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,, 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.