Barnaby Rudge  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (commonly known as Barnaby Rudge) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens. Barnaby Rudge (along with The Old Curiosity Shop) was one of two novels that Dickens published in his short-lived weekly serial Master Humphrey's Clock, which lasted from 1840 to 1841.

Barnaby Rudge was the fifth of Dicken's novels to be published; had nothing interfered with his original plan, it would have been his first. Instead of coming out in Master Humphrey's Clock in 1841, it would have appeared in all the traditional dignity of "three compact indiwidual vollumes" at the end of 1836. That, at least, was the agreement with John Macrone, publisher of Sketches by Boz. What interfered was the soaring circulation of The Pickwick Papers. The original agreement was cancelled, transferred to Bentley's Miscellany, along with a change of the work's title, which Dicken's had originally called Gabriel Vardon, the Locksmith of London. Plans to serialize the work in Bently's also broke down. Its publication was postponed again in January 1840 (as a novel, not in portions); the following July it was transferred to publishers Chapman and Hall, until finally achieving serialized publication in the Clock from February to November 1841. This complicated period of incubation is evidence of the tenacity of purpose and the grip of the original idea on the author's imagination; not, as has been suggested, of the grudging performance of a task.

It was Dickens' first attempt at a historical novel, his only other being A Tale of Two Cities. It is one of his less esteemed novels and has rarely been adapted for film or television (the last attempt was a 1960 BBC production; prior to that, a silent film was made in 1915).

Plot summary

The plot is a murder mystery interwoven with the historical events of England's Gordon riots of 1780, a violent and bloody clash between fanatical, anti-Catholic Protestants, who vehemently opposed Parliament's recent legislation, the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which loosened some of England's stringent, Anti-Catholic Penal laws. This opposition is alluded to throughout the novel by some of the characters' recurring demotic cries of "no-popery". The action is seen through the eyes of the good-hearted title character, the idiot Barnaby Rudge. The fanatical leader of the Protestant Association, Lord George Gordon, is treated with some sympathy in the novel; Dickens describes his character as follows:

"This lord was sincere in his violence and in his wavering. A nature prone to false enthusiasm, and the vanity of being a leader, were the worst qualities apparent in his composition. All the rest was weakness—sheer weakness; and it is the unhappy lot of thoroughly weak men, that their very sympathies, affections, confidences—all the qualities which in better constituted minds are virtues—dwindle into foibles, or turn into downright vices."

The first part of the story details the life of the residents of Chigwell, a small village in Epping Forest, just outside London, in the year 1775, the setting for the action being the Maypole Inn, the Warren (the Haredales' stately home) and the surrounding countryside. The tale opens on the nineteenth of March with a sinister recounting of a violent murder that took place exactly twenty-two years before the story begins. During this first part, the book examines life in this village, including interpersonal relationships, in a traditionally Dickensian style. Some of the most important elements in this first section are:

  • The animosity between Mr Haredale and Sir John Chester
  • Edward Chester's love for Emma Haredale
  • Joe Willet's love for Dolly Varden; also Hugh's lecherous desire for her
  • The tense relationship between Joe and his father
  • Barnaby's simplicity and need for his mother's protection

In chapter 35, with the arrival at the Maypole (on the nineteenth of March, five years after the story begins) of Hugh and other rioters, the stability of village life is interrupted, echoing the destruction that the riots in Gordon's name will cause in London itself, and the themes and characters that Dickens has built up become essential to the reader's understanding of the effects of the riots on society. Another tactic for subtly drawing attention to the way the story is unfolding is Grip the raven and his seemingly nonsensical comments, which often reveal greater truths to the reader than to the characters.

The novel concludes with a panoramic description of the riots, which lasted several days.


  • The Rudges – Barnaby, a simple man, his loving mother Mary, and his companion Grip the loquacious raven
  • The Willets – Old John, the keeper of the Maypole Inn, and his kindly son Joe
  • The Vardens – Gabriel, the locksmith, his overbearing wife Martha, and his beautiful daughter Dolly
  • The Chesters – the villainous Sir John, Esquire, M.P. (Member of Parliament) and his innocent son Edward
  • The Haredales – Mr Geoffrey Haredale, younger brother of the murdered Reuben, and his niece (Reuben's daughter) Emma
  • Hugh – the Maypoles' sinister handyman
  • Lord George Gordon (a fictionalization of the historical personality), his loyal servant John Grueby, and his obsequious and conniving secretary Mr Gashford
  • Simon Tappertit – Gabriel Varden's apprentice, and Miggs, Mrs Varden's shrewish lady's maid
  • Ned Dennis – the hangman of Tyburn
  • The mysterious stranger, ultimately revealed to be Barnaby Rudge Sr, the steward and murderer of Reuben Haredale
  • Stagg – the crafty blind man
  • Solomon Daisy, 'Long' Phil Parkes, and Tom Cobb, Old John's three cronies
  • Mr Langdale – the purple-faced old vintner

Allusions/references from other works

Grip the raven inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write his most successful poem, "The Raven." Poe had written a review of Barnaby Rudge for Graham's Magazine saying, among other things, that the raven should have served a more symbolic prophetic purpose. At the end of the fifth chapter, Grip makes a noise and someone says, "What was that – him tapping at the door?" The response is, "'Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Barnaby Rudge" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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