The useful ‘Post on ‘G.W.M. Reynolds’s The Modern Literature of France (1839) points us to his only known attempt at writing for the stage. The Catacombs of Paris. A Melodrama in Two Acts exists as a manuscript in the theatrical collection of the late Arthur Williams (1844-1915).[i] Comparison with a contemporary letter by Reynolds confirms it is in his handwriting, and although there are some minor corrections and emendations, it appears to be a final version. The list of his publications on the title page ends with Grace Darling [1839], which indicates it was written in 1840, a date born out by the style and content.

It tells of Angèle, a French country girl elevated to high society by marriage to an aging Marquis, of her seduction by a young aristocrat disguised as a monk and her act of revenge. The story had appeared in chapter fifty-three of Reynolds’s Pickwick Abroad, of the Tour of France (1837-8) discovered by Mr Pickwick as a ‘terrible narrative’ in a volume of tales he had recently purchased. Reynolds’s serial operated as as fictional episodes and a guide to the sights of Paris, and Angèle’s tale is illustrated both with a melodramatic tableau and a topographical engraving of the catacomb burial chambers.

Reynolds prose narrative takes the form of historical reportage, and be based on an actual event, although I have not found a source. The stage version pares down the plot down to focus the emotional impact, but it also significantly changes the moral perspective. In 1840 Reynolds had published The Modern Literature of France. He was also working on the little-noticed Master Timothy’s Book-Case, or a Lanthorn of the World (1841-2). Although the title suggests an imitation of Dickens’s Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840-1840-1), the serial’s content is very different, and Reynolds’s claim that ‘the idea is so, perfectly original and the work so entirely novel’ is not just enthusiastic self-advertising.[ii] It is Reynolds’s own rebuttal, fuelled by his own early struggles and his reading of contemporary French fiction, of the complacent reliance on ‘facts’ in English statistical research and utilitarian thinking. Throughout Master Timothy’s Book-Case he uses an arcane Gothic subplot to link the episodic stories and turn them into parables illustrating the dangers of trusting simply to ‘universal knowledge.’ The ‘Preface’ declares that ‘we should never trust to appearances’: the meaning of events changes with the historical context, and human nature is more complex than it seems, with good and bad inseparably mingled.[iii]

Reynolds shifts the perspective on the story of Angèle and the Marquis. It is set in Paris in 1830, and In the Pickwick Abroad version, we learn that at that ‘French society at that period enjoyed the most unbridged licence.’[iv] But the historical ‘facts’ can give a very different expectation. in the play. France was enjoying the changes brought by Napoleon’s First Empire, and was auspicious to the marriage of a Marquis to a plebeian country girl. Class barriers were coming down, making such a union socially acceptable, indeed welcomes by the regime. Reynolds adds a scene showing the Empress Josephine herself visiting Angèle to offer support, and Angèle responding gratefully:

It is a consolation to know your majesty sympathises with in the sorrow of your subjects; and a blessed thing were it for the world, if other sovereigns only followed so great and brilliant an example.[v]

The Marquis and his wife have hardly moved to palatial quarters in Paris when he is called to England on diplomatic business. When an accident prevents a visit by Florville’s nephew Count Lagrace, a young monk the Abbé St Aubyn appears in his place, offering offers her spiritual consolation for her husband’s absence. Then, when he has won her confidence, he makes love to her. Angèle is renowned for her chastity and loves her husband like a father. But morally protected from childhood, now isolated and confused, she but has few defences against the wiles of an experienced seducer. Sexually awakened for the first time in her life, she surrenders. When the Marquis return unexpectedly, she is in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. For a moment she hopes to keep both husband and lover. But the Marquis discovers St Aubyn in her boudoir, and, confronted, the priest draws a dagger and strikes him dead.

The second act opens three months later. Angèle is installed in an apartment in the Tuilleries Palace. On the fatal day the Marquis had returned secretly by a back door in order to greet his wife before the formalities of his return, and after the murder St Aubyn had buried his body under the floor in quicklime. His disappearance therefore remains a mystery. Angèle is devasted by the horror of the murder: she asks herself ‘Must my lips be pressed by a murderer?’ But she also believes she herself shares responsibility for the crime. St Aubyn had committed murder out of love of her. She still loves him, and his fate now depends on her concealing her distress. Finding ‘a species of super-human firmness’ in herself, she keeps up appearance to protect him. On the disappearance of her the Empress offers her support. But the help comes too late.

