‘“Boz” has no meaning’: G.W.M. Reynolds and the Relics of a Rival
G.W.M. Reynolds and Charles Dickens

Figure 1. & Figure 2.

In 1833, a young man in London aged 21 saw his first fictional work appear in print. In 1835, a young man in Paris aged 21 saw the publication of his first novel. The first man was called Charles Dickens. The second was called G. W. M. Reynolds. Dickens is classified as a national treasure; Reynolds was described at his death as ‘the most popular writer of our time’ but now he is barely remembered.1

However, Dickens could have been forgiven for thinking that Reynolds was watching his career closely, and matching him stride for stride. Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers; Reynolds returned to London and wrote Pickwick Abroad. Dickens began Master Humphrey’s Clock in 1840; Reynolds promptly followed with Master Timothy’s Bookcase in 1841. Reynolds’s career as a journalist also echoes Dickens’s own. Dickens was editor of Bentley’s Miscellany in the late 1830s, and Reynolds edited the Monthly Magazine. Reynolds later edited the London Journal in the 1840s, then started Reynolds’s Miscellany, and was editor and proprietor of Reynolds’s Newspaper from 1850 onwards. Dickens, meanwhile, was briefly editor of the Daily News in 1846. Dickens’s success at creating a sense of his own uniqueness as the ‘inimitable Boz’ makes it difficult for us to think of Dickens as one writer and editor among many, all jostling for a position in the print-producing community. Of course, the two men operated on different sides of the respectability divide: Reynolds inhabited the world of ‘penny dreadfuls’, penny newspapers, and Chartist politics. As part of early Victorian print culture, however, Dickens and Reynolds were not so different, and Reynolds could not ignore the success of Dickens’s cultural brand.

The young Dickens emerged under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, with which he signed off his London sketches, and he was still associated with the name Boz throughout the 1840s. In 1845, a correspondent asked the then editor of the London Journal, Reynolds, what ‘Boz’ meant. The reply was succinct, and somewhat disparaging:

‘GAMMA.- The nom de guerre, “Boz,” has no meaning’.2

However, in 1848, in his own publication Reynolds’s Miscellany, Reynolds is forced to back-track. ‘Boz’ is revealed as the nickname of Dickens’s little brother:

[t]his simple circumstance made him assume that name in the first article he risked to the public, and therefore he continued the name, as the first effort was approved of.3

Reynolds is forced to admit that Boz does have a meaning: the signature is an identity, and a brand, which represents popular success and so the continuation of a career. Boz is a name which both attracts, and is a certain kind of guarantee for, its reading public. The Boz brand has ‘continued’ over time, and therefore developed meaning above and beyond the childish pet name with which it originated. It signifies a certain kind of printed work, a certain kind of serialised writing or editorial work, and a certain kind of popular and commercial success.

  1. Anne Humphreys and Louis James, ‘Introduction’, in G.W.M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics and the Press, ed. by Anne Humphreys and Louis James (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008),1-15 (10). []
  2. ‘Notices to Correspondents’ column, The London Journal, and Weekly Record of Literature, Science, and Art, 1: 6 (1845), 96. All images from periodicals are taken from British Periodicals Online,<>, accessed via the Senate House Library, University of London [Accessed 18.03.10]. []
  3. ‘Origin of ‘Boz’ (Dickens)’, in Reynolds’s Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, Science, and Art, 1:5 (1848), 71. []

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