G.W.M. Reynolds: A Mind Of Vast Proportions

March 24, 2019

G.W.M. Reynolds

A Mind Of Vast Proportions

by

R.E. Prindle

 

G.W.M. Reynolds had a remarkable career. I don’t know how many people have ever read his entire oeuvre, I certainly am not yet close, not even close enough to say closing. Still, I have read a few million words.

His work can be divided into two groupings. The first group is a preliminary to the outstanding second group. It seems almost unbelievable that a human mind could encompass the second group.

Reynolds was only 21 when he wrote his first novel in 1835. That book was titled The Youthful Imposter. This was the first in the group that may be called the French novels.

After a hiatus of three years this was followed by Alfred De Rosann and then his appropriation of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, Pickwick Abroad, or The Tour of France in 1839, followed by Grace Darling also in 1939 and then in quick succession in 1840, Robert Macaire, The French Bandit In England, The Drunkard and The Steam Packet.

Then came the termination of the French period, Master Timothy’s Bookcase which took place in both France and England as Reynolds had returned to England in 1837. Both Pickwick Abroad and Master Timothy’s Bookcase were based on Dickens stories. Having no further source of inspiration Reynolds went dry for two years.

One imagines he put the two years to good use reading and thinking. Gathering his ideas together without format within which to place them. The bridge between the French group and the Mysteries series was image of two brothers and the two trees that were mentioned somewhat lovingly in Master Timothy.

Then the inspiration, the format, for his phenomenal period from 1844 to 1856 came from France in the fantastic novel of Eugene Sue: The Mysteries Of Paris. In his earlier period Reynolds explained quite clearly that his interest was in solving the mysteries of life. The two brothers and the two trees took immediate form in his mind and he rolled out the story that would consume 2500 pages or so working on many mysteries in the series called Mysteries of London. There was also a Mysteres de Londres published by Paul Feval in France beginning in 1843.

Now, the first premise of Master Timothy’s Bookcase was then of the mysteries or back stories that explained the true stories of certain events so there was a smooth continuation to his Mysteries of London. Once again Dickens was an influence as by 1844 several of his works had been published that dealt with the London sociology and its ‘mysteries.’

The Mysteries of London, a massive novel of 2500 pages in the two large volumes of today published by the Valancourt Press, was serialized over four years from 1844-48 while Reynolds’s supreme Masterpiece The Mysteries of the Court of London was as long running in weekly parts as today’s television series and as popular as Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, from 1848 to 1856. The two works combined ran for a total of twelve years; a whole generation, almost, was brought up on these bestselling books.

One should also note that as there were no movies or TV at the time and most of the population was illiterate, well paying jobs, on a modest scale, were created as reading groups in which a reader read to a gathered audience. Thus, whether they charged a farthing, a half-penny or a penny, I know not, and perhaps had two or three reading groups, the reader probably lived well, well above their listeners that is.

More phenomenally the beginning and ending of Court of London bracketed eighteen other novels being composed during the same period. Nor were these minor works. Mary Price, for instance, ran close to a million words. Ellen Percy was equally long as was Joseph Wilmot. Court of London was itself five million words. I mean, these are staggering numbers. The Necromancer in the Valancourt edition runs to 600 pages of small print.

When I say bracketed, I mean that the inclusive novels must have involved problems that Reynolds was working out concurrently with the main frame Court of London. In my studies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, that author did the same thing. In his case he was unable to finish the novel that began the series as he solved his mental issues and when they were solved, he was able to finish his book.

While writing these eighteen novels while turning in weekly installments of the Mysteries of the Court of London Reynolds had to be working up two or three other novels at the same time and submitting weekly installments of those. This is a staggering work load. If it weren’t a fact, I would say it was impossible.

One can only marvel at such a capacious mind that had to be cogitating completely different stories and compartmentalizing his mind to keep them separate and coherent. Try that as a mental exercise. Absolutely impossible. The mere speed of writing to accomplish that must have been 60, 70 or even a hundred pages a day, one is stupefied. Reynolds had no problems with carpal tunnel either.

At the same time Reynolds was editing magazines and engaging in radical politics while he and his wife were raising eventually nine children. Reynolds was a superman guided by divine hands. At the same time he was keeping up on his reading and one can find traces of inspiration from that reading all through his works.

Of course, such intense mental activity took its toll on his brain. My reading is that his mind broke, or became worn out, while composing the conclusion of Court of London. Reynolds had kept this story going for eight years meaning that he to keep all the details in mind while writing more than a dozen other novels. Now this additional writing didn’t break his concentration on Court of London and that is phenomenal. The series is divided in two parts, or possible two related novels of five volumes each. The second part can be considered a sequel to the first. As the story draws to a close in his mind he has to bring several different strands including ones from eight years back, but interlocked, to a conclusion. This calls for all his ingenuity and super human concentration. As I read, I reared back in my chair exclaiming: Let’s see him pull this one off.

He announces in the text that he is going to have to concentrate intensively to do that. The astute reader can feel the effort, and he is straining, it’s almost like a runaway train careening down a mountain grade with the engineer struggling for control but then bringing the train safely into the station. I found it breathtaking but I also divined what the effort had taken out of him.

And in reading the chronological list of novels in Stephen Knight’s G.W.M. Reynolds And His Fiction I found my understanding confirmed. Consider that the great Alexandre Dumas pere, had also expended his mental energies and at roughly the same time. He too was exhausted by 60. Eugene Sue completed his last novel and died. All three men expended prodigious mental energies during their prolific careers. Walter Scott also blew his brain out by excessive mental activity.

Reynolds himself would die comparatively young of a broken head, strokes and brain hemorrhage. One can only thank him for his titanic energy during the 1840 and 50s. As a slow writer myself I hold G.W.M. Reynolds in reverence.

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