When St Aubyn at length returns to see her, he is no longer wearing clerical dress. Thinking he has surrendered his vows in order to marry her, this sign of his love gives Angèle a moment of hope. But then comes the revelation. The ‘Abbé St Aubyn’ never existed. He was a disguise for her husband’s young nephew, the Count Lagrace. Being heir to his estates, he had watched his uncle’s marriage to a young bride with concern as a threat to his inheritance and become anxious to disrupt the union. As a sexual predator he was also challenged by accounts of Angèle’s beauty and moral purity, deciding to test her resistance under the guise of piety. Months later, the disappearance of the Marquis has remained unsolved, and he inherits his uncle’s property. He is still sexually attracted to her and tells Angèle he is willing to continue their sexual liaison, provided it is kept secret.

‘Ah, a light breaks in on me. I understand it all.’ cries Angèle. Her husband’s murder had destroyed the innocence of the country girl who married the Marquis. Knowledge of the full truth turns her into a steely instrument of revenge. Taking up his offer of a clandestine relationship, she lures him to meet her in a remote section of the Paris catacomb, and closes her secret entrance down into the catacombs. Around them the subterranean burial corridors stretch away in a black labyrinth and lost without light they are doomed to die of hunger and thirst. The earlier prose version ended the story as simple reportage. Angèle is discovered starved to death in the catacombs, while Lagrace is found wandering and insane, to tell the story in a moment of lucidity. In the play the climax comes like a thunderbolt. Realising the horror of his predicament, Lagrace screams ‘Oh horror! Horror!’ To this Angèle replies ‘Yes – this is our portion! You shared my joy and my pleasure: and now you shall be the partner in my atonement.’ Lagrace pleads ‘I cannot, dare not, meet Death!’. But she answers ‘Coward! Would you be outdone by a woman?’ With cold deliberation she extinguishes the lamp, crying, ‘I am now avenged!’ and the curtain ‘descends slowly’. [vi]



A reading from the manuscript at a London book launch in 2008 demonstrated the play’s dramatic power. But there is no record of any contemporary performance. Further, although Victorian popular fiction writers of all complexions, from the penny serialist Thomas Peckett Prest to the sensation novelist Mrs Braddon, were drawn to the conventions of melodrama and were associated with the theatre. But this is Reynolds’s only known venture for the stage. For all his ability to create dramatic effects he rejected contemporary English stage melodrama for the reasons, he rejected views of society based only on ‘facts’. It oversimplified the human condition. From its origins in René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt’s boulevard dramas in post-Revolutionary Paris, through Thomas Holcroft’s 1802 staging of Pixérécourt’s Coelins as A Tale of Mystery at London’s Covent Garden, melodrama in Victorian England was a stylised genre dramatizing the conflict of the forces of good against evil, and the eventual triumph of good. But despite its subtitle, Reynolds’s The Catacombs of Paris is anti-melodramatic. It embodies the contrary views we have noted in Master Timothy’s Book-Case, that ‘good and evil are … intimately blended in all creatures and affairs of this life’, that ‘man is the creature of circumstances’ and ‘we should never trust to appearances.’

Reynolds also believed that while human beings can be the victims of circumstance, they also have within themselves the power of change and regeneration. However terrible her end, her tragedy transforms Angèle from a naïve victim into the heroic mistress of her fate. In The Catacombs of Paris Reynolds explores the vision of both human suffering and resilience, and in particular the strength within the female character, that he would develop in his subsequent fiction. In 1844 The Mysteries of London would begin with another young woman, Eliza Sydney, emerging from the perilous world of subterraneous tunnels under the city. And she survives.

Louis James


[i] Now in the Templeman Library, The University of Kent.

[ii] G.W. M, Reynolds, letter to William Emans, November 2, 1840.

[iii] Reynolds, Master Timothy’s Book-Case (1840-1); 2nd. Edition, (John Dicks: n.d.), ‘Preface’.

[iv] Ibid., 432.

[v] The Catacombs of Paris (ms.), p.19.

[vi] Ibid, p,26.

