About this Blog

This blog began as a collection of essays, lectures and conference papers that I had written and presented over the years but which had either not made it into print in their original form, or were only published in Asia during my period as a university professor in Japan. It has since expanded to include some other pieces on gothic film and fiction that the original UK and US publishers have been gracious enough to allow me to reproduce. It is also my intention to add some original material that falls within the general subject area. Many of the earlier papers relate to a British Academy research project on the nineteenth century English novelist William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882). These formed the basis of my doctorate and my subsequent critical work on Ainsworth, The Life and Work of the Lancashire Novelist (2003), hence the name of the blog. (The original Ph.D was supervised by Professors Victor Sage and Roger Sales, and the subsequent book was peer reviewed by Professor David Punter, with an introduction by Professor William Hughes, the President of the International Gothic Association.) Purists will also note that I’m playing on the title of the Edwardian biography by S.M. Ellis, William Harrison Ainsworth and His Friends (1911).

Carver Lancashire Novelist
My academic study of Ainsworth (2003)

I’ve always been fascinated by authors who commanded vast audiences in their own day but have now been largely forgotten by the mainstream of literary history, the kind of writers the Edwardian literary historian Malcolm Elwin designated ‘Victorian Wallflowers’, for example the Regency sporting journalist Pierce Egan and the Chartist activist and penny dreadful writer G.W.M. Reynolds. I was especially interested in the way these authors intersected with the lions of nineteenth century literature, on both a professional and personal basis, and how their work related to that of their more famous contemporaries. Obviously I have a soft spot for Mr. Ainsworth. His work always seemed to me a kind of missing literary link between the Romantic and the Victorian, and his early novels in particular were a conduit by which the Gothic travelled from a medieval European setting to the dark urban labyrinths of Victorian London.

The original purpose of this blog, then, was to disseminate this research in a way that wasn’t really possibly when much of it was written, for the benefit of both scholars of nineteenth century literature and people who just love the period and the genre. Equally, the trouble with a lot of academic publishing and unbroadcast public speaking is that work you spent years researching and months writing is often only accessed by a handful of specialists. So, as I’m not presently affiliated with a university, and given the simple fact that the first port of call for any contemporary researcher is Google, I decided to re-publish a selection of my research online. OK, quality control is always a factor if you take this route, but I can personally vouch for all the documents in this blog as academically worthy. Unless otherwise stated, you’ll note that pretty much all of these pieces were accepted by and presented at major academic conferences, or published formally in peer reviewed books and journals. The Ainsworth research was also funded in full by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain.

Me visiting Ainsworth’s grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, 2017

Since then, I have written another more accessible book on Ainsworth for Pen & Sword, The Author Who Outsold Dickens, which was published last month, so please do take a look. This one’s more of a biography. (There’s also a chapter on the Newgate Controversy in my previous history, The 19th Century Underworld.)

Thank you for taking the time to look at some of my work. Needless to say, the contents of this blog has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognise that its copyright resides with the author, Dr. S.J. Carver, and that no quotation from any of the papers published here, nor any information derived there from, may be published without appropriate acknowledgement and citation; and that long extracts or complete essays will not be published or reproduced elsewhere without the author’s prior written consent. Please also note that copyright of visual material is retained by the original owners in all cases, and that it is used here only for educational purposes.

This blog’s now been running for seven years, and traffic remains buoyant, for which I am very grateful. Of all my online writing projects, ‘Ainsworth & Friends’ is by far the most successful, averaging about 1000 unique hits per month, with the ‘Gothic Film’ post proving particularly popular. If you are using this blog for reference, please take a moment to ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ to help me get this research out there.



1 thought on “About this Blog”

  1. Whilst reading Dickens’ short story, George Silverman’s Explanation, I became aware that Dickens description of Hoghton Tower had borrowed details of the Tower from Ainsworth’s The Lancashire Witches. Dickens visited the Tower in 1867. Several biographers report that he came across the Tower by accident, but his readings manager, George Dolby, who accompanied Dickens, commented that Dickens already had “some knowledge of the history of the place”, presumably from Ainsworth.
    Dickens refers to two rivers, the Ribble and the Darwen, as does Ainsworth.
    Dickens refers to two views from the Tower – “a vague haze of smoke ….. hinting at steam-power, powerful in two distances”. He is contrasting the modern industrial views that Silverman (and Dickens) would have encountered with the two rural views from the Tower in the directions of Myerscough/Bowland and Preston/the coast that Ainsworth described.
    But of greater interest is Dickens’ cryptic reference to the legendary knighting of the loin (of beef) to create sirloin. As with Dick Turpin and Black Bess, Ainsworth managed to convince many of his readers that the knighting of the loin, by King James I, actually happened. Many Lancastrians still believe that it is true (which it isn’t). According to Dickens, in Silverman, “the first James of England, in his hurry to make money by making baronets, perhaps made some of those remunerative dignitaries.” Selling honours was not new (nothing changes!), but Dickens uses a play on words here. By slightly changing the expression “remunerative dignitaries” to “ruminative dignitaries”, the whole meaning of the sentence changes, and Dickens can be seen to be making a reference to Ainsworth’s knighting of the loin. Dickens says the knighting only “perhaps” took place, indicating his disbelief, and he uses the term “dignitaries” to reflect King James’ words in The Lancashire Witches: “It (the loin of beef) wants a dignity, and it shall hae it” (sic). Dickens is here sending a cryptic acknowledgement to Ainsworth – if Ainsworth ever read Silverman he would have immediately understood what Dickens was up to, and would have grinned, and cursed Dickens under his breath!
    I included the above findings in greater detail in my book The Brief History of Lancashire (The History Press, 2011).

    Stephen Duxbury.

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