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This article juxtaposes debates about the transferrable skill in nineteenth-century periodicals and twenty-first-century pedagogy. In the 1840s, William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, originally serialized in Bentley’s Miscellany, threatened to turn lower-class readers into criminals who could apply skills learned in the novel to real-life thefts and murders (according to the scandalized upper classes). In post-recession American universities in the 2010s, humanities pedagogy often relies upon the rhetoric of the transferable skill (like critical thinking or writing) in order to make courses appear financially viable to students and administrators. I argue that transfers rarely come singly: the transfer of skills can mask a transfer of socioeconomic responsibility as well. I end, unconventionally, with a lesson plan.

Skills are in. Depending on your point of view, the transferable skill is either the savior or the curse of post-recession humanities pedagogy, but there is no denying that it is a hot topic. In American K-12 education, the new Common Core standards “intentionally do not include a required reading list” but instead emphasize the “skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in college, career, and life.”1 Many colleges and universities across the country are similarly revamping their curricula to reflect a focus on skills. According to Dan Berrett, “Today just about everyone—administrators, students, parents, employers, policy makers, and most professors—has accepted the notion that broad, transferable skills are the desired product of college.”2 Given the tensions that still surround “teaching for transfer,” or crafting courses (usually in the humanities) with the goal of imparting skills like writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving that students can apply in other (usually science and tech) classes and careers, the universality of this acceptance may be questionable.3 But the universality of the debate is not.

To interact with a periodical, particularly a nineteenth-century periodical, is immediately to confront the question of transfer: should the reader apply knowledge gained in one context (say, an article or an issue) to a different context (say, a subsequent article, a subsequent issue, or even “real life”)? Transferability is also at the heart of the most animated debates in twenty-first-century literary scholarship, particularly those focused on the issue of “presentism.”4 Can we abstract historical content into transferable theories? Or is history unique and non-transferable? An awareness of the ideological valences of our own discourse around transferability can help [End Page 39] us teach our students and articulate our motivations for research. More than this, a focus on the rhetoric of transferability can help us connect pedagogy and scholarship in the same conversation.

The goal of this article is not to solve the crisis in the humanities but rather to provide a new form for that solution. Current academic infrastructures and publication methods often obscure the integral relationship between teaching and research, along with the integral relationship between higher and secondary education. Our path forward must heal these divides, not exacerbate them.5 My argument will therefore adopt an unusual structure. Each section will trace the continuities and dissonances between two debates about the transferable skill: the controversy surrounding the publication of William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard in Bentley’s Miscellany from 1839 to 1840 and the discourse surrounding humanities pedagogy in the 2010s. I am particularly interested in the socioeconomic valences of transferable skills in each case. I argue that transfers rarely come singly: the transfer of skills often masks a transfer of social responsibility as well. The comparison between historical moments is explicitly not meant to draw a simple connection, to claim that the insights from one debate can be transferred to another. Rather, I take the possibility and problematic of such a transfer as my focus of inquiry. I end, unconventionally, with a lesson plan, as a way of thinking critically about what it might mean not only to “teach for transfer” but to teach the transfer.

The Context Complex

In January 1839, Jack Sheppard was not dangerous.6 Rather, he was an honored guest in the pages of Bentley’s Miscellany, the charismatic pet of middle-class drawing rooms. Capitalizing on the “Newgate novel” trend, Ainsworth adapted the story of Jack Sheppard, a famed eighteenth-century thief known for his incredible feats of jailbreaking, into a historical romance that kept bourgeois audiences pleasantly breathless. A few months later, everyone from police inspectors to John Forster censured Jack Sheppard as a “cut-throat’s manual,” blaming Ainsworth for teaching lower-class readers skills that they could transfer to the streets and implement in real-life thefts and murders.7 How did such a radical transformation happen? What kinds of politics did this change in perception require and what kinds of forms? This is the story of how Jack Sheppard became radically decontextualized, powerful, classed, threatening, and, above all, transferable.8

In order to understand this shift, we must first understand how deeply embedded Jack Sheppard was in its original periodical context. When the novel began serialization, Charles Dickens was the disgruntled editor of [End Page 40] Bentley’s Miscellany, and Jack Sheppard played second fiddle to Oliver Twist, which was nearing its final numbers. Two months later, by March of 1839, Dickens had resigned, Ainsworth had assumed the editorship, and Jack Sheppard had quickly become the magazine’s leading feature.

Reviews from the early months of Jack Sheppard’s serialization interpret the novel as a sign of stability during the change in editorship at Bentley’s. Speaking of the “Familiar Epistle from a Parent to a Child” at the start of the March issue, in which Dickens facetiously addresses Bentley’s as a toddler once, but no longer, in his care, the Examiner comments that “every sorrow has a ‘sunny side,’” for “Mr Dickens is succeeded in his late office by Mr Ainsworth—whose opening of the ‘romantic legend’ of Jack Sheppard has already, under circumstances ominous of a certain and speedy decline, infused new promise into Bentley’s Miscellany.”9 The Caledonian Mercury goes a step further, interpreting Ainsworth’s narrative as being so enmeshed within its context as to warrant the extension of Dickens’s child metaphor from Bentley’s to Jack: “There is no appearance in the number before us of any change in the periodical; all is sparkling and brilliant as in the most favoured days of its childhood and its pains taking attentive nurse. ‘Jack Sheppard’ increases upon our affection as he grows in stature.”10 In light of Jack Sheppard’s later association with cases of juvenile delinquency, we might find the portrayal of the serial as a beloved child bitingly ironic, but the analogy is revealing. As editorial power shifted, the fear of potential fragmentation made Jack Sheppard much more embedded in its context than it might otherwise have been; the continuity of the serialized novel stood in for the continuity of the periodical as a whole.