The Modern Literature of France (1839)

There is a strong influence of France and of French literature on George Reynolds’s literary output. The obvious example is Reynolds’s The Mysteries of London (1844-48), one precedent for which is Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842-43). There is also his breakthrough work, Pickwick Abroad (1837-38), which sees a counterfeit Mr. Pickwick trying frogs’ legs and mixing with republicans, and which therefore owes as much to France (or to French stereotypes) as it does to ‘Boz’.

This strain of Francophilia in Reynolds’s oeuvre must surely be rooted in the period he spent living in Paris, having moved to France in 1830, the year of its ‘July Revolution’. In later years, Reynolds would play up his time as an English radical in Paris (for example, claiming to have been in a unit of the National Guard) perhaps aspiring to be a Thomas Paine for the mid-nineteenth century. However, while Paine had imperilled himself in the political intrigues of the First Republic, the young Reynolds seemed to spend his years under the July Monarchy largely indebting himself to his many creditors and making bad investments, and he ultimately returned to England bankrupt in 1836, thereafter commencing his literary career in earnest.

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Amédée Bourgeois, Taking the Hôtel de Ville – 28 July 1830 (1830).

Reynolds’s The Modern Literature of France (1839) is an exemplary product of his Francophilia, while simultaneously representing a rare example of literary criticism in a writer more usually associated with serial fiction and radical journalism. Never a man of modest ambitions, Reynolds tasks himself, in two volumes, to introduce the contemporary French literary scene to an English readership, and, more importantly, to cast it both aesthetically and politically in a positive light. In so doing, Reynolds offers up some insights of his own with regard to the relationship between art and politics, and we gain an impression of the guiding principles of his later works.

He opens his exposition of French literature in characteristically bombastic style:

Prejudice, which a celebrated political writer very happily denominated “the spider of the mind,” has done much to depreciate the value of foreign systems and institutions in the minds of the English. Hence is it that we daily hear even men of most liberal opinions expressing sentiments anything but impartial and just in reference to the French. This is the more to be regretted, inasmuch as it is only by comparison, emulation, and research, than we can perfect or improve any system of laws, morals, literature, science, or arts. But when we find the leading journals and periodicals of the English press still leaguing together against the French, with all the bitterness and hate which characterized the sentiments of the nation in those times when Napoleon rolled his war-chariot from the gates of Madrid to the palace of the Kremlin, and when our armies and household troops were called forth to protect the coasts against the menaced invasion of the imperial hero, – we feel our regret at such injustice comingled with a sentiment of pity, or indeed of contempt, for the narrow-mindedness of our fellow-countrymen. (The Modern Literature of France, Vol. 1, pp. i-ii).

Reynolds contends that an English antipathy to French culture is derived from centuries-old Anglo-French rivalry, subdued very lately following the defeat of Napoleon – who is described here in rather ambivalent terms. But, beneath international enmity, The Modern Literature of France is also a product of a similarly acrimonious interpersonal relationship: the book in the most part represents a response to an 1836 article in the Quarterly Review, one to which Reynolds refers in his preface as an ‘assault on the literature and morals of the French [which] was disgraceful in the extreme.’

Sara James, in her chapter on Reynolds’s relationship with France, in G.W.M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-century Fiction, Politics, and the Press (2008) identifies the perpetrator of what Reynolds describes as the ‘most desperate attack ever made upon a foreign nation by the pen’ as one John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) whom, James writes, ‘saw fiction as an index of revolutionary feeling and considered novels to be both the cause and consequence of a spirit that threatened the whole fabric of European society.’[1] If Reynolds was tentatively styling himself as Thomas Paine reincarnate, he had set himself up against Croker as a latter-day Edmund Burke. In fairness, there is more than a passing resemblance between the two: like Burke, Croker was an Irish MP (the two apparently had family connections) but, where Burke merely reflected on the French Revolution of 1789, Croker had established himself as the UK’s foremost conservative expert on France and its various regime changes. His principal thesis was, in all cases, David Morphet writes in an article on Croker’s writings, that ‘revolution is coterminous with popular tyranny, and leads inexorably to autocracy and despotic tyranny.’[2]

In the offending Quarterly Review article, Croker, in order to equate the comparatively nugatory offenses of the 1830 Revolution to the infamy of ‘The Terror’ of 1792-94, exaggerates the political influence of post-1830 French literature, writing that ‘such publications pervert not only private but public morals – they deprave not only individuals but nations.’[3] Croker’s thesis that literature might exert a dangerous power over the individual – and perhaps even threaten society at large – is not new, and nor are its critics, but Reynolds makes a good go a rebutting it here: ‘because we read in French Novels of intrigues, adulteries, and murders, do they exist the more in France than in England on that account?’ he scoffs (Vol. 1, p. vi).

