, there are any remains of the young and blooming maiden that won his heart’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 397).

Cicely is a classic secondary Gothic heroine, her blighted relationship with Cuthbert Cholmondeley closely matching the disastrous liaison of Agnes and Raymond in The Monk. Nightgall is finally destroyed when he loses control of his elaborate schemes, and is literally and graphically smashed to pieces in a fall from The White Tower while attempting to escape from Renard, in the end the master of all plots.

The Tower of London is also an essay on architecture, and the Preface enthusiastically demonstrates the scope of the project that the author has set himself in his antiquarian aspect:

It has been, for years, the cherished wish of the writer of the following pages, to make the Tower of London – the proudest monument of antiquity, considered with reference to its historical associations, which this country, or any other possesses – the groundwork of a romance … (endeavouring) to contrive such a series of incidents as should naturally introduce every relic of the old pile – its towers, chapels, halls, chambers, gateways, arches, and draw-bridges – so that no part of it should remain unillustrated (Ainsworth, preface to The Tower of London).

The minute particulars of the Tower’s architecture and history were obsessively researched by both Ainsworth and Cruikshank, who consequently produced their greatest collaborative work. Cruikshank’s illustrations are in perfect sympathy with Ainsworth’s text. As the author constructed a multi-layered narrative of romance and antiquarian detail, seamlessly moving between his primary story and other historical events connected with the buildings that housed his principal cast, the artist produced forty atmospheric engravings for the story and a further fifty-eight woodcuts devoted to purely architectural features. Fact and fiction are skilfully blended here, resulting in a cohesive whole so complete in detail that its reputation as an authority on the history of the Tower endured in domestic classrooms as late as the 1950’s; The Tower of London remains the only novel I have ever seen that includes a full index. The historian A.L. Rowse wrote of the novel that, ‘it was this work that formed the impression of the Tower in most people’s minds throughout the Victorian Age’ (Rowse 250).

'Interior of the By-ward Tower' by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)
‘Interior of the By-ward Tower’ by George Cruikshank, The Tower of London (1840)

This was both Ainsworth’s purpose and achievement. When he began his work, the Tower was an abandoned garrison, closed in most part to the public and mutilated by modern alteration in some areas while practically falling down in others:

One important object the author would fain hope his labours may achieve. This is the introduction of the public to some parts of the fortress at present closed to them. There seems no reason why admission should not be given, under certain restrictions, to that unequalled specimen of Norman architecture … They [the rooms and buildings of the Tower] are the property of the nation, and should be open to national inspection (Ainsworth, preface to The Tower of London).

Sales were enormous. As the romance progressed month by month, thousands of people visited the monument to trace the places and events depicted by Ainsworth’s pen and Cruikshank’s pencil. When the authorial voice lamented the presence of the recently-built Grand Storehouse in Book II – ‘that frightful structure … We trust to see it raised to the ground’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 137) – persons unknown obligingly torched it the following year. Fortunately this time the blame did not fall upon the author. With the exception of the storehouse, demolition ceased and the Tower was restored, both physically as one of the first Victorian museums and as a patriotic symbol in the national psyche at the dawning of the second age of empire. Confident comparisons between Elizabeth I and Victoria were in order, and Ainsworth concluded his Preface with an extravagant dedication to the Queen:

Finally, beseeching God to bless these realms, and its ever precious jewel, our gracious QUEEN VICTORIA, and the infant princess newly given to us; to save them as the apple of His eye; and to protect them with the target of His power against all ill (Ainsworth, preface to The Tower of London).

The ‘infant princess’ Victoria grew up to became the mother of Kaiser William II, an irony that the author would have no doubt deplored. It is equally ironic that much of the Victorians’ new appreciation of their national heritage should spring from such a blatantly violent version of their ancestry; complicated further by a religious subtext, carved into the very stones they had learned to love once more, that refused to endorse the sentiments of English Protestantism that the subject matter would seem to dictate.

When Jane spends her first night in the Tower, as its monarch rather than its victim, she is drawn to St. John’s Chapel in the White Tower:

Descending a short spiral wooden staircase, she found herself within one of the aisles of the chapel, and passing between its columns, entered the body of the fane. For some time, she was lost in admiration of this beautiful structure, which, in its style of architecture – the purest Norman – is without an equal. She counted its twelve massive and circular stone pillars, noted their various ornaments and mouldings, and admired their grandeur and simplicity. Returning to the northern aisle, she glanced at its vaulted roof, and was enraptured at the beautiful effect produced by the interweaving arches (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 35 – 36).