Reviewers almost universally remarked on Jack Sheppard’s self-same consistency. Language of fulfilled commitment gives a moral cast to the act of serialization. “Jack Sheppard, in Bentley’s Miscellany, redeems this month the promise of the last,” one reviewer proclaims, and another notes that “‘Jack Sheppard’ fulfills the promise of its former chapters.”11 Ainsworth and Bentley’s are mutually admirable: “The reputation that this periodical has already established for itself amongst the reading public” helps to establish Jack Sheppard as a “story of intense interest […] likely to prove creditable to Mr. Ainsworth’s pen.”12 Dependability becomes an aesthetic value as the serial’s “method, consistency, and keeping” produce “increasing vigour and interest.”13 Jack Sheppard is so far embedded as to be virtually un-excerptable: “The incidents are thickly sown, but so closely connected, that it is difficult to disjoin a portion for extract—a circumstance, it must be owned, that does anything but detract from the merit of the author.”14 Given later denouncements, the cheerfulness with which reviews receive the serial’s early consistency seems almost eerie: “Ainsworth’s ‘Jack Sheppard’ this month goes on swimmingly.”15 [End Page 41]

The synonymy of Jack Sheppard’s and Bentley’s serial publication produces moral judgments of the novel that depict it as tamely scandalous rather than menacing. The tenor of the periodical as a “popular work of rich humour, which conveys the best instruction, through an inexhaustible fund of amusement,” legitimates one review’s praise of the “admirable production of Mr. Ainsworth, entitled ‘Jack Sheppard’” which “we cannot but recommend […] to the reading public, of all classes.”16 Of all classes! How differently this response reads from later outcries against Jack Sheppard as an instigator of lower-class crime.17 In these early installments, some reviews did register a sense of detached uneasiness at the crime fiction fad. A reviewer for the Morning Post writes, “There is certainly great spirit in the writing, whatever objections we may hold to a school of composition that has taken ‘a rage’ with ‘Oliver Twist,’ and of which dim revealments, dark passages of character, and startling situations form the staple features, with too little relief from the lighter side of life.”18 But because Bentley’s was an “amusing periodical” and Jack Sheppard came at the end of a decade filled with morally resolved Newgate novels, the narrative didn’t seem all that bad.19 The reviewer continues, “We look to find […] some humanizing episodes of less harsh painting in ‘Jack Sheppard’ as the stirring adventures are continued; and we are sure they will add to the popularity of the fiction.”20 Most reviews adopt a tone of bemused tolerance for the voyeurism of “those who like to revel in the records of crime and misery” and “those of our readers who are anxious to peep into haunts of villainy and wretchedness.”21 Even politically inflected reviews see Jack not as a threat but as “pregnant commentary on the state of criminal law amongst us, a century ago” that should make current readers “thankful for reforms.”22 Thus, Jack’s jailbreak from Willesden cage “is admirable and interesting; for it is the budding of the germ that afterwards made a hero,—a Newgate hero, it is true; but still in some sort a hero,—of Jack Sheppard, the first ‘cracksman’ of his time.”23

Still in some sort a hero. The entire problem of Jack Sheppard’s legacy, in Bentley’s Miscellany and out of it, might be summed up in this small phrase. For as we have seen, the original context of Jack Sheppard was more than just the textual components that appeared beside the serial during its publication in Bentley’s; it included moral and cultural associations, assumed readerships, and projected responses. The act of de-contextualization, or transfer, then, means not only changing the form in which the narrative appears (like a change from serialized parts to volumes) but also changing the kinds of associations that can adhere to it. And this is precisely what happened to Jack Sheppard: as soon as Bentley published the novel in three volumes in October 1839, several months before serialization had concluded, the question of Jack Sheppard’s “sort” of heroism [End Page 42] exploded in a number of contradictory directions. The de-contextualized text was a promiscuous free radical—available to form new bonds and become embedded in new contexts with new connotations. But the transfer of a text from one context to another is rarely a clean break; some of the old associations remain. The transferred text is uncannily both itself and not itself.

On the one hand, volume publication of the novel freed Jack Sheppard from the moralism associated with Bentley’s Miscellany and allowed the narrative to be radically reborn in the plays, penny plagiarisms, and independently excerpted illustrations and songs which swept the streets of London. This left Bentley’s empty, a context eviscerated of content, even while Jack Sheppard continued in its final installments. The toddler had fled his crib, and reviews expressed indifference: “Bentley’s Miscellany. The novel of ‘Jack Sheppard’ having appeared complete we need no longer notice its continuation in this work, further than to say that it is continued, and, as usual, with the Cruikshank illustrations.”24 The chase was over too soon, and the plodding regularity of periodical serialization had lost its appeal: “This powerful romance, the greater portion of which has appeared in the pages of ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ has just been published complete; and we, not having sufficient patience to wait for the remaining chapters in the magazine, have perused the third volume with avidity.”25 In this sense, then, the split of Jack into a double narrative, one in a volume edition and another in serial form, nullified any sense of continuity between the novel and the periodical.

But on the other hand, publication in volumes paradoxically strengthened the relationship of Jack Sheppard to Bentley’s, and the Ghost of Context Past rose to engulf even Dickens, who after his resignation as editor must have thought himself safely re-contextualized. As Kathryn Chittick notes, the popularity of Jack Sheppard “caused a retrospective reclassification of Boz and his own ‘Newgate’ novel,” Oliver Twist, due to the “coincidence of both being located in Bentley’s Miscellany.”26 Jack Sheppard began serialization in the context of Dickens, with Ainsworth’s story “also carried onward at great length.”27 A few months later, the directionality had reversed, and Oliver Twist was the “also”—too contextualized for Dickens’s comfort. Negative reviews like Fraser’s lumped together both texts in the “gallows school of literature,”28 and Dickens could not but be seen in light of Ainsworth, particularly when Bentley reissued Oliver Twist in 1841.29 Dickens wrote a preface in an unsuccessful effort to curb the over-embeddedness of Oliver within “Jack Sheppardism.”30 In the end, as Chittick explains, the only solution was for Dickens to re-contextualize himself yet again, altering the course of his career: “Unlike Ainsworth, who continued the tradition of Scott romances, Dickens was to become a Victorian novelist, or in other words, a novelist of contemporary life.”31 [End Page 43]

But of course, the story of Jack is more complicated still. For Jack Sheppard was not born within the pages of Bentley’s: his appearance there was already a re-contextualization, not just of a criminal’s life but of the ghostwritten autobiographies and Newgate calendars that had surrounded his legacy since the eighteenth century. Bentley’s was only one iteration in a series of transfers that continued once the publication of Ainsworth’s story in a volume edition enabled the production of a host of new adaptations and plagiarisms. Periodical studies has tended to see de-contextualization as a modern problem, to be remedied by resituating nineteenth-century novels in their original periodical contexts.32 Yet, as the messy and paradoxical publication history of Jack Sheppard suggests, a complex theoretical question emerges when we recognize de-contextualization as a Victorian phenomenon as well as a current one. Texts like Jack Sheppard were powerful precisely because they were transferable: importantly linked to the context of a periodical but also expanding beyond it. The problem for us then becomes not only how to re-contextualize the novel, putting it back in what we think of as its “original” periodical form, but also how to define the relationship between the transferable content and its many contexts, which might span centuries and continents.

