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The Author Who Outsold Dickens (Hardback)

The Life and Work of W H Ainsworth

British History P&S History Social History Victorian Era 19th Century

By Stephen Carver
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 255
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526720696
Published: 22nd January 2020


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William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882) is probably the most successful 19th Century writer that most people haven’t heard of. Journalist, essayist, poet and, most of all, historical novelist, Ainsworth was a member of the early-Victorian publishing elite, and Charles Dickens’s only serious commercial rival until the late-1840s, his novels Rookwood and Jack Shepherd beginning a fashion for tales of Georgian highwaymen and establishing the legend of Dick Turpin firmly in the National Myth. He was in the Dickens’ circle before it was the Dickens’ circle and counted among his friends the literary lions of his age: men like Charles Lamb, J.G. Lockhart, Leigh Hunt, W.M. Thackeray and, of course, Dickens; the publishers Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley; and the artists Sir John Gilbert, George Cruikshank, and ‘Phiz’ (Hablot K. Browne). He also owned and edited Bentley’s Miscellany (whose editorship he assumed after Dickens), the New Monthly Magazine, and Ainsworth’s Magazine. In his heyday, Ainsworth commanded a massive audience until a moral panic – the so-called ‘Newgate Controversy’ – about the supposedly pernicious effects on working class youth of the criminal romances on which his reputation was built effectively destroyed his reputation as a serious literary novelist.

This illustrated biography draws on his unpublished correspondence and on his work as both a journalist and novelist.

Bookseller 4/10/19
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