But Reynolds’s antipathy toward Croker is less important than the enthusiasm he shows for French literature, in which we can see the seeds of his later works. This is less a vindication of French literature, and more a compendium of literary qualities of which Reynolds approves and will himself later adopt. Briefly surveying a few of the bigger names: George Sand manages to ‘astonish and strike mankind at once with the boldness and novelty of her speculations and opinions’ (Vol. 1, p. 2); Honoré de Balzac is lauded for ‘[weaving] a complicated web of interest,’ and ‘[retaining] us in its toils’ (Vol. 1, p. 37); Eugène Sue ‘is as much at home in the pathetic and sentimental as he is conversant with the wild, the gay, the satirical, and the animated’ (Vol. 1., p. 81); Victor Hugo, ‘like the bee vacillating from flower to flower’, is championed for his creative range (Vol. 2, p. 5); and Alexis de Tocqueville’s works testify that ‘when Aristocracy is judged by its own merits, […] its total inefficiency is clearly demonstrated’ (Vol. 2, p. 139) – this judgement presumably does not include the aristocratic de Tocqueville himself... In almost all cases, Reynolds stresses his subjects’ versatility and frankness.

In this light, The Modern Literature of France reads more like a manifesto than an introductory anthology, a programme that spells out how Reynolds himself intends to intervene in Victorian literature:

The literature of France, previous to the Revolution of 1830, resembled that of England at the present day; inasmuch as moral lessons were taught through the medium of almost impossible fictions. Now the French author paints the truth in all its nudity; and this development of the secrets of nature shocks the English reader, because he is not as yet accustomed to so novel a style. (Vol. 1, p. xvii).

Despite his dismissal of Croker’s arguments, upon reading the above we see that Croker and Reynolds really shared a rather similar view of literature: that aesthetically radical, or even shocking, literary content reflects a radical political agenda. The Modern Literature of France is not only a testament to Reynolds’s Francophilia, the book and its provenance give us a sense of Anglo-French relations in the years following Waterloo – but long before the Entente cordiale was a foregone conclusion – and we also gain an understanding of the instrumental power attributed to literary works during this period: when a nation’s literature was held both to reveal and inform its moral stature as well as its revolutionary potential.

Daniel Jenkin-Smith

[1] Sara James, ‘G.W.M. Reynolds and the modern literature of France’, G.W.M. Reynolds, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press ed. Anne Humpherys and Louis James (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008) pp.19-32 (p.27).

[2] David Morphet, ‘John Wilson Croker’s Image of France in the Quarterly Review’, The Electronic British Library Journal (2012), p.3.

[3] John Wilson Croker, ‘French Novels’, Quarterly Review, 56 (April, 1836) pp.65-131, (p.66).

REMINDER – Death and Mr Pickwick Submissions

Happy new year to all of our members!

Just a reminder that there is still time to submit your ideas for blog posts for the Death and Mr Pickwick Page. If you are interested in being included in the blog, members can send short statements about their interests in Reynolds – this can be general statements about the importance of the writer or more specific examples about his life and work. There can be visual material, or even videos.  As a general rule, though, the material shouldn’t be too ‘academic’, and the emphasis should be on stimulating people’s interest.  I will collate and edit all the material I receive and  then produce a series of posts about the Society on the Death and Mr Pickwick page.


Please send any material to: stephenjarvis@hotmail.com

For more information, please see the original posting:


The Pixy, or the Unbaptised child: A Christmas Story

In the spirit of the season, I decided to dedicate this blog post to exploring the Gothic in one of Reynolds’s lesser-known short stories, The Pixy, or the Unbaptised Child: A Christmas Story (1848). Written originally in 1848 and later published in Reynolds’s Miscellany in 1850, the story was published in the style of Charles Dickens’s Christmas miniature books, on green paper. This was instantly recognisable to a readership that were growing accustomed to the tradition of serialised ghost stories around Christmas, particularly since the popularity of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843). The Pixy combines the traditional Christmas Ghost story with the overt political discourse which, arguably, defines Reynolds’s legacy. The story itself is based on the long-held superstition in Devonshire and Cornwall that if a child dies unbaptised, they will roam the earth and haunt those left behind.

