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Rookwood by William Harrison Ainsworth

Rookwood (1834)

by William Harrison Ainsworth

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This sprawling, verbose epic was written, according to the author, in 24 hours - NaNoWriMo-ers, eath your hearts out. It is a tale of family secrets, skullduggery and revenge, with added Dick Turpin, and the highlight is Turpin's epic ride from London to York near the end of the book, which is told rather well even though it barely fits with the rest of the plot.

The most annoying thing about the book is the habit most of the characters have of bursting into song or reciting poetry without the slightest provocation. The second most annoying thing is the unbelievable verbosity of style - the river Don is described as 'lutulent' when Turpin crosses it, and I have no idea what that word means. (NB this is the river Don of Doncaster rather than Aberdeen, Toronto or Rostov-na-Donu.)

Ainsworth says in his introduction that he wanted to write a Mrs Radcliffe novel; I haven't read any of those, though I did rather bounce off Northanger Abbey which was a send-up of the genre. I was struck by the uneasy handling of heroism, virtue and social order. It begins with young Peter Bradley discovering that he is really the heir to the Rookwood estate, and appparently being set up as the hero; but he slips rather casually into the role of villain as the book progresses, without any decent signalling of the transition. The gypsies are individually quaint but collectively sinister. Ainsworth wants Turpin and the highwaymen to be heroes, and his pursuers buffoons, but can't quite deliver. The book's one memorable line is when Turpin and friends are drinking in a London tavern just before the ride to York. Turpin proclaims, 'May each of us meet with the success he deserves,' to which one of his fellow-highwaymen replies, 'Egad! I hope not! I'm afraid, in that case, the chances would be against us.'

My actual reason for reading Rookwood is that it appears in Jacqueline Rayner's Doctor Who audio play, The Doomwood Curse, in which the Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard are drawn into a world which seems to be based on Ainsworth's novel - particularly recommended because of India Fisher's bravura performance, and you don't need to know anything at all about Rookwood to enjoy the play. ( )
  nwhyte | May 21, 2010 |
To rule the Rookwood estate carries a deadly curse and death is forewarned by the dropping of branch from an old pear tree. We begin the book with the death of Lord Rookwood and a macabre funeral service. Now begins a tussle for a new Lord as a rival for the title is discovered. During this Dick Turpin, the highwayman appears and hijacks the story although all is resolved in the end. Throughout the book are many poems and songs and my copy has excellent explanations of gypsy and highwayman "slang". ( )
  TheWasp | Feb 19, 2010 |
Sometimes I'm in the mood for a good, old-fashioned gothic story, and this is one that I picked up based on a recommendation from someone. It's more like gothic romance (see wikipedia for the definition of "romance" under literary genres if you don't know what I mean...not to be confused with the "bucaneer gets the broad" type romance). There are actually 2 stories at work here that mesh...the first is the gothic part, the story of the Rookwoods, a noble family which seems destined for nothing but doom. Young Luke is the grandson of the sexton, whose daughter had a dalliance with the Rookwood lord who has just died at the beginning of the story. Lord Rookwood left behind a wife and a son, but Luke's grandfather passes on to Luke that his mother had actually at one point been married to the last lord. Luke wants to claim his title and marry Sybil, a gypsy girl. But wait! Piers Rookwood's son, Ranulph, is home from the continent, where he has fallen in love with a fair beauty, Eleanor Mowbray. The plot thickens as Lady Rookwood tries to keep the legal evidence of Luke's claim from falling into his hands. The second story (which I read someplace had actually been published as a separate adventure) concerns the highwayman Dick Turpin, who outwits his pursuers through clever use of disguise and the speed of his black steed, Bess. The story of his ride to York is amazing...a definite no-miss. Very much a glorification of the criminal -- Turpin's sense of honor and fairness makes him somewhat of a hero even though he's got a price on his head.

Part ghost story, part gothic, part romance, this book does not have a dull moment and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this genre. ( )
2 vote bcquinnsmom | Jul 25, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Harrison Ainsworthprimary authorall editionscalculated
Swinnerton, FrankIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To My Mother These Volumes Are Inscribed With every Sentiment Of Love And Veneration
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Within the deep recesses of a vault, the last abiding place of an ancient family---many generations of whose long line were there congregated---and at midnight's dreariest hour, two figures might be discovered, sitting, wrapt in silence as profound as that of the multitudinous dead around them.
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