The Man who wasn’t Dickens: A Profile of G.W.M. Reynolds (1818 – 1879)

‘If  “Mr G.W. Reynolds” be the Mr. Reynolds who is the author of the Mysteries of London, and who took the chair for a mob in Trafalgar Square before they set forth on a window-breaking expedition,’ wrote Charles Dickens in 1849, ‘I hold his to be a name with which no lady’s, and no gentleman’s, should be associated’ (Dickens, Letter to W.C. Macready, August 30, 1849). Dickens was referring to the open-air Chartist meeting of March 1848, when Police attempts to break up this illegal gathering sent the vast crowd surging down the Mall and through St. James’s Park to shouts of ‘To the Palace!’ When the demonstration, which had reached the palace gates, subsided, Chairman Reynolds was carried in triumph to his house in Wellington Street, where he addressed the crowd from his balcony. A week later, there was another mass meeting at Kennington Common, and Reynolds once more took the chair, this time presiding beneath a revolutionary tricolour banner. In his speech he attacked the monarchy and aristocracy, who lived in luxury while the poor were, he said, ‘herded together in the dens and cellars of the metropolis’ (qtd. from Anon, The Northern Star, March 18, 1848).

The feeling of general loathing between the two authors was more than mutual. Given Dickens’ apparent political position on the working class movement, later portrayed in his industrial novel Hard Times (1854), with trade unionism demonised in favour of a familiar appeal to Christian brotherhood, it is clear why he so disliked Reynolds and his revolutionary rhetoric. Reynolds was a Chartist and, in his turn, resented Dickens’ popular image as a man of the people, feeling that his own voice much more accurately reflected the plight of the urban poor. That Reynolds, a very popular author, was a commercial rival who had successfully plagiarised Dickens in the past, was hardly likely to endear him to the great and powerful Boz either, and while Marx was already in the British Library working on Das Capital, Dickens was dismissing Reynolds for calling for the Six Points (which are nowadays part and parcel of any democratic system), much as he would Slackbridge in Hard Times a few years hence.

Reynolds, surprisingly, came from a much more affluent background than did Dickens, whose father, as is well documented elsewhere, was incarcerated in The Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison shortly after Dickens’ twelfth birthday in 1824. George William MacArthur Reynolds was born in Sandwich in 1814, and was the son of the naval flag-officer, Captain Sir George Reynolds. Captain Reynolds sent his son to Sandhurst Royal Military College at age fourteen to train for a career as an officer and a gentleman. Young George, however, possessed a sensitive soul and an independent spirit, and army life did not suit him. He consequently escaped Sandhurst as soon as he was able, resigning his commission in 1830 upon inheriting £12,000 from his mother, who had out-lived her husband by several years. He then took his new-found wealth and himself to Paris, to embark upon a career in journalism. In Paris, Reynolds invested in the English language newspaper The London and Paris Courier (which he also edited), opened an Anglo-French library, and wrote his first novel, The Youthful Impostor (1835). He briefly employed Thackeray in 1836, who later described him as the first publisher to actually pay him for his writing – this may explain Reynolds’ exemption from Thackeray’s frequent attacks on popular fiction in the 1840s. Life in the Rue-Neuve, St Augustine, also brought Reynolds into direct contact with both popular French writers and their revolutionary politics – men, women and ideas of which he later passionately wrote in The Modern Literature of France (1839). Most significantly, Reynolds read Eugene Sue, a Parisian journalist, Socialist and Republican, locally dubbed ‘the king of the popular novel,’ and one of the most widely read writers of melodramatic fiction in France. Literary experience did, as is so often the case, come at a price however, and Reynolds returned to England bankrupt in 1836, with writing now his only means of financial survival.

