I just finished reading a glorious Victorian novel. It’s Pickwick Abroad. A sequel to The Pickwick Papers? Yes, of course. Though Pickwick Abroad wasn’t written by Charles Dickens but by a now almost entirely unknown author, George W.M. Reynolds.
I stumbled across the ghost of George Reynolds while writing the first of my Spanish Civil War novels, The Assassin’s Mark. My fictional journalist Jack Telford works for the real-life newspaper Reynold’s News which in various guises, existed from 1850 until 1967 as a popular and progressive Sunday weekly.
But it was a while later when I began to take an interest in Reynolds himself. Born in 1814, in Kent, he was a major figure in the Chartist Movement, campaigning for political reform, a champion of the poor and a lifelong supporter of British Republicanism.
He published or edited eight major newspapers and journals during his lifetime – including Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, later to become Reynold’s News – and he wrote eight prominent works of non-fiction. Yet, astonishingly, he also produced no less than fifty-seven novels. Fifty-seven! They included Pickwick Abroad and another related story, Pickwick Married. But they also included some wonderful thrillers, like The Mysteries of London, while his gothic novel, The Wehr-Wolf, is a classic early horror story.
Until his death in 1879, Reynolds was more widely read and sold more books than both Dickens and Thackeray. Many contemporary critics preferred the writings of George Reynolds to those of both Dickens and Thackeray, claiming that he had all of their qualities but few of their faults. Yet, now, few remember him. Strange, indeed, and maybe time for a George Reynolds Revival!
Dave McCall is a Wrexham author writing historical fiction under the pen name David Ebsworth. Dave is also one of the volunteers helping to organise the Wrexham Carnival of Words.