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Barnaby Rudge > Final Thoughts on Barnaby Rudge

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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Hello Curiosities

Barnaby Rudge is now complete and it is almost time to put it back on our bookshelves. Before we do, however, let’s pause for a moment for some final thoughts and reflections. I have listed below a series of questions that have been rattling around in my mind. Please feel free to respond to any of them.

Better yet, why not post your own final ideas, thoughts, and reflections for us to consider?

In a week’s time we begin Martin Chuzzlewit, another rather lengthy Dickens novel. Your mods look forward to reading and discussing it with you.





How would you rank Barnaby Rudge in comparison to other Dickens novels you have read?

Who was your favourite character? Why?

Which character fascinated or surprised you the most?

To what extent did you find the novel to be successful as a historical novel?

From reading the novel what do you think Dickens personal feelings were about hanging? What lead to to that decision?

We have mentioned in our discussions how this novel featured many father - son relationships. What seems to make such a relationship either successful or unsuccessful?

During our discussions Hugh was a character who created much interesting discussion and speculation. What are your final views on him? Is he a bad boy, a repellent character, a sympathetic person or ... ?

During and immediately after the novel’s release there was an immense interest in Dolly Varden. Why do you think there was such interest in her?

Which character, sub-plot line, or other event could the novel have done without? Why?

What attributes of this novel suggest that it was an early novel by Dickens rather than a later novel?

Do you think the novel was enhanced by the illustrations?

If we could channel Dickens with a Ouija board what question would you ask him? Let us suppose the board would give you an detailed answer. :-)

What other novels or parts of other novels did you find reflected in Barnaby Rudge. Such a book could be one written either before or after Barnaby Rudge.

Do you think the novel’s title was the best choice Dickens could have made? What alternative title would you give the text?


message 2: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments So many good questions, Peter! The gist of my carefully thought out GR review that somehow disappeared into cyber-space was that it's been really interesting to read the novels chronologically, especially knowing what's to come. We are really able to see Dickens' maturation when it comes to crafting the story. While he's known for crazy coincidences and doppelgangers, they're more subtle in Rudge than they've been in the previous few novels (and moreso than in some future novels, too, truth be told). The reader can tell that he's plotted this one much more carefully; there are no significant characters that just disappear, or deus ex machina that cheats us out of a plausible ending. There's plenty of drama here, but not quite so much melodrama.

As a historical novel, I enjoyed it more than A Tale of Two Cities. There was a bit more romance and humor in this one, and the riot itself was more of a backdrop than the central focus of the story.

Regarding your questions....

Who was your favourite character? Why?

Gabriel Varden, because I liked and respected him. That's not to say he was necessarily the most interesting character. That honor goes to Haredale, or maybe Stiggs. Least favorite? Barnaby, and ultimately his mother (when someone - Julie? - pointed out that she'd abetted her husband following his crimes, and still lived off Haredale's generosity. Shame on her.). Most sympathetic? Hugh. Most annoying? A tie between Miggs and Martha. Most humorous? Sim and Dennis - though they'd never hold a candle to some of Dickens' other humorous characters.

To what extent did you find the novel to be successful as a historical novel?

Considering I'd never heard of the Gordon Riots before, I'd have to say it was a success. How an original reader would have rated it, being fairly recent history at the time, I can't say.

What are your final views on [Hugh]? Is he a bad boy, a repellent character, a sympathetic person or ... ?

All of the above. I'm reminded of a line from The Office, when Kelly says, "Darryl (or Hugh in this case) is the most complicated man I ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they're thinking? What kind of game is that?"

Dolly Varden. Why do you think there was such interest in her?

I haven't a clue. I'm sure Tristram can enlighten us.

Which character, sub-plot line, or other event could the novel have done without? Why? and Do you think the novel’s title was the best choice Dickens could have made?

Ironically, young Barnaby. Even with the added attraction of Grip, I found Barnaby boring and unnecessary. I'm sure he was used to illicit sympathy and, in the final chapters, drama. For me his only purpose was in providing a vehicle for Hugh's redemption. But it was a long, tedious way to get there. This novel was much more about Hugh, but that wouldn't have made for much of a title, would it? Riots and Redemption? Sounds more like an Austen title.

