On time and critics

Do you have a friend or colleague who seems to have success no matter what mediocre bullshit they publish? Just wait them out. Like Dickens did Ainsworth. The snobs of history will delete them and you will be either what’s left on the page or perhaps the little black rubbings from the eraser. (Excerpt is from a book on Ainsworth.)

Time, said Orwell, is the only literary critic that matters and time has judged Ainsworth unkindly. Carver’s professional biography, with its shouty title, does not make a case for looking at minor Victorian fiction, instead arguing that Ainsworth shouldn’t be there. His work belongs with the “living novels” of Dickens, Thackeray and Gaskell, and other “lasting” writers of the formative 1840s.

Why has Ainsworth not lasted? Reasons are offered by Carver. Primarily he was, with Jack Sheppard, the brand leader of Newgate fiction, a genre which celebrated dastardly crime in grisly detail. The most notorious murderers of the 1840s took note. The valet François Courvoisier, claimed he was impelled to slit his aristocratic master’s throat by reading Ainsworth’s newly published novel. Jesse James (not an endorsement which cuts much ice with the literati) signed his letters to the press “Jack Sheppard” in witness to the rogue’s dime-novel celebrity.

The “literary elite” have always conspired to keep Ainsworth down, Carver alleges, because “they fail to understand popular fiction”.

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