I see how Ruin, with palsied hand
Begins to shake our ancient house to dust.
Yorkshire Tragedy. — from the 1878 and earlier title-pages.

In 1831, twenty-six-year-old William Harrison Ainsworth, an amateur dramatist and practising attorney, transformed Cuckfield Place, Sussex, owned by his friend William Sergison, into gloomy Rookwood Place for his first mature novel after the minor gothic work Sir John Chiverton (1826). Published in three volumes by Richard Bentley in April, 1834, with a full program of illustration by George Cruikshank added in the fourth edition, Rookwood. A Romance went through five large editions in only three years, making Ainsworth's name and fortune, and leading directly to his having sufficient literary gravitas to assume the post of editor of Bentley's Miscellany (1837) when his protegé, twenty-five-year-old Charles Dickens, quarrelling over his contract with the publisher, resigned the post in 1838.

First published by Richard Bentley asa triple-decker in 1834, Rookwood became a single-volume when publisher John Macrone (1809-37) acquired the rights, but a chronic cash shortage subsequently compelled Macrone to sell his rights to the Ainsworth novels Rookwood and Crichton (1837) back to Bentley. Despite its convoluted plot, the book is memorable for its handling of atmosphere and its anglicizing the gothic of Anne Radcliffe, and for its introducing an entirely English element as the insertion of highwayman Dick Turpin into the inheritance plot helped to establish the Newgate novel of the 1830s.

Although published in three volumes by Richard Bentley in April, 1834, with a few illustrations by Daniel Maclise, the novel's fourth edition was the first that contained a full program of illustration, a dozen engravings on copper plate, including George Cruikshank's atmospheric rendering of the setting, The Old Manse, otherwise, Rookwood Place, a seventeenth-century Yorkshire mansion, viewed through an archway of lime trees that suggests the long vista of a century, for the action occurs in 1737. Sir John Gilbert's 1852 wood-engravings, although much more realistic, lack the lightness and vivacity of George Cruikshank's copper engravings of 1836.

Related Materials


"Ainsworth, William Harrison." http://biography.com

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Jack Sheppard. A Romance. With 12 illustrations by George Cruikshank. In three volumes. London: Richard Bentley, 1839.

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Rookwood. A Romance. With 8 illustrations by Sir John Gilbert. London: George Routledge, 1878, 1882.

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Rookwood. A Romance. With 12 illustrations by George Cruikshank. London: George Routledge, 1882.

Carver, Stephen. Ainsworth and Friends: Essays on 19th Century Literature & The Gothic. Accessed 1 November 2016. https://ainsworthandfriends.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/william-harrison-ainsworth-the-life-and-adventures-of-the-lancashire-novelist/

Dickens, Charles. Pilgrim ed. of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 5 (1847-1849). Ed. Graham Storey and Katherine Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

Golden, Catherine J. "Ainsworth, William Harrison (1805-1882." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988. Page 14.

Kelly, Patrick. "William Harrison Ainsworth." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21, "Victorian Novelists Before 1885," ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Pp. 3-9.

Muir, Percy. "Two Colossi — Thomas Bewick and George Cruikshank." Victorian Illustrated Books. London: B. T. Batsford, 1971. Pp. 25-58.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Sutherland, John. "Rookwood" in The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 19893. Pp. 544-545.

Worth, George J. William Harrison Ainsworth. New York: Twayne, 1972.

Last updated 19 February 2017