Barnaby Rudge : a tale of the riots of 'eighty

by Charles Dickens

Paper Book, 1954




New York : Oxford University Press, USA 1998, c1954.


'What dark history is this?'This is the question that hangs over Dickens's brooding novel of mayhem and murder in the eighteenth century. Set in London at the time of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge tells a story of individuals caught up in the mindless violence of the mob. Lord George Gordon's dangerous appealto old religious prejudices is interwoven with the murder mystery surrounding the father of the simple-minded Barnaby. The discovery of the murderer and his involvement in the riots put Barnaby's life in jeopardy. Culminating in the terrifying destruction of Newgate prison by the rampaging hordes,the descriptions of the riots are among Dickens's most powerful.Written at a time of social unrest in Victorian Britain, Barnaby Rudge explores the relationship between repression and liberation in private and public life. It looks forward to the dark complexities of Dickens's later novels, whose characters also seek refuge from a chaotic and unstable world.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member fourbears
I’ve read this one twice before and always like it more than it deserves. It’s one of two historical novels by Dickens, a distinction many readers don’t make because all his novels have historical settings for us now. But A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Barnaby Rudge were both set before Dickens’ own time and dealt with a similar subject, mob rule: Barnaby Rudge with the No Popery riots of 1780 and A Tale of Two Cities with the French Revolution.I say I like Barnaby Rudge “more than it deserves” because while the novel has a complex plot that’s not nearly as episodic as his previous novel (The Old Curiosity Shop, reviewed here in April of this year) it’s not as well-developed as later novels (Bleak House in particular). What’s brilliant about the novel is how Dickens follows the rioters, generally disaffected members of society who are ready enough to believe that they are “held back” because Catholics are doing the 18th century equivalent of “taking all the jobs”. Barnaby, raised by his mother and befriended by a talking raven, is described as an “idiot” and is clearly (if not consistently, especially if you consider his speech) somewhat simple. He’s been described by critics as derived from Wordsworth’s “Idiot Boy”, a child of nature who doesn’t understand the wicked world of men. His mother knows that his father killed a man just at the time of his birth and attributes Barnaby’s affliction to that event. She dedicates her life to his welfare.But Barnaby is drawn into the riots on the side of Gordon’s No Popery bunch, not understanding the issues at all, but seeing himself as brave and true and fighting for a good cause. Dickens makes that believable as he makes the rioting and the violence believable. Clearly he understood crowd psychology and the manipulation of ideas. George Gordon might have come up with the ideas that spawned the riots, but it was his cohorts who used those ideas and used him to appeal to the disaffected.There’s the usual compliment of interesting characters, among them a hangman who takes pride in his noble profession, the backbone of the English legal system in his view, and thinks he does the job so expertly that those who are hanged are grateful to him, but who joins the rioters, is caught himself and dragged kicking and screaming to be hanged himself, not at all grateful to the new hangman. There are a couple of pairs of crossed lovers who get together in the end and well as parents and children who are estranged and reunited.… (more)
LibraryThing member Greatrakes
Dicken's other historical novel and much underrated in my view. Containing some stock comedy characters around the village inn, great wrongs to be avenged and all set against the Gordon Riots, with a fine evocation of how rabble rousing can damage society and destroy lives.

Memorable characters include the vain apprentice Sim Tappertit, the amoral and dangerous Mr Chester and the rough and dangerous Hugh, a far more convincing low-life villain than Bill Sykes.… (more)
LibraryThing member lorieac
Excellent and timely. Dickens was a great storyteller.
LibraryThing member bogopea
This was chosen by my Book Group and for the first half I called it Barnaby DRUDGE. The cast of characters, plots and subplots were very confusing to me. However, I ended up liking the book a lot, especially as "the plot thickened" and then the smoke cleared and I think I got it!
LibraryThing member leslie.98
4 stars for the book; 4½ stars for this audiobook.

This tale is sort of Romeo and Juliet set in the time of the Gordon Riots between Protestents & Catholics. Of course, as usual with Dickens, there are plenty of subplots and interesting characters.

Mil Nicholson once again is marvelous in this Librivox recording of Dickens. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member roblong
Slow and simply boring for its first quarter, this suddenly comes to life when it moves forward five years to the time of the no-popery riots that are its principal concern. When it does this the novel is hugely enjoyable, and the scenes depicting the storming of Newgate prison are superb (Dickens said he wanted to write a better riot than Lord Gordon managed). The fate of poor Barnaby, the simpleton placed at the head of the riotous crowd with no conception of what he is getting himself into, is a vision of individual weakness in the face of the crowd it is hard to forget. It is almost a shame that Dickens bettered this novel by such a distance elsewhere. This deserves to be more broadly read than it is.… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This is not one of the better known Dickens novels, but to my my mind, this is at least as good as, if not better than, say, Oliver Twist. The characters from all walks of life are vividly drawn and the political events of the appalling Gordon riots memorably and quite shockingly described. There are some good comic characters as well. The last few chapters form a satisfying tying up of the lives of all the characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member therebelprince
I must admit, I really enjoyed Barnaby Rudge. Dickens' 6th book, and 5th novel, it is perhaps the least read of his "Big Fifteen" and not unfairly, but that's only because the rest of them are so vibrant! Barnaby Rudge is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has its origins in history, but it's still very Dickensian, and fits neatly into its place just after The Old Curiosity Shop, which also features a naive young thing running away with their guardian from an unforgiving society. Published in 1841, Rudge is the last book in a rapid writing frenzy that must have overtaken Dickens. It's certainly true that these early novels feel less thorough, less thematically unified than the later works (but perhaps that's because Dickens was thinking almost solely of serialisation, and not so much about ultimate publication), but it also means that they can be more surprising. One doesn't feel so often (as one does even with the best of the later books) that Dickens is making you wait forever just to get to the secrets he has kept hidden from you.

