Barnaby Rudge: An Introduction

Wherein we are introduced to the fifth of Dickens’ serial novels, Barnaby Rudge (the sEventh read of our Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-24); with a glance at the context of Dickens’ life at the time–with other considerations. Finally, we have an overview of the whole of the reading schedule from September 6 through October 3; with a look ahead to the coming week.

“Barnaby and Grip the Raven,” by Harry Furniss.

by Boze Herrington

Friends, follow my train of thought for a moment. Imagine the Dickens canon as a sprawling city, a metropolis like Paris or London. In the center of town you have the classic texts, the ones you may have had to read in school—Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol. The books that are endlessly adapted, that number among the bestselling novels of all time (by some measures A Tale of Two Cities is the bestselling novel). These are the literary equivalent of Piccadilly Circus or Times Square—reading them, you feel as though you’ve reached the beating heart of literature, the center of the world.

Then, traveling a bit further outward, you pass through some of the still-beloved but slightly lesser-known works—your Bleak Houses, your David Copperfields, your Pickwick Papers—the Westminsters and Houses of Parliament of Dickens Town. Widely read, oft-adapted, overflowing with characters and moments that have become part of the treasured lexicon of the English-speaking world. Open a chapter at random and you’ll stumble on someone like Jingle or Micawber or Fagin who seem to have existed from before time, like the stones of old London.

Then at last, if you keep traveling long enough, you come to the outer boroughs—to Richmond or Greenwich or Cheapside. If you glance through the window on your way past you’ll glimpse some of the dustiest and most derelict corners of Dickens—forgotten short stories, whimsical experiments, a seemingly endless train of correspondence. A world of ephemera, but no less delightful for being obscure. There’s as much joy in some of these forgotten streets and by-ways as there is in Central Dickens. I enjoy wandering the Battersea and the Barbican more than all the shops of Piccadilly.

Barnaby Rudge belongs in this outermost circle—not because it’s any less worthy of being in the Dickens canon, but because it suffers from being Dickens’s “forgotten novel.” (I had a professor in college who said she had read every novel but this one, because “I don’t want to be someone who can say they’ve read every novel by Dickens”). But in the coming weeks we are going to have an adventure wandering these outer boroughs. And I think we’ll find that even here Dickens is no less strange and enchanting. The old stones of his imagination still have magic in them.

  1. General Mems
  2. The Origins of Barnaby Rudge
  3. Thematic Considerations
  4. Additional Resources
  5. Reading Schedule
  6. Works Cited

General Mems

If you’re counting, today is day 246 (and week 36) in our #DickensClub! It will be Week One of Barnaby Rudge, our seventh read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the first week’s chapters, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship and The Dickens Society for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvelous online resource for us.

And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.

The Origins of Barnaby Rudge

“It would be unwise to think of Dickens’s radicalism as in any sense egalitarian. He feared lawlessness but understood the motives of those who rose up against authority, and this Janus-like attitude towards society enters Barnaby Rudge in a direct way, just as his own troubled relationship with his father lends further depth to his presentation of a world in which most forms of lawful authority are corrupt or corrupting. In which the great secret desire is the breaking of all locks, all chains—all forms of social or domestic servitude.”

— Peter Ackroyd

We’ve spoken before about how the public reaction to the New Poor Laws fueled the scathing indictment of systemic poverty that undergirds Oliver Twist and portions of Nicholas Nickleby. In the late 1830s, the miseries inflicted on the working class produced a new, quasi-revolutionary movement known as the Chartist movement, which demanded universal (usually male) suffrage, the secret ballot, and various parliamentary reforms. Dickens largely supported the aims of the protestors but felt the usual English aversion to their methods, which included mass riots. As Ackroyd says, “Although Dickens understood the grievances of those at the rough end of this new industrial age, he never sympathised with those who tried to create a revolutionary movement in England.” (This dualism in Dickens—his sympathy for the justly aggrieved poor but loathing of the bloody mob—would later reach its apex in his other historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities.) There’s a lively debate among Dickens scholars over the extent to which Barnaby Rudge was written in response to the riots.

