on 2 January 2012
Harrison Ainsworth, writing at the start of the Victorian era, is a fascinating author, very much of his time.
To my mind his "Jack Sheppard" is fascinating on 3 levels:
1)Influenced by Sir Walter Scott, he is a fine example of the historical novelists of his day: his plot is interrupted at intervals by factual and geographical descriptions, and moral maxims, which are typical of his era. Anyone interested in the history of literarure would therefore be interested.
b)Jack's personal life is not of much substance, but Ainsworth hangs his whole account on real events running from the Great Storm of 1703 to Jack's hanging at Tyburn in 1724, via the London slums, the 1715 Jacobite Revolt, Jonathan Wild and the thieftakers, Newgate Gaol, and the ghastly judicial custom as the "peine forte et dure" interrogation. Apart from the storm, Jack's escape from Newgate and his journey to Tyburn are the most fully and vividly related.
Ainsworth is ingenious in bringing just about every notable person and event of the period into the story.
The novel is therefore not a bad introduction to the history of the time. When I first read it as a child it caused me to go off and read up that history.
Incidentally Sheppard was a real criminal, but it is really Wild, the original "bent copper", who is of most interest.
c)As the other reviewer says, it is also a good page-turning read.
So not highly accurate and scholarly history, and not a stream-of-consciousness modern novel, but a good read. Scots will object, but I think that at his best (as here) Ainsworth was a better writer than Sir Walter. I think his plots are stronger and his style is less clumsy.