If we could channel Dickens with a Ouija board what question would you ask him?

"Why did you treat Catherine so abominably?!" But perhaps that's less of a question than an opening to a tirade. :-)


message 3: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Overall, this was an interesting book because it seems to me to be less "Dickensian" than many of his other novels.

No children in this one, to begin with. Did anyone else notice that? Not a waif in sight.

While we got a bit of foreshadowing when Rudge, Sr. and Chester looked at their sons' faces with a bit of recognition, the doppelganger wasn't a major plot point here.

We also didn't have a clearly defined villain like Quilp or Rigaud to move the plot along. Instead we had an ensemble cast of despicable characters.

And, yes, we were subjected to Dickens' saccharin heroine, but Dolly, despite her charms, wasn't fondling her father's hair with a fork or making a perfect little home for Joe (at least not until the wrap-up).

Even the 11th hour coincidences were less unrealistic (yes, I know that's a double negative, but it seemed more accurate than "more realistic") than in, say, Oliver Twist, where they were completely unbelievable. The revelation that Hugh was Chester's son was pretty bad, but at least the entire plot didn't revolve around it. I don't know if that makes it better or worse, really. Dickens could have omitted it completely with no detrimental effect on the story.

There was no law office or clerk, which are found in so many Dickens novels, nor a school or teacher. The Thames was barely mentioned. Nothing industrial (which is not surprising, I suppose, considering the 1780 time frame), which is so typical of Dickens.

And we've already mentioned throughout the discussions that we really don't have a central protagonist. This is truly an ensemble cast. It does make me wonder why Dickens chose to name the novel after any character, let alone Barnaby. A poor choice, I think.


message 4: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Mary Lou wrote: "(when someone - Julie? - pointed out that she'd abetted her husband following his crimes..."

I think it was Tristram.


message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Peter wrote: "During our discussions Hugh was a character who created much interesting discussion and speculation. What are your final views on him? Is he a bad boy, a repellent character, a sympathetic person or ... ?"


I'd say all of the above too, but in the end I began to think of him more and more as a personification of the riots. This was partly because during the riots he seems practically mythic--and he rises and falls as the riots do. But it was also because Hugh's resentment was so arbitrary. We talked some about how the rioters don't seem to have any good reason at all for what they're doing: the Catholic issue is obviously just a pretext, a conclusion Dickens hammers home by pointing out that some of the captured rioters themselves were Catholic. Hugh's the same way: he just wants to wreak destruction. It's all "nobody cared for me, and I care for nobody," increasing his parallel with the rioters.

As an aside, I've been teaching an 18th c lit class a lot recently and one of the texts we look at is the diary of Ignatius Sancho, a shopkeeper who witnessed the riots. His description of the riots backs up Dickens's suggestion that they weren't really about Catholicism:

It is thought by many who discern deeply, that there is more at the bottom of this business than merely the repeal of an act—which has as yet produced no bad consequences, and perhaps never might.

Here's a link if you'd like to see his firsthand description. It's very dashy and sketchy, but interesting for its immediacy.

http://www.brycchancarey.com/sancho/l...


message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Which character, sub-plot line, or other event could the novel have done without? Why? and Do you think the novel’s title was the best choice Dickens could have made?

Ironically, young Barnaby."



Agreed. I'm not sure what he's doing in this book, so to have him be the title character is doubly puzzling to me. I'd be interested to hear any explanations people have.


message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Peter wrote: "During and immediately after the novel’s release there was an immense interest in Dolly Varden. Why do you think there was such interest in her?..."


I'm going to say again how impressed I was, especially given the overall Dickensian context, that she has the passion and confidence to issue her marriage proposal herself. Go Dolly!