Back in London, Reynolds initially followed literary fashion and wrote for a largely middle class audience, with the novel Grace Darling (1836), contributions to Bentley’s Miscellany, and the editorship of The Monthly Magazine. He was not, however, above a bit of hack work. He therefore restored his fortunes to a certain extent by jumping on the bandwagon of Dickensian plagiarists such as ‘Bos’ (probably Thomas Peckett Prest), and serving the wider public demand for more comic adventures of the Pickwick Club, abandoned by Dickens himself in favour of increasingly dark social visions like Oliver Twist (1838). Reynolds was happy to oblige, writing that ‘If the talented “Boz” has not chosen to enact the part of Mr Pickwick’s biographer in his continental tour, it is not my fault’ (qtd. in James 61). Pickwick Abroad; or the Tour in France was originally serialised in The Monthly Magazine in 1837, and was successful enough to be issued in twenty illustrated parts by Sherwood and Co. Notably, contemporary critics catering to the new lower middle-to-working class mass audience felt Reynolds to be the most stylistically accomplished of the small army of Dickens imitators, which the great man himself so detested. Cleave’s Penny Gazette, admittedly damning with faint praise, described Reynolds as ‘the best of the bad imitations’ while the Age warned the original to ‘look to his laurels’ (qtd. in James 61).

Reynolds rather cheekily returned to Dickens’s portfolio once more in 1841 with Master Timothy’s Bookcase, a knock-off of Master Humphrey’s Clock, which was then being published weekly by Chapman & Hall. He signed the pledge in 1840, and edited the crusading magazine the Teetotaller between 1840 and 1841, although it is his brief editorship of the London Journal in 1845 that most clearly signals Reynolds’ changing attitudes towards the social class of his audience, and goes a long way to explaining his prominent presence at the Chartist meetings during the year of European revolution. Reynolds had found his political consciousness in Paris, but it was London which gave him his proletarian readership and the means by which to reach them.

The London Journal was established by George Stiff, an engraver from The Illustrated London News, and Reynolds was its first editor. It was trail-blazing from the start in its attempt to open up, and exploit, a new market catering to the equally new demographic of the urban working class, and it ran very successfully until 1912, making a fortune for its first publisher, George Vickers. It was in the London Journal that Reynolds’s politics really began to significantly surface in a series of touchingly paternal articles intended to educate a semi-literate audience, such as ‘Etiquette for the Millions,’ where readers were advised how to behave at a polite table, for example that one should not eat with a knife only, dip bread into gravy, or spit food back onto the plate (James 46). Reynolds fell out with Stiff quickly, and left the Journal in its first year to start his own periodical, Reynolds’s Miscellany of Romance, General Interest, Science and Art, which mixed fiction with articles intended to inform and improve, and included a weekly editorial addressed to ‘the industrial classes’ in which Reynolds explained the principles and virtues of Chartism. With a growing business acumen that still leaves historians and literary scholars divided as to whether he was merely commercially motivated, his apparent radicalism largely expedient, or a genuine champion of the working class movement, Reynolds hooked readers of the Miscellany from the first issue with the sexy gothic serial Wagner: the Wehrwolf  (which he also wrote). It seems most likely that Reynolds understood all too clearly, as all writers in a free market must, that it was necessary to entertain as well as edify in order to communicate his message to the masses. The fusion of these two positions was, however, most expertly achieved in Reynolds’s masterpiece, The Mysteries of London.

Although no longer resident in Paris, Reynolds continued to study trends in popular French literature, and Eugene Sue’s epic of the Parisian slums, Les Mystères de Paris (1842 – 1843), was particularly inspirational (1). Reynolds understood immediately that London demanded a similar work and that the roman feuilleton, the serial form, which he had seen to be so successful in France and which had made Sue a literary celebrity, was ideal for such a project. The Mysteries of London, and its later incarnation, The Mysteries of the Court of London, re-named after a dispute with the original publishers (Vickers and Stiff) led Reynolds to set up an independent publishing house with John Dicks in 1848, ran in uninterrupted weekly penny issues from 1844 to 1856. In its entirety, The Mysteries is approximately 4.5 million words in length, and Reynolds claimed that every one of them was his own, publicly denying that he employed ghosts writers in one of his many digs at Dickens over the years, although this statement is questionable. There are 624 weekly numbers, each comprising eight pages of double-column text and a juicy woodcut; a monthly issue of four stitched weekly numbers was also available, as was a bound volume of 52 numbers issued annually (Thomas viii). The Mysteries was a Victorian publishing phenomenon, a consistent best seller with weekly sales in the tens of thousands, and which made its author famous and its publishers rich. The serial was essentially a gothic soap opera, intended largely for an urban working class audience, combining radical politics with luridly illustrated revelations of aristocratic and underworld depravity, and never afraid to revel in sex and violence.

