Finding Jack Vincent

A London Street Scene

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I possessed a passion for morbid nineteenth century popular literature. I had inherited this trait from my mother, a Catholic turned Spiritualist with a taste for gothic film and fiction. I was thus always dimly aware of the name ‘Jack Vincent’ through the cheap paperback anthologies of… Continue reading Finding Jack Vincent

Shark Alley: The Memoirs of a Penny-a-Liner

Shark Alley detail

Adrift in the Atlantic with a scheming Tory MP. Surrounded by sharks. Low on booze... ‘I can fancy a future Author taking for his story the glorious action off Cape Danger, when, striking only to the Powers above, the Birkenhead went down; and when, with heroic courage and endurance, the men kept to their duty… Continue reading Shark Alley: The Memoirs of a Penny-a-Liner

William Harrison Ainsworth: A Contextual Chronology

1805 – William Harrison Ainsworth born in Manchester, February 4, the first child of Thomas Ainsworth, solicitor, and Ann Harrison. 1806 – Birth of brother, Thomas Gilbert Ainsworth, October 4 (destined for a long life of mental illness). 1807 – British slave trade abolished by Act of Parliament. 1812 – Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. 1814… Continue reading William Harrison Ainsworth: A Contextual Chronology

Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART ONE

I. ‘A sort of Hogarthian novel’ By 1838 it was all starting to unravel. Despite the consistent sales of Rookwood (which went to five editions within the first three years of publication), Ainsworth’s aristocratic lifestyle had left his private finances seriously depleted. The death of his estranged wife in early March had also plunged him… Continue reading Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART ONE

Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART TWO

II. Vagabondiana: Jack Sheppard and Social Exploration (9) With regard to the licentiousness of the underworld of Jack Sheppard, Keith Hollingsworth observes that Ainsworth ‘does not realize how fast times have changed’ (Hollingsworth 138). If we recall the high Victorian analysis of the pompous and patronising J. Hain Friswell, it is immediately apparent that what… Continue reading Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART TWO

Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART THREE

III. The Storm: The Newgate Controversy (17) Four months after Jack Sheppard began its serial run, the first part of Catherine, A Story appeared in Fraser’s, credited to the pen of ‘Ikey Solomons Esq. Jr.’ Ikey Solomons Esq. Snr. was a notorious fence based in Islington in the 1820s, and whose criminal empire made Jonathan… Continue reading Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – PART THREE

‘The Phantom Steed’: The Outlaw Narrative of Rookwood

Tom Mix as Dick Turpin

During the fourth book of Ainsworth’s gothic novel Rookwood (1834), in a chapter entitled ‘The Phantom Steed,’ the highwayman Dick Turpin becomes aware of a ghostly horseman riding by his side in the midnight mist during his fabled ride to York. Book IV is in fact called ‘The Ride to York,’ and is the dramatic… Continue reading ‘The Phantom Steed’: The Outlaw Narrative of Rookwood

‘Beaks, buzgloaks, and knucks in quod’: Romance, Realism, and the Language of the Nineteenth Century Underworld

It was the London-Irish Regency sporting journalist Pierce Egan who first made the flash the fashion - the linguistically deviant slang anti-language of the Daffy Clubs, the Fancy, the street-folk, and the criminal underworld, which he had acquired ringside and used to great effect in his coverage of illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches for the Weekly… Continue reading ‘Beaks, buzgloaks, and knucks in quod’: Romance, Realism, and the Language of the Nineteenth Century Underworld

‘A Wrappage of Traditions’: Scott, Ainsworth and Nineteenth Century Narratives of British National Identity

THE ENGLISH think they know who they are.  It is nowadays often remarked that the English have lost their collective sense of national identity, while devolved government has strengthened that of the Welsh, the Northern Irish and, especially, the Scots.  ‘Being English,’ begins the preface to Jeremy Paxman’s excellent study The English: A Portrait of… Continue reading ‘A Wrappage of Traditions’: Scott, Ainsworth and Nineteenth Century Narratives of British National Identity

William Harrison Ainsworth: The Life and Adventures of the Lancashire Novelist

Introduction: The Victorian Critical Heritage The years have not been kind to the memory of the Manchester-born Victorian author William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882), a prolific English novelist once held in such high regard that many of his contemporaries viewed him as a natural successor to Sir Walter Scott. Ainsworth’s romances were hugely popular… Continue reading William Harrison Ainsworth: The Life and Adventures of the Lancashire Novelist