Events: Birth in Sandwich; schooling in Ashford; serialisation of Kent-based novel Mary Price, 1851–53; purchase of Gothic House in Herne Bay, 1854 (residence 1854–58).

Publications: The Mysteries of London, 1845-50: Mary Price, 1851-53.

‘I had a couple of hours to dispose of as best I could. So I thought of taking a walk to the Dane John, which I may as well observe, for the benefit of those who are not acquainted with Canterbury, is a beautiful pleasure-ground, laid out in walks with avenues of trees, borders of flowers, and groups of shrubs. One side is bounded by a high rampart belonging to the old city-fortifications, and this is also a favourite promenade with the ladies and gentlemen of Canterbury. There is a very high mound, with winding walks ascending to the summit, on which stands a sort of monument or obelisk, with seats conveniently arranged round it. From this eminence there is a very beautiful view, not only of the city and its fine old cathedral with its three stately towers and numerous pinnacles, but likewise of the adjacent country for several miles round.’

Reynolds’s novel Mary Price (1851–53) is a tale of two cities which takes its heroine once to Paris and more than once to London; but, just as Reynolds resets the novel’s timeframe to the years between 1826 (when the heroine is eleven) and 1835 (when she is a new bride), so he shifts its geographical centre of gravity to the area between Ashford and Deal. Mary Price herself repeatedly gravitates back to Kent, with the help at one point of the famous “Tally Ho” Canterbury coach which left from Gracechurch Street in London. Key scenes unfold in various inns and alehouses lost to us because long since reduced to rubble—the Saracen’s Head in Ashford, the Fountain and the Rose in Canterbury, Wright’s Hotel in Dover — and on Dover’s Shakespeare Cliff.

While in Dover, the heroine works in Snargate Street, subsequently the subject of an essay by G. A. Sala entitled The Streets of the World The action extends to Walmer and to Herne Bay, where Reynolds was soon to settle. At Hampton-on-Sea it takes in “a singular little colony of fishing people … [who] intermarry amongst themselves, and thus exist in a state of complete isolation, and almost inaccessible to every civilizing influence.” Between Sandwich and Deal, Mary Price passes with a shudder a stone marking the spot where on 25th August 1782 “Mary Rix, spinster, Aged 23 years, was murdered by Martin Lash, a foreigner, Who was executed for the same.” Reynolds here transfers to his heroine a grim observation of Baker Peter Smith’s.,1 The Kent of Mary Price is not the Kent of The Pickwick Papers, a place for cricket and Christmas; it is equally a place for cruelty and crime.

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References


  1. “A Journal of an Excursion Round the South-eastern Coast of England“ London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1834, 64-65)