This problem—how we reread context in light of transfer and transfer in light of context—is also the animating force behind some of the most pressing issues facing post-recession humanities pedagogy and research. Consider how the transferable skills debate has reframed the canon wars, for instance. The idea that “skills have become the new canon” invokes a dream of de-contextualization: skills learned in one context will still be viable and better still, ideologically unencumbered, once the context changes.33 But the mechanics of this dream are not yet clear, particularly when we think about how to read the de-contextualized, or transferred, skills back into the context in which they are first taught, whether that context be a group of literary works, a historical period, or a set of academic disciplines. Are skills and context opposed? In other words, must courses lose an emphasis on context in order to privilege skills and increase the likelihood of successful transfer? Are skills and context indifferent to one another since any context can become a vehicle for a desired skill if framed correctly?34 Or are skills and context integrally connected, meaning that some contexts (like canonical or non-canonical novels or like physics rather than literature) are better for teaching skills than others? These are not just questions about what to assign on our syllabi but questions that cut to the very core of our teaching methods. What is it that we want students to take away from our classrooms?

Literary scholarship, ranging from the recent theory issue of VPR to the V21 manifesto and Caroline Levine’s Forms, all emphasize a need to theorize and abstract historical content.35 Such work prompts us to think [End Page 44] about the complex synergy between transfer and context. If, as advocates for theory would argue, the goal of humanities research should be something transferable (like an abstraction rather than concrete facts), then what import do we give to the facts that allowed us to create that theory in the first place? If, as proponents of skills pedagogy would say, the goal of a humanities course is to impart something transferable (like critical thinking), then what status do we afford to the context producing those skills (like the canon)?36 The answer is not a clear-cut hierarchy. If we privilege the transferable, we risk losing sight of provenance: how we built the theory, how we taught the skill, and what moral assumptions and cultural biases might be clinging to it. And if we privilege context, we risk losing the transferable: the takeaway that can be applied to future research, future classes, future careers.

At the very least, we must be self-aware that skills are never neutral, that the dream of de-contextualization is never fully realized. The transferable often retains traces of its old contexts even when it seems detached.37 Close reading, for example, will always contain a hint of Cold War politics, even when used by students who were born after the Berlin Wall fell. Jack Sheppard will always have something to do with Bentley’s Miscellany even when read in paperback. Capitalism will always smack of imperialism, even when implemented by a democracy. Conversely, context itself can be theoretical, abstractable: gathering facts about Victorian women’s writing, for example, is not just a “fetishization of the archival” but an ideological move to expand the canon.38 In such a case, the facts are the theory.

And what of my own effort in this article to contextualize the question of de-contextualization? What relationship is implied by my juxtaposition of nineteenth- and twenty-first-century conversations? What lessons, if any, are transferable from one context to another? The question itself is a form of answer; I find it more productive to identify the delicate balance between context and transfer as a problem we must reckon with together rather than as a solution upon which to take sides.

Sold Separately

“No issue of a serial ever exists on its own but calls up the memory of its predecessors while projecting its successors into the future,” James Mussell has argued.39 This was certainly true for the early installments of Jack Sheppard, which were deeply embedded in Bentley’s, but after October 1839 it was absolutely untrue. Many forms of serialization soon proliferated around the Jack Sheppard narrative: songs, illustrations, and plagiarized penny numbers of the novel were often sold on their own without any guarantee that the reader would encounter (or be able to afford) the whole story. Crucially, it was this material transferability that de-neutralized the [End Page 45] narrative in the minds of the scandalized bourgeoisie; comfortable assumptions about the novel’s morality and tame politics in a periodical context were made visible only when challenged by new contexts and associations. Rogue, Jack Sheppard became a socio-political narrative that raised the question of what skills lower-class, would-be-vagabond readers might transfer from the text when they experienced it in dangerous playhouses and on dark street corners.

But the old associations Bentley’s had attached to Jack Sheppard did not go away; they just refigured themselves in uglier form, coming back as denunciations of the text when it fell into new hands. Once the story of Jack Sheppard had passed from its Newgate calendar roots through the frame of middle-class respectability, its fate and judgment retained the trappings of that bourgeois moral code ever after. Perhaps judgments were harsher than they would have been had Jack never graced the pages of Bentley’s at all. After October 1839, a host of newspaper and periodical commentaries preserved the moralism of Bentley’s to censure the consumption of Jack Sheppard in new contexts, as the values of Ainsworth’s original middle-class readership were used to condemn a newly expanded audience.

We thus have three layers of transference sliding into each other: the material transfer of print culture, which made Jack more accessible, was thought to enable a cognitive transfer of skills (like pickpocketing), which in turn facilitated agential transfer, as issues of social responsibility (like poverty and hunger—often the real motivations behind crime) were individuated onto the shoulders of the poor. Particularizing the affordances of the different forms of seriality that Jack Sheppard assumed after its publication in Bentley’s Miscellany can help us see the process by which what seemed like harmless entertainment in a middle-class context came to be perceived as public menace. I now examine the socio-economic valences of the discourse of transferable skills, particularly those valences that often go unspoken.

Breaking out of Bentley’s Miscellany gave Jack Sheppard a series of new formal lives. The sober regularity of the monthly number was suddenly revealed to have contained innumerable kinds of seriality, now let loose as the contents of Bentley’s were sliced and diced for the public in myriad different ways. As Ruth Baldwin explains, Ainsworth’s incorporation of both historical and fictional source material allowed him to “[design] the piecemeal, episodic narrative to be easily dismantled and reimagined in other genres.”40 The songs of Jack Sheppard, once just another set of verses in an already verse-heavy periodical, could go it alone or be excerpted, as could Cruikshank’s illustrations.41 A chaos of reprints re-proportioned the narrative segments built to fit Bentley’s and reoriented Jack’s periodicity. In the words of one review, “The public taste now luxuriates in Jack Sheppard, Richard Turpin, and Jonathan Wild, and also for its especial gratification [End Page 46] keeps four or five publications going every week, to supply it with bawdy and private scandal. These together, have set aside almost every other kind of weekly periodical; unless it has the recommendation of being cheap, and bought only because it is cheap.”42 Recognizing the sliding serialities of Jack Sheppard and Jack Sheppardism thus provides us with a new way to think of the periodical as fractal form: a self-similar, layered pattern, yes, but one which can at any moment disaggregate through excerption or de-contextualization.43

Stage “runs” added a new periodicity to the narrative, as Jack lived and died every night in dozens of theaters.44 A review of John Baldwin Buckstone’s stage adaptation at the Adelphi Theatre is revealing: “At last the drop arose upon Act 2, and the delighted spectators saw Mrs. Keeley as Jack Sheppard, carving his name on the board. If George Cruikshank’s sketch in the volume had been cut out, coloured, and magnified, it could not be more like—she looked the snubby grubby ’prentice boy to the life.”45 Not only does Mrs. Keeley’s appearance expand and continue the seriality of Cruikshank’s illustrations but her act of inscription, which mimics a scene in the early chapters of the book in which Jack defaces his master’s carpentry shop, creates a new serial—Jack’s name written over and over again, performance after performance.

