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G. W. M. Reynolds and Charles Dickens, 1837-1870: the construction of a rivalry

Hodgson, R. (2019) G. W. M. Reynolds and Charles Dickens, 1837-1870: the construction of a rivalry. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00088577


This thesis presents a critical examination of the rivalry between G. W. M. Reynolds and Charles Dickens between 1837 and 1870. Specifically, the thesis analyses three distinct phases of their rivalry. The first is its inception in 1837 following Reynolds’s publication of Pickwick Abroad, his ‘sequel’ to Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836). The second phase concerns the 1840s, examining how Reynolds’s success and reputation directly impacted upon Dickens’s position in the literary market. The final phase addresses the most explicit and combative chapter of their rivalry as the two traded insults across their publications in the 1850s and Dickens looked to ‘displace’ his more radical counterpart. Commonly cited as a peripheral figure in Dickens’s career, this thesis argues for Reynolds as a more significant presence. By analysing their publications in parallel, often viewing one through the lens of the other, this study offers a fresh perspective on two authors competing for readerships and commercial marketspace while grappling with authorial identities in the first age of mass culture. The thesis presents three principal arguments. Firstly, it seeks to contest the reductive perception of Reynolds as a cheap plagiariser of Dickens’s work by analysing the more nuanced and complex aspects of Reynolds’s early re-appropriations. Secondly, it argues that Reynolds’s precipitous rise to literary fame and political notoriety after 1844 had a significant bearing on the fiction Dickens produced thereafter. It is contended that Dickens’s abrupt shift from the political incendiarism of The Chimes in 1844 into a ‘transitional period’ in 1845, after which his fiction became more domestically, or family-oriented, can be understood as a response, or reaction to Reynolds’s concurrent literary successes and his growing reputation as a radical and political subversive. Finally, it is reasoned that the bitter exchange of insults between Dickens and Reynolds in the 1850s and the seemingly mutable tone of their rivalry up until Dickens’s death in 1870 illustrates a relationship not entirely the product of natural antipathy, but one cultivated for commercial and political purposes. It is argued that both Dickens and Reynolds constructed an image of the other in order to mask their similarities and natural affinities and to bolster and better define their own position in the literary marketplace.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Mangham, A.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Literature and Languages
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:88577

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