Victorian Literature G. W. M. Reynolds
Anne Humpherys
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0058


George William Macarthur Reynolds (b. 1814–d. 1879) was at his death labeled “the most popular writer of our time” by the Bookseller in its short obituary. This popularity rested on two achievements: first, the mammoth twelve-volume series of “mysteries” novels, The Mysteries of London (1846–1848) and The Mysteries of the Court of London (1848–1855), and, second, his involvement with Chartist politics, which led in 1850 to his founding and editing the radical Sunday newspaper Reynolds’s Newspaper, which lasted in some form until 1962. The Mysteries novels were also constantly in print in a variety of cheap formats for most of the 19th century. Reynolds was a controversial figure both among working-class radicals, who doubted his commitment, and among the middle-class literary establishment, which abhorred his popular sensationalist novels. Dickens was probably referring to him as the “draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Pander to the basest passions of the lowest natures—whose existence is a national reproach” in the opening number of Household Words in 1850. Sometime shortly after 1860, Reynolds essentially stopped writing and editing. But the influence of his mysteries series continued, especially in the United States, India, and other countries. His novels fell out of print in the early 20th century; he himself became relatively unknown among historians and literary critics. This neglect lasted until the second half of the 20th century, at which point a number of scholars began to analyze Reynolds’s importance in 19th-century popular literature, politics, and the periodical press, a development that gathered force in the first decade of the 21st century. There is now a G.W.M. Reynolds Society, available online.

General Overviews

Some studies of 19th-century popular literature, populist politics, and the periodical press mention Reynolds and give a context for his work. The most important general studies are Dalziel 1957, James 1974, James 1981, James 1982, and Haywood 2004. In general, earlier works tend to be negative in varying degrees about his politics and works, such as Berridge 1978, while later works are more positive about his importance in the development of radical politics and the popular press, like Haywood 2005. Some later critical works, including Jacobs 1995 and Powell 2004, integrate discussions of Reynolds into studies of popular culture. Shannon 2015 provides an example of new directions in the contextualization of Reynolds, in this case a geographical one.

  • Berridge, Virginia. “Popular Sunday Papers and Mid-Victorian Society.” In Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day. Edited by George Boyce, James Curran, and Pauline Wingate, 247–264. Communication and Society. London: Constable, 1978.

    A content analysis of Reynolds’s Newspaper along with two other popular Sunday papers, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper and the Weekly Times. Somewhat negative about Reynolds’s politics and style of journalistic writing.

  • Dalziel, Margaret. Popular Fiction One Hundred Years Ago: An Unexplored Tract of Literary History. London: Cohen and West, 1957.

    A central text, one of the first to consider Reynolds as an important writer. See pp. 35–45.

  • Haywood, Ian. The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics, and the People, 1790–1860. Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture 44. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Includes the history and analysis of Reynolds’s publishing and critical reception, both current and contemporary, as well as his involvement in Chartism. Places his fiction in a radical tradition and argues for its importance.

  • Haywood, Ian. “Encountering Time: Memory and Tradition in the Radical Victorian Press.” In Encounters in the Victorian Press: Editors, Authors, Readers. Edited by Laurel Brake and Julie F. Codell, 69–87. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230522565_5

    The construction of a radical memory in the press, with emphasis on the contributions from Reynolds’s Newspaper.

  • Jacobs, Edward. “Bloods in the Street: London Street Culture, ‘Industrial Literacy,’ and the Emergence of Mass Culture in Victorian England.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 18.4 (1995): 321–347.

    DOI: 10.1080/08905499508583401

    A study of the relation between “penny bloods,” including those by Reynolds, and street culture.

  • James, Louis. Fiction for the Working Man, 1830–1850: A Study of the Literature Produced for the Working Classes in Early Victorian Urban England. Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.

    The most significant early study of 19th-century working-class literature. Includes an extensive bibliography of contemporary and secondary sources on Reynolds and a measured evaluation.

  • James, Louis. “The View from Brick Lane: Contrasting Perspectives in Working-Class and Middle-Class Fiction of the Early Victorian Period.” Yearbook of English Studies 11 (1981): 87–101.

    DOI: 10.2307/3506260

    Compares the work of Dickens, Thackeray, and Reynolds in terms of a class analysis.

  • James, Louis. “The Trouble with Betsy: Periodicals and the Common Reader in Mid-19th-Century England.” In The Victorian Periodical Press: Samplings and Soundings. Edited by Joanne Shattock and Michael Wolff, 349–366. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1982.

    Discusses Reynolds’s Miscellany among other periodicals for working-class readers.

  • Powell, Sally. “Black Markets and Cadaverous Pies: The Corpse, Urban Trade and Industrial Consumption in the Penny Blood.” In Victorian Crime, Madness, and Sensation. Edited by Andrew Maunder and Grace Moore, 45–58. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

    Puts the body snatcher in The Mysteries of London into the context of penny blood fiction, the trade in dead bodies, and the commodification of the human body in the city’s commercialism.

  • Shannon, Mary L. Dickens, Reynolds, and Mayhew on Wellington Street: The Print Culture of a Victorian Street. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015.

    Traces the interactions of various writers and editors who had premises and residences on the same short London street. An original approach to Reynolds and his contemporaries.

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