(And she looks even better next to passive Emma, whose moment of strength in the book is so short-lived.)


message 8: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 311 comments As for Barnaby and his mother, I am also baffled as to their importance and why the book was named for him. At the time, I could not understand Mrs. Rudge's actions when she took Barnaby away on their own without leaving word with Haredale as to where they were going. I could not understand her taking such a risk with their future when Haredale was so willing to be of support to them. Although it does seem they were doing well for a time on their own, it just seemed like such an irresponsible thing to do.


message 9: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 612 comments To be honest, in the end I thought mrs. Rudge the most annoying character. All others at least had a 'why', if only because they just were the way they were consistently. Mrs. Rudge, however, was the kind of wimpering heroine, without being a heroine or even slightly important to the story, making all the wrong decisions for all the wrong reasons.

Most funny character was Miggs for me. Yes, she was annoying, but so over the top I couldn't not snort out loud as soon as she began ranting about 'her Simmens' again.

My favourite character was Varden, but I find it hard to pinpoint why he is. I guess because he does what he does, he fight for what he thinks is right, but he never gets violent. Especially with the violence from the riots that felt like some kind of oasis of non-violence.

Oh, and I think we could mostly have done without the Barnaby-subplot. There must have been another way to show Hugh's development, like, him asking Joe to take care of his dog and acknowledging Joe was not the bad guy Hugh had expected him to be or something like that.


message 10: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Jantine wrote: "To be honest, in the end I thought mrs. Rudge the most annoying character. All others at least had a 'why', if only because they just were the way they were consistently. Mrs. Rudge, however, was the kind of wimpering heroine, without being a heroine or even slightly important to the story, making all the wrong decisions for all the wrong reasons."

Exactly.

Most funny character was Miggs for me. Yes, she was annoying, but so over the top I couldn't not snort out loud as soon as she began ranting about 'her Simmens' again.

I liked the Vardens, or at least Dolly and Gabriel, but I have to admit I also really enjoyed that last speech where Miggs cuts loose and says what she really thinks of them. And while I wouldn't say there was a lot of truth in it, there really was some.


message 11: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "So many good questions, Peter! The gist of my carefully thought out GR review that somehow disappeared into cyber-space was that it's been really interesting to read the novels chronologically, esp..."

Mary Lou

Yes. I also find it very interesting to read the novels in chronological order. We see Dickens evolving his organizational abilities, creating more depth in his characters, and, for me, I enjoy seeing him introduce ideas, writing style, and themes that appear again in his later novels.

I have no idea why the novel is titled Barnaby Rudge either. For me as well, Haredale intrigued me as a character. In terms of humour I always laughed at Tappertit. What a self-absorbed person. That Dickens had him shining other peoples’ shoes at the end of the novel I found strangely and weirdly appropriate.

What an interesting comment about Barnaby. How could it be that the novel’s titled character could well disappear from the novel and the book would not be significantly altered is puzzling? And yet, I think it is true as well. Your title “Riots and Redemption” is perfect. Dickens and Austen.

I never thought about it but you are right. Where are the waifs, the innocent children, the pitter patter of little feet? I enjoyed your further listing of what could not be found in this novel that do exist almost everywhere else in the canon.


message 12: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Peter wrote: "During our discussions Hugh was a character who created much interesting discussion and speculation. What are your final views on him? Is he a bad boy, a repellent character, a sympat..."

Hi Julie

Thank you very much for the link to of Ignatius Sancho. It is, as you say, dash and sketchy, but to me that made his reports all the more personal and urgent. His comment about the ballad writers and other “on-the-spot” reporting gives his words grit and realism.

The chronological sequence of his letters gives us a first-hand look at the arch of the riots. His words are a perfect parallel to Dickens’s novel. I hope your students enjoyed their opportunity.

As I mentioned to Mary Lou, I have no idea why the novel is titled Barnaby Rudge. I think his place in the novel could disappear without any major disruption to the narrative.

Yes. Go Dolly. She is a welcome addition to Emma who is, with one small exception, very bland.


message 13: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Jantine wrote: "To be honest, in the end I thought mrs. Rudge the most annoying character. All others at least had a 'why', if only because they just were the way they were consistently. Mrs. Rudge, however, was t..."