The Pixy tells the story of the newly married lawyer Arthur Lorimer and his wife Emily and begins on Christmas day in 1788. Their day of Christmas celebration is interrupted when Arthur is summoned to a hotel to hear the dying declaration of a young woman in order that she may make arrangements for after her death. Upon arrival, Arthur sees that the dying woman, Margaret. The date is of particular significance to Margaret as it was on Christmas day they fell in love and exactly one year later, when he abandoned her. Despite Arthur’s pleas for forgiveness, Margaret informs Arthur that he does not deserve the salvation that the season brings. She further explains that he is the father of her baby and that he needs to have her baptised; she urges him to take responsibility for their daughter’s wellbeing – her spiritual wellbeing to be precise. In her dying breath, she curses Arthur and tells him ‘fulfil your destiny – it will be terrible – but be forewarned.’ Despite making this solemn promise, Arthur does not baptise the child and, in an attempt to save his own reputation, Arthur denies all paternal connection to the child – claiming to be caring for her out of a sense of moral duty. Emily assumes the role of the child’s mother, calling her Isabella and treating her the same as her own son, Arthur.

A year after Margaret’s death, on Christmas day, Isabella dies unbaptised. Though Arthur does not feel any genuine sentiment towards his daughter, he becomes fearful of Margaret’s curse. Isabella returns to haunt Arthur and remind him of his broken pledge. The description of Isabella as a ghostly child is reminiscent of Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Past as we are told that ‘at the foot of the stairs he beheld the radiant form of a young child, quite naked and transparent as if it were a mere embodiment of that light which the moon and stars send forth’. Like the emaciated ghost in Dickens’s novella, the ghost of Isabella is surrounded by light signifying not only her purity but shows her as a symbol of enlightenment.

As Nina Auerbach argued in Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians (1990), the ghosts of children are more subtle than other Gothic monsters and yet remain terrifying, particularly for the guilty, corrupted adult they are haunting. Isabella serves as a reminder to Arthur’s transgression; even in death she threatens to expose his deceit and cowardice. Unlike The Ghost of Christmas Past, whose function is to help Scrooge redeem himself, the ghost of Isabella is less passive as she has the ability to alter Arthur’s life rather than just reminding him of his past sins.

The next year Isabella returns, this time a more malevolent and disruptive force in Arthur’s now peaceful life. Returning home from an evening of celebrations, both Arthur and his son see the ghost of Isabella in the garden. The pair are compelled to follow Isabella from the estate and to a river. Arthur is terrified as ‘he beheld his little son bound along the pathway towards the phenomenon of the transparent child of light’. Arthur passes out and when he awakes he finds that his son is missing, presumed to have drowned. Like most ghosts, Isabella has a lesson to teach her father. Isabella is a symbol of his broken promises to Margaret and his continued deceit in order to maintain his reputation. Isabella is not described as a gruesome or intimidating figure, shown in Arthur’s son’s reaction to her, though she elicits disgust and resentment in Arthur. From the first time he was told that Isabella was his illegitimate child, he is described as having ‘loathed’ her and when she was ill, he was ambivalent at first and, by the end, ‘rejoiced’ to be free of his burden. While conforming to typical ghost story tropes, Reynolds’s social values are ever-present in this short story showing his disdain for those who attempt to escape their responsibilities, particularly wealthy individuals. His sympathy for unwed mothers and discussion of their status as pariahs at the time, is shown in a number of his texts including The Mysteries of London (1844-46).

Twenty years after his son goes missing, Arthur is promoted to the position of Attorney General and is responsible for trying to disband meetings of working-class groups who were protesting their working conditions. Through spying and entrapment, Arthur sentences a young man named Albert to death for treason for attending a political rally. Reynolds’s Chartist ideology become much more apparent in this segment of the tale. The reader is then privy to a final Christmas with the Lorimers who dread yet another year without their son, who would have now been in his thirties. Arthur again sees the spectral vision of young Isabella and is tormented by his guilt. While he is mesmerised by the apparition, an elderly couple arrive at the door – it emerges that their son, Arthur, had been taken in by another family when he went missing and went by the name of Albert. Arthur is horrified when he realises that he inadvertently sentenced his innocent son to death.