Such an interlude is common in any work by Ainsworth, but the design of The Tower of London necessarily includes innumerable such descriptions of ecclesiastical building. As Ainsworth positively pestered The Governor of the Tower and the Keeper of  the Regalia to visit areas that were then closed to the public while researching the novel, it is probable that Jane’s feelings on viewing St. John’s Chapel for the first time reflect the author’s own. The effect is one of Puginesque epiphany, closely following the greatest of all Victorian architect’s unrestrained opening remarks in Contrasts concerning, ‘those stupendous Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Middle Ages’; a group to which St. John’s Chapel surely belongs, being rebuilt by Henry III, to whom we owe Westminster Abbey:

It is, indeed, a sacred place; and well does the fabric bespeak its destined purpose: the eye is carried up and lost in the height of the vaulting and the intricacy of the aisles; the rich and varied hues of the stained windows, the modulated light, the gleam of the tapers, the richness of the altars, the venerable images of the departed just, – all alike conspire to fill the mind with veneration for the place, and to make it feel the sublimity of Christian worship (Pugin 2).

Ainsworth’s descriptions of church buildings, his architectural allegory, carries a code that his readers would instantly recognise as Catholic and signal an affirmation of his contemporary Pugin’s belief that ‘Such effects as these can only be produced on the mind by buildings, the composition of which has emanated from men who were thoroughly imbued with devotion for, and faith in, the religion for whose worship they were erected’ (Pugin 2).

In The Historical Novel and Popular Politics Nicholas Rance echoes Victorian literary criticism regarding Ainsworth, describing The Tower of London as ‘an incongruous merging of historical romance and guide book,’ and its author as ‘patriotic and anti-Catholic’ (Rance 41). ‘Patriotic’ is reasonable; but it was the age, rather than the author, which was still prejudicial to the Old Faith. Given the revival of the latent anti-Catholicism of the English, awakened after the Emancipation Act of 1829, the Whig’s concessions to the Irish Catholics throughout the 1830’s and the hostility directed against the attendant flood of Irish immigrants to the mainland, Ainsworth’s writing is as revolutionary as Pugin’s. The Tower of London’s twin, Guy Fawkes, begins by quoting the historian John Lingard’s description of ‘the tyrannical measures adopted against the Roman Catholics in the early part of the reign of James the First,’ and, writes Ainsworth, ‘from this deplorable state of things, which is by no means over-coloured in the above description, sprang the Gunpowder plot’ (Ainsworth, preface to Guy Fawkes). While usefully revealing his sources, Ainsworth’s language is as sympathetic to the English Catholics as it is critical of the State. In Ainsworth’s writing, it is invariably the Catholics who are presented as the central protagonists in English history. In Investigating Gunpowder Plot, Mark Nicholls’ demonstrates that the standard is more usually that:

[T]he most vehement criticism of Catholics and Catholicism has come during periods when the critics feared, often with good reason, that the authorities were inclined to treat Catholics leniently. We see this in 1678-80 with the Popish Plot, and as late as the 1850’s when the final stages in Catholic emancipation were marked by a resurgence of religious xenophobia in traditional bonfire night celebrations throughout the land (Nicholls 47).

In his original Preface to Guy Fawkes, Ainsworth carefully claims that, ‘One doctrine I have endeavoured to enforce throughout – TOLERATION’; although the novel’s construction as a Classical tragedy, with sets that could have been designed by Pugin and the presentation of Guy Fawkes as that most dangerous of things to any British government, a Catholic martyr, would seem to indicate a certain bias.

'Execution of Guy Fawkes' by George Cruikshank, Guy Fawkes (1841)
‘Execution of Guy Fawkes’ by George Cruikshank, Guy Fawkes (1841)

To return to the Tower, the novel’s scenario does anticipate the religious purges of Mary I: this is the realisation at the moment of ‘deep and mournful silence’ felt by the mob at the burning of Edward Underhill; but it is the reptilian schemer Simon Renard rather than Mary who is associated with the Inquisition. Ainsworth’s Queen is not the ‘Bloody Mary’ of English history, typically described for example by Dickens, who wrote of her, taking a shot at Ainsworth along the way, that:

As BLOODY QUEEN MARY, this woman has become famous, and as BLOODY QUEEN MARY, she will ever be justly remembered with horror and detestation in Great Britain. Her memory has been held in such abhorrence that some writers have arisen in later years to take her part, and to show that she was, upon the whole, quite an amiable and cheerful sovereign! ‘By their fruits ye shall know them,’ said OUR SAVIOUR. The stake and the fire were the fruits of this reign, and you will judge this Queen by nothing else (Dickens 411).