The central plot of the labyrinthine Mysteries is surprisingly simple, and owes as much to Sade and the sisters from Justine (1791) and Juliette (1797) as it does to Sue, being the story of two brothers, Eugene and Richard Markham, one of whom follows the path of ‘rectitude and virtue,’ the other ‘chicanery, dissipation, and voluptuousness’ (Reynolds vol I, 1). In Chapter IV, set in July 1831, the two brothers meet between two ash trees, a favourite childhood haunt, to bid each other farewell. The elder of the two, Eugene, has quarrelled with his father and intends to leave home and seek his fortune. They agree to meet at exactly the same spot in twelve years time to ‘compare notes relative to our success in life’ (Reynolds vol I, 7). After the death of his father, Richard, too, heads for the ‘city of fearful contrasts,’ that ‘modern Babylon,’ London (Reynolds vol I, 1). The protean Eugene reptiles his way through the narrative under a variety of assumed names and identities until he comes to a sticky end, mortally stabbed by one of the many he has cheated, and dying in his brother’s arms – along the way he is, among other things, a seducer, a corrupt financier and, worst of all, a Member of Parliament. While Eugene is loyal only to his own desire, and as bent as a nine bob note, Richard is both honourable and heroic. In his adventures, Richard is wrongfully imprisoned in Newgate (where all London writers must go), before becoming involved in the Italian state of Castelcicala and her struggle for independence, finally becoming a hero of the republic and marrying Isabella, the daughter of the rightful ruler.

Reynolds also exhibits a Dickensian scope for incidental characters, whose paths usually cross those of both brothers. The most important secondary characters are the dissolute Marquis of Holmesford; the sinister ‘Resurrection Man,’ Anthony Tidkins, and his arch enemy James Cuffin (AKA ‘Crankey Jem’); the pot-boy Henry Holford, who breaks into Buckingham Palace and symbolically sits on the throne; and Ellen Monroe and Isabella Alteroni, who marry the brothers. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and prominent members of Her Majesty’s Government also appear along with rakes, beggars, entrepreneurs, whores, servants, thieves, and killers too numerous to mention, although the author politely suggests that the young monarch is kept ignorant of the suffering of many of her subjects by her advisors.

The prominent authorial voice is also effectively a character in its own right, with Reynolds offering polemical prologues repeatedly returning to the social divide between rich and poor, a proto-Marxist analysis that was central to his politics and which formed the main thrust of his Chartist speeches. ‘There are but two words known in the moral alphabet of this great city,’ writes Reynolds in his prologue to the first volume, ‘for all virtues are summed up in the one, and all vices in the other: and those words are WEALTH. POVERTY’ (Reynolds vol I, 1). This dichotomy is presented in Reynolds’ reading of London itself where, like Pierce Egan in Life in London (1821), Flora Tristan’s London Journal (1840) and, indeed, the work of Dickens, he presents a series of contrasts between the lives (and boroughs) of rich and poor, who exist so closely together in the heart of the empire. Here are not one but many ‘mysteries.’ Reynolds does not necessarily solve them, but he does present them directly to the oppressed working classes, rather than merely aiming to titillate a middle class audience, as was so often the case with Victorian urban fiction and social investigation.

In a cover story appearing in Reynolds’s Miscellany in 1847, Reynolds had declared ‘the three most popular writers in England’ that year to be, unsurprisingly, Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and William Harrison Ainsworth, the author of the notorious and highly successful criminal romances Rookwood (1834), which had made his literary reputation, and Jack Sheppard (1839), which had destroyed it (Reynolds, Reynolds’s Miscellenany, May 22 1847). Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard had in particular caught the popular imagination, thereby invoking a bourgeois critical backlash from which his career never really recovered. ‘All the Chartists in the land are less dangerous than this nightmare of a book,’ wrote Mary Russell Mitford to Elizabeth Barrett upon reading Jack Sheppard in 1839 (qtd. in Ellis vol I, 376), comparing the dangers of the working class movement to the common belief that such novels and their theatrical adaptations would cause young working class males to imitate the behaviour of the romanticised criminals in a moral panic known as the ‘Newgate Controversy.’