The transfer from page to stage enabled more serialized transfers from stage to street. In the words of a young copycat vandal, also a carpenter, “I wrote ‘Jack Sheppard’ on the shop beam, just as it was in the play.”46 Outside of Bentley’s, Jack’s actions became serialized, and his narrative unendingly transferable.47 As one boy claimed, Jack provided the template for serial storytelling: “I’ve read ‘Jack Sheppard’ through, in three volumes; and I used to tell stories out of that sometimes. We all told in our turns. We generally began,—‘Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, though it was neither in your time, nor my time, nor nobody else’s time.’ The best man in the story is always called Jack.”48

Always called Jack. The phrase holds more significance than the boy may have known. For not only do we have a seemingly endless series of orally narrated Jacks but we also see a channel opening for the transfer of social responsibility. Newspaper articles detailing robberies “planned […] in consequence of having read the novel of ‘Jack Sheppard’” bore headlines like “Jack Sheppard Again,” thus designating young criminals as products of print culture rather than of social ills.49 This slippage is particularly apparent in a November 1839 police report:

Another Jack Sheppard—George Bailey, a boy aged 14, but looking to be about ten years old, was charged by Mr. Bower, a shoemaker […] with robbing him. The boy had stated that he was an orphan, without friends or relations in the world. He was then taken into Mr. Bower’s employ, but had not been there [End Page 47] four hours before he stole his master’s watch and decamped. Information of the young rascal’s conduct was given to the police, and he was apprehended in the pit of the City Theatre (where Jack Sheppard is played every night to an admiring multitude).50

The causality implied by the parenthetical “where Jack Sheppard is played every night” elides the causality implied by other details of the story. The boy’s youthful appearance indicates malnutrition, and his lack of care, framed as a conniving trick to play upon the pity of Mr. Bower, indicates desperate poverty. Rather than grapple with the failure of society to provide George Bailey with enough resources, the rhetoric of the report transfers that responsibility first onto the shoulders of Jack and then onto the shoulders of George. Importantly, it is seriality that provides the mechanics of this transfer; the headline “Another Jack Sheppard” could as easily refer to the City Theatre performance “played every night” as to the repetitive cloning of Jack in juvenile delinquent form.51 What emerges is a slippery interwoven series of transfers: transferred (de-contextualized) Jacks allow young boys to transfer (copy) Jack by transferring (applying) his skills of theft and housebreaking, which in turn allows the state to transfer (reassign) blame. Crucially, it is the last step which often goes unsaid.

My argument here forms an ironic counter to interpretations of the serial by Lauren Gillingham, Erica McCrystal, and Elizabeth Stearns. Whereas Gillingham would see the heroism of Jack-like agency as a way of bucking social and historical determinism, I argue that it was precisely these ideas of individuated transgression that institutions manipulated in order to atomize responsibility for social ills.52 Whereas McCrystal argues that Jack Sheppard “redefined criminality and focused attention on the faults of society rather than those of the individual” through the use of sympathy, I demonstrate that the novel, regardless of its message, came to be used in the world as a method for accomplishing exactly the opposite: hiding the faults of society behind the faults of the individual.53 Stearns examines many fascinating examples of plagiarized Jack Sheppard texts to define lower-class reading as an active, rather than a passive, pursuit. But her emphasis on the transfer of agency from a bad book (in a passive reading model) to a bad reader (in an active reading model) misses the fact that the responsibility ascribed both to books and to readers often acted as a scapegoat for unaddressed issues of collective responsibility.54

In time, the mere thought of Jack Sheppard was enough to ignite a chain reaction of transferred texts, skills, and agency, as in the following report from the Morning Post:

A Young Genius: Yesterday a shoeless and ragged urchin, named James Macarthy, only thirteen years of age, was brought before Mr. Ballantine, charged [End Page 48] with committing a robbery. […] The prisoner and another boy entered the shop of Mrs. Thomas, a stationer and bookseller […] and asked for a sixpenny edition of the “Life of Jack Sheppard,” which the shopkeeper had not got, and the prisoner then refused to purchase either of the books, saying that his father had desired him not to return home without the “Life of Jack Sheppard.” After the boys had left the shop a penknife was missed.55

Paradoxically, the crime, which reads in the style of something Jack Sheppard would do, is ostensibly committed because Jack Sheppard is not there. When the prisoner is told that the oath of a shopkeeper’s daughter will be privileged above his own testimony, he is unsurprised: “She is richer in pocket and circumstances than I am. I am poor and friendless. […] So much attention is paid to rich persons in all courts, I shall not be credited. […] I expected no less.”56 The policeman questioning him does not even try to mask the transference of blame: “You always will be poor and friendless while you lead a dishonest life. […] I shall treat you as a thief.”57 Of course, to a modern reader the responsibility seems reversed here: the “shoeless and ragged urchin” is not poor because he is dishonest but dishonest because he is poor. This is a minute historical anecdote, but it raises a larger theoretical question: Where is Jack Sheppard?58 His name appears twice in this short criminal narrative but only to mark his absence. Yet the associative memory attached to Jack seems to tie the robbery back to his example: Jack has joined the zeitgeist to preside over all boy criminals, particularly those who might buy books.59

What makes the potency of this associationism even more interesting is its ruptures. Counter examples—moments when the chain-link logic of material, cognitive, and agential transfers break—can help us to particularize what makes them stay together so forcefully in other cases. For instance, it was not inevitable that Jack Sheppard’s decoupling from Bent-ley’s and its growing accessibility to lower-class readers led to a transfer of social responsibility onto poor criminals. An episode of a young servant boy who committed suicide by jumping from the top of the London Monument in October 1839 shows a very different social reaction: the suicide actually inspired an increase rather than a shirking of social duty. When the boy’s body was recovered, Jack Sheppard was found in his pocket, and a Bible, with disturbing passages earmarked, was discovered at the top of the monument. Reading habits thus formed a substantial topic of discussion at the inquest where officials debated whether to label the boy’s death a felony. On the side of willful, and therefore punishable, self-destruction, the coroner cited, among other factors, the “books [the boy] was in the habit of reading” as “pretty strong evidence that he contemplated the act he committed,” which would “render him morally and legally responsible for his acts.”60 On the other hand, blame belonged to city officials, “those [End Page 49] who could and did not try to prevent” suicides by failing to adopt safety measures at the top of the monument after the last death.61 In the end, the jury declared the boy temporarily insane, and responsibility shifted to planning committees who were charged with suicide-proofing the monument.62 Such an outcome is particularly surprising as an exception to the rule of blaming lower-class fans of Jack Sheppard for their crimes.63 One can easily imagine officials pointing to the presence of the novel as a reason to convict the young victim of a felony based on his poor choice in literature. But whether the servants or the officials bore the brunt, the example of this inquest shows that ascribing responsibility for an action inspired by reading was always an extremely nuanced process inflected by urban politics.