Hi Jantine

Yes. I will join you in piling on both Mrs Rudge and Barnaby. Her presence does give some tension when her husband comes to her home early in the novel, and her fleeing London with Barnaby has some interest, but somehow (at least to me) these events are disjointed and not integrated into the novel very successfully.

I too think Varden is a fascinating and admirable creation by Dickens. When he refuses to help the mob break into the jail he stood on his principles. A fine piece of writing and character development.


message 14: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
First things first: Why is Dolly such an adorable character?

To me she is because she is an exception to Dickens's unfortunate tendency of making his positive female characters - one can hardly call them heroines for their lack of dimension and ability to impress - paragons of self-denial, virtue, meekness, household diligence and boredom. All those Florences, Nells, Ruths, Lizzies, Agneses (I forgot the name of the virtuous young lady in Oliver Twist) are exchangeable, frankly speaking, and read of in great doses, they will probably send you asleep for the rest of the year - now is mid-September so that this is hardly any exaggeration.

Dickens has some female characters that are quite noteworthy but they are often negative ones, like Miss Wade, Rosa Dartle, Estella or Edith Dombey. And then there are comic characters like Mrs. Gamp, but very rarely do we have a basically positive female character who is interesting - Dolly and Miss Wilfer come to my mind here.

Dolly has pluck and spirit in many situations and she is also full of contradictions, like many people in real life. She can fill a chapter, take her own part in a conversation - quite unlike her social better, Emma Haredale. The fact that she is not perfect, that she has to learn what she really wants and what she has to do for it, all this make me feel interested in her as a character. Just my two pence ;-)


message 15: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
Other characters I felt interested in were, for example, Hugh - because of the contradictions his character offers. We know that he is about to molest Dolly, that he blackmails her into silence, that he is one of the ringleaders in the Gordon riots and also implicates Barnaby in these crimes but later we also see that he tries to do his best to help Barnaby, that he sets free the prisoners who are condemned to death, and that he also makes sure nobody injures or even kills old Willet. His deadly hatred of Mr. Haredale is a detail that seems absolutely unmotivated to me, but it does not spoil the character in terms of credibility for me.

The most amusing characters were Simon, Miggs and also Dennis - at least in his arguments for taking part in the insurrection. They all provide a kind of bitter amusement but still they are amusing in their way.

I must say that apart from Gabriel I also liked old Willet: It is true that he is a stubborn, pigheaded, opinionated ass but at the bottom I am sure he means well and just had difficulty in accepting that his son was growing into a man. It's probably tricky if you have had your way for so many years to make compromises all of a sudden, and so old Willet had to learn the hard way.


message 16: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Tristram wrote: "apart from Gabriel I also liked old Willet..."

I liked Willet, too. I'm sure I wouldn't have like being his son, but I can't dislike someone who created such a cozy place as the Maypole! His "quirks" seem to me to be just that - quirky. But he's certainly not malicious in any way. He reminds me a bit of a relative of mine. As long as you know what to expect, you can accept him with a sense of humor. I might also mention that he, too, has a bit of a contentious relationship with his two 20-something sons. Funny I never made that connection before, but as Willet is slow and deliberate, my relative is more on the hyper-active end of things. At any rate, I hope that his relationships with his sons end as well as the Willets' did.


message 17: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Tristram wrote: "apart from Gabriel I also liked old Willet..."

I liked Willet, too. I'm sure I wouldn't have like being his son, but I can't dislike someone who created such a cozy place as the M..."


Willet was my favorite part of the early chapters of the book. I was sorry to see him so ruined by the riot.


message 18: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
I have been thinking about Hugh and the disclosure of his being Sir John's illegitimate son, and the question I am asking myself is what this detail does add with regard to the story? On a symbolic level, maybe it points out that irresponsible and egoistic behaviour of those in power (Sir John is an M.P., after all) fathers social problems (Hugh's life is an explosion of social problems) and may lead to unrest and upheavals. However, this may appear far-fetched to other readers.

