G.W.M. Reynolds & Me

A new post for the G.W.M. Reynolds Society

As a child, I possessed a morbid passion for nineteenth century gothic literature. I had inherited this trait from my mother, a Catholic turned Spiritualist with a taste for true crime and horror film and fiction. My parents had me late in life and my grandparents were all born towards the end of the reign of Victoria. I was thus always dimly aware of the name ‘G.W.M. Reynolds’ through not only the New English Library anthologies of out-of-copyright Victoriana which I sought out compulsively in second-hand shops, but from my extended family’s own hoard of dusty nineteenth century novels and periodicals.

Years later, as a postgrad at the University of East Anglia in the 90s, I was able to study Reynolds more seriously as part of a doctorate on then critically neglected nineteenth century novelists and journalists. (This ultimately turned into my equally neglected critical biography of W.H. Ainsworth, the author of RookwoodThe Tower of London and the controversial Jack Sheppard.) I was fascinated by jobbing writers and penny-a-liners, particularly if, like Ainsworth and Reynolds, they fell foul of the literary elite, especially Dickens. As a working-class student, I also found Reynolds’s politics extremely relatable, while loving his visceral urban gothic. And back then you couldn’t read his work online via the Hathi Trust; you had to actively seek it out in specialist libraries and antiquarian bookshops. One of my prize possessions remains an original bound edition of the first volume of The Mysteries of the Court, the most expensive book I have ever bought, just to see how it differed from The Mysteries of London.

I started teaching Reynolds at UEA as part of an undergraduate literary history course called ‘The 19th Century Underworld’ (which I finally turned into a book a couple of years back), and met other Reynolds scholars, most notably Professors Louis James and Anne Humpherys, at the G.W.M. Reynolds: Popular Culture, Literature & Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century Conference at the University of Birmingham in 2000. There was much exited talk about turning the papers into a book, and this became G.W.M. Reynolds & Nineteenth-Century British Society, edited by Anne and Louis, to which I contributed an essay on The Mysteries of London and underworld slang, also writing the Reynolds entry for The Literary Encyclopedia on the back of the research.

More recently, now what my wife calls ‘a recovering academic’ working in publishing, I started to put my old essays and lectures online, partly to reach a wider audience but largely for my own amusement. The process of revisiting these pieces and editing them in a blog format coincided with my first serious attempt at a historical novel, notionally about the wreck of the troopship Birkenhead, called Shark Alley. Once more inspired by the energetic and frequently tragic hacks of the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, I realised my protagonist was not, as first conceived, a young Irish redcoat at all, but a jaded journalist and failed novelist with Chartist and Marxist leanings travelling on the doomed ship as a special correspondent…

To read the full post please click here.

For a biographical profile of Reynolds by yours truly please click here.

And you can find my essay from G.W.M. Reynolds & Nineteenth-Century British Society here.

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