In his Preface, Ainsworth anticipates and disclaims with,

To those who conceive that the author has treated the character of Queen Mary with too great leniency, he can only affirm that he has written according to his conviction of the truth. Mary’s worst fault as a woman – her sole fault as a sovereign – was her bigotry: and it is time that the cloud which prejudice has cast over her should be dispersed (Ainsworth, preface to The Tower of London).

This statement sets the author against Protestant historicism while also, by reference to the taint of bigotry, introducing the thematic of the corrupting possibilities of power, notably irrespective of religious or political persuasion. He also speaks as an Englishman. Mary is the Queen of England, daughter of Henry VIII. She may go on to burn over three hundred men, women and children to death, lose Calais and marry Philip of Spain, but the author still attributes to Mary the most Churchillian of speeches during Wyatt’s rebellion:

‘Oh, that I had been born a man!’ she cried, ‘that with my own hand I might punish these traitors. But they shall find, though they have a woman to deal with, they have no feeble and faint-hearted antagonist. I cannot wield a sword; but I will stand by those who can … take these orders from me; and they are final. Let the siege go how it may, I will make no terms with the rebels, nor hold further parley with them. Show them no quarter – exterminate them utterly. I no longer regard them as subjects – children; but as aliens – foes. Deal with them as such. And look you yield not this fortress – for by God’s grace, I will never yield it’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 342).

In this brazen paraphrase of Elizabeth’s speech to the troops at Tilbury on the approach of the Armada, we see that in Ainsworth’s eyes the monarch is always the parent and protector of the nation, and never truly a villain and a tyrant.

Simon Renard, conversely, is a villain because of his manipulation of Mary’s genuine Catholic convictions for his own political ends. When he and Bishop Gardiner remind Mary of Lady Jane’s Protestantism in order to have her removed from the political map, Renard slyly observes, ‘You struck the right key, my lord – bigotry’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 365). In this frame, the opposing faiths of Jane and Mary are accorded similar respect because both are honestly held; whereas Renard and Northumberland believe only in power and will adopt the pretence of embracing whatever doctrine will advance their own ambitions. Consequently, the condemned Jane’s choice to reject a reprieve conditional on converting to Catholicism – which allows Rance to claim that this novel is anti-Catholic – is still tempered by a rather bizarre speech that begins by attacking Papist idolatry and then allows that faithful Catholics will still achieve salvation:

‘Yours is a pernicious and idolatrous religion – a religion founded on the traditions of men, not on the word of God – a religion detracting from the merits of our Saviour – substituting mummery for the simple offices of prayer – and though I will not be uncharitable enough to assert that its sincere professors will not be saved – yet I am satisfied that no one to whom the true light of Heaven has once been vouchsafed can believe in it, or be saved by it’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 188).

Like Guy Fawkes, Jane is dramatised as a tragic hero. Ainsworth’s historical characters tend to lack any psychological depth or insight – he deals generally in stereotypes – and are instead doomed to act out the fate that history has dictated they must, while being forewarned by an army of Cassandras:

‘Preserve you,’ said the old woman. ‘Go not to the Tower.’

‘And wherefore not, good dame?’ inquired the queen.

‘Ask me not,’ returned the old woman – her figure dilating, her eye kindling, and her gesture becoming almost that of command, as she spoke – ‘ask me not, but take my warning. Again, I say, go not to the Tower. Danger lurks therein – danger to you, your husband, and to all you hold dear. Return while it is yet time; return to the retirement of Sion House – to the solitudes of Bradgate. Put off those royal robes – restore the crown to her from whom you wrested it, and a long and happy life shall be yours. But set foot within that galley – enter the gates of the Tower – and another year shall not pass over your head’ (Ainsworth, The Tower of London 14 – 15).

Such melodramatic classicism is indicative of the fact that Ainsworth was never an ‘imitator’ of Scott. All of Ainsworth’s historical novels are completely contrary in design to Lukács’ famous thesis that,

What matters … in the historical novel is not the re-telling of great historical events, but the poetic awakening of the people who figured in these events. What matters is that we should re-experience the social and human motives which led men to think, feel and act just as they did in historical reality (Lukács 42).