Thematic Considerations

The Gordon Riots

Dickens saw in the Gordon Riots of 1780 a fitting historical analogy for the political unrest that had governed the 1830s and was threatening to spill over into the next decade. As he would later do in A Tale of Two Cities, he used a tale of riot and revolution set some decades in the past to warn of the potential for Britain to collapse into anarchy and mob rule, a fear that was widely shared by the upper and middle classes at the time.

Mark Willis provides a succinct overview of the historical backdrop against which the events of Barnaby Rudge take place:

At the time of the Gordon Riots, ‘no Catholic could be attorney, or Justice, or postmaster, nor sit in Parliament, nor vote at elections.’ The Catholic Relief Bill, sympathetic to the Catholic cause, was presented to Parliament in 1780, for ‘the relief of the Catholics in England from their present grievances and shameful disabilities.’ The Protestant Association, headed by Lord Gordon, opposed The Bill. The Association produced a petition against the passing of The Bill, and, under Lord Gordon’s leadership, proceeded first to gather and then to riot in the streets of London. The ensuing mob torn down known Catholic establishments including churches, schools and private houses at Moorfields and Hoxton, before moving on to destroy both Newgate and Fleet prisons, and threatening to assault the Bank of England. The riot lasted in earnest from June 2nd until June 8th, and left 210 shot dead by the army, with a further 75 to die later of their injuries.

The Gordon Riots haunted the memory of the first half of the nineteenth century in Britain, and came to be seen as a precursor to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. They severely weakened the faith of other countries in the British parliamentary form of government, which developed a reputation for instability. It can be hard to remember now because the British government proved remarkably durable during the various upheavals of the 1840s and ‘50s, when revolution was sweeping the European continent, but at the time many observers within and outside of Britain expected a similar revolution in Britain—the overthrow of the monarchy and perhaps even the overthrow of Parliament.

Ghosts and the Supernatural

Barnaby Rudge has one of the more Gothic openings in the Dickens canon, rivaling only The Mystery of Edwin Drood. (Fans of Harry Potter may experience a feeling of déjà vu when reading about the mysterious double murder in an old house, spoken of in whispers at a local pub.) John Mullan, in his seminal book The Art of Dickens, notes the prevalence of ghosts as a motif in this novel: early on, John Willet reports that he just encountered the ghost of a man long believed to be dead, and says, “I have heard it said that as we keep our birthdays when we are alive, so the ghosts of dead people, who are not easy in their graves, keep the day they died upon.” (More déjà vu for Harry Potter fans!)

Fathers & Sons

Several of Dickens’s pre-Dombey novels have been criticized for being insufficiently cohesive. Oliver Twist sometimes feels like two separate novels only loosely connected, as does The Old Curiosity Shop. This defect in Dickens was never clearer than in Barnaby, which fluctuates unevenly between domestic novel and Gothic melodrama. Thematically Dickens employs a series of fundamentally broken father-son (and master-apprentice) relationships to give the story a semblance of unity. As Paul Benjamin Davis has noted, both Hugh and Barnaby are abandoned by their fathers at a young age; perhaps not coincidentally, both men later find themselves at the head of the mob. Dickens is keen to suggest that familial dysfunction can have lasting consequences for the broader social order. Likewise, Edward’s father refuses to let him marry the woman he loves, while John Willet insists on treating Joe as a child well into adulthood. It’s a series of parallels familiar to any great lovers of Shakespeare, whose Hamlet and King Lear are both threaded with sons whose anguished paternal relations make them nearly mirror images of each other.

Additional Resources

There are fewer screen adaptations of Barnaby Rudge than of almost any other Dickens novel; the most recent is a BBC TV miniseries from 1960 which is available to buy on DVD, though hard to find. Over at Books N’ Things, fellow Dickensian Katie Lumsden attempts to rehabilitate Barnaby from critical disapproval by noting the elements that might appeal to more modern sensibilities—its action, its violence, its sprawling cast of unusual characters (she singles out the grotesque and hilarious female characters, especially). Katie further notes that certain elements of the book—Dickens’s repeated use of the word “idiot” to describe Barnaby, a technical term at the time—haven’t aged well, although the decision to make him one of the book’s central and most sympathetic characters is an interesting one.

If you’d like to read Barnaby online, here’s a link to our trusty Circumlocution Office, with additional resources. It can also be downloaded at Gutenberg.

