Wherein we revisit our second week’s reading of Barnaby Rudge (Week 37 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a summary and discussion wrap-up; and a look-ahead to Week Three.
By the #DickensClub members, edited/compiled by Rach
Friends, it’s been another hopping week in our comments on Barnaby Rudge, and many of us have said some variation of the following: Why isn’t Barnaby more widely known, read, and appreciated among Dickens’ novels?
I’ve not been able to include all the comments, so I hope you have a chance to take a deeper look under last week’s post.
Here are some quick links:
- General Mems
- Barnaby Rudge, Week Two (Chapters 20-39): A Summary
- Discussion Wrap-Up
- A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Barnaby Rudge
This Saturday, the #DickensClub has its first online chat! For more info, and to contact Rach if you’re interested, please see the Look-Ahead below…
Also, Henry started a wonderful thread on twitter, if you’d like to add some of your favorite things about Barnaby Rudge!
If you’re counting, today is day 259 (and week 38) in our #DickensClub! It will be Week Three of Barnaby Rudge, our seventh read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the third 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, The Dickens Society, and the Charles Dickens Letters Project for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Gina Dalfonzo, 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. Boze’s introduction to Barnaby Rudge 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.
Barnaby Rudge, Week Two (Chapters 20-39): A Summary
Dolly, a familiar face and family friend to the Haredales, gives Emma the letter from Edward Chester. Dolly is given a letter in response, and a bracelet; however, Mr. Haredale stops her before she can leave the house, and obliges Dolly to tell him about the letter exchange, though she doesn’t give it up and doesn’t plan to. To Dolly’s surprise, Haredale asks whether she would consider being hired as an attendant for Emma.
Dolly is walking back towards the Maypole when she is accosted by Hugh, who roughly steals a kiss—and, without her knowing, the letter and bracelet—and is only stopped in his sexual attack on her by her screams, which are heard by Joe Willet as he is passing nearby. However, as Hugh had threatened something terrible to loved ones if she disclosed what had happened, Dolly keeps silent about her attacker and the nature of the attack; she says it was a robbery attempt. Back at the Maypole, as Dolly is telling her story, Hugh is one of the party, and he appears to taunt her silently, but she doesn’t give him up.
Upon returning to London, Miggs hears Dolly’s story, passing it along to Sim, who, jealous of Joe’s bravery in the incident, is determined to have revenge.
We reencounter Sir John Chester as he reads and lauds the work of Lord Chesterfield (see the insightful comments from the group’s discussion of this exemplary model of dissipated selfishness).
“‘My Lord Chesterfield,’ he said, pressing his hand tenderly upon the book as he laid it down, ‘if I could but have profited by your genius soon enough to have formed my son on the model you have left to all wise fathers, both he and I would have been rich men. Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country’s pride, is my Lord Chesterfield.’”
Hugh comes to make his report and hand over the letter to Sir John—who allows him to keep the bracelet. Chester reads and burns Emma’s letter, and asks Hugh to continue to keep him apprised and to intervene in any similar matters.
Hugh is not the only one in Sir John’s manipulative hands; Sim, too, discloses that Dolly has acted as a messenger for his son, and that Sir John also has reasons for disliking—and taking action against—Joe Willet.
Mrs. Rudge, haunted in mind by the mysterious stranger, visits the Warren, where her husband had worked so long ago. Mr. Warren is welcoming, hoping she’ll return; on the contrary, however, Mrs. Rudge says that she must move to a secret location, and can no longer accept the annuity she has received from him since her husband’s death. He tries to urge her to reconsider, knowing her value and shocked that she has had the misfortune of falling into bad company, but she is determined. On discussing all this with Varden, Haredale wonders whether she might have had some secret, dangerous marriage that she must now flee from. They visit her home, but Chester is there ahead, assuring them of his schemes to make the marriage between Edward and Emma impossible.
