Picturing the Newgate Hero in W.H. Ainsworths Jack Sheppard: A Romance
Lecture presented by Lecturer in English LaMont Egle
W. H. Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist were publications said to have popularized prison novels in the British 1830s and 40s. This association was one Dickens fought hard to dissipate, saying he portrayed the criminal element in Oliver Twist as he really was, whereas Ainsworth portrayed him as a celebrated man of fashion.
Lecturer in Engilsh LaMont Egle will take the glamorized criminal hero Dickens objected to as its starting point and examine him in two ways. First, Egle will argue that Ainsworth constructed a textual representation where readers would see the traditional man of fashion and the fashionable criminal hero growing to become ultimately opposing social types, with the conclusion of his novel being a contest between the two. And second, tracing representations of this same hero in illustrations drawn by George Cruikshank, which accompanied Ainsworth’s story, he will recognize an important evolution in the visual artist’s craft. Cruikshank had drawn plates for Oliver Twist as well, but they amounted to no more than a series of disconnected episodes from Dickens’ story. When he draws Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, however, Cruikshank discovers how to build across his plates the visual cohesion necessary for turning graphics into narrative.
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