Reading Schedule

Week/DatesChaptersNotes
Week One: 6-12 Sept, 20221-19      Since these were published in weekly rather than monthly installments, we’ve divided the book up into (approximate) quarters, rather than by installment sections.
Week Two: 13-19 Sept, 2022  20-39 
Week Three: 20-26 Sept, 2022  40-59   
Week Four: 27 Sept – 3 Oct, 2022  60-“Chapter the Last” (the 82nd Chapter)   
Reading Schedule for Barnaby Rudge, 6 Sept – 3 Oct, 2022

Works Cited

Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Browne, Harry. Access to History in Depth: Chartism. Hodder & Stoughton, 1999.

Davis, Paul Benjamin. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. Checkmark Books, 1999.

Mullan, John. The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making. Indiana University Press, 1979.

Stone, Harry. The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity. Ohio State University Press, 1994.

20 Comments

  1. I am experiencing severe cognitive dissonance over the notion of a person who reads lots of Dickens and yet doesn’t want to be known as a person who’s read every Dickens novel! :-0

    Anyway, I love the sprawling city analogy!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I recommend that members of this group keep an eye on Dolly Varden. She’s not one of the best characters in Barnaby Rudge or anything but she is interesting in the larger context of Dickens’s oeuvre. Most leading ladies in Dickens are either really pure and saintly or they’re flawed in a melodramatic creepy way. (Examples of the latter include Louisa Gradgrind and Estella.) Dolly is more along the lines of such Dickensian male leads as Richard Carstone, David Copperfield and Pip. She’s flawed like a normal person. (Bell Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend could arguably be described that way too, though I’m not sure. (Her rhetoric about loving/hating money is rather over the top.)

    Joe Willet is actually a little unusual for one of Dickens’s romantic leading men too. He’s much more smart-alecky and rebellious than pretty much any I can recall. (Well, I guess the ones that narrate their books are a bit sarcastic in the narration but not in their conversation.) I’d like to emphasize that I’m not saying Joe or Dolly are better than the “normal” young Dickensian heroes. They’re just interesting.

    What strikes me about the first couple chapters of the book is their creepiness. Looking at Barnaby Rudge in the historical context of Dickens’s career, while Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop were dark, he hadn’t done anything this consistently creepy (if I may make the distinction between dark and creepy) since Oliver Twist. I definitely get some Monks vibes from “the stranger.” I wonder if the original readers had missed that.

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  3. Thank you, Boze, your cityscape analogy is captivating.

    I’ve never read BR, so this will be a treat.

    Scribd.com has several excellent audiobook versions (plus ebooks, of course), and I’m listening to the one read by Sean Barrett.

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  4. Inimitables,

    So looking forward to this read–my first–of BR, especially given your excellent overview of key themes and motifs, Boze. You definitely whetted my reading appetite, Boze!

    Like the others, I delight in your urban city analogy–from city center to the peripheries. All are part of a whole.

    Thanks, and looking forward to the continuing reflection of this perspicacious community of readers!

    Daniel

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Sim Tappertit and his ‘Prentice Knights remind me of political radicals in my own modern culture. (I’m American.) As far as I can tell, both the rightwing ones and the leftwing ones feel that society is withholding something from them that’s rightfully theirs and if getting it means hurting others, they’ll hurt others. As a modern American, I feel like Barnaby Rudge is a better satire of modern America than his actual satire of America in Martin Chuzzlewit. (That’s not the say the American section of Martin Chuzzlewit is bad. It’s probably the most consistently funny part of that book. But we’ll get to that later.)

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  6. This is I think my fourth time reading “Barnaby Rudge” and I have to say that I’m still unclear as to why it’s the least read Dickens novel. I suppose one of them has to be, it’s the only honest answer I can come up with. I find it vastly more exciting than, say, “The Old Curiosity Shop”. Its host of characters is, as always, interesting and animated – I find the good characters are not so sickly sweet as in other novels (well, maybe 1 or 2 are), and he bad ones are so deliciously bad, uncomfortably bad – like they’ve been incubating in Dickens head for so long they just came oozing out. There’s also a lot of sex in this novel – more sex and sexual tension than in any other Dickens novel. Perhaps the subject matter is the reason it isn’t read – who nowadays knows anything about the Gordon Riots? Yet the descriptions of the clash of religions and religious fervor which sparked those riots – and the ‘Prentice Knights radicalism as the Stationmaster put it – are something we today will unfortunately recognize quite clearly.