Chester begins to work over the Vardens, Miggs, and Sim, charming Mrs. Varden especially, who believes him the most virtuous of gentlemen. Dolly is still dubious, however. (In a juicy scene of false flattery shading utter contempt, Chester flatters Sim into thinking himself invaluable.) Hugh then gives Chester a letter that was to go to Emma from Dolly, explaining the theft of the letter from Emma to Edward.
Sir John Chester says he will deliver it himself. During this scene, however, something about Hugh’s look awakens curiosity in Chester, and once at night he even thinks Hugh has called to him. Chester gives the letter to Emma in an effort to win her trust, and to convince her that Edward intends to break faith with her for the very reasons that Chester himself has proposed.
“There lies on his desk at this moment, ready for transmission to you, a letter, in which he tells you that our poverty–our poverty; his and mine, Miss Haredale–forbids him to pursue his claim upon your hand…”
Meanwhile, relations between Joe and his father—the latter ever demeaning in his attitude to Joe—come to a new low, and Joe realizes it is time to move on from the Maypole. He sneaks off to enlist in the army, but not before telling Dolly of his feelings—which she, being playful, appears to reject, but he leaves in complete despondency.
Five years later…
It is 1780, and we are met with ghosts almost from the first…
“One wintry evening, early in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty, a keen north wind arose as it grew dark, and night came on with black and dismal looks. A bitter storm of sleet, sharp, dense, and icy-cold, swept the wet streets, and rattled on the trembling windows. Signboards, shaken past endurance in their creaking frames, fell crashing on the pavement; old tottering chimneys reeled and staggered in the blast; and many a steeple rocked again that night, as though the earth were troubled.”
It is March 19, the anniversary of Reuben Haredale’s murder. “In coffee-houses of the better sort, guests crowded round the fire, and forgot to be political.” At the Maypole, Solomon Daisy recounts a harrowing experience he had just had while going to wind the church clock: a ghost—no doubt the murdered man himself—had called to him from the churchyard.
“I little thought what day of the month it was. I have never gone alone into the church after dark on this day, for seven-and-twenty years. 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.”
John Willet and Hugh visit the Warren to recount this tale to Mr. Haredale, who is shaken by it.
John and Hugh are met by three men—whom they at first fear to be highwaymen—on the road on their way back to the Maypole. John realizes they are intent on finding lodging, and invites them to follow him to his inn. We find out that the leader of the group is Lord George Gordon, prime influencer against the rights of English Catholics, including the Act of 1778 which was an attempt to repeal some of the anti-catholic measures of the Papists Act of 1698. Gordon rides with his obsequious secretary (Gashford) and a man named John Grueby. Gordon has now upwards of forty thousand followers in his anti-Catholic fight, but their finances are strained. (Among their donors they list off the ‘Prentice Knights, now the United Bull-Dogs.) We find that the house of Varden has been divided, with Mrs. Varden supporting Gordon while Gabriel Vardon does not.
Gordon has a curious dream that night, that he and Gashford are Jews. We find out that the hangman in London (Dennis) is a supporter of Gordon, as is Hugh, now. These latter two drink Gordon’s health at a local pub, before beginning a “No-Popery Dance”. Sim meets up with the two of them, convincing Hugh to join in his “United Bull-Dogs” association, and feels Hugh will be a real asset to the group.
“To surround anything, however monstrous or ridiculous, with an air of mystery, is to invest it with a secret charm, and power of attraction which to the crowd is irresistible. False priests, false prophets, false doctors, false patriots, false prodigies of every kind, veiling their proceedings in mystery, have always addressed themselves at an immense advantage to the popular credulity, and have been, perhaps, more indebted to that resource in gaining and keeping for a time the upper hand of Truth and Common Sense, than to any half-dozen items in the whole catalogue of imposture. Curiosity is, and has been from the creation of the world, a master-passion. To awaken it, to gratify it by slight degrees, and yet leave something always in suspense, is to establish the surest hold that can be had, in wrong, on the unthinking portion of mankind.”
