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text 2014-08-19 17:21
Random History Alert: Aug. 18-19 Pendle Witch Trials, 402 Years Ago
The Lancashire Witches A Romance of Pendle Forest - William Harrison Ainsworth

The link that alerted me to this anniversary is via Instagram, because it's more than just people sharing baby and lunch photos. (I'm following mostly museums, libraries and bookstores.)


So thanks to this image from The British Museum, I can share that the Pendleton Witch trials were held August 18 to 19, 1612. And later in 1849 William Harrison Ainsworth wrote a book incorporating the witches into his novel The Lancashire Witches. A novel that's never been out of print. After seeing that fact in countless books on the Victorian novel I decided to peek into the book online - and that's why it's on my currently reading list. I've decided to let myself pick up/put down that book as I feel like reading - it's on my ereader after all, and always with me, so no rush. (I haven't been a student for a decade or so, but I still love reading without a deadline.)


In the US we get fixated on the Salem witch trials (1692 - 1693ish) - well, because we tend to fixate on our own history - and lump all the European ones into "those trials over there." But the Pendleton witches also have an interesting backstory, and are a great parallel to Salem, especially in current day tourism.


I'll not bother to sum up - just direct you to the wikipedia: Pendle Witches

And note that links at the end are to Gutenberg - even the 1613 account by the court clerk called The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.


[I've seen both Pendle and Pendleton witches. And still am not sure which is correct.]

[Also I restrained myself from a which and witch pun there.]

[Though not entirely restrained, because I had to mention it.]


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text 2014-06-08 00:40
No, Book, I Am Not Reading You. Much. Dammit. Ok, Fine.
The Lancashire Witches A Romance of Pendle Forest - William Harrison Ainsworth

Every now and then something I'm reading will cite an author, who'll cite another book, who'll cite yet something else - and then I end up reading about William Harrison Ainsworth. A law clerk turned author, Ainsworth wrote 39 books between 1834 and 1881, and did various work for magazines, including his own (Ainsworth's Magazine, not a huge creative leap in naming). He and Dickens were friends, and he managed to bump into to many other well known authors and illustrators of the period. So it's never a surprise when his name or works pop up. Then I'll find myself thinking that I really should get around to reading at least one of his books, I'll download an ebook or two, and then I'll move on and forget him. Again.


A few days ago I found myself, after a series of links, on this Internet Archive page, flipping through the pages of The Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, a name I couldn't help snickering over. (Amazingly Mervyn Clitheroe doesn't even have its own wikipedia page, so no plot summary. Let us all pity poor Mervyn.)


Mervyn Clitheroe (1898)


If you take a look at that page you'll understand why I went to the enlarged version and took a closer look - the illustrations are interesting. And then I read the beginning, with a child, a dying mother, an absent father, and - no, no no, stop, not getting hooked into this one - let me see how many pages this thing goes on for....there we go, 400 some pages, nope not picking that up. I know I have one of his books at least already on my ereader. ...There we go, The Lancashire Witches. I'll read some of that!


That was a big mistake - or at least it was a mistake to start it without doing research. While I was right that Lancashire Witches was considered one of Ainsworth's better books, the fuzzy part of my memory felt that it wasn't terribly long, so it should be a quick read. Wrong! 635 pages. When I stopped after a large chunk of action had happened I realized that I was just finishing the prologue, which Ainsworth explains is just background to the story he's about to begin. And only then did I think "I wonder how many pages?"


You have to be careful with Victorian writers, especially ones who published their work to be serialized in magazines - they will take a plot and go on and on with it forever. Or at least it can feel like forever, especially when you're in a portion that feels suspiciously like filler.


What's funny is that if I had realized it wasn't a short work I'd have probably started Jack Sheppard, a novel about a historical criminal - or perhaps Rookwood, in which highwayman Dick Turpin plays a part. Both of those books belong to a category called Newgate Novels, which were basically true crime of the 1820s through 1840s. Most of them are easily available thanks to Gutenberg, which is why Ainsworth's been on my to read list for so long. And if I'd just done a quick check I'd have discovered that Jack Sheppard's Amazon ebook is only 410pgs. Sigh.


So here's the problem. I've now started Lancashire Witches - I give in, there's no point in arguing about it (though that's what I've been doing) - the question is whether I'll keep going. And since I'm a couple of chapters from finishing off a Dickens book I should just admit it to the Current Reads stack. The only problem is that the Dickens book was playing a particular role: The Book I'm Reading To Fall Asleep To, Which Means I Can't Actually Find It In Any Way Suspenseful Plotwise. The Lancashire Witches has already had rebellious priests, a warlock with a black dog, a flood, a baby under a curse, imprisonment and escape, a demon, death by falling statue, and several hangings. And that was just the prologue. So I'll give it a try, but I have a feeling it won't really be good reading to fall asleep to. Unless there's a long discussion of politics every so often. But hey, there will be witches to discuss.


If you're interested in more information, here's a fun article (with cited sources) that will explain what I've been burbling about with greater (more instructive) detail:


William Harrison Ainsworth: The Life and Adventures of the Lancashire Novelist

by Stephen Carver, AinsworthAndFriends.com, 1/16/2013

(This was actually published but in another language, so I'm wildly pleased that Carver decided to post it online. I will be gleefully rummaging around in the Works Cited to see if it will lead me to other books.)