    As a study in the career of Dickens I would say that in “Barnaby Rudge” he has reached the journeyman stage. Having mastered the apprentice entry-level skills begun in “Sketches by Boz”, Dickens is now tackling more difficult composition and organizational skills. We know he took more time with this novel – or at the very least that he thought about it longer than he thought about any previous novel (it was 5 years in the making) – which would have clued him in on the benefits of knowing where his story is going ahead of the writing of it. By the time he finished writing it he was ready for a break. Yet he did manage to get through the writing of it – “on a slightly weary and mechanical note” (Ackroyd 337), like writing a term paper or dissertation on a topic one no longer has interest in. This in itself shows his journeyman status.

    I agree that Dolly is one to watch – I would suggest also keeping an eye on Miggs, Hugh, and especially John Chester.

    I am so curious to know what you all will say about this novel!

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  7. Chris: That you have read BR three times is quite an accomplishment and that gives you a kind of “edge” over some of the rest of us, who are coming to it fresh off our completed reading of CS and our final wrap-up and pronouncements…. You’ve, in a sense, “mined” this novel so often that it must be exciting to explore in more detail the intricacies of character and situation as well as the way in which this new novel “fits” in the general overview of Dickens’ work. From my, perspective, just having come from the death of Little Nell and the Marriage of Dick and The Marchioness, BARNABY seems like strange new territory, very mysterious and filled with characters that seem like they are more out of PICKWICK than CURIOSITY SHOP.

    We are on the road again, but not in a Picaresque manner, I think; just more in terms of back and forth from London to the outskirts. Lots of movement from the Maypole to Vardens and then back to the Maypole. From the Warren to the Maypole and then back to London. In this way, at least in the beginning, it seems this novel is more centralized in one smaller area. In the beginning, mysterious travelers move in from the outside, take up a brief residence and then just sort of disappear from sight momentarily and then resurface. But I’m still in the “expository” stage so much more is gonna happen than I can possible be aware of, so there is little I can predict up to this point.

    But there are budding sets of subplots that present themselves very early and they are intertwined in a fairly complex way: The father-son “interactions” show up almost immediately and seem to definitely hint at displacements, schisms and bad feelings. Edward and his father, Joe and his father are obviously at odds with one another and their relationships become evermore intense and complex when they are combined with the early stages of what appear to “romantic comedy” components. The fathers very clearly become the “blocking” agents to keep the young men and young women apart from each other for who knows how long as the novel advances. This is a classic set up that in comedies from Shakespeare through Jane Austen to the present day cinema and novel–and thus will test the mettle and patience of even the most hardened observer and/or reader. Light or dark, these comedic pairings–as we’ve seen in our Dickens’ novels to this point, will ultimately come to fruition. I imagine the same is going to happen here.

    Then there is the sense of some kind of political narrative that is introduced with the discontent and nasty behavior of Tappertit (God, what a weird name!) that appears to be advancing with the secret underground (symbolic) meeting of Simon with other dissatisfied ‘prentices and which seems, in its comedic ritualistic behavior more of a bizarre cult than an actual functioning “union” meeting. But at the point where I am reading, this is another interesting layer of subversiveness begun by young men who are not happy with either their domestic or working conditions.

    And so the layering of different narrative threads begins…. Which brings me to my final assumption this early in my reading: Chris hints at the idea that BARNABY is the beginning of Mr. D’s more mature work as a writer, and maybe that is borne out by this more multilayered structure RIGHT from the very beginning of the novel. In these early chapters, he is already juggling an enormous amount of disparate narratives running along parallel lines with each other. Here we are, again, with that “zig-zag” narrative structure which I mentioned at the end of my commentary on CURIOSITY SHOP. But in BR it seems to be happening much earlier and foretells more complex and potentially more explosive happenings to come!

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  8. I feel like Sir John Chester is a really underrated Dickens bad guy. I love to hate him so much! From what I understand Dickens was quite anti-Catholic (This is supposed to be most evident from his A Child’s History of England, which I haven’t read), so it’s interesting that he made Geoffrey Haredale the more (relatively) sympathetic of the two. We normally think of Dickens as being very black and white with his politics, but he could be capable of nuance too once in a while.