Historical Context and Fictionalization: Lord George Gordon–and His Foil, Barnaby?–Gashford, the Gordon Riots, and the “Mob”
Henry shared a lovely etching of Broad Street during the Riots:
Henry O. comments
I shared a 16-part twitter thread regarding the fascinating character of Lord George Gordon, and the Riots:
Rach M. comment slideshow
Lenny responded about the “really complex and strangely confused character” of Lord Gordon, how “out of touch” he sometimes was, and how Dickens portrays this paradoxical figure:
I respond, bringing in my concerns about the “mob,” which Dickens is building up here (as he will later in A Tale of Two Cities), and how such scenes can be merely an excuse for giving free vent to the tendencies to violence and personal aggrandizement, often unrelated to the issue itself:
Chris had a fascinating take on the way Barnaby is described, comparing his characterization, “both in the physical descriptions and the temperamental,” with Gordon’s:
Lenny responds with a telling extended quote about both the characteristics of Gordon and Gashford, and what their dialogue “puts into high relief,” which he describes as the “unassuming and melancholy character of the Scottish Lord as it contrasts with the obsequious and sly personality of his ‘secretary’ Gashford”:
The question had been brought up as to whether Gashford is a historical figure, but both Chris and I read that he was invented by Dickens.
Calling for a “Barnaby Revolution”
Henry has been encouraging everyone to read Barnaby, and it really has it all: “A murder mystery, a talking raven, a suspicious criminal, a charming country inn, a dramatic rioting mob, and some lovely Georgian world building.” Join the Barnaby Revolution!
From the first, I’d loved Barnaby far more that I’d expected to, but starting with chapters 33 and 34, things really took a most fascinating turn for me:
Applicability and Timeliness: Sexual Harassment
Though we didn’t discuss this as a group in detail, I really want to highlight the Stationmaster’s wonderful insight about the timeliness and applicability of Barnaby Rudge, which we began to discuss previously in a political context, but which also relates to sexual harassment:
“I Am Not What I Am”: Chester, Chesterfield, and Gashford
Folks, have we been “loving to hate” Sir John Chester, or what?
But before we get into his characterization, the Stationmaster had asked a question about Chester’s motive in giving Emma the letter from Dolly. Chris responds:
I discuss Chester as “one of my absolute favorite types of Villain”:
He is, as Lenny commented, one whose public persona and private reality are at complete odds with one another:
“Sir John–in spite of his hugely deficient character in terms of his morality–is PUBLICALLY revered by those who socialize with him, pander to him, but who, when in private, probably despise him. What is most relevant is that Dickens is providing an OUTSIDE view of him from the point of view of others who socialize with him, those who are probably members of his class. As readers we are privileged to see him–more or less–from the INSIDE, not only his thoughts but his private conversations with various members of the “cast” of characters we are most familiar with. In this more “private” sphere, we get to see him being accepted or rejected by those whom he is duping as well as those who he is insulting.”
~Lenny H. comment
The Stationmaster also drew our attention to a quote from Chapter 24. He writes:
“It’s interesting that long before we get to the description of the Gordon Riots, Dickens warns against another kind of mob in his description of John Chester at a party…
“’How the accomplished gentleman spent the evening in the midst of a dazzling and brilliant circle; how he enchanted all those with whom he mingled by the grace of his deportment, the politeness of his manner, the vivacity of his conversation, and the sweetness of his voice; how it was observed in every corner, that Chester was a man of that happy disposition that nothing ruffled him, that he was one on whom the world’s cares and errors sat lightly as his dress, and in whose smiling face a calm and tranquil mind was constantly reflected; how honest men, who by instinct knew him better, bowed down before him nevertheless, deferred to his every word, and courted his favourable notice; how people, who really had good in them, went with the stream, and fawned and flattered, and approved, and despised themselves while they did so, and yet had not the courage to resist; how, in short, he was one of those who are received and cherished in society (as the phrase is) by scores who individually would shrink from and be repelled by the object of their lavish regard; are things of course, which will suggest themselves.’”
