A Second Note On The Works Of George W.M. Reynolds

June 8, 2020

A Second Note On The Works Of George W. M. Reynolds: Mary Price, Memoirs Of A Servant Maid

by

R.E. Prindle

 

Reynolds’ novel Mary Price was composed in 1852, the same year as the final chapters of the Second Series of The Mysteries Of The Court Of London written concurrently. The succeeding generation of writers including Willkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot and others were beginning their long careers in the 50s. The Romantics had made it clear that there was big money in literature.

In the fifties the Romantics still held center stage. W. Harrison Ainsworth, the historical novelist, who had preceded Reynolds by a few years was the companionable sort liking to have a lot of people around him. Thus he founded a sort of literary salon or club including the leading lights of his generation including Charles Dickens.

By 1852 and the success of The Mysteries Of London and The Mysteries Of The Court Of London plus a dozen or more others of varying success, Reynolds was of the writers that Ainsworth should have invited to his coterie but he didn’t. And for a very good reason. Dickens was the shining light of his group. For any who might read this or have familiarity with the period, Dickens had achieved immediate success with his Sketches By Boz and The Pickwick Papers.

Reynolds, who at the time, was floundering in 1836 when Pickwick appeared, appropriated Dickens’ Mr. Pickwick for his own novel Pickwick Abroad. And then in successive works he continued to use Mr. Pickwick as well as others of Dickens works most notably his Master Master Humphrey’s Clock on which Reynolds based his Master Timothy’s Bookcase. You may imagine that Dickens’ had small appreciation of Reynolds.

There was something about Dicken’s writing that stuck in Reynold’s craw and he never let up ridiculing Dickens. Thus in his 1852 novel, Mary Price, Reynolds from out the blue had this to say about the leading and most famous novelist of the day while his reputation down to this day nearly two hundred years later is undimmed. Reynolds gratuitously caricatures Dickens thusly: Part I, p. 119. Dickens as Charles Wiggins is attending a big ball:

There was a great literary character amongst the visitors- Mr. Charles Wiggins; who from having been a penny-a-liner on the Morning Chronicle, had by dishing up all kinds of absurdities which he called “humour”, and throwing into the hodge-podge a dash of maudlin sentimentality, or sickly extravagance which he called “pathos”, had managed to establish his renown as a popular author—somewhat impudent and presumptuous—dressed rather gaudily than well—and courting observation even among stable boys. Mr. Charles Wiggins was nevertheless a very requisite ornament in the circle I am describing; because it was absolutely necessary to have a literary man in order that the party should be complete; and the one thus selected was of a mental culture thus suited to the average intellectual standard of Harlesdon Park.

There does seem to be a touch of envy there as Reynolds with his own radical reputation was never invited anywhere. Charles Wiggins/Charles Dickens is hard to miss and one may be sure that Dickens’ attention was called to this passage which is really a capital joke of the type that is funny if you’re not the object.

Still, the above is an astute evaluation of Dickens and his writing and one that I share fully. If Reynolds knew that Dickens two hundred years on would still be famous and celebrated and he not, I’m sure he would have smashed his head against a stone wall.

In point of fact, Reynolds far exceeds Dickens on any level while being a dozen times more prolific than Dickens who really had trouble trying to find topics to write about.

Such is fate and whatever Dickens had has stood him in good stead for two centuries. There are innumerable editions of his novels and collected works. I think Shakespeare himself would be rolling over in his grave.

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