    Mrs. Varden is one of the less memorable shrewish wife characters in Dickens for me. She’s not as funny as, say, Mrs. Snagsby from Bleak House and she lacks the depth of Mrs. Joe from Great Expectations. But I love Miggs. She’s like the female Uriah Heep. Well, OK, not really, but I can’t think of a better description.

    I’d forgotten what a jerk John Willet could be what with the way refers to Hugh as an animal who should be treated like an animal. Of course, Hugh is a villain so maybe he deserves it. But it’s pretty different from the attitude that positive characters in Dickens have to disadvantaged people. And it’s interesting that he describes Barnaby as lacking imagination when Barnaby seems like the most imaginative character in the book.

    Edward Chester’s lament, “I have been, as the phrase is, liberally educated and am good for nothing” is a critique of the educational system that Dickens will make again in Bleak House and, arguably, Hard Times.

    P.S.
    I love this quote. “It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the one and now to the other, and now to both at once”

    It’s kind of like that where I live right now except the year can’t decide whether to stay Summer or move on to Fall.

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  9. Stationmaster: I agree; the four characters you mention are quite interesting and present a full range of intriguing possibilities. Of the four, Edward Chester seems to come close to the moral center of the novel so far. He is kind, gentle, is at odds with his nasty and scheming father and acts as a useful foil for Hugh and Sim. Obviously he’s a major part of the “romantic comedy” segment with his love of Emma Haredale which immediately puts him at odds with Hugh who, as the “loyal” henchman of Sir John, will do whatever is possible to thwart this budding romance. There is a certain irony, here, which I’m sure Dickens loves, because as the son of one of the major antagonists of the novel (so far) he is just the exact opposite and cannot help but see the immorality inherent in his father’s designs on him as the one to save the family’s fortunes by “marrying up.”

    Speaking of “marrying up,” Martha Varden is just as intent on that idea for her daughter Dolly. Martha, in all her complexity, obviously does not want Joe (a tavern owner’s son) to become Dolly’s husband. In her own strange, comedic and crazy way, she, too, becomes one of the “blocking” characters in the romantic comedy segment and does all she can in the early chapters to keep Joe out of Dolly’s life. In spite of her machinations, though, Joe seems as determined as ever to become Dolly’s soulmate even as she (Dolly) seems, always, to “play” with his fascination for her. But Martha is really more than just a manipulator of her daughter’s life and loves, she also strong arms her way through the everyday happenings in her household, happiest when other people are at their unhappiest, sad, when others are happy, and prone to outbursts of tears, shouting, insults, chicanery towards poor Gabriel at just about any point in their daily lives together. There is an interesting parallel, here, in that she is supported in all her outbursts and schemes by her “henchwoman” Miggs, in much the same way that Sir John’s schemes are supported by Hugh. Although in the Martha/Miggs pairing, Miggs gives her help voluntarily whereas Hugh is bribed and coerced by Sir John.

    As Stationmaster suggests, Sir John is the real villain in this quartet of characters. I’m not sure that he is underrated (I haven’t read the criticism to know where he stands in the Dickens’ catalogues of “bad guys”), but, nevertheless, he is certainly up there with Quilp, Fagin, and Ralph with his sly, coercive, underhanded dealings with other people. The long scene with Hugh is almost too tough and heartbreaking to read, and he plies Hugh with Drink and threats to get him to do Chester’s evil biddings. Moreover, the earlier scene with Haredale at the Maypole underlines his suave, understated method of working his way to getting what he wants to achieve, and we can see the horrified response that Geoffrey has toward virtually every word and gesture put forth by Sir John during this crucial meeting. As with the later meeting Sir John has with Hugh, at the Mayfield, Sir John is continually offering wine to Haredale, an offering which Hardale–knowing too well the evil intent here, determinedly refuses. He obviously understands the evil he is dealing with and is on his guard during this entire episode. However, the ultimate victims, after this exchange are Emma and Edward.

    Very early in BR, we can see the awful behavior that John Willet exudes toward his son, Joe. It’s as though he can’t stand to see his son grow beyond a certain age and become an adult. He seems, in his own way, charming and helpful to others–toward people like Sir John who he bows and scrapes for in the most obsequious manner–but he can’t seem to treat his son with the same charm and helpfulness. This unforgiving and authoritarian behavior toward Joe makes him (John) a flawed character and really ranks him as one of the more “suspicious characters thus far in the novel. It remains to be seen whether his personality will grow or remain static through the rest of the novel.