By 1847 Ainsworth’s popular status was, in fact, already well on the wane, while the enthusiasm for Reynolds among the literate working class can be quite clearly seen in Henry Mayhew’s epic social study, London Labour and the London Poor (1849-50). In the section on working-class reading habits entitled ‘The Literature of Costermongers’ Mayhew explains that:

What they love best to listen to – and, indeed, what they are most eager for – are Reynolds’s periodicals, especially the ‘Mysteries of the Court’.  “They’ve got tired of [Edward] Lloyd’sblood-stained stories,” said one man, who was in the habit of reading to them, and am satisfied that, of all London, Reynolds is the most popular man among them.  They stuck to him in Trafalgar-square, and would again.  They all say he’s ‘a trump’, and Feargus O’Connor’s another trump with them’ (Mayhew 25).

The article concludes that:

The tales of robbery and bloodshed, of heroic, eloquent, and gentlemanly highwaymen, or of gipsies turning out to be nobles, now interest the costermongers but little, although they found great delight in such stories a few years back. Works relating to Courts, potentates, or ‘harristocrats’, are the most relished by these rude people (Mayhew 27).

The above description of highwaymen and gipsies of noble birth undoubtedly signals Ainsworth and his imitators; but resurrected highwaymen like Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard are now no longer working-class heroes, they have been replaced by the more tangible figures of O’Connor and Reynolds as the new urban proletariat find a political voice in Chartism. While Reynolds cheekily secreted Henry Holford the pot-boy beneath the arse of Queen Victoria in the first volume of The Mysteries of London, before symbolically sitting him upon the throne itself, Ainsworth was still writing increasingly outmoded historical romance where, as John Moore wrote, ‘The kings were kingly and majestic, the queens were queenly and beautiful; and whether the historians had assigned them to the pigeonhole labelled ‘Good’ or the one labelled ‘Bad,’ they were always in a sense Great’ (Moore 11).

The central themes and devices of both writers do seem however very much at odds with the (anti-Chartist) appeals to Christian brotherhood in the ‘Condition of England’ novels of Gaskell and Dickens. The fact that Reynolds chooses to acknowledge Ainsworth as a major literary figure as late as 1847, by which time the establishment had well and truly disowned him, is an indication of their stylistic kinship, the quotation from Mayhew also catching the cultural moment when the popular sceptre was passed from Ainsworth to Reynolds, while there was, at the same time, still an identification between Jack Sheppard and Chartism in the bourgeois collective consciousness. As Trefor Thomas has argued, ‘Taken with Henry Mayhew’s recording of the detail of street life in his Morning Chronicle letters of 1849, and with Dickens’s apocalyptic vision of London in Bleak House, the text [Reynolds’ Mysteries] completes a literary triptych representing the culture of the metropolis from three distinctive perspectives at an epochal moment of social and political transition’ (Thomas vii).

In The Mysteries of London, Reynolds was very much responding to a market that had largely been created by Ainsworth in the late-1830s. Like Pierce Egan before him, Ainsworth had created a particular version of the urban environment which was there to be explored and enjoyed by social groups both within and without (2). The Modern Babylon was also, of course, soon to be portrayed most memorably by Dickens, but this was not a space to explore so much as to fear; and what separates the underworld from the realm of Oliver Twist’s saviour Mr Brownlow, not to mention Dickens’ bourgeois audience, is a single turn: ‘The coach rattled away, over nearly the same ground as that which Oliver had traversed when he first entered London in company with the Dodger; and, turning a different way when it reached the Angel at Islington, stopped at length before a neat house, in a quiet shady street near Pentonville’ (Dickens, Oliver Twist 59).

Reynolds certainly taps into a rich vein of contemporary popular fiction in his writing, his most obvious influences being melodrama, Newgate, and gothic writing, and in The Mysteries of Paris and London (1992), Richard Maxwell identifies the ‘mystery mania’ of the 1840s as a turning point in the urbanisation of the eighteenth century gothic narrative. Although admittedly building upon this fundamentally sensational foundation, Reynolds then politicises his narrative in a specifically class conscious way, echoing the first-person statements of Mayhew’s subjects, but giving underworld characters an opportunity to tell their own stories. This had been tried before by Bulwer-Lytton in his Godwinian Newgate novel Paul Clifford (1830), but what Reynolds offers is an authenticity that was lacking in all the Newgate novels of the 1830s, as well as in Dickens’s response to the criminal romance, Oliver Twist (1838). The most striking example of this technique can be seen in ‘The Resurrection Man’s History,’ where the prosaically named Tony Tidkins takes over the narrative and tells his story to the locals of the East End ‘Boozing Ken,’ Reynolds here revealing a hidden narrative (the personal biography of a criminal) almost purely in terms of class struggle.