~Adaptation Stationmaster comment (with quote from Barnaby Rudge, Ch. 34)
Lenny believes Chester “a far more interesting antagonist than either Quilp or Ralph Nickleby”:
But he also adds that, while the Iago passage I quoted above is applicable to Chester–who, as Lenny remarks, “heads the list of deceivers and planners”–it is also applicable to another character: Gashford!
The Stationmaster asked about the reference to Lord Chesterfield in Chapter 23, the writings of whom Sir John Chester eulogizes at some length. Chris responds:
Lenny believes that “the 19th century readers would probably be aware of this equation right off the bat,” and the connection (even in name) between the two “deepens our awareness of the immoral and dissipated character of this novel’s chief villain in its early stages”:
The whole conversation about Lord Chesterfield rang a bell for Dana, from her college days. She also gave us a link to the letters themselves:
I was thinking of Chester, for a while, as a kind of prototype of the Marquis St. Evrémonde (in A Tale of Two Cities), although the latter wouldn’t have given the time of day, even for the sake of deception, to deceive any as “low” as Simon Tappertit (as in the juicy scene when the latter is flattered by Chester, who clearly despises him):
I was remarking on twitter about my love-to-hate feeling about Chester, which Chris and Matt Carton agreed with:
However, Chris does admit to having one thing in common with Sir John, and I’ll toast to that:
Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Characterization; Dickens’ “Best Romance”?
The Stationmaster is surprised by some of his reactions to the characters, including “feeling a little sorry for Hugh.” He also writes of what he considers weaknesses (in mystery, surprise, and characterizations). He is finding some similarities in tone to Oliver Twist:
He writes of finding other characters “more sympathetic” than he previously did, and reflects on the three men that Willet and Hugh meet on the road, and the “tragic antagonist,” Lord Gordon:
The Illustrations: “Full of Information and Interpretation”
Chris gave us an important reminder to do a close reading not only of Dickens’ text, but of the accompanying illustrations:
Here is the illustration Chris refers to:
I shared her insights on twitter, and Dr. Christian responded, reminding us that Barnaby and Shop, being part of Master Humphrey’s Clock, are different from Dickens’ other illustrated novels, as “they were dropped into the text, rather than being in plates.” (Hence, it might be, increased reader engagement and text-to-illustration relationship.) Dr. Christian also recommends “looking at the decorative capitals,” which are in Appendix II of the Penguin edition:
A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Barnaby Rudge (20-26 Sept, 2022)
Friends, this week is particularly exciting, as we have our first online chat for the #DickensClub coming up this Saturday, 24 September, 2022! It will be held on Google Meet at 11am PT/2pm ET/6pm GMT.
If I haven’t contacted you to send a link, it’s because I’m not sure who all is currently reading or interested, and/or I don’t have everyone’s email address. If you’d like to join, please feel free to message Rach on twitter, or to email her!
A Note on our First Online Meeting:
This will be a very informal chat, so even if you’re not currently reading Barnaby Rudge, we’d love to have you join! Boze will be the main facilitator and Rach will take notes and help to keep us on schedule (no longer than an hour). (But with our members, I have a feeling the conversation will just take off in its own direction!) The default, informal breakdown will be something like this:
- Meet and greet, for those who would like to introduce themselves! (No pressure–a few of us introverts remember the school-day shyness! But we’d love to get to know everyone, even as simple as: your name & what part of the world you’re joining from.)
- Favorite read so far in the group? (Those who’d like to could share a favorite passage or scene. But again…no pressure!)
- During the final 15-20 minutes we’ll be touching on Barnaby Rudge, so…for those who are not reading it and don’t want spoilers, you can bail here. But you’re more than welcome to stay, whether or not you’re currently reading!
This Week in Barnaby Rudge…
This week we’ll be reading Chapters 40-59 of Barnaby Rudge.