When we go back to the plot itself, there is still this question: Does Sir John's fatherhood to Hugh in any way add something to the events taking place? Does it add more nuance and depth to the characters concerned? If you want, let me know what you think.


message 19: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Tristram wrote: "Does Sir John's fatherhood to Hugh in any way add something to the events taking place? Does it add more nuance and depth to the characters concerned? "

Nary a thing that I've been able to come up with. As far as nuance and depth, Chester seems even less nuanced and more shallow (as a person) than he did before this revelation. The only thing it may have done is add some depth to Edward, but I think his character was already shown to be moral, ethical, and virtuous before he learned of his unfortunate half-brother, so the additional scenes of him trying to reach out to Hugh in prison and giving him a decent burial was nice, but superfluous.

I hope another one of our number is able to come up with a purpose for this part of the story. I'd love to be proven wrong and have an "Aha!" moment.


message 20: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "I have been thinking about Hugh and the disclosure of his being Sir John's illegitimate son, and the question I am asking myself is what this detail does add with regard to the story? On a symbolic..."

Tristram

You pose an interesting question and I think you and Mary Lou have covered the logic and reasons for the Hugh - Sir John Chester plot line effectively. Dickens does build up Chester from one who is part of the upper class to a person who is in Parliament and has a knighthood. This places Chester in the highest elite society in England. That Chester intends to live off the sweat equity of his son, and anticipates his son will marry money so he can continue his aristocratic lifestyle shows how shallow he is. Perhaps as well we see how fragile much of the old aristocracy was. His title is a bargaining chip in that a wealthy young women (her parent part of the expanding middle class) would be married to Ned. In that way the middle class family obtains entry to aristocracy and a title and the cash-strapped aristocrat gets money. Regretfully love was not a motivator for many Victorian marriages.

By being the father to Hugh we also experience the depravity of Sir John’s character. Where is Hugh’s mother? Was she financially supported by Sir John? Knowing Hugh’s background we can better understand his bitterness and hatred of all those who he sees as his superiors. His anger spills over to a hatred of Haredale, but Hugh will draw the line at hurting or killing John Willet. Yes, Hugh has bitter resentment for Willet, but Willet is not an aristocrat. Willet will be contained, tied up, even humiliated by Hugh, but he will not be killed.

And this is where the dog comes in, Hugh’s dog was, no doubt, a mutt, a runt of the litter, a stray without a home. That is precisely how Hugh views himself. The dog is Hugh and Hugh sees himself as less than human. Could Hugh’s plea for someone to look after the dog be a thinly veiled plea for people like himself receive better treatment from others who are more fortunate?

If we look ahead to A Tale of Two Cities we can see the early rumblings of another aristocrat and his son.


message 21: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Peter wrote: "Tristram wrote: "I have been thinking about Hugh and the disclosure of his being Sir John's illegitimate son, and the question I am asking myself is what this detail does add with regard to the sto..."

Thanks, Peter. It does make sense that Sir John needs, symbolically speaking, not only a son he abuses but also a son he refuses to own, neglect being a very different branch of abuse.


message 22: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5978 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "First things first: Why is Dolly such an adorable character?"

She's not.


message 23: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Julie wrote: "Sir John needs, symbolically speaking, not only a son he abuses but also a son he refuses to own, neglect being a very different branch of abuse. ..."

I think the Barnaby revelation would have been much more shocking and poignant if Chester had been the type to feel shame and remorse after learning Hugh was his son. That would have been too similar to a story line in one of his previous novels, so I guess he couldn't go there again. (view spoiler)


message 24: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Mary Lou wrote: "I think the Barnaby revelation would have been much more shocking and poignant if Chester had been the type to feel shame and remorse after learning Hugh was his son. ..."


But I think the point is he's not the type. He's utterly shameless in his abdication of responsibility and duty, and for that reason maybe a worse person than the gentleman in the previous novel?


message 25: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3210 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "Sir John needs, symbolically speaking, not only a son he abuses but also a son he refuses to own, neglect being a very different branch of abuse. ..."

I think the Barnaby revelation ..."