Tidkins’ father was imprisoned for petty smuggling, and his son witnessed his family destroyed while the local baronet, who controlled a vast contraband machine of which his father was a very small cog, was helped upon conviction by all the local gentry, eventually coming into a large inheritance that wiped his slate clean. ‘I began to comprehend,’ muses Tidkins, ‘that birth and station made an immense difference in the views that the world adopted of men’s actions.’ Tidkins finally cracks when the baronet horse-whips him for not opening a gate. He fights back, and is rewarded with two years for assault. Upon his release, now a hardened criminal, he calmly goes to the home of the justice who passed sentence and torches it, killing his only daughter: ‘And the upper classes wonder that there are so many incendiary fires,’ he concludes, ‘my only surprise is, that there are so few!’ (Reynolds vol I, 195).

The Resurrection Man is undoubtedly a gothic villain pulled from folklore (body-snatching being a distant, if unpleasant and emotive memory by the 1840s), but his quotidian approach to his trade (descriptions of grave robbing are very workmanlike and ungothic), and his non-profit making acts of revenge against his class enemy make him an original and fascinating character. Ostensibly, he is the principle antagonist, stalking protagonist Richard Markham like a demented gothic double, but he is also a revolutionary with a proactive terrorist agenda that sets him apart from other fictional criminals of this period. Reynolds’s message is quite clear: the justice had it coming, let a complacent and corrupt establishment beware. Such sentiments sit rather uneasily alongside the downright clichéd and Hogarthian moral fable of the two brothers, which is resolved in an epilogue with: ‘VIRTUE is rewarded – VICE has received its punishment’ (Reynolds vol II, 424).

Reading Reynolds therefore invites ambiguous interpretation or, perhaps more intriguingly, the synthesis of oppositional meanings within the text. The character of Ellen Monroe is interesting in this context: do we read her progress from mesmerist’s assistant, artist’s model, dancer, actress (all Victorian codes for prostitution), to, finally, Eugene’s wife, whom she blackmails into marriage after having his illegitimate child, as a conventional tale of a fallen woman, or do we celebrate her spirit of survival and her skill at exploiting the opportunities which London affords the bold? Both versions, although apparently oppositional, would appear to co-exist, with the latter reading doubly daring given its obvious gender neutrality. Gender identity is fluid within the text from the first chapter, in which the ‘young man’ in Smithfield is, in fact, the character Eliza Sydney, cross-dressed and disguised, while Ellen’s audacity and proactivity would be much more the preserve of a male hero in conventional Victorian fiction.

Reynolds’s choice of villains is equally telling. On one hand he offers an array of traditional stereotypes, the rake, the body-snatcher, the hangman, and so forth, while on the other he introduces a new set of capitalist monsters that make the former group seem suddenly rather ineffectual and out of date, most notably corrupt city traders and even more corrupt politicians. In updating and transferring the codes of the gothic to a recognisably contemporary London, Reynolds had equally updated the villains – ‘Romance,’ wrote Louis James in his seminal Fiction for the Working Man, ‘was becoming politicized … and in The Mysteries of London we see the emergence in fiction of the radicalism of the Chartist press’ (James 194).

