Barnaby Rudge: A Final Wrap-Up

Wherein we revisit our fourth week’s reading of Barnaby Rudge, and the first week of our “break” (Weeks 39-40 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a summary and discussion wrap-up; and a look-ahead to the coming reads.

“Lord George Gordon in the Tower,” by Phiz.

By the #DickensClub members, edited/compiled by Rach

Friends, thank you for your patience as I waited an additional week to post our final wrap-up of Barnaby Rudge, due to personal engagements along with an unexpected bout of Covid!

What a delightful surprise Barnaby Rudge has been, and I’m sure a number of us are reluctant to let it go. I’ll include here a wrap-up of some of the recurring themes over our 5 weeks of discussion on this underrated novel.

Here are some quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. Barnaby Rudge, Week Four (Chapters 60-“Chapter the Last”): A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. Final Thematic Wrap-Up
  5. A Look-Ahead to Our Break, and Coming Reads

General Mems

In case you missed it, our member Henry Oliver wrote a beautiful reflection on his experience reading Barnaby Rudge, and on its applicability.

The Stationmaster shared with us a delightfully humorous, Dickensian video that he created on YouTube, here!

Deacon Matthew, on his beautiful blog of seminary life, faith and literature, posted the second half of our chat about The Pickwick Papers. This discussion centered on benevolent benefactors, friendship, and fatherhood in Pickwick. Our chat starts at about 17:40.

If you’re counting, today is day 280 (and week 41) in our #DickensClub! It will be the second week of our break between Barnaby Rudge and Dickens’ American works (his travelogue, American Notes, and his “American novel,” Martin Chuzzlewit, which will be our eighth and ninth reads of the group). Please feel free to comment below this post for any final comments on Barnaby Rudge, 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. 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 Four (Chapters 60-“Chapter the Last”): A Summary

“He had not heard a word of Barnaby—didn’t even know his name—but it had been said in his hearing that some man had been taken and carried off to Newgate.”

London. A scout tells Hugh and the rioters (feeling the “lassitude and fatigue” of the day’s work) who are making for the Boot, that soldiers and constables have taken it over. They make their way towards Fleet market. There, a man looking worn and torn asks for Hugh, and tells him that Barnaby has been taken to Newgate. Plans are considered for the releasing of the prisoners at night, and the burning of the prison.

Haredale has trouble making his way around in London and getting someone to take Rudge, Sr, off his hands. Because Haredale is a Catholic, “not a man among them dared to help him by so much as the motion of a finger.” A postboy, however, takes pity on him and assists him to get Rudge to London–where signs of anti-catholicism abound, and everyone is nervous to assist anyone of that faith.

“The Murderer’s Confession,” by Phiz.

At last, a magistrate places Rudge in Newgate prison. Rudge, along with Stagg who has entered the scene, concocts a plan to get himself released—if Mrs. Rudge can be convinced to declare that he is not her husband, and that her own husband had died long ago.

Rudge meets young Barnaby, his son, in the prison, and makes himself known to him.

“Finding the younger man too strong for him, he raised his face, looked close into his eyes, and said,

‘I am your father.’

God knows what magic the name had for his ears; but Barnaby released his hold, fell back, and looked at him aghast.”

Gabriel Varden is beset by rioters who demand that he help them to pick the prison locks, as he knows them better than any. He refuses to help them.

“The Locksmith Undaunted,” by Phiz.

“‘You have robbed me of my daughter,’ said the locksmith, ‘who is far, far dearer to me than my life; and you may take my life, if you will. I bless God that I have been enabled to keep my wife free of this scene; and that He has made me a man who will not ask mercy at such hands as yours…I’ll do nothing for you.’”

Miggs cries down to the rioters, appealing especially to Sim, to come free her from the attic room where she has been locked for her own safety, stating that the gun Varden is holding is of no use:

“‘Don’t mind his gun,’ screamed Miggs. ‘Simmun and gentlemen, I poured a mug of table-beer right down the barrel.’

The crowd gave a loud shout, which was followed by a roar of laughter.”

They all march to Newgate, with Varden being forced to accompany them. There, the jailer refuses to release any prisoners. Varden still declares his resolution not to help the rioters under any condition; he is attacked, but then saved by a one-armed man.

They make a large pile of dry furniture, smeared with pitch, tar, resin, and turpentine, and make a bonfire by the door of the prison—but the fire spreads, now threatening to take over the whole building, an “infernal christening.”