    And as I think towards what is to come in the rest of the novel, I’m beginning to realize Dicken’s STRATEGY, here. Up to about Chapter 20 (which is where I am in my reading) he is setting forth a “community” of Dickensian characters that we recognize as such–from our earlier reading–who are involved in schemes, relationships, careers, and families–that will be faced with a major historical event. In the Dickensian manner, he is setting a STAGE with which he is going to “test” how this community will react to the riots that are going to take place–to what extent and why–they are going to be caught up with the events of 1780 that will determine the way they will live the rest of their lives! I believe he’s doing a masterful job, here. Rather than go right into the Gordon Riots with a set of largely undefined characters, he is building a base of personalities that we will get to know, and “measuring” them as they go up against this historical event. How will they react? How will their involvement or lack of involvement affect their lives? I think that this CORE event will be the determining factor for the rest of their existence. What I wonder is this: to what extent did Dickens “know” at the time of his writing BR, what the various outcomes would be? A lovely question, indeed!

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    1. By underrated, I didn’t really mean that people say he’s not a good character. I just meant that few people have heard of him. If you mention Fagin or Miss Havisham, the average person is more likely to know who you mean. (Maybe he just needed a more memorable name?)

      I didn’t pick up on Mrs. Varden not wanting Joe Willet as a suitor for her daughter. I thought she just disapproved of him because she doesn’t like the Maypole. Interesting. I don’t remember a scene with Hugh and Chester either. Have you read past Chapter 19? I don’t blame you if you did because it really feels like it’s transitioning to a new scene.

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      1. Stationmaster: Sir John is in many ways a more interesting character/villain than either Quilp or Ralph Nickleby. He definitely is as sadistic as Quilp, but is more “subtle” in his manipulations of others. Quilp’s sadism is “in your face,” and psychologically and physically violent, always overstated–whereas Sir John’s is a very sophisticated verbal attack, understated, and reeks of passive-aggressive stratagems. The episode that I talked about, between Sir John and Hugh–takes place in chapter 23 and is an excellent illustration of the ways in which this nasty fellow works on those he wishes to take advantage of and manipulate. It appears, then, that both he and Quilp are sociopaths who work their evil in ways that seem to be polar opposites of one another, but are equally as damaging to their intended victims. The scene that I’ve been referring to is one of the most devastating I’ve come across so far in our Dickens’ readings. It’s definitely cringeworthy!

        As to the earlier sequence: when Joe goes to the Varden home ostensibly to court Dolly, he is met with total rudeness my both Martha and Miggs. They barely acknowledge his presence. He’s taken great pains to prepare for this occasion–after he pays his father’s vintner bill–and has picked a nosegay to present to Dolly when he arrives at her home. The nosegay is kept pretty much out of Dolly’s sight, placed on the outside of the window sill, and Joes is met with a very cold reception–as the action focuses on Miggs and Marths’s getting Dolly prepared, dressed and coiffed, for her dance that night. It’s an amazing dramatic piece, with Joe’s role diminished to one of a mere onlooker who is treated by the others as being in the way of the more important, sophisticated upscale preparations for the “high society” function that Dolly is to attend. This “drama” in chapter 13 is a heartbreaker and almost brought tears to my eyes. Most importantly, is Joe’s being ignored by the young beautiful woman he’s fallen in love with. This is classic “romantic comedy” unfolding before our eyes. Another admirable set piece that Dickens just fills with interesting and provocative detail.

        And Stationmaster, you’re right. There did seem to be some transitional work being done after chapter 19, and I was driven to keep reading. Such is life, eh?

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  10. I agree there is quite a lot going on already in the first 19 chapters.

    The Romeo & Juliet romance between Edward (Protestant) and Emma (Catholic) and their guardians at odds. We don’t yet know the reason for the bad blood between Chester & Haredale but it certainly goes beyond religion – “Do you think, loving her, I would have her fling her heart away on any man who had your blood in his veins?” says Haredale to Chester who replies, “Just what I was about to add, upon my honour!” (Ch 12).