Part of the slipperiness of transferability rhetoric stems from its ambiguous moral implications. Gleaning transferable skills from reading novels was considered bad if those skills were jailbreaking and theft but good if those skills were docile citizenship or respect for divine authority.64 (Hence the confusion arising from the fact that the boy who committed suicide read both Jack Sheppard and the Bible in his last moments.) If both moral and immoral actions followed the same logic, then how were they to be distinguished? A satiric review decrying the “public TASTE” for Jack Sheppard and “for bawdy, for private scandal, or for housebreaking” as a “very good joke” reveals the tension between moral and immoral transfer: “The public are to be bamboozled, cheated, humbugged, and imposed upon in every possible way, and they will reward the man who does so;—but to instruct them—pshaw! […] Cheated they must be, either by themselves or you, or they will do nothing.”65 Doing nothing is an interesting threat. The irony lies in the fact that the flip side of impotent moral instruction, which is unable to transfer skills successfully to an audience, is the potency of entertainment like Jack Sheppard, which, in a lurid counter to Victorian economic values, is too effective and too efficient in its application.

John Forster’s famously negative review of Jack Sheppard, published in the Examiner in November 1839, a few weeks after the first surge of plagiarisms and plays, registers such ambivalence. After a contradictory and convoluted censure of Jack Sheppard, as well as the “pernicious influences that are set to work around” it (like raunchy theater adaptations) in which “all the original insignificance of the thing is lost,”66 the review closes with an extended metaphor worth quoting at length:

It is recorded that, shortly after [Jack Sheppard’s] execution, a sermon of allusion to his last extraordinary escape […] was preached by a notorious person in the city, and from this we venture, in concluding this article, to take one ingenious passage. Thus it ran. [End Page 50]

“Let me exhort ye then to open the locks of your hearts with the nail of repentance; burst asunder the fetters of your beloved lusts; mount the chimney of hope; take from thence the bar of good resolution, break through the stone wall of despair, and all the strongholds in the dark entry of the valley of the shadow of death; raise yourselves to the leads of divine meditation; fix the blanket of faith with the spike of the Church; let yourselves down to the turner’s house of resignation; and descend the stairs of humility; so shall ye come to the door of deliverance from the prison of iniquity.”

Now, parodying this parody, let us exhort Mr. Ainsworth to open the locks of his brain with the nail of common sense and nature, to burst asunder the fetters of his beloved bookseller, mount the chimney of manly aspiration, take from thence the bar of good resolution, break through the frail wall of purchased puff. […] And so shall he come to the door of deliverance from the panderers of the moment.67

Forster’s parody, often connected with (and limited by) the circumstance of personal squabbles with Ainsworth, raises serious questions about transferability.68 Forster criticizes Jack Sheppard throughout his review as the “choice example of morals and conduct held forth to […] young citizens,” finding fault with the novel’s dangerous principles, which could be inappropriately transferred to a rapt audience.69 Yet in a clever lingual twist, the preacher’s moral metaphor, and Forster’s own extension of it, rely upon the framework of the very transferable skills—namely, jailbreaking—that it would be dangerous for Jack’s readers to learn. The metaphors move through the stages of Jack’s most climactic escape near the end of the novel: bursting fetters with a nail and removing a bar from the chimney both refer to important plot points. In a half-jesting and half-serious way, therefore, the metaphors encourage parishioners and Ainsworth himself to follow the actions of Jack’s escape in intimate detail but, crucially, to use those transferable skills to battle sin rather than law and order. A change of context thus removes responsibility from the skills themselves. Perhaps unconsciously, Forster’s ambiguity opens up a rebelliously positive reading of Jack Sheppard: jailbreaking is not bad in and of itself—it just depends on what jail you’re trying to escape.

After a particularly sensational transfer, however, reactions changed. The most famous episode in the series of “Another Jack Sheppard” criminals was François Courvoisier, a valet who murdered his master in May of 1840 and cited Jack Sheppard as the inspiration for his crime (possibly from duress, insanity, or cunning).70 The Examiner again included a review of the novel (appended to coverage of Courvoisier’s confessions), but this time it left little room for ambiguity: “If ever there was a publication that deserved to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman it is Jack Sheppard.”71 Separated from the safe frame of Bentley’s Miscellany, Jack Sheppard [End Page 51] could both go rogue and create rogues: “Certainly it is a publication calculated to familiarise the mind with cruelties, and to serve as the cutthroat’s manual, or the midnight assassin’s vade mecum, in which character we now expect to see it advertised.”72 The dangerous transfer here is both verbal and physical: “Curious it is that the very words used by Courvoisier, in describing the way in which he committed the murder, ‘I drew the knife across his throat,’ are to be found in the horrid book alluded to.”73 Here again we see our chain of affinities: the de-contextualization of a passage from Jack links to the transfer of an action (murder), which affixes blame on both the book and the criminal. Interestingly, the place of the Examiner in this process is left unarticulated, even though the review itself reads as a middle ground of transfer. The Examiner quotes the same passage cited by Courvoisier and notes that it had been previously quoted in the Forster review that we saw above. These nested de-contextualizations and receding horizons of transferability make it difficult to say which kinds of transfer are moral and which are not; the same process of transference constitutes both Courvoisier’s crime and the very form of the review which condemns him. It is such ambiguity that necessitates class distinction as the primary mode of moral distinction.

The rhetoric of transferable skills, therefore, carried important socioeconomic biases which could be manipulated to blame individuals for social issues. The case of Jack Sheppard might prompt us to ask tough questions about our own attitudes towards transferable skills in the obviously different context of twenty-first-century pedagogy: to what extent does class prejudice (so often unrecognized) adhere in our discourse around skills?

The crisis in the humanities and the shift to transferable skills pedagogy that is meant to save humanities courses from obsolescence are often framed as a socio-economic problem: namely, the consequence of the 2008 stock market crash. In the words of Dan Berrett, “Transfer of learning has gained renewed appeal as critics press institutions to prove the worth of a college education.”74 But such framings still don’t recognize the full impact of the crisis as a class issue: in other words, for whom and in what ways is the crisis in the humanities a crisis? The need to justify an English class to an Ivy League student considering a career as a brain surgeon is a much different conversation from the need to justify humanities pedagogy in a community college, yet the two are often conflated.

