James ‘Jack’ Vincent (1808 – c.1888) was a Chartist novelist and journalist whose name is now as obscure as it was once, briefly, famous, his popular fiction from the first half of the nineteenth century quickly eclipsed by the next generation of literary authors, a generation that seemed to proliferate genius. Described by Dickens as a ‘Manichean novelist,’ and designated the ‘last of the Romantics’ by his friend and fellow author W.H. Ainsworth, Vincent was the product of a culture in transition, no longer Regency but not quite yet Victorian. His writing was equally mercurial, and although extremely fashionable in the 1830s, little of Vincent’s work has survived. His descent into the murky world of penny dreadful publishing also makes much of his material difficult to identify and attribute. Even less is known of his life, and Professor Malcolm Elwin does not even consider him worthy of a mention in his book on bestselling but largely forgotten nineteenth century novelists, Victorian Wallflowers. Jack Vincent has always been a mystery, at least until now.
Rescued from a dead hoarder’s collection bound for the incinerator, the Jack Vincent Papers comprise letters, fiction and, most astonishingly of all, a series of memoirs, all written by hand and never before published. This work is now being painstakingly transcribed, edited and referenced by the literary historian Dr. Stephen Carver, who also located the original manuscripts. Shark Alley: The Memoirs of a Penny-a-Liner (Vincent’s original title) is the first of these memoirs, covering Vincent’s childhood and early career, told retrospectively during an ill-fated sea voyage to South Africa in 1852.
In the spirit of free knowledge transfer and the Victorian serial romance, the form in which Vincent and his contemporaries wrote, we have decided to share this work online in weekly parts. Again in common with Victorian publishing practices, a full version of the book is also on sale here for readers who prefer not to wait for the next instalment.