Meanwhile someone needs to come up with an easier way to tell the length of an ebook on an ereader other than actually opening up the thing.

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review 2013-10-10 18:49
Boscobel, or the Royal Oak
Boscobel, or the Royal Oak - William Harrison Ainsworth

bookshelves: re-read, play-dramatisation, summer-2010, historical-fiction

Read in December, 2008

Saturday Play: Boscobel 29-11-2008

A dramatisation by Ian Curteis of the real-life escape of Charles II. Following the execution of his father, the future Charles II must flee England or die. Over a thrilling 40-day journey, young Charles has to learn how to live rough, how to evade capture and how to earn the kindness of strangers.

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review 2012-04-13 00:00
Cardinal Pole, Or, the Days of Philip and Mary
Cardinal Pole, Or, the Days of Philip and Mary - William Harrison Ainsworth Cardinal Pole, the title figure, is a bit of a cipher, other than being a 'nice guy' but on the (implicitly) wrong side. Ainsworth tries to present his narrative voice as entirely neutral in the vicious Catholic/Protestant culture wars of the period he's writing about, but his choice of terms occasionally betrays him as being a conventional Protestant. Rather like Scott, however (who was probably his inspiration), he is most concerned with presenting and reprobating the extremists on each side. And, of course, he takes full opportunity to throw in a couple of burnings at the stake, though his account of the physicalities of that horror is laundered in the extreme, to the point that he claims that neither of his suffering victims scream. Extremely unlikely, unless, of course, they were strangled by a sympathetic executioner beforehand, which is not an eventuality he chooses to bring up, let alone depict.

This is a slightly unusual Ainsworth in that the fictional junior couple are not allowed to have a happy-ever-after at the end; it seems close, but the young man, Osbert Clinton, forfeits it by joining the traitorous revolution. His suicide seems decidedly tacked on and was probably a second thought, perhaps at the urging of one of Ainsworth's editors or friends.

The 'serious' historical figures are Mary I (Bloody Mary) and Philip, of course, along with a couple of her Catholic bishops who took the lead in the persecutions of the Protestants, and a couple of the historical Protestant clergy who bore the brunt of that persecution. Mary is depicted as weak and desperate to keep Philip's affections, despite the fact that he's a philanderer (he goes after Osbert Clinton's girl with extraordinary pertinacity). Philip's a bit of a moustache-twirling villain, to be honest, and Ainsworth clearly also enjoyed sending up his retinue of Spanish hidalgoes in the early chapters. We also had a chapter-length essay description of Southampton, and another of Winchester, the latter a bit more interesting to me perhaps only because I've been there. I wasn't aware that Philip was feasted at the so-called Arthur's Round Table, which, though not authentic in the Arthurian sense, certainly developed a history of its own.

Of the 'humorous' characters - three giants and a dwarf - in all likelihood real life people abused in fact as they are abused in fiction here, the less said the better. Maybe the nineteenth century was close enough in sensibility to the sixteenth to enjoy this, but the twenty-first simply cannot.

Anyway, I read this in a Tauchnitz, 1863 edition (it formed volumes 665 and 666 of the British Authors Collection!) and felt a great sense of homecoming doing so. I have missed Ainsworth's peculiar mixture of historical obsession and rather bored romance!
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review 2011-12-14 00:00
Beau Nash: or, Bath in the eighteenth century
Beau Nash: or, Bath in the eighteenth ce... Beau Nash: or, Bath in the eighteenth century - William Harrison Ainsworth Ainsworth is, I'm sure most would agree, a minor author, and this is minor Ainsworth. It doesn't have either the supernatural elements or the fascination with true crime/gore that liven up his pedestrian prose in other parts of his canon. This is strictly a society novel, and one that's structurally rather obvious. There are two heroines, one married, one unmarried, both of whom behave incautiously in terms of sex/gender role expectations. The older, married one is the Example: she crosses the line by leaving her husband for a lover. A duel ensues, in which the husband is killed; the woman repents, takes herself into convent life, and develops a conveniently fatal if unspecified illness wh ich gives her a piteous death. The younger woman flirts with two young men (the horror!) but manages to pull herself back from the verge of destruction with only a brief illness to pay for it. Neither of these characters is at all believable, but they prance through their paces well enough. It is hardly Ainsworth's fault that as a twenty-first century feminist I find the underlying social messages (more Victorian than eighteenth-century, of course) utterly revolting.

Beau Nash, the titular hero, is (as is often the case with Ainsworth's novels) actually a secondary but real-life character, in this case the self-appointed "Master of Ceremonies" in Bath in the first half of the eighteenth century. He does actually take some part in the plot, trying to suppress duels, and giving sage advice now and again. It is actually in the opening chapters, where Ainsworth describes the physical surroundings and social habits of Bath society at the time, where the novel is most alive, in my opinion. Other real-life characters who are introduced are Warburton the critic; Ralph Allen, the model for Fielding's Squire Allworthy; and Fielding himself.
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