A recent string of Chronicle of Higher Education articles demonstrates the radically different political agendas that can adhere to the skills solution.75 On the one hand, Berrett paints skills pedagogy as democratic heir to the canon wars of the 1980s, which displaced an elite canon of works by “dead white men,” such as those in Charles Eliot’s 1909 Harvard Classics series.76 If a teacher “doesn’t simply lead her students to the works Eliot described as inevitably educational, it means she does something at least [End Page 52] as important: teach.”77 With this logic, skills become the heroes of a kind of Marxian liberation narrative, allowing more students to participate in a more egalitarian curriculum that is less about content and more about method. L. D. Burnett disagrees, arguing that a pedagogical system which demands marketable skills is far from revolutionary and is instead neoliberal indoctrination at its worst. Burnett sees the “dollars and cents” model of academia as devaluing “what makes us human,” a scam orchestrated by a “profiteering corporatist ethos.”78 Skills become a form of imprisonment rather than liberation, “replacing possibility and creativity with conformity and austerity, turning hopeful young people into dutiful drones, compliant worker bees in the neoliberal economy” and preventing education from addressing “something more meaningful than the mastery of a vocational skill set.”79 In both schemas, skills pedagogy could mean different things to different populations of students. Berrett’s ideal of transferable skills makes space for minority students and texts to take greater part in the classroom, but for Burnett it is “first-generation or working-class students going to community colleges and state colleges” who are the most cheated: “What could be more elitist than turning these subjects [the humanities] into luxury goods?”80

If Berrett’s argument runs the risk of reducing the rich and difficult content of the humanities to a set of skills, then Burnett’s risks denigrating the work of the very students for whom she is advocating. Vocational training, after all, is a large and respected part of higher education, and to treat practical skills as something not worth learning belittles much of what is taught in American colleges. Nicholas Lemann, writing as an emeritus dean of a professional school, offers yet another perspective. Vocational education, he reminds us, has long had to deal with stigmas against being “impractically academic” and has historically opted for skills-based pedagogy in order to prepare students directly for employment.81 Lemann emphasizes institutional class biases: “The great majority of college students in the United States are taking mainly skills courses, which are aimed at getting them jobs in white-collar fields. […] In the better-resourced, more-selective colleges that a lucky minority of students attend, the curriculum is usually both less practical and less prescribed.”82 Lemann argues that undergraduate education should follow the lead of professional graduate schools and give rigorous thought to degree requirements; he advocates for a “canon of methods rather than a canon of specific knowledge or of great books—that is, to define, develop, and require instruction around a set of master skills that together would make one an educated, intellectually empowered, morally aware person.”83 Crucially, however, as Lemann himself recognizes, the “cognitive” methods associated with more elite education and the technical proficiency associated with less elite institutions can both go by the name of skills.84 [End Page 53]

Particularizing slippages in terminology, therefore, and recognizing the historical intersections between class politics and the rhetoric of transferable skills is essential for navigating the current discussion of education and job prospects in the humanities. The problem arises when biases around the socio-economic status of skills remain unspoken elisions within questions of social responsibility. On the one hand, skills pedagogy means that institutions must be more responsible for the education they provide, as implied by Lemann’s call for colleges “to define, state, and put in effect a clear academic mission,” by Burnett’s anger at the “corporatized university,” and by the titles of two of Berrett’s articles: “Students Can Transfer Knowledge if Taught How” and “If Skills Are the New Canon, Are Colleges Teaching Them?”85 But on the other hand, an emphasis on transferable skills has the dangerous potential to transfer social responsibility wholesale with those skills and to remove all obligations from the institution once a student’s education is complete. Take the case of financial literacy—the recent push (usually spearheaded by banks) to teach people how to manage their money. Martha Poon and Helaine Olen draw continuities between financial literacy and the long history of literacy movements, particularly those that linked higher literacy rates to increased economic production. They argue that today’s financial information is delivered to consumers in ways that look dangerously like advertising and that place the onus of responsibility for financial stability on the newly enlightened individual, masking systemic inequalities built into global capitalism. Once you teach people to manage their money, the logic goes, being poor is due to their own stupidity, a failure to implement the transferable skills they were taught. Empowerment becomes a façade for exploitation.86 It would behoove us, therefore, as humanities scholars and educators, to be aware of the moments in which the celebration or denunciation of one form of transfer can mask the harmful presence of another.

Teaching the Transfer

Instead of just teaching our students transferable skills, then, how do we teach them what those transferable skills mean—what they mean now and what they have meant historically? How do we show our students the potential and the limitations of applying past insights to present situations? How do we teach with the agility and flexibility necessary to avoid becoming stymied in context while not losing sight of its importance? How do we open the question of social responsibility in a tactful and productive way? I close with a brief lesson plan. My goal is not to crystalize a takeaway from Jack Sheppard but rather to make clear, to our students and to ourselves, just how difficult that takeaway is to define. [End Page 54]

Begin the class period, or a unit of several classes, by asking students to come up with collective definitions of “context” and “skill.” You might draw big word maps on the board and ask them what associations come to mind for each term. Then, working with the students’ definitions, “teach the conflict,” as Gerald Graff would say.87 Set up the current debate in humanities pedagogy about whether context or skills should be our privileged domain: some scholars say the past is unique and should be studied for its own sake; others say that the past should be made relevant to today’s crises; and still others deny any absolute difference between the two poles. Now choose a periodical or newspaper as your main focal point (either in archival or digital form), preferably something with lots of cool ads and illustrations that would be unfamiliar to students. Ask students to spend some time with the periodical; you might split them up into teams and assign a different issue of the periodical to each team. Tell each group to make a list of all the skills they think they need and all the context it would be helpful to know to read this periodical. Then, as a class, make a big map on the board: write “concrete” on the left side and “abstract” on the right side and arrange along the spectrum the skills and contextual knowledge that students generate. The hope would be to demonstrate that both skills (like learning to page a library book or navigate a database) and context (like the biography of an editor) can be specific and that both skills (like critical thinking) and context (like Victorian gender norms) can be broad. If some items are difficult to classify, you might return to your collective definitions. Do any of the generated examples prompt students to change their characterizations of context and skill or perhaps to collapse the boundary between them?

Then ask students what items on the map they think are the most transferable. This should be difficult. What does transferability mean exactly? A first impulse might be to locate skills as the most transferable: knowledge of a database could be relevant in another class and critical thinking can be used in other situations. But would all situations call for the same kind of critical thinking? Does transferability imply a simple repetition of skills or does it require adaptation? What assumptions and biases might adhere to a set of skills, even if used in a different circumstance? When is transfer not neutral? And can context be transferable too? For instance, would an understanding of Victorian gender norms tell you anything about gender norms today? It is important that these are genuine questions and that students are encouraged to see no one answer as the clear winner. What public perceptions might adhere to knowing different items on the map (both skills and context)? What reactions might students get if they told their parents, friends, or employers, “Today in class I learned X”? Do some things on the map seem more “valuable” than others, either in monetary or ethical terms? [End Page 55]

To promote even deeper reflection, break students into teams again and ask each team to design a lesson plan using the periodical you’ve chosen. Half of the lesson plans should emphasize a point of context as a learning outcome and half the lesson plans should emphasize a skill (you could assign these or have the students choose). How would different desired outcomes change how students interact with the periodical? What challenges do students face when designing lessons with different priorities and what sacrifices, if any, do they feel they have to make? How would each group measure the success of their lesson? (Would transferability be a measure of success? If so, how would you test for that? And if not, what would be a more appropriate rubric?) You might even talk about what level of responsibility each lesson gives to the students, to the teacher, and to the institution, both during and after the class.

