Life and Works of Lancashire Novelist William Harrison Ainsworth, 1805-1882

William Harrison Ainsworth, a prolific writer now as obscure as he once was famous, reinvented the gothic novel in an English setting, a radical re-write of Scott’s model of the historical romance and an antecedent of the contemporary urban gothic of Dickens and Reynolds. This study examines Ainsworth’s literary career from a writer of magazine tales of terror in the 1820s to the massive influence of his gothic/Newgate romance of 1834, Rookwood; his friendships with Lamb, Lockhart, and Dickens; his fall from literary grace during the Newgate controversy (a moral panic engendered by the supposedly pernicious effects of cheap, theatrical adaptations of Ainsworth’s underworld romance Jack Sheppard). The second half of the book examines the later ‘Lancashire novels’ and the legacy of Ainsworth’s subsequent historical novels, taking The Lancashire Witches to be his final, major work and the last of the ‘original’ gothic novels. The novels The Tower of London, Guy Fawkes, Old St. Paul’s, and Windsor Castle are read as epic tragedy rather than simply as bad romance. The study re-examines Ainsworth’s singular vision of the outlaw, English history and religious intolerance as being at political odds with the new Victorian value system, particularly with regard to Catholics and the urban poor. A final chapter explores Ainsworth’s later life and fiction and his adoption by his native Mancunians as ‘The Lancashire Novelist.’ The book includes extracts from Ainsworth’s correspondence and journalism, detailing his close relationships with, among others, Scott, Dickens, Forster, Thackeray, Cruikshank, Bulwer-Lytton, and G. P. R. James.


“Hugely popular with novel readers of the 1830s and 1840s and on familiar terms with a legion of contemporaneous authors--including Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt, Walter Scott, Bu1wer-Lytton, Thackeray, Dickens, Forster--Ainsworth has been strangely neglected by literary critics since his death. This study is almost certain to become the definitive source for his work for several reasons: it includes a complete bibliography of Ainsworth's work; a full-scale bibliography of the secondary literature; and, most important, a bibliography of his contributions to periodical literature, which were extensive and, as Carver (Univ. of East Anglia, UK) observes, deserve another book. The author has made substantial use of much previously unpublished correspondence and offers critical comment on the novels themselves, and their reception. He also suggests that books are still needed on Ainsworth's relationship to European authors of historical romance such as Alexandre Dumas, and his influence on sensation novels of the 1860s. Well written and clearly organized, this volume goes a long way toward restoring Ainsworth's place in English letters and the history of the novel. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” – CHOICE

“… a book on Ainsworth is needed….Stephen Carver’s book offers, then to fill a gap: but more to the point, it does so excellently. The research is sound and wide-ranging, and has included the discovery of letters which were not previously known about. The arrangement of the book and the range of texts covered are equally stimulating and compelling. And Dr. Carver is, undoubtedly, an excellent writer. His own prose, and his judicious selection of quotations, brings alive for us not only Ainsworth himself but his friends and adversaries – Dickens, Thackeray and many others - and indeed his entire literary and cultural milieu.” – David Punter, Professor of English, Graduate Dean of Arts, University of Bristol

“… an important landmark in the critical rehabilitation of William Harrison Ainsworth, and is likely to function as the touchstone to which subsequent analyses refer….There is as much here for the general scholar of the nineteenth century, therefore, as there is for the Ainsworth specialist, the Gothicist, or the reader of historical fictions. Dr. Carver’s book, as this latter observation suggest, has already moved the critical debate on Ainsworth beyond the conventions that have for the most part limited its development. Dr. Carver’s admirable book is, indeed, a worthy starting point for a renewed – and lively – debate.” – William Hughes, Bath Spa University College

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (main headings):
I Contemporary reception: the pre and early Victorian critical heritage
II. The Victorian reaction
III. Late Victorian views
IV. Modern judgments
V. An age in transition
CHAPTER ONE: Blood and Thunder: A Gothic Apprenticeship
I. Essential juvenilia, 1821-1823
II. The best of the rest: December Tales, 1823
III. The first novel: Sir John Chiverton, 1826
CHAPTER TWO: Fame and Infamy: Rookwood, A Romance, 1834
I. Life in London: business, family and Fraser’s, 1826-1834
II. The design of Romance: Rookwood, Scott and the gothic
III. The Phantom Steed: the outlaw narrative of Rookwood
CHAPTER THREE: Writing the Underworld: Jack Sheppard, A Romance, 1839
I. ‘A sort of Hogarthian novel’
II. Vagabondiana: Jack Sheppard and social exploration
III. The storm: the Newgate controversy
CHAPTER FOUR: The Historical Novelist: Prophecy, Passivity and Tragedy
I. Twin-born romances: Guy Fawkes and The Tower of London, 1840
II. Hell on earth: Old St. Paul’s: A Tale of the Plague and the Fire, 1841
III. The devil and his works: Windsor Castle, 1843 and Auriol, 1844
CHAPTER FIVE: The Lancashire Novelist
I. A dream of flying: The Lancashire Witches: A Romance of Pendle Forest, 1848
II. The Lancashire novels
CHAPTER SIX: The Greatest Axe-and-Neck Romancer of Our Time
I. Growing old gracefully: 1850–1881
II. Man of La Manchester
Appendices: A. On the authorship of Sir John Chiverton; A debate from beyond the grave ; B. The original conclusion of Catherine, A Story by Thackeray; C. ‘Old Grindrod’s Ghost’: A Ballad
The Works of William Harrison Ainsworth
Bibliography; Index;

Other British Studies Books