Introduction

Broadview Press's literary texts series has already brought out accurate, well-formatted, and relatively inexpensive classics such as Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone and M. E. Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret. New for 2007 is what one may call "a forgotten classic awaiting rediscovery," William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard. A Romance. By the close of the nineteenth century relegated by most critics to the status of a mere "imitation" of a Sir Walter Scott historical novel, the 1839 novel in serial started a "Jack Sheppard Craze" that spawned six dramatic adaptations in London alone within weeks of its volume publication. Broadview and its scholarly editors, Edward Jacobs and Manuela Mourão, have produced a first-rate edition, with a highly informative introduction that focuses on the issue of "carcerality" (imprisonment), and the relationship between Ainsworth's novel, Scott's version of the Historical Novel, and the 1830s subgenre known as the Newgate Novel. As well, the critical text gives modern readers excerpts from J. B. Buckstone's dramatic adaptation, Cruikshank's thirty-one original illustrations for the Bentley's Miscellany serial, contemporary critical responses and reviews, and even some of the eighteenth-century documents that served as Ainsworth's sources. Althogether, the editors have done their work well, giving us a readable text and a plethora of paratextual material to help us understand the novel as the early Victorians might have done.

Rediscovering Lost Victorian Classics

As we look back retrospectively on the fiction of the nineteenth- century, most of us recall a few salient authors, Dickens, the Brontës, Eliot, Austen, Thackeray, Hardy, and perhaps Collins coming to mind first, followed possibly by Scott, Bulwer-Lytton, and bringing up the rear of the century Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad. And I suspect many otherwise reasonably well-read English-speakers are often inclined to believe that these were what previous generations regarded as the Victorian epoch's best-selling authors, just as such consumers of literature are inclined to regard Shakespeare and Jonson as the only significant writers for the English stage during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. All of that is wrong, of course: just as there were numerous popular Elizabethan-Jacobean dramatists (including Dekker, Kyd, Middleton, Beaumont and Fletcher, Marlowe, and Webster), so there were other Victorian writers vastly popular in their day but largely forgotten now; one of the latter is William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882), whose Rookwood (1834) and Jack Sheppard (1839) were best-sellers in the late Regency and early Victorian periods, but which many moderns have never even heard of, let alone read (unless for some esoteric graduate course).

This situation has been in the process of being rectified for the better part of the last decade, largely through the efforts of such publishing houses as Broadview. Since 2000, this Canadian publisher with offices in Orchard Park, NY; Plymouth, England; and the University of New South Wales has been bringing out affordable scholarly editions of pre-twentieth century literary texts, some of which are familiar (at least as titles), and some of which are almost unknown, even among educated readers. The Broadview Press of Peterborough, Ontario, acknowledges "the ever-changing cannon of literature in English by bringing together texts long regarded as classics with valuable lesser-known works." With prefaces and formats informed by Feminist, Marxist, Post-Colonial, and especially New Historicist critical readings, this Canadian publisher has issued modestly-priced authoritative texts with full backgrounds, including anthologies of Victorian short stories and poetry with poetic theory, as well as a host of academic texts from previous periods, including a new critical editions of such well known works as Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and such relatively obscure works as William Godwin's Fleetwood, William Earle Jr.'s Obie, and Mary Shelley's Valperga. This short list conveys some notion of Broadview's range and intention. Victorian writers represented include the well-known (Wilkie Collins, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin), the little-known (Ellen Wood, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Harriet Martineau), and the generally unknown (Anna Murphy Jamieson, Dinah Mulock Craik, Charlotte Mary Yonge, and Margaret Oliphant), all of whom, however, were authors of nineteenth-century best-sellers. Forthcoming in 2007 is William Harrison Ainsworth's neglected classic Jack Sheppard.

The Broadview Formula for a Scholarly Edition

The Broadview formula, now over seven years old, is simple but effective in producing highly accessible works for readers who want to broaden their knowledge of pre-twentieth-century masterpieces. Take a "classic," either well-known or long-forgotten; commission scholarly editors; establish the text; ferret out sources, reviews, reactions, illustrations (and, if possible, excerpts from dramatic adaptations) from the period of initial publication; then organize these diverse materials into introduction, text, and multiple appendices, adding thereto copious explanatory notes on appropriate pages. Some notes are necessarily brief, being just long enough to clarify an allusion that would otherwise be lost on a modern reader. For example, the 2003 Broadview edition of Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1861) explains "superior to crinoline; above pearl powder and Mrs. Rachel Levison" with the following note: "more generally known as Madame Rachel, was the proprietor of a shop that sold cosmetics and beauty treatments" (p. 243n). As is typical of Broadview's editorial practice, the note does not condescend to tell the reader what he or she (if in doubt) might easily glean from a standard dictionary about crinoline or pearl powder, but chooses to focus on defining succinctly what a search of such a reference work would not. Some notes are as long as a paragraph in order to supply a more thorough discussion of a more significant point, such as Ann Radcliffe's range and style (Jack Sheppard, introduction, p. 17), the New Poor Law (1834) and the Metropolitan Police Act (1839) (introduction, p. 18-19), the People's Charter and the Chartists (introduction, p. 22), the Fleet Prison (Jack Sheppard, text of the novel, p. 92), the London Workhouse (Appendix A, 18th c. sources, p. 493), the Newgate Calendar (Appendix B, an 1839 Athenaeum review, p. 504), and Minor Theatres (Forster's 1839 Examiner review, p. 509).