Ainsworth’s central characters were never the ‘average,’ ‘mediocre’ heroes so necessary to Scott’s historical project, but the kings and queens of England. Like Hugo and Dickens, he will graphically depict the systematic brutality of the ruling classes, but whereas these authors ‘put not (their) trust in princes’ Ainsworth was not so republican. As John Moore wrote in his well-balanced introduction to the Literary Heritage reprint of Windsor Castle,

The kings were kingly and majestic, the queens were queenly and beautiful; and whether the historians had assigned them to the pigeon-hole labelled ‘Good’ or the one labelled ‘Bad’, they were always in a sense Great (Moore 11).

This would seem to be an opinion shared by his readers. ‘But the truth is,’ he once wrote to a friend, ‘to write for the mob, you must not write too weak. The newspaper level is the true line to take’ (Ainsworth, letter to James Crossley 1838).

Ainsworth’s best historical romances follow a path that his contemporaries did not usually care to take. Unlike the decadent, Regency romance of Rookwood there is an unsettling realism in his later versions of history. He shows repeatedly how an individual or a political faction can come to dominate a whole nation, how power is won by naked force combined with a contempt for human life and the obsessive, corrupting desire which drives human history. The gothic frame is ideal for such a depiction of human horror and, as the novels progress, the supernatural elements of his early work are replaced by very natural human cruelty. It is very possible that his critics did not appreciate this move either, because rather than following his fellow authors into the working-class slums – a direction he had inspired in his Newgate narratives – he attributed these dark forces in human behaviour to the history of the English aristocracy.

As a gothic novelist Ainsworth deserves acknowledgement as the last of the first. His writing combined, for the first time in English literature, the original archetypes of the form with a local, historical setting, and anticipates the contemporary, urban gothic of Dickens and Reynolds. He also heralds the Victorian passion for gothic architecture that defines the national style of the second half of the nineteenth century. Finally though, this is history in glorious Technicolor, a vivid and detailed recreation of the past with a cast of thousands. Ainsworth knew how to play to the gallery with a sensational combination of glamour and violence and was always frowned upon by the literary establishment as a result; but, as Lady Clarinda says, ‘History is but a tiresome thing in itself; it becomes more agreeable the more romance is mixed up with it’ (Peacock 200).


Ainsworth, William Harrison. Letter to James Crossley, April 7, 1838. Autograph letters of W.H. Ainsworth to James Crossley, 11 vols, Archives Section. Local Studies Unit, Central Library, Manchester).

—. Letter to Hugh Beaver, December 12, 1838. Autograph letters of W.H. Ainsworth to James Crossley, 11 vols, Archives Section. Local Studies Unit, Central Library, Manchester).

—. Rookwood,  A Romance. Collected Works. (1834). Collected Works. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1880.

—. The Tower of London, A Historical Romance. (1840). Collected Works. London: Richard Bentley, 1840.

—. Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason. An Historical Romance (1841). 1840. Collected Works. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1880.

Chandler, Frank W., The Literature of Roguery, 2 vols. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1907.

Dickens, Charles. A Child’s History of England. (1853). Oxford: University Press, 1963.

Hooker, Kenneth Ward. The Fortunes of Victor Hugo in England, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1938).

Hugo, Victor Marie. Notre Dame de Paris. (1831). Burnham, I.G. trans. London, J.M. Dent, 1965.

Lukács, Georg, The Historical Novel (1962). Hannah and Stanley Mitchell trans. London: Merlin Press, 1974.

Moore, John. Introduction to Windsor Castle, The Literary Heritage Collection. London: Heron, 1968.

Nicholls, Mark. Investigating Gunpowder Plot. Manchester: University Press, 1991.

Peacock, Thomas Love. Crotchet Castle (1831). London: Penguin, 1969.

Pugin, Augustus Welby. Contrasts; or A Parallel Between the Noble Edifices of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries, and Similar Buildings of the Present Day; Shewing the Present Decay of Taste. London: Pugin, 1836.

Rance, Nicholas. The Historical Novel and Popular Politics in 19th Century England. Plymouth: Vision, 1975.

Rowse, A.L. The Tower of London in the History of the Nation. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972.

Previously unpublished, paper originally presented at the Victorian Gothic Colloquium, University of East Anglia, Norwich, April, 1998

Copyright © SJ Carver 1998, 2013

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