Despite being the title character (and one of my personal favourites), Barnaby himself is not really the lead in this book; it feels like a real ensemble piece, being marvelously unpredictable in terms of which characters will join which side of the riots. The riot setpieces themselves, and how easily Barnaby is swept up in them (perhaps reflecting on how so many others were swept up, in some cases unwillingly and in some cases just due to the Trump-esque mob mentality), are particularly moving. What works here is Dickens' incredible skill at description; every home and street feels truly lived in, even if none of the characters in this novel - even the irrepressible Dolly Varden - have any real internal life. To be honest, I feel as if the first half of the novel is a bit repetitive, while the second half spends so much historical time on the one situation that the book could easily be a two- or three-hour miniseries rather than the kind of lengthy soap opera which could be spun from Little Dorrit. Anyhow, if only the BBC would give us a modern Barnaby Rudge, perhaps the book would be more widely read! In truth, I'd place this fairly low down the Dickens totem pole, lower than Dombey and Son, perhaps equal to The Old Curiosity Shop, but I find it interesting to see Dickens applying his skill to history, which gives him a chance to further investigate why men do what they do, a question he will plunge into with great fervour later in his career. By the time Rudge was done, Dickens was off to America, and the next phase of his remarkable career.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
Dickens introduces this novel with several chapters of pure fiction set in 1775, laying out two romance plots and a murder mystery. Then the story jumps ahead five years to the Gordon Riots of 1780 when historical events take over the plot, catching up his characters in the turmoil. There's good understanding shown here of how a mob gathers, acts, and is reacted to. This was Dickens' first crack at writing historical fiction and he used several sources to get the details right. Significant characters in the novel (e.g. Lord Gordon) were real people, and their personalities are believed to be accurately portrayed.

If this is Dickens' least popular novel, I blame its title character. Barnaby is an innocent simpleton whose cognitive abilities slide up and down the scale as the plot demands. He's a rare personality that Dickens could not get a handle on, or at least was less true in portraying for the sake of directing his story. He was also Dickens' third variant on the helpless innocent motif, following Oliver and Little Nell, and the most shallow even by that comparison. From the first page we meet him he is living a vacant-minded idyllic life, and almost nothing shakes him from it. It's as flat a character arc as you might imagine.

The book isn't really about Barnaby, however, despite its title, since there's nothing central about him and he remains a sideshow in his own story. The secondary plot romances are far more engaging and often feel primary. Only thematically can I find a purpose for Barnaby, where he serves as an extreme symbol of disparity between mob mentality and the individuals that comprise it. Potential blame for this novel's being unpopular might also lie with the subject matter. How many people outside England today have heard of the Gordon Riots, or can imagine Protestant extremists? On the other hand riots, political unrest and religious angst are abundantly relevant in our modern context. This work could win a renaissance for reminding us there is nothing new under the sun.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Dickens' great strength is his characters, and in this he creates another couple of gems. Gabriel Varden is a real salt of the earth type, down to earth, upright, principled as honest as the day is long and caught up in events beyond his control. By contrast, his apprentice is a slimy weasel of a man and is not worthy of the locksmith's daughter. The title character is an idiot, but not completely without sense. He's endearing enough that you do care about him. Set in the midst of the Gordon riots of the 1780s, this is a history, being written somewhat later. There's lots of weighty matters in here, crime and punishment, he death penalty, the way that a mob mentality can take over, manipulation of people and events for personal revenge, the works. There's a reason Dickens is still read today, it's because he captures the entire of the human condition.… (more)
LibraryThing member stephengoldenberg
Not the very best of Dickens but still very good. It has all of his strengths and weaknesses, especially an over sentimentalised ending. It starts to have some longueurs towards the middle but then the Gordon Riots kick in and the narrative becomes all action.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
A mixture of fact and fiction and an indication of things yet to come. The historical perspective of A Tale of Two Cities plus a hint of future plot manipulation and twists and turns best exemplified by Great Expectations. The Gordon Riots of 1780 is the backdrop, but as always, human nature is paramount to the tale. Religion was not the important factor to these characters. Despite the cries of 'No Popery,' each and everyone had a hidden agenda. The character of Barnaby himself was less than consistent in tone, but most of the characters were very well-drawn and, frankly, the female characters were a breath of fresh air after that insipid Nell. Overall, a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member slmr4242
Brilliant. I don't know why this isn't taught in schools more. There are totally beautiful moments in this story that really remind me of Tale of Two Cities.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
Dickens' fifth published book is an historical novel built around the Gordon riots of 1780.
The characters seem to be more realistic and better developed than in earlier books. The villains are more believable - Hugh was an abused and neglected orphan who grows to be an abusive and uncontrolled adult; John Chester is a picture of an silver tongued upper class villain, Dickens' first real villain from that class; and Gashford as the duplicitous and conniving assistant to Lord Gordon. These characters are so much better than the one dimensional bad guys (like the dwarf in the Old Curiosity Shop) of previous works.
The comic characters are also well done in this book. The slow thinking publican at the Maypole; Mrs Varden of "an uncertain temper"; Miggs the waspish maid are all well described and a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, Dickens reverts to simplification of good and bad in his portrayal of the riots. He paints a picture where a village idiot and the Crown's hangman become representative leaders of the riots. All a little disappointing.
So, while Wikipedia reports this as a "less esteemed" work of Dickens, I found it to be a good novel, but a poor historic novel. Read January 2012.
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