Impressions of Broadview's Jack Sheppard (2007)

The introductions of these Broadview editions of Lady Audley's Secret (by Natalie M. Houston) and Jack Sheppard (by Edward Jacobs and Manuela Mourão) are not mere biographical sketches of the authors, although each book does provide a highly readable biography and useful chronology; rather, the front-matter attempts to place each text in a critical context, explaining for the former novel how contemporary readers and critics responded to the bigamy plot of the Sensation Novel and its critique of the class system, for example, and for the latter how Ainsworth reshaped the conventions of the Historical Novel of Sir Walter Scott in light of the Newgate Novel of Dickens and Bulwer-Lytton. Particularly informative are Jacobs and Mourão's considerations of Jack Sheppard as an alternative rendering of the Scott genre (p. 23-29), "Gothic and Comic Elements" (p. 29-31), and "Class and the Jack Sheppard Craze" (p. 32-37). Important to note is how Ainsworth chose to ammend the Scott formula for the Historical Novel, which involved fictional principals, actual secondary characters (such as Bonnie Prince Charlie in Waverley), and a fully realized historical "period" backdrop, all supporting his theme of the necessity for socio-cultural change. Ainsworth modifies this formula considerably, so that, although he maintains a narrative voice imbued with a strong historical sense that conveys historical authenticity, Ainsworth divides his narrative into "epochs." He marshalls an impressive array of historical sources as he focuses on historical (albeit, somewhat fictionalized) rather than purely fictional characters to evoke what the editors term "a periodic totality" (24). Thus, the focal characters of Jack Sheppard are Sheppard, the notorious 18th c. thief and goal-breaker, and Wild, an underworld kingpin and thief-taker.

"Introduction" to the Broadview Edition of Jack Sheppard (2007)

Dividing the narrative into epochs . . . enhances the moral ambivalence — which so troubled critics in the novel — by eliding causes of the three present situations and characters. For instance, the decade between the first two epochs omits Sheppard's socialization, leaving open the question of whether he is an outlaw by nature or because, as he complains, Wood has not treated Jack and Thames equally, giving Jack all the "hard work" ( 2.1 [i. e., Epoch 2, Chapter 1]). Similarly, the decade between the second and third epochs elides Sheppard's history as a minion of Wild. The narrative avoids extended representation of Sheppard as a hardened criminal; but at the same time it also obscures the causes (before his glimpse of Thames in 3.1 and the murder at Dollis Hill in 3.2) behind his sudden, total reform and revolt against Wild's "slavery" in 3.3. [p. 28]

A final aspect of Jack Sheppard as a historical novel is that it fictionalizes history. This, of course, is not unique to Ainsworth. However, as [the critic] Ligocki shows, even though critics have perennially charged Ainsworth with being especially careless about historical facts, he actually uses sources far more accurately than Scott and most other historical novelists; indeed, Ainsworth uses sources more accurately than the critics who erroneously blame him for inaccuracies ("Ainsworth's"). Because Ainsworth so carefully researched his novels and so closely follows his sources (as we have seen, often quoting them verbatim), Ligocki argues that, especially in Ainsworth's case, fictionalizations should be considered as artistic design rather than error. And in Jack Sheppard his [28/29] inventions and alterations are indeed organized so as to enhance the novel's abiding focus on the illegitimacy of incarceration and the heroism of attempts to escape. Thus the subplot of Thames Darrell and the fiction of Wild's obsessive persecution of Mrs. Sheppard generalize incarceration as a class situation. Similarly, the fictionalizing of Wild as working for Prime Minister Robert Walpole (see 2.3, n.7) — which may seem merely an expression of Ainsworth's Tory antipathies — enhances carcerality as an official conspiracy and policy of those with power. The related invocation of the 1715 Jacobite conspiracy, through Rowland's participation in it, makes conspiracy the dominant trope of the second epoch, reinforcing the trope of Wild's secret penetration of all urban spaces discussed above with respect to the division of the narrative into epochs. Portraying Mrs. Wood as abusing both Jack and his mother, and the fiction of her angry blow motivating his first theft (2.5-2.6) reverses documentary accounts (Appendix A2) in which Sheppard beats Wood and his wife after falling into crime.