    The ‘Prentice Knights seems to be founded upon the “Hate my master, love my master’s daughter” premise. What will come of this? How will it affect Joe who Sim names as his arch-rival and persona non grata among the ‘prentices. In Ch 8 where Sim as Captain addresses his faithful on the glory of ‘prentices under the Constitution, I made a marginal note in an earlier reading: “‘prentices = pretense = pretenders” meaning these fellows talk big, act big, but really are cowards, sneaking out at night, gesturing behind their master’s backs, afraid to speak up lest they lose their places. Sim’s stature speaks to this – as does his placating Miggs to get her to open the door.

    And poor Miggs (said sarcastically) – she is a true sister of Sally Brass both in appearance and in malevolence, though Miggs does try to be feminine even though she fails completely. How awful she must be to be so described: “Miggs was hovering about too; and the fact of her existence, the mere circumstance of her ever having been born, appeared, after Dolly, such an unaccountable practical joke.” (Ch 13)

    The action in these first chapters seems to me a kind of slow motion – the only one who appears to be in a hurry is the shadowy figure who attacked Edward Chester on the road and who haunts Mrs Rudge. But there’s also a restless feel to what’s going on – the young men – Joe, Edward, Sim – are restless to get their lives moving but don’t appear to know exactly how to do it. Barnaby is restless, though in him it’s an innate part of his being. Mrs Rudge is made restless by the shadowy man who haunts her home and threatens her. People seem to be waiting for some thing to change, to happen.

    Now I think of it, it’s not surprising the story open is the month of March – in early spring, before the summer has broken out. The wonderful passage the Stationmaster referenced where the day can’t figure out if it should be spring or summer, fluctuates between the two, or is both at once – this seems to be what is happening in the action, with the characters. Are they moving forward, are they standing still – they are in a state of flux and are not yet sure which way they should go, which path they should follow.

    Happy reading!

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    1. Chris, I love this quote of yours: “The action in these first chapters seems to me a kind of slow motion….” It does seem that way to me, too, but as we’ve been pointing out, these opening 25 chapters are filled with many nuanced details that build up characters and relationships, so that part of the fun in reading this novel is looking forward to how the narrative will expand on, build up or diminish the narrative flow and characterizations that are progressing. Will someone step in and stop Sir John and his evil behavior, will Joe somehow be able to move beyond the multiple blockades that separate him from Dolly, and to what extent will the Haredale/Chester/Emma/Edward situation evolve, reach a solution or blow up completely? Slow motion, but filled with rich materials and many complications. This opening of BR reminds me of the slow burn in the first half of PICKWICK–the sort of tease and back and forth narrative that moves irrevocably toward Pickwick’s imprisonment in the Fleet! In BARNABY we as readers are doing a “slow walk” toward the Gordon Riots and whatever that cataclysm will do to our cast of characters as our author is defining them for us in these early stages of the novel….

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  11. I absolutely love some of the more Gothic descriptions in this part of the novel. “A house from whose defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and fro like some gibbeted malefactor;” a proprietor wearing “an old tie-wig as bare and frouzy as a stunted hearth-broom.” This line, which would make Harry Stone’s heart sing: “Miss Miggs composed herself to wait and listen, like some fair ogress who had set a trap and was watching for a nibble from a plump young traveller.” Dickens is incapable of saying anything in a dull way.

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  12. This is the only Dickens novel I’ve read only once, and it has been so long (15+ years) ago, that I feel as though I’m coming to it entirely fresh, and with SUCH suspense and delight. I’m just savoring the atmospheric drama—ivy-covered, ancient dwellings harboring secrets, a central murder mystery, secret societies, highwaymen, coming rebellion and violence, conspiracies and obstacles in love and religion. What could be better???

    At times, it is something right out of the better moments of Gothic stage melodrama of the period: the “corpse bell” tolling on the night of the murder; Varden’s questioning of Mary: “Who is this ghost, that is only seen in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know and why does he haunt this house, whispering through chinks and crevices, as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so much as speak aloud of?”…. “His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come in the body!”

    There is such a sense of Gothic atmosphere, and gloomy, dread foreboding. We have the foreshadowing of some of the images of mob violence that Dickens would later use in A Tale of Two Cities (the storm).

