Surreysmum's Reviews > Will Harris Ains 2vl

Will Harris Ains 2vl by S.M. Ellis
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Jun 15, 2016

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bookshelves: 1987, biography, writers, literary-history, library
Read in January, 1987

[These notes were made in 1987; I read the 2-volume 1911 John Lane edition:]. Title is "William Harrison Ainsworth and his Friends". 2 vols. A competent biography in the Victorian life-and-letters mode, tho' it also preserves a gentlemanly (and frustrating) reticence on matters like the exact date of Ainsworth's second marriage - the way the circumstance is mentioned leads one to suspect that it might have been after the birth of their daughter Claire. Ellis is perhaps a little fulsome on the merits of Ainsworth's novels, but he is not blindly so: he is quite capable of recognizing that the later works are very minor, and the occasional passage surprises us with his recognition of Ainsworth's general limits as a writer. Necessarily shaped by its materials, the biography places great emphasis on A's friendship with James Crossley, a man with whom he corresponded for over 50 years. The volumes are liberally scattered with illustrations, particularly with portraits of A at various stages of his life - he seems to have been a little vain in this respect. The narrative necessarily tails off in interest as A passes that part of his life where he is intimately associated with geniuses like Dickens and Thackeray, and, perhaps not coincidentally, producing his own best work. But, having read some of the minor stuff too, I found it interesting to compare impressions with Ellis, and to put my own first reactions up against the new background knowledge. (I was wrong, for instance, to suggest that the historical research for Boscobel was probably second-hand). I was only vaguely aware of Ainsworth's periodical endeavours before - his ownership of (at various times) Ainsworth's, Bentley's, and the New Monthly appears to have given him an ideal first outlet for the novels, and a way to avoid the worst of the publisher problems which haunted other writers. I was pleased, too, to read of his encouragement of young writers, including Ouida!

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