However, this reversal of the violence works to indict the bourgeois family as another site of incarceration and injustice rather than as an opportunity to escape his plights that Sheppard squandered. Similarly, the transformation of Kneebone — from the benefactor who helped the actual Mrs. Sheppard secure her son's apprenticeship (Appendix A2) into an interloping seducer first of Mrs. Wood and then of Winifred — expands the forces of corruption facing Sheppard into the domestic sphere. As our notes to the novel and the eighteenth-century accounts in Appendix A indicate, Ainsworth closely follows contemporary sources on the physical aspects of Sheppard's escapes; in places he even adopts their very phrasing. But whereas the historical Sheppard escaped only in order to continue his life of crime and self-indulgence, we have shown how Ainsworth's novel recontextualizes Sheppard's escapes as heroic efforts to save Thames and his mother from persecution. Like his "static," citational style of historiography, Ainsworth's historical fictions in Jack Sheppard thus emphasize not only the reality and the injustice of incarceration, but also the virtues of escape.

4. Gothic and Comic Elements in Jack Sheppard

Like most Newgate novels, Jack Sheppard exploits elements of the Gothic novel, an extremely popular genre between about 1790 and 1820. After 1820 the Gothic waned in popularity among mainstream readers; however, from the 1830s it enjoyed a resurgence among lower- class readers. This resurgence occurred not only in cheap novels or "bloods" issued in penny parts (James 72-87), but also in "lurid" periodicals such as Cleave's Weekly Police Gazette (1834-36) and The Penny [29/30] Sunday Times and People's Police Gazette (1840-49), which in "order to avoid the stamp duty on newspapers" contained mostly sensationalistic "fiction and fabricated police reports" (James 35).

Apart from the basic technique of suspense and the depiction of varying amounts of sensational violence, the most common Gothic tropes found in both Newgate novels and lower-class fiction are the imprisonment of characters in menacing, castle-like spaces, and their subjection to predestined, doomed fates. But whereas in other Newgate novels these carceral Gothic tropes tend to present enclosure as a personal or metaphysical fate, in Jack Sheppard they demonize incarceration as a thoroughly human and material institutional conspiracy by the powerful against the vulnerable and outcast.

Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard as Everyman

Ainsworth's Jack is neither revolutionary nor anti-hero, but he is consistently the novel's protagonist, a normative character with whom we identify ourselves. even though we are members of the middle class, because the novelist is careful to justify Jack's criminality as a form of opposition to vicious, negligent, corrupt and/or inept authority. We accept Jack as representative of our conception of natural justice, of our aspirations and concerns, because Ainsworth has him act to protect those whom he loves. In our Post-911 and Post-Orwellian age, watched by surveillance technology and manipulated by the media, we recognize the self-serving, venial public official as we regard Jack Sheppard as the powerless average person caught up in the cogs of an impersonal social institution and trapped by economic circumstances in an inferior position, doomed to a life of crime that inevitably ends on the gallows.

We have all come to realize that history is written by the victors rather than the vanquished, and that those without the privilege to be heard in public are rarely able to articulate their positions or tell their stories. Ainsworth's narrator achieves verisimilitude by assimilating a wide range of historical resources and providing a perspective from below rather than from above. Ainsworth's narrative voice is informed by the cumulative experience of the disenfranchised, disempowered, and underprivileged, leaving Ainsworth's reader, whether in 1839 or 2007, "with a tragic sense both of the continuing urgency and difficulty of escape from the prison of the eighteenth century" (Jacobs and Mourão, 27).

