A Note On G.W.M. Reynolds On The Reception Of His Pickwick Abroad

March 21, 2019

A Note On G.W.M. Reynolds On The

Reception Of His Pickwick Abroad

by

R.E. Prindle

 

In March 1836 Charles Dickens began his story The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The story was issued in weekly parts concluding in October 1838. The series had been a great success, actually moving fiction into its modern phase. G.W.M Reynolds- George William MacArthur- noting Pickwick’s phenomenal success decided to piggy back on Dicken’s success so he began a continuation of the novel called Pickwick Abroad beginning three months after Dickens last installment in January 1838 in weekly parts through Aug. 1839.

His continuation was a success also. It did dumbfound the literary circles who considered it a plagiarism. For Reynolds his appropriation of the whole of Dickens’ idea and his cast of characters and, indeed, only a couple months after Dickens concluded, Reynolds began. The public must have said something like: ‘Oh, too much of a good thing.’

Reynolds version was running concurrently with the publication of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers in book form. How much confusion and dismay this may have caused was probably profound. Unheard of. The public unaware with what was happening very likely thought that Pickwick Abroad was, in fact, a sequel to the Papers. Whether the sequel cut into sales of The Papers isn’t known; perhaps it augmented them, the story becoming one in the public mind.

Regardless of copyright violations, copyrights being ill formed at the time, the sheer effrontery of appropriating another writers success was astounding and deeply, even viscerally, resented by Dickens as why shouldn’t it have been. Dickens bore rancor in his heart while it was always remembered by the literary crowd as a gaffe on Reynold’s part.

Both men went on to subsequent great success over the next thirty odd years with Dickens being a legend still. Reynolds who was extremely prolific, composing as many as possibly 40 very long titles actually sold more copies than Dickens. As happens to writers who write copiously the mind becomes worn and exhausted by the age of 60; it loses its flexibility. Following the excellent short biography of Dick Collins as published as a forword in the Vallancourt edition of Reynold’s The Necromancer in about 1862 Reynolds had ceased to write novels and apparently through with that line of endeavor sold all his copyrights to his printer, John Dick. They had been associates through most of Reynolds career.

Now in possession of Reynolds’ copyrights Dick accordingly brought out an edition of the entire corpus save Pickwick Abroad. This would seem to mean that publishing that book would be embarrassing, or, perhaps Dickens may even have requested that exclusion. Perhaps so, but it did sting Reynolds to the core. So that his entire corpus would be available one presumes, Reynolds found a publisher to reissue Pickwick Abroad dated 1864.

The book contains two prefaces, the first appearing to be from the first edition and the second from the 1864 reissue. In it Reynolds make no apologies. I quote the second preface in full:

On perusing the work, preparatory to the issue of this present edition, I see nothing that I regret having written, or that I have thought it prudent to omit. The ensuing pages are, then, a faithful reprint of the original edition, without the slightest abridgement: the plates accompanying it are also those which were expressly designed for the work, by Alfred Crowquill and Mr. Phillips.

With these words do I introduce the new edition of “PICKWICK ABROAD” to the public—sincerely hoping that its cheapness will have the effect of multiplying a hundred fold the number of readers.

He wasn’t kidding about the cheapness either.

I think the feeling of insult by Dick’s omission of the book is deeply felt. And who knows but that a great of satisfaction by that omission was felt by Dickens.

There is also an issue of how long Reynolds resided in France. In the First Preface written in 1839 he says he resided among the French for ten years. If so, it was only possible from 1830 when he was sixteen to 1837-8 just before he turned 25. Collins who has researched he issue thinks that Reynolds was only in France for a couple of years from ’35 to ’37. One must choose between Reynolds and Collings. Now, the age figure 25 occurs frequently in Reynolds early writing usually in connection with a death. Psychologically, then, it would appear that the Reynolds of his youth died in 1839 when he was twenty-five and Pickwick Abroad was a success. In fact in the legend of Edmund Mortimer as told in Master Timothy’s Bookcase, Edmund Mortimer the literary alter ego of Reynolds, belongs to a family in which the male dies in his room in his mansion at the age of 25. Thus with the publication of Pickwick Abroad the previous G.W.M. Reynolds in the character of Edmund Mortimer died and the second G.W.M. Reynolds took his place. Reynolds was reborn in his mind in 1839. The legend of the Mortimers then continues into it eighth incarnation and through Reynolds II reborn from the ashes of Mortimer I, the Mortimer line lives on.

Another of the mysteries Reynolds so loved to unravel, this one a mystery of his heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s