After a full-group discussion, students might vote on which lesson plan (or combination thereof) they feel is most effective or valuable and then articulate why. Again, this should be genuinely difficult: if students seem inclined to an easy answer, you might bring up counter arguments to trouble such a neat divide. If this exercise were done near the beginning of the semester, it could perhaps influence the direction of the class for the rest of the term, and you could build in moments to reflect on teaching practices throughout.

I am certainly not the first to advocate for a pedagogical method that involves students in the process of teaching. But at a time when humanities education is no longer a given, it is more crucial than ever that both we and our students know why we are doing what we are doing and that we recognize the deep intellectual, emotional, and social conflicts that go into resolving that question, no matter what answer we choose. As periodical scholars, we are used to unexpected juxtapositions, and we have honed our critical energy by trying to understand the sundry and complicated relationships posed by contiguity and contrast. Thus, it will come as no surprise that even though we have seen similarities between the layers of transfer in Jack Sheppard’s publication history and twenty-first-century pedagogy, the connection between the two, and the call to action implied by that connection, is far from clear. The complexity of transferable lessons, therefore, is precisely the lesson most valuable to transfer. [End Page 56]

Abigail Droge
Stanford University
Abigail Droge

Abigail Droge is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Stanford University. Her dissertation investigates the relationship between literature, science, and working-class literacy movements in nineteenth-century Britain, with the goal of placing Victorian debates in conversation with the current challenges facing science and humanities pedagogy. She is committed to interdisciplinary teaching and has worked collaboratively within the Stanford English Department to establish a suite of courses designed and taught by graduate students.

Appendix. The Publication and Reception Timeline of Jack Sheppard


January: Jack Sheppard begins serial publication in Bentley’s Miscellany; Dickens resigns his editorship and offers a position to Ainsworth.

March: A surge of positive reviews aligns the continuity of Jack Sheppard with that of Bentley’s Miscellany.

April: Oliver Twist finishes serialization in Bentley’s Miscellany.

October: Bentley publishes Jack Sheppard in three volumes; plays and plagiarisms take off, resulting in the first major wave of negative press throughout the fall and winter.


February: Jack Sheppard finishes serialization in Bentley’s Miscellany.

May–July: François Courvoisier murders Lord William Russell in May, is tried in June, and is executed in July. Courvoisier cites Jack Sheppard as inspiration for the crime, instigating a second wave of negative press.

The Aftermath

The negative associations between criminals (particularly young boys) and Jack Sheppard continue in the press well into the 1840s and ’50s.


I am thankful for the help and support of my family, friends, advisors, and colleagues and for the insightful editorial comments and anonymous feedback from VPR. I am especially grateful to my writing group for providing a welcoming and encouraging environment in which to write this piece.

4. The most recent and contentious example of this debate is the controversy over the V21 manifesto. The V21 collective sets itself in opposition to what it labels “positivist historicism” and claims that “presentism is not a sin” (“Manifesto”). Many scholars have responded by saying that the polarization of historicism and presentism is a misreading of the aims of previous scholarship.

5. Sidonie Smith calls for such collaboration in her recent Manifesto for the Humanities, arguing that we must “encompass in discourse, project, and vision all members of the humanities communities” (109). [End Page 57]

6. See the appendix for a more complete timeline of Jack Sheppard’s publication and reception.

7. “Political Examiner,” 402. I am certainly not the first to comment on this change of opinion. See, for example, Stearns, “Darling of the Mob,” 445. My goal here is to particularize how such a transformation occurred.

8. My approach here differs from much recent scholarship on Jack Sheppard. Almost all studies focus on Jack Sheppard’s life after its publication in Bentley’s Miscellany, concentrating on plagiarisms and theatrical adaptations. In contrast, I find Jack Sheppard’s relationship with its initial periodical context to be an important part of the story of its later transferability. What we do with Bentley’s in light of Jack Sheppard is as much a question for me as what we do with Jack Sheppard in light of Bentley’s. I am less interested in providing a close reading of the novel, discussing Ainsworth’s writing process, or determining why the narrative was so popular than in thinking through the effects, both formal and social, that such popularity enabled.

17. Of course, some praise of Jack Sheppard and Bentley’s Miscellany in other periodicals and newspapers would have been in the form of paid advertisements or “puffs,” but the sheer number and variety of positive articles and reviews allows us to see such acclaim as a genuine phenomenon.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid. The full tonal register of Jack Sheppard would not have been obvious until the conclusion of the novel, in which Sheppard’s death is figured not as a justified punishment but as a celebration of a criminal’s life. Reviews of early installments might thus have been guided in their judgments by the conclusions of previous Newgate novels, even if such parallels were misleading. In The Newgate Novel, Hollingsworth, for example, argues that Jack Sheppard “avoid[s] the earnest tone of the reformer” and thus “forms an obvious contrast with Oliver Twist” (138). But that “earnest tone” would still have been the most recent benchmark for reviewers.

23. Ibid.

28. [Reynolds], “William Ainsworth and Jack Sheppard,” 227. Traditionally ascribed to Thackeray, this review has been attributed to John Hamilton Reynolds by Michael Clarke and Eileen Curran. See note 3 on page 519 of the Broadview edition of Jack Sheppard for full details.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid., 166.

34. In Berrett’s example, “An introductory survey of American history […] might be supplanted by a niche offering like ‘Baseball in the 1950s,’ because either one can supposedly teach students how to think critically and write well” (“If Skills Are the New Canon”). Interestingly, in this instance, subject matter would narrow drastically to allow skills to broaden drastically.

35. VPR 48, no. 3 (Fall 2015).

36. These are practical questions as much as esoteric ones. How do we write books and articles that find traction in examples from certain texts but move beyond those texts? How do we design syllabi that do justice to the readings we have time to cover and yet expand beyond those selections? Even if we believe wholeheartedly in abstraction, we still need to articulate justifications for choosing the examples we do. We cannot say that all examples are simply arbitrary, nor can we say that they are purely unique; they must be not too important but just important enough, to some degree replaceable but not expendable. The day-to-day necessity of writing and teaching, therefore, often further complicates an already complex theoretical problem.