The Thoroughness of the Broadview Editors

In reading the Broadview edition's subprefaces, one is impressed by the utter thoroughness of the editors. For example, picking up on a detail of a May 1837 letter by Ainsworth, namely that he began Jack Sheppard as "a sort of Hogarthian novel" (33), they make a strong case for the influence of William Hogarth's 1747 series Industry and Ideleness. They note, too, how art conditioned reality in that, in the autopsy occasioned by the death of Lord William Russell in 1840, his valet testified that he murdered his master because he was inspired to do so by reading Jack Sheppard. So strong was the impression throughout officialdom that the novel and its dramatic adaptations would inculate criminality and class rebellion that for two decades the Lord Chamberlain effectively banned plays based on Ainsworth's novel. Presumably similar action was not taken against George Lillo's The History of George Barnwell, or The London Merchant (1713) because it was suitably cautionary: the seductress, Sarah Millwood, having incited apprentice Barnwell to murder his uncle and master, suffers the same fate as the murderer although she has betrayed him to the authorities (a story to which Dickens alluded on at least five occasions: Great Expectations, Ch. 15; The Old Curiosity Shop, Ch. 1; Martin Chuzzlewit, Ch. 9; The Pickwick Papers, Ch. 10; and Sketches by Boz, No. 49). Whereas adolescent Barnwell is a hapless dupe who does not profit by his crime, the Lord Chamberlain correctly identified Ainsworth's daring and resourceful Jack Sheppard as an attractive character whose exploits as narrated and dramatized tend to glorify crimilality. Paradoxically, as the editors point out, the flash song "Nix My Dolly," which J. B. Buckstone had transposed from Ainsworth's Rookwood to his dramatic adaptation at the Adelphi (one of nine that followed the novel's volume publication), was collected in fashionable soing-books and sung in upper-middle-class drawing rooms, despite its thieves' cant — its tune even rang at noon in Edinburgh from the steeple of St. Giles' Cathedral! This is an aspect of what the editors term "emblematization," appropriating elements such as character, setting, and dialogue piecemeal.

Although the editors are probably correct that the spectacular conclusion of Buckstone's play was widely imitated on the Victorian stage, the convention of the "blow-up" may certainly be traced back as far as 1813's The Miller and His Men, a perennially popular melodrama by Isaac Pocock. A script and appropriate pyrotechnics, as well as a miniature mill, were often included with toy theatres to contextualize the effect of exploding the mill, a bit of spectacle that never failed to delight young Charles Dickens. The thoroughness of the editors even encompasses the twenty-first century as they discuss Nicholas Griffin's historical novel based in part on the historical character of Jack Sheppard, The House of Sight and Shadow (2000).

Establishing The Text of Jack Sheppard. A Romance.

Since Victorian authors tended to revise their serial proofs just prior to volume publication, one would expect that Jacobs and Mourão experienced little difficulty in establishing their copy-text. However, Ainsworth issued the novel in so many editions and serialisations, including the posthumous "Author's Copyright Edition" of 1884, that the Broadview editors faced a complicated problem in determining which version of the novel to follow. The problem of checking variants has been complicated by the disappearance of the fair copy manuscript that Ainsworth prepared for Bentley's Miscellany for the initial serialisation of 1839. Auctioned off in 1882, the original MS survives in discontinuous pieces in the Huntington Library, however. Assuming that the novelist made most of his emendations for the first volume edition rather than later editions, the editors have wisely chosen the 1839 Bentley triple-decker as their basic text, correcting obvious misprints and errors by checking later versions, but retaining variant spellings, except of names of characters. The Routledge edition of 1854 as well as the 1839/1840 serialisation have provided the thirty-one original Cruikshank illustrations for this critical edition, the editors having placed these plates in juxtaposition with the narrative moments realized.

A Documentary Approach

Appendices A through D (pp. 483-567) provide a wealth of pertinent documents that offer the reader (or, more properly, the student) multiple perspectives, ranging from a Sunday Times review of Fred Yates's production of Buckstone's stage adaptation at the Adelphi, and excerpts from Buckstone's and Greenwood's adaptations themselves, to (since Jack Sheppard is loosely based on actual events and figures from eighteenth-century England) relevant pieces of eighteenth-century journalism that may have served as Ainsworth's sources. As one might expect in a documentary contextualization of a pre-twentieth-century work, contemporary journalism affords the editors their chief means of establishing popular and critical receptions of the novel and its chief dramatic adaptations. A list of "Works Cited" and "Further Readings" (pp. 569-576) rounds out the volume, the editors having researched which titles (particularly from Daniel Defoe) were in Ainsworth's library when he wrote the novel. Among the "Secondary Sources" they have utilized are such standard reference works as Richard Altick's The English Common Reader (1957) and such specialized texts as Arthur Griffiths' The Chronicles of Newgate (1987). They make considerable use in the "Introduction" of Keith Hollingsworth's The Newgate Novel 1830-1847 (1963) and Llewellyn Ligocki's articles "Ainsworth's Historical Accuracy Reconsidered" (Albion, 1972), "The Imitators and the Imitated: Scott, Ainsworth, and the Critics" (1973), and "William Harrison Ainsworth as Novelist-Historian" (Research Studies, 1975). There are a handful of references published in 2000, but nothing more recent, suggesting that Jacobs and Mourão have had this project in hand for some time.

References

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Jack Sheppard (1839). Eds. Edward Jacobs and Manuela Mourčo. Broadview Editions. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2007.

Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley's Secret (1861). Ed. Natalie M. Houston. Broadview Literary Texts. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2003.

Broadview Press. Broadview Editions and Encore Editions. Peterborough, ON: 2006.

_____. English Studies. Peterborough, ON: 2006.


Victorian Overview

Last modified 12 February 2007