It is also worth noting that, unlike Elizabeth Gaskell’s character of John Barton in Mary Barton (1848), who assassinates the son of the local mill owner, Reynolds’ fledgling class warriors are not then tortured and ultimately destroyed by their own Protestant guilt. The author even goes as far as to set out the conditions for a ‘just’ civil war in The Mysteries (albeit displaced to an Italian duchy), stating that a conflict which originates ‘in the just wrath of the people driven to desperation by odious tyranny and wrong’ is ‘a sacred cause’ (Reynolds vol II, 69). We can hardly fail to appreciate how such exposés of bourgeois corruption and royal madness within The Mysteries of London, coupled with a regard for the ‘industrious classes’ and accessible political polemics, found easy purchase in the hearts and minds of Mayhew’s ‘literate costermongers,’ to whom fantasies of lost inheritance and noble birth must have seemed increasingly remote from reality. Reynolds the radical writer had now become a hero that they could actually go and see at a political rally, rather than an actor playing an outlaw long-since dead (and probably vivisected), such as Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard, whose stories had been popular in the 1830s through the Newgate novels of Ainsworth and their theatrical adaptations. As Ainsworth had previously discovered however, such a following is never going to gain the author admittance to the Temple of Literature.

In addition to this epic project, Reynolds wrote at least thirty-six novels and short stories – with such writers, however, authorship cannot always be established and there is, as yet, no complete bibliography. He founded a short-lived Chartist newspaper, Reynolds’s Political Instructor, in 1849, which was followed by Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper in 1850, the latter becoming an important mouthpiece of Victorian radicalism. At the height of his career, The Mysteries of London period, Reynolds was arguably the most widely read author in England, and his work made John Dicks one of the most successful publishers in London, although Dicks later changed the name of Reynolds’s Miscellany to Bow Bells in an attempt to distance himself from his radical past. Reynolds married another popular novelist, Susanna Pearson, in 1848 and fathered three children, writing little after 1860. Although he remained a member of the National Charter Association, he was politically active only in print after the early 1850s, by which time he had quarrelled with many of the movement’s leaders. Reynolds ended his days as a churchwarden at St Andrew’s, Well Street, and died at his Woburn Square home on June 17, 1879.

As Marc Angenot has argued of genre fiction, popular or paraliterature ‘occupies the space outside the literary enclosure, as a forbidden, a taboo, and perhaps degraded product, against which the “self” of literature proper is forged’ (qtd. in Parrinder 46). Reynolds’ literary legacy thus remains to date rather ambivalent, as is often the case with writers of popular fiction, and this is signalled by the tiny amount of his work remaining in print and the relatively tight huddle of serious Reynolds scholars, most notably Louis James, Trefor Thomas, Anne Humpherys, and Richard Maxwell. Many of his distinguished contemporaries, including Dickens, Marx and several leading Chartists, considered his politics to be a pose calculated to exploit the new mass market, which he undoubtedly conquered, succeeding the ‘penny bloods’ of Edward Lloyd and winning the battle against the middle class sponsored penny magazines intended to direct proletarian reading. Even Louis James concludes that ‘his radicalism serves a dramatic rather than a genuinely social purpose’ (James 197), although Anne Humpherys has argued convincingly that Reynolds’s paradoxical career is best understood as a cultural response to the age in which he lived, a period of dizzying political, commercial and aesthetic flux which he reflected in his often conflicted and unresolved prose (3).

Reynolds’s major work, The Mysteries of London, brings together the generic devices of popular fiction, blended crazily with an old fashioned, Romantic radicalism where, as James points out, the aristocracy is attacked or idealised while the middle classes are often virtually ignored. Yet there is also the very new language of class conflict, loudly and clearly expressed. Reynolds can therefore be read, as Patrick Joyce has argued in Visions of the People (1991), as ‘a crucially important bridge between the old radicalism and the new’ (qtd. in Thomas xiii). Were this Reynolds’s only virtue, it should be enough to secure him a permanent place in the Victorian canon, but he is much more fun than this. We must read Reynolds if we wish to understand the shifting sands of Victorian popular culture, the development of urban gothic, the popular magazine market, or simply to enjoy some of the most unrestrained fiction of the nineteenth century. Most importantly, we must read Reynolds, especially The Mysteries of London, if we wish fully to comprehend the fragmented, class alienated culture of the Victorian city during a period of vast social and political upheaval, if not downright crisis.

Reynolds’s vision is, as Trefor Thomas notes, in every way as significant as that of Dickens and Mayhew and, in pushing the envelope of Victorian taste and decency in a way that the high literary narrative can never really do, perhaps ultimately more honest, for all its blood and thunder; and after Reynolds’ sensational contributions to the ‘Condition of England’ debate, it is not until Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910 that English literature again engages with the class war in any meaningful way, only this time without recourse to mysteries, masquerades and resurrection men.