“The furniture being very dry, and rendered more combustible by wax and oil, besides the arts they had used, took fire at once. The flames roared high and fiercely, blackening the prison-wall, and twining up its loftly front like burning serpents. At first they crowded round the blaze, and vented their exultation only in their looks: but when it grew hotter and fiercer–when it crackled, leaped, and roared, like a great furnace–when it shone upon the opposite houses, and lighted up not only the pale and wondering faces at the windows, but the inmost corners of each habitation– when through the deep red heat and glow, the fire was seen sporting and toying with the door, now clinging to its obdurate surface, now gliding off with fierce inconstancy and soaring high into the sky, anon returning to fold it in its burning grasp and lure it to its ruin–when it shone and gleamed so brightly that the church clock of St Sepulchre’s so often pointing to the hour of death, was legible as in broad day, and the vane upon its steeple-top glittered in the unwonted light like something richly jewelled– when blackened stone and sombre brick grew ruddy in the deep reflection, and windows shone like burnished gold, dotting the longest distance in the fiery vista with their specks of brightness–when wall and tower, and roof and chimney-stack, seemed drunk, and in the flickering glare appeared to reel and stagger– when scores of objects, never seen before, burst out upon the view, and things the most familiar put on some new aspect–then the mob began to join the whirl, and with loud yells, and shouts, and clamour, such as happily is seldom heard, bestirred themselves to feed the fire, and keep it at its height.”

The prisoners manage to find their way out, and Haredale comes too late to ensure that the elder Rudge is still confined.

Meanwhile, Haredale and Varden are both still looking for Emma and Dolly.

“Mr Haredale, from the dawn of morning until sunset, sought his niece in every place where he deemed it possible she could have taken refuge. All day long, nothing, save a draught of water, passed his lips; though he prosecuted his inquiries far and wide, and never so much as sat down, once.”

John Grueby, who has left Gordon’s group and is now working for a distiller, helps Haredale to find a place to rest at the vintner’s home.

“‘On one condition, please, sir,’ said John, touching his hat. ‘No evidence against my Lord—a misled man—a kind-hearted man, sir. My Lord never intended this.’”

However, mobs are closing in and setting fires, and Haredale, who tries to get the vintner to save himself, is persuaded to go down into the cellar vaults, and they are rescued by Edward Chester and Joe Willet.

Meanwhile, after finding some shelter in a shed with his father and Grip, Barnaby Rudge, Jr, goes back to find and rescue Hugh who has fallen from his horse, and brings him to the shed. Dennis, who has betrayed them all, arrives with soldiers who arrest the Rudges and Hugh. Stagg is killed.

Dennis flatters and cons Miggs into helping him get Emma and Dolly to the Continent—a plan of Gashford’s.

“‘Well, but you are Wenus, you know,’ said Mr Dennis, confidentially.”

Gashford approaches the women under the false pretense of coming from Haredale. Dolly tries to get Emma not to listen to him. However, the ladies’ rescuers arrive: Joe, Edward, Mr. Haredale, and Mrs. Varden. Gashford is now known to them.

“Gashford, for it was no other, crouching yet malignant, raised his scowling face, like sin subdued, and pleaded to be gently used.”

Dolly and Joe reunite, and she confesses her earlier foolishness, while Joe hopes that she will be married happily, seeing little hope for himself in his present state.

“Lord George Gordon in the Tower,” by Phiz.
“The Hangman in Difficulties,” by Phiz.

Mrs. Rudge is unable to get her husband to confess. Meanwhile, Lord Gordon is arrested.

“Of all his forty thousand men, not one remained to bear him company.”

Dennis, too, is arrested, and is shaken to see that he is to be in the same cell as Hugh, whom he betrayed. Hugh, however, has little interest in revenge, now, seeing that they are all in the same situation, and thinks of his own mother, who was hanged at Tyburn. Hugh, Dennis, and Barnaby, Jr, are sentenced to the same fate, and Mrs. Rudge is with her son as often as possible towards the end.

” ‘…what would become of Grip when I am dead?’

The sound of the word, or the current of his own thoughts, suggested to Grip his old phrase ‘Never say die!’ But he stopped short in the middle of it, drew a dismal cork, and subsided into a faint croak, as if he lacked the heart to get through the shortest sentence.”

Dennis has asked Varden to give Sir John Chester a message about a gypsy woman who had been hanged years ago—Hugh’s mother. It was discovered later through another prisoner that the child’s father was Sir John Chester. Chester refuses, however, to acknowledge his son, even at the end of the latter’s life.

Hugh and Barnaby meet their fate with indifference on the part of the former, and bravery on the latter, while Dennis is in a constant state of cowardly pleading and deludes himself into thinking he’ll be saved at the eleventh hour. Hugh feels badly for getting Barnaby involved, but Barnaby tries to convince him that he is not to blame.

“You have been always very good to me.–Hugh, we shall know what makes the stars shine, now!”

Joe means to accompany Edward to the West Indies, and Dolly wants to go with Joe as his wife. Mr. Willet, who remains baffled by events and by the loss of Joe’s arm, finally seems proud of his son.

Haredale finally blesses the marriage of Edward and Emma, before acknowledging his own plans to go to the Continent and enter monastic life. A mob enters the scene, with Gabriel Varden and Barnaby, both of whom have been released. Mrs. Rudge is reunited with her son, and is living with the Vardens. Hugh, before his execution, had refused to meet with his newly-discovered brother, Edward Chester.

Meanwhile, Miggs, who foolishly imagined she would be welcomed back into the Vardens home, has returned, but is almost as speedily seen off again. Mrs. Varden has been tempered by the whole experience they have gone through.

“