As you can see, The Pixy is not the heart-warming Christmas tale of redemption and forgiveness that A Christmas Carol is. Reynolds’s uses the supernatural in order to not only entertain his readership and conform to a long-running tradition, but to express his own political ideologies and social agenda.

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Sophie Raine


Published in Reynolds’s Miscellany in 1850, originally published as a miniature in the style of Dickens’s Christmas miniature books on green covers.












Death and Mr Pickwick

*Update – an incorrect version of this post was emailed earlier. See below for the amended version.

I am sure that some of you know that I am the author of the novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers. In Death and Mr Pickwick, my original intention was to give coverage to GWM Reynolds, but considerations of space meant that I had to cut out all the material about him: I deeply regretted this, but the Pickwick phenomenon is such a vast topic that certain things, alas, had to be dropped.  However, I would like to make amends for the omission of Reynolds by actively promoting the work of the GWM Reynolds Society on the Death and Mr Pickwick facebook page



This page has become the most active Dickensian group BY FAR, exploring all aspects of The Pickwick Papers and Death and Mr Pickwick. I should perhaps say that the material on the page is not intended to be a transient thing in the normal manner of social media: I am gradually transferring all the posts to e-flipbooks, creating a kind of ‘online museum’ of Pickwickiana and Death-and-Mr-Pickwick-iana.  14 volumes of the posts are already available online and in the longer term my intention is to move towards the creation of an online Journal of Death and Mr Pickwick Studies, which would provide the opportunity for in-depth analysis and investigation, and go far beyond the level of facebook posts.


To introduce the GWM Reynolds Society to the followers of my page,  I think it would be a good idea for members to send me some short statements about why Reynolds is fascinating. The statements might range from a single sentence to a paragraph or two. There could be general statements about the importance of Reynolds, but I would also like plenty of very specific examples of things in Reynolds’ life and works that are of interest.  If you are too busy to write something, then simply send me a few lines from a Reynolds work that you like. There could also be visual material, or even videos.  As a general rule, though, the material shouldn’t be too ‘academic’, and the emphasis should be on stimulating people’s interest.  I will collate and edit all the material I receive and  then produce a series of posts about the Society on the Death and Mr Pickwick page.


Please send any material to: stephenjarvis@hotmail.com


If you could aim to get all the submissions to me by the end of the first week of January, the posts could then appear shortly afterwards.


And of course, I hope too that you will start following the Death and Mr Pickwick facebook page! If you have never read Death and Mr Pickwick,  then here is an article about it in The Atlantic magazine https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/was-dickens-a-thief/392072/ and here is a review in the British newspaper The Independent:  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/death-and-mr-pickwick-by-stephen-jarvis-book-review-thrilling-search-for-mr-pickwick-and-those-who-10256163.html 


Best wishes


Stephen Jarvis

Postgrads on Reynolds

Sophie Raine (Lancaster University)

I was first made aware of the George W M Reynolds Society at the RSPV conference at the University of Victoria this year. I was giving a paper on Reynolds’ use of classical imagery in his illustrations of nude models. One aspect of Reynolds’ work which I found particularly interesting, and which was the main crux of my paper, was his portrayal of seemingly transgressive women, from nude models to sex workers. These representations were radical in many respects with these women compared, through illustration and classical allusion, to deities and going on to life fulfilling lives irrespective of their pasts. After the paper, met Mary L Shannon who suggested I might be interested in joining the Reynolds’ Society when it had been fully set up – needless to say, I was! With Reynolds being still somewhat of an obscure writer, it was refreshing to discuss his work with a fellow scholar who also admired him as a writer and a Chartist thinker.

When I heard that the Reynolds’ Society was seeking a post-graduate representative, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to promote the work of Reynolds to a larger demographic and to discuss this intriguing figure with likeminded scholars. The first text of Reynolds that I encountered was The Mysteries of London, an urban fiction serial in the style of Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris. In the fourth year of my thesis now, I am still finding that Reynolds’ texts are endlessly intriguing and culturally significant; in addition to The Mysteries of London, my thesis also explores The Seamstress, or the White Slave of England, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf, The Bronze Statue and The Loves of the Harem, a Tale of Constantinople. Though my research covers a many unexplored penny dreadful writers, it is clear that much of the socio-political writings of the penny dreadful writers were influenced in some way by Reynolds.