Anon, Report on ‘The great open-air meeting,’ The Northern Star, March 18, 1848

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, Works (1841 London: Odhams, 1897).

Dickens, Charles. Letter to W.C. Macready, August 30, 1849. In Graham Storey and K.J. Fielding eds, The Letters of Charles Dickens vol V (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981), 603.

Ellis, S.M. William Harrison Ainsworth and his Friends, 2 vols. London: John Lane, 1911.

James, Louis. Fiction for the Working Man (London: Penguin, 1973).

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor Vol. I (1851, London: Frank Cass & Co., 1967).

Moore, John. Introduction. In Windsor Castle, by W.H. Ainsworth (1843 London: Heron, 1968).

Parrinder, P. Science Fiction: its Criticism and Teaching (London: Methuen, 1980).

Reynolds, G.W.M. ‘The three most popular writers in England’ Reynolds’s Miscellany May 22 1847.

Reynolds, G.W.M. The Mysteries of London 4 vols (London: George Vickers, 1846).

Thomas, Trefor. ‘G.W.M. Reynolds’s The Mysteries of London: An Introduction.’ In G.W.M. Reynolds, The Mysteries of London (1844, Keele: Keele University Press, 1996).


  1. It is worth noting in passing that Sue’s Mystères also inspired Karl Marx’s only work of literary criticism, a polemical essay included in The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism, 1845.
  2. Eugene Markham will later similarly explain that ‘A few years ago, when I first entered on a London life, I determined to make myself acquainted with all the ways of the metropolis, high or low’ (Reynolds vol I, 49).
  3. See Anne Humpherys, ‘Generic Strands and Urban Twists: The Victorian Mysteries Novel,’ Victorian Studies 34 (4) (Summer 1991).

Previously unpublished, paper, originally entitled ‘Working Class Heroes,’ presented at G.W.M. Reynolds: Popular Culture, Literature & Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century Conference, held at the University of Birmingham in July 2000. Some of this material subsequently found its way into a biographical entry published in The Literary Encyclopedia in 2004.

Copyright © SJ Carver 2000, 2013

5 thoughts on “The Man who wasn’t Dickens: A Profile of G.W.M. Reynolds (1818 – 1879)”

  1. Whatever the personal faults of George William MacArthur Reynolds, He was much more a political realist than Dicken’s over optimistic belief in charity and changing stingy hearts and minds. Social change requires a bottom up movement. And it needs a structure. that is what the Chartists were more or less about. Only through bottom up movements do laws for reform come about. Dickens reminds me of many well wishing self made accomplished conservatives, Whereas Reynolds was more like the Kennedy family here in the usa, born into wealth, with all their personal faults, but tried to make life better for the downtrodden through political action not via tenable sympathy. Personal and individual charity is a good feeling, expression and and perhaps some action. But where in one region of the country charity might do much to keep those from falling through the cracks where other regions or metropolitan and rural areas charity is less existent in the hearts of those who have, and/or there is less of those that have to care for the lower and under class. Charity cannot be spread evenly across a nation. It is hard to believe that Marx would favored Dickens over Reynold’s but even Marx like ever man under the sun is fallible and if he was critical of Reynold’s he was wrong on that score. Political force is the only thing that can change the law that effects the citizens. It is very sad and evokes anger how much over the one hundred fifty years or so, the struggles that gained the working and lower middle class a fairer share of the capitalist economic pie, only in the past thirty or so years to have it rolled back by just pure removed from reality ideology of Thatcher(no such thing as society)and Reagan economics which has become the destructive zeitgeist which has caused the peoples of the UK, US and the world to be almost in some cases to a position of the worker and peasant in pre revolution France who are made to work more for less and outrqeously expected to bail out the monarcy of today–the wealthy, greedy corporations and their leadership– via austerity and paying more of a percentage of their taxes than do the billionaires. Noblesse Oblige does not come voluntarily, it must be made law.


    February 10, 2014

  2. my apologies for many writing errors. those who dismiss my intention, what it is I and many others are trying to convey because of the aforementioned shoddy writing by myself, they are in worse ethical or physical condition than I. I am suffering from a long painful deteriorating illness, rest very little, inter alia(at the risk of “wearing it on one’s sleeve”)

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