    I am SO INTRIGUED that Dickens has this ***marvelous character***, with an intellectual/developmental “disability”(?), as our title character, and how he’ll pull him into the events that are to come. (As I said, I’ve forgotten so much.) I love Barnaby: his eerie “dreams” of being pursued by a shadowy figure; I love that he is not part of the norm—but I think he is in some sense becoming a living barometer of the time? You sense that what is happening to him, or going to happen, is something that is beyond his control and not at all his fault—but that the world is acting upon him in such a way as to condemn itself. (Boze and I recently reread Melville’s Billy Budd, and Dana brought up that perhaps Barnaby is a Billy Budd-like figure…I’m very intrigued by this thought.) “You don’t see shadowy people…like those who live in sleep…Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass, nor swift ghosts when it blows hard…nor see men stalking in the sky…I lead a merrier life than you, with all your cleverness. You’re the dull men. We’re the bright ones.”

    Clearly, Grip the Raven is being set up as “some supernatural agent” (Ch. 6). There is something delightfully devilish about him, eerie and foreboding. Again, not so much the Raven himself, but what he signifies about the coming storm of this time. Barnaby says that the raven cannot be called; rather, “He calls me, and makes me go where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He’s the master, and I’m the man. Is that the truth, Grip?”

    Dickens was no “Papist” of course, but how TIMELY is his condemnation of ideological violence! I love this, from the preface: “What we falsely call a religious cry is easily raised by men who have no religion, and who in their daily practice set at nought the commonest principles of right and wrong; that it is begotten of intolerance and persecution; that it is senseless, besotted, inveterate, and unmerciful; all History teaches us. But perhaps we do not know it in our hearts too well, to profit by even so humble and familiar an example as the ‘No Popery’ riots of Seventeen Hundred and Eighty.”

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      1. Love this, Gina!!! I’ll link to it. Yes, I too am touched that he could portray Catholics with such fairness, in spite of his own bias or disinterest. Whatever cultural bias and personal dislike, there did seem to be a fascination with Catholicism nonetheless. I was just telling Dana about a later dream he had of Mary Hogarth…here’s a whole passage about it:

        “Mary Hogarth often appeared to Dickens in his dreams. After her death he dreamt of her every night for months. In a letter to John Forster, Dickens’s intimate friend and semiofficial biographer, written in Genoa in 1844 Dickens tells of a remarkable apparition of Mary Hogarth. She appeared to him in his sleep, not in her own person, but in ‘a blue drapery, as the Madonna might in a picture by Raphael.’ Although he did not recognize the spirit as Mary until she spoke, I think (but I am not sure) that I recognized the voice. Anyway, I knew it was poor Mary’s spirit. I was not at all afraid, but in a great delight, so that I wept very much, and stretching out my arms to it [and] called it ‘Dear.’

        “Dickens continues to recount his curious dream, admitting that he even cried to ask her to tell him:

        “’What is the True religion?’ As it paused a moment without replying, I said—Good God, in such an agony of haste, lest it should go away!—’You think, as I do, that the Form of religion does not so greatly matter, if we try to do good?—or,’ I said, observing that it still hesitated, and was moved with the greatest compassion for me, ‘perhaps the Roman Catholic is the best? perhaps it makes one think of God oftener, and believe in him more steadily?’ ‘For you,; said the Spirit, full of such heavenly tenderness for me, that I felt as if my heart would break; ‘for you, it is the best!’ Then I awoke, with the tears running down my face, and myself in exactly the condition of the dream. It was just dawn.’

        “In the rest of the letter Dickens tells Forster that after waking he tried to rationalize this visitation from Mary Hogarth as conveying the workings of the human mind, as he did in a letter to Dr. Thomas Stone (2 Feb. 1851; Letters, VI, 277). Though Dickens, as an amateur psychotherapist, psychoanalyses his own dream, yet he is still uncertain about what he saw, as is evident from his words enclosed in parentheses: ‘(but I am not sure),’ and he explains his altered state of consciousness: ‘I wonder whether I should regard it as a dream, or an actual Vision!’ (30 Sep., 1844; Letters, IV, 197) The apparition of Mary Hogarth seemed to him as startling as a revelation in a dream.”

        ~Matsuto Sawa, “Dickens and ‘Mariolatry’: Dickens’s Cult of the Virgin Mary”

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