I am delighted to be part of the Reynolds’ Society as one of the postgraduate representatives and am looking forward to promoting the work and life of George W M Reynolds with boundless enthusiasm.

Daniel Jenkin-Smith (Aston University)

My PhD research revolves around the role of clerks and bureaucratic institutions in nineteenth-century literature. In this regard, one might imagine that George Reynolds, as a depicter of the under- and upper-classes (as well as their various iniquities) had little to do with the servants of officialdom, who are conventionally to be found somewhere between the two. Indeed, in Reynolds’ epic serial, The Mysteries of London (1844-48), he appears to stress such a view from the outset. Amidst the web of binaries that Reynolds spins in his prologue to introduce his ‘city of fearful contrasts’: civilization and vice, wealth and poverty, even the temperate and torrid – where is the literal ‘grey area’ that is bureaucracy?

While later critics of bureaucracy, the most famous being Max Weber, identified this amalgam of rationally devised and repetitively and dispassionately executed administrative procedures as a power base in itself; part of the appeal of Victorian writers, like Reynolds, is that officialdom is more often than not a subordinate, if not implicit, presence in their work – a spectral force that facilitates the actions of more explicitly depicted vested interests. By virtue of his radical social and political agenda, Reynolds exemplifies this tendency.

Despite initial indications to the contrary, this ghostly bureaucratic presence is summoned from the very beginning of Reynolds’ Mysteries: opening the novel by alluding to London’s prisons and workhouses inhabited by the poor, themselves established by a parliament of the rich, Reynolds establishes a social order that perpetuates itself through its institutions, themselves maintained by clerical labour. And rather than ‘clerk’ being a cultural shorthand for lower middle-class dreariness (a trope we might associate with some of Reynolds’ notable contemporaries) the various anonymous clerks that populate the Mysteries are often the willing menials of this binary social antagonism. Reynolds’ depiction of a white-collar worker as a ‘peripatetic law-manual or text-book’ to a judge, or as a storehouse of information and administrative instrument to the Home Secretary, performs two functions. Firstly, the clerks supplement and extend the activities of the elites whom Reynolds satirizes, they are part of an increasingly sophisticated division of labour that serves to keep the powerful where they are; and secondly, in delegating the ostensibly dispassionate and functional duty of retaining and communicating information to clerks, Reynolds leaves his villainous elites free to focus solely on chicanery, politicking, and bias. We see this in the following satirical dialogue regarding workhouses between the Home Secretary and his private secretary:

“This letter is from a pauper in the—— Union, stating that he has been cruelly assaulted, beaten, and ill-used by the master; that he has applied in vain to the Poor Law Commissioners for redress; and that he now ventures to submit his case to your lordship.”

“Make a note to answer that the fullest inquiries shall be immediately instituted,” said the Minister.

“Shall I give the necessary instructions for the inquiry, my lord?” asked the Secretary.

“Inquiry!” repeated the Minister: “are you mad? Do you really imagine that I shall be foolish enough to permit any inquiry at all? Such a step would be almost certain to end in substantiating the pauper’s charge against the master; and then there would be a clamour from one end of the country to the other against the New Poor Laws. We must smother all such affairs whenever we can; but by writing to say that the fullest inquiries shall be instituted, I shall be armed with a reply to any member who might happen to bring the case before Parliament. (Mysteries of London, Volume 1, Chapter CXIV).

Not only is clerkdom (even at this high level) typified by an unthinking obedience, but it is precisely by his mechanical willingness that the private secretary becomes a sounding board for the cynical candour of the minister.

Importantly, whatever the detachment these figures may maintain with regard to their duties, they cannot escape Reynolds’ black and white moral code. One of the more explicitly bureaucratic scenes of the Mysteries is set in the ‘Black Chamber’ of the Post Office, where correspondence is intercepted. Reynolds writes that, the clerks’ labour ‘seemed purely of a mechanical kind: indeed, automatons could not have shewn less passion or excitement’, but, even so, Reynolds reminds us, ‘bad deeds, if not the results of bad passions and feelings, soon engender them.’

While Reynolds’ overt political concerns lay with the manual working class and the urban poor, it is through the portrayal of such non-manual workers that he could further illustrate and attack the stacked deck that was Victorian society.