37. The anthropological term for a similar phenomenon would be “entanglement”—the idea that objects are always situated in a field of social interactions and assumptions, even when de-contextualized. A danger, often discussed in debates around international development efforts, arises when technologies or services thought to be neutral maintain unrecognized entanglements (like Western biases) in new settings (like developing countries). See, for example, Ian Hodder’s Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things and Alf Hornborg’s The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment. I am indebted to Jeffrey Greger for this insight. [End Page 59]

41. Ainsworth himself published an 1855 anthology titled Ballads: Romantic, Fantastical, and Humorous which included verse from Jack Sheppard. Importantly, the excerpting of songs was considered a moral problem not merely for poor consumers but also for the rich. One Victorian commentator criticized the popularity of flash songs “whistled by every dirty guttersnipe; and chanted in drawing-rooms by fair lips, little knowing the meaning of the words they sang” (quoted in Hollingsworth, Newgate Novel, 140). Both class dynamics and gender dynamics therefore combined to make the de-contextualized Jack Sheppard into a political force. For more about the role of poetry in Bentley’s Miscellany, see Eileen Curran’s “Verse in Bentley’s Miscellany.”

43. In “Dimension,” Matthew Philpotts creates a fascinating analogy between periodical texture and fractal form. His emphasis, however, particularly in the images which accompany his piece, is on new ways to see the periodical as a whole made up of parts. My focus, in contrast, is on what new textual maneuvers those fractal patterns allow when the periodical is no longer unified and the parts stand alone. Because Jack Sheppard was made up of so many different kinds of patterns (illustrations, songs, chapters, and installments), it could enter the plagiarized print market in many more ways than a non-fractal monolithic text could have and could thus create new fractals beyond the periodical—what Ruth Baldwin calls the “self-perpetuating, self-proliferating form” of Jack Sheppard’s adaptation history (“Serial Criminal,” 250). Interestingly, Philpotts represents his own interdisciplinarity as a process of transfer, asking “questions about the value and application of theory, in particular about the transferability of conceptual categories between scholarly fields and especially from the sciences to the humanities” (“Dimension,” 406–7).

44. As Hollingsworth notes, there were eight licensed stage adaptations in the 1839 fall season (Newgate Novel, 139). The number of illegal “penny gaff” adaptations, however, is potentially much larger (140). Hollingsworth interestingly uses the language of transfer to describe the Sheppard mania in different media: “The original author and publisher had no control over the transference” (140). Importantly, not every theater adaptation killed Sheppard off. Stearns notes a fascinating example at the City of London Theatre, in which “Sheppard is given another chance, and allowed to live on” (“Darling of the Mob,” 453). Stearns cites this change as evidence that readers and viewers were actively shaping the narrative and politics of Jack Sheppard for themselves. [End Page 60]

46. The testimony of “J. H.,” age eighteen, at the Preston House of Correction, is from the Report from the Select Committee on Criminal and Destitute Juveniles (Parliamentary Papers 1852 [515] vii), excerpted in appendix C of the Broadview edition of Jack Sheppard (545).

47. Even though serial crime fiction might rely on what Anderson et al. call the “tension between sameness and difference,” broadening our understanding of seriality allows us to see that the labeling of young criminals as Jack Sheppards harmfully elides difference in favor of an overwhelming sameness: all young vagabonds were the same impudent rascals, spurred to crime by the same dangerous story (Serial Crime Fiction, 4).

49. “Jack Sheppard Again,” Leeds Times, 4. The practice of reprinting articles from one newspaper in another exacerbates the “again” even more: for instance, this same notice appeared in the Examiner on September 6, 1840.

50. “Another Jack Sheppard,” 700. This notice appears in the same issue of the Examiner as a negative review of Jack Sheppard by John Forster (“Literary Examiner,” 691–93), as well as an advertisement for the Adelphi Theatre adaptation (702) and a second police report titled “A Young Jack Sheppard” (699). “Another” could thus refer not only to an external sense of the cultural repetition of Jack and his crimes but also to the internal dynamics of the newspaper issue.

51. For Stearns, such headlines portray Sheppardism “as a disease that could be carried and transmitted by gaffs. […] Articles written about crimes thought to be inspired by these plays suggest the ‘communicability’ of this criminality in their titles” (“Darling of the Mob,” 438–39).

55. “Police Intelligence,” 4. Further strengthening the tie between James Macarthy and Jack Sheppard is the fact that the article following this notice, “The Convict Ward,” discusses a criminal currently imprisoned in the same prison cell that held Courvoisier, a murderer who famously cited Jack Sheppard as his influence and thus spurred the outcry against crime fiction.

57. Ibid.

58. My question resonates with Matthew Buckley’s argument in “Sensations of Celebrity.” Through a brilliantly detailed reading of Ainsworth’s narrative alongside Cruikshank’s illustrations, Buckley interprets Jack Sheppard as producing a new kind of modern experience, that of the “alienated spectator, isolated in practice and perspective, but bonded imaginatively to all fellow enthusiasts” (457). “Becoming Jack Sheppard” is therefore a process of conflicted impotence and empowerment. If one is already alienated and [End Page 61] atomized, one may as well reach out for community in the only way left: celebrity (457). I argue that the police reports I have cited here manipulate the relationship between the “sensation of community” and the “accomplishment of social isolation” that Buckley points to by pinning the blame for communal problems on a series of individual criminals (457).

59. For more on the Victorian reaction to perceived ties between literacy and criminality, see Patrick Brantlinger’s The Reading Lesson, particularly, “How Oliver Twist Learned to Read, and What He Read,” 69–92.

61. Ibid.

62. Ibid.

63. Not all coverage of the suicide was such an exception. See, for example, the parodic article titled “Prevention,” which the Morning Post excerpted from John Bull and printed the week following its serious coverage of the tragedy. “Prevention” makes fun of the impulse of social responsibility for personal crimes by exaggerating the public response: in order to prevent more suicides, the monument will be “closed for ever,” the Thames will be “board[ed] over,” and razors will be prohibited (4).

64. See, for example, P. C. Fleming’s Legacy of the Moral Tale on morality and Sarah Winter’s Pleasures of Memory on democratic citizenship.

67. Ibid., 693.

68. Hollingsworth, for example, sees the Newgate novel controversy as “obscured from the start by personal and political antagonism” (Newgate Novel, 16). For more on the dynamic between Dickens, Forster, and Ainsworth, see Hollingsworth, Newgate Novel, 143.

72. Ibid.

73. Ibid.

75. An interesting thread for a future project would be to think through the role that current scholarly periodicals have in academic culture. For instance, it is difficult to talk about pedagogy and research in the same forum largely because peer-reviewed journals thrive on specificity. What possibilities would be opened if we had a modern miscellany for intellectual conversation?

77. Ibid.

79. Ibid. [End Page 62]

80. Ibid.

82. Ibid.

83. Ibid.

84. Ibid.


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