Mary Lou

Yes. Never thought about the wider angle. Now I’m trying to recall how many Dickens novels have the trope of the father and the unknown or unacknowledged son.


message 26: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Julie wrote: "He's utterly shameless in his abdication of responsibility and duty, and for that reason maybe a worse person than the gentleman in the previous novel? ..."

They're both awful in their own ways. I think Chester is truly mentally ill - a sociopath. The other, I think, was just mean and selfish. (view spoiler)


message 27: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1263 comments Mary Lou wrote: "They're both awful in their own ways. I think Chester is truly mentally ill - a sociopath. The other, I think, was just mean and selfish...."

Yes, I definitely get the feeling that Chester, unlike other characters, would not have been redeemable even had his circumstances been different. And yet he doesn't seem circus-archetype irredeemable like some other characters I won't go into because spoiler spoiler spoiler--so I think your read that he's sociopathic is a good one.


message 28: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Tristram wrote: "First things first: Why is Dolly such an adorable character?"

She's not."


Yes, she is :-) And I've got young Willet to prove my point!


message 29: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
I think that when writing Barnaby Rudge Dickens had in mind a product more like enduring literature than Nicholas Nickleby, which he seems to have been concocting as he went along month by month. BR, in contrast, was something he carefully planned, and unlike in NN I can see that there are certain motifs that go together and that recur. Maybe, Chester is not only to be regarded as a particularly despicable individual but also as the representative of a class (and a social system) that Dickens considered obsolete, or at least responsible for a lot of the social ills in his country. So, if Chester is a father who neglects both of his sons, and is unwilling to acknowledge one of them, he is also a symbol of how those in power shun their responsibility for the mass of people in general, e.g. by not passing laws that counteract certain social evils. Thus, their negligence and egoism continues giving birth to Hughs every single day.


message 30: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Appropriate for our wrap-up discussion, here's a new article about the real Grip(s).

https://london-overlooked.com/grip/?f...


message 31: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
An interesting article, Mary Lou! Just to think that the death of the first Grip cast a shadow of suspicion on two honest craftsmen ;-)

By the way, what do you think about the function of Grip in the novel? Is Grip just an ornament to make Barnaby more memorable, or does he play a role with regard to the action, or to something the novel might want to say, that could not have been fulfilled without Grip?


message 32: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments Tristram wrote: "what do you think about the function of Grip in the novel? ..."

I'd hoped Grip would play a role in the plot but I was disappointed. Unless I missed something? I thought one of the phrases he repeated might have some deeper meaning (e.g. repeating something Rudge, Sr. had said the night of the murder) or that he might have stolen a trinket that was later uncovered and was a smoking gun. None of that. The only time I can see that he had any real impact on the plot was when they stopped at the rich guy's house who wanted him to perform tricks, and who later (if I recall correctly) had some say in whether or not Barnaby would be shown mercy. But that little bit of the story was contrived and unnecessary in my opinion.

Was there anything else? Grip seemed to be nothing more than a curiosity. But I enjoyed reading about him more than his owner, so there's that.


message 33: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
Mary Lou,

I fully agree with you: Apart from the episode with the country squire who later tried to have Barnaby hanged, there is no real bearing of Grip's on the plot. I sometimes thought that perhaps the raven would in some way represent Barnaby's sliding into the riots or reinforce the thoughts that led Barnaby astray - i.e. the lust for gold - but one cannot really say that this happened, can one?

Nevertheless, Grip was indeed more interesting to read about than some other characters in this novel.


message 34: by John (new)

John  Royce (john_royce) | 10 comments To me, making Barnaby the "main" character was a statement by Dickens on the riot in general.

Barnaby became one of the movement's heroes without understanding it. It was all a mistake. I think that was Dicken's meta-comment both on mobs and the fuzzy realm of heroic myth-making in general.

In fact, I kind of think making Barnaby the "star" was brilliant of Dickens. Barnaby was a hero in other people's eyes for just "being there." Many years later the main character of "Being There" (Peter Seller's character) was basically the same thing: a mentally-deficient canvass other people wrote on with their own assumptions.

Yes, Barnaby was a useless, silly character without an intelligible reason for his actions. I thought that was the whole point—the riot was a mad act itself. Barnaby was its foolish symbol. I loved the character for that.


message 35: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
That's an interesting interpretation, John! Like Barnaby, who got into the riots simply because he happened to run into Lord Gordon and Gashford (and because he knew Hugh), but not so much at all because he cared for the religious conflict at the bottom of it all, many other people taking part in them probably did not really know what the riots were about. In a way, Lord Gord himself might have found himself at a loss when asked to explain all the details of his cause, and the way Dickens portrays him, he must have been quite labile and given to depressions as well as delusions of grandeur. From this perspective, Barnaby certainly plays a particular role in the framework of the novel.


message 36: by John (last edited Nov 14, 2019 12:41PM) (new)

John  Royce (john_royce) | 10 comments I appreciate your comment, Tristram! I know people didn't like Barnaby as a character. I also kept waiting for him to DO something that was worthy of making him the title character.

This novel was delayed by several years; Dickens started in 1836 and kept setting it aside before finally publishing it in 1841. It was initially going to be named after Varden the locksmith ... but Dickens changed it to Barnaby. I wonder if that title change, and the book's slow progress—so unlike his other work—reflected the author's wrestling with his understanding of the riots.

The original idea Dickens had to make Varden the main title character would seem to make more sense. He's brave and true and stands up to the violent mob. If you're going to write a novel of Good vs Evil, Varden's the one. The locksmith represents a good character holding the line against the evil rioters. It's a compelling idea, and could naturally be the one Dickens started with.

But then, before finishing the work, Dickens changed the title character to the foolish mad boy. Instead of portraying the riots as being an example of pure evil, the book makes the incident about society becoming unhinged. The riots were a mix of a backlash against the violence of Bloody Mary's reign; from resentment of repressed people striking out; from ignorance, from want and plain adventurism and shallow opportunism. All this came together in an insane mix that blew up.

Many of the rioters were also hurt and even killed by the madness ... and it wasn't written as justice, only more tragedy.

The fact Dickens changed the title to be about the mad Barnaby instead of the hero Varden is why I think Dickens was deliberately making a point: the riots were about mob insanity instead of evil behavior. It's as if the author got into the story and, as he learned more about it, he didn't feel right in just saying the riots were caused by bad people doing evil things. It wasn't so simple.

The story wasn't ultimately about heroism, after all, but about insanity. Socially-induced insanity. Barnaby became the symbol, not Varden.

So I ended up liking this novel a lot. To me it seems to show Dickens' honest struggle to understand the truth and the integrity with which he approached his writing.


message 37: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4660 comments Mod
John, the more I think about it the more I concur with your theory: There are numerous incidences in the mob descriptions where Dickens points out the irrational and self-destructive actions of the rioters. Some of these actions may have been brought about by the influence of alcohol but this does not cover the whole range of motives - I remember that when Haredale's house was burned, some rioters were so "enthusiastic" that they rushed into the flames where they were sure to perish. There was another scene - I can't remember exactly where - of someone scorching himself with liquid lead, I think, and then there were those people imbibing the burning gin (or wine?) ... Surely, there is madness in all this, but also - at least at the outset - frustration and resentment with regard to social injustices and religious resentment as well.

And then, again, take Lord George, who is the perfect leader of that doomed cause - in that he is mentally unhinged as well.

On a side note, I sometimes find Dickens's choice of title infelicitous, especially with regard to The Old Curiosity Shop and Little Dorrit. I had also counted Barnaby Rudge among those awkwardly-named novels, but I am beginning to think differently of this one.


message 38: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2462 comments If these theories about Barnaby, the riots, and Dickens' thought process when naming the novel are accurate (and they are certainly credible), he is even more of a genius than I'd given him credit for. I'm a superficial reader, and would never have put all of this together, but it deepens my appreciation for the book -- and for the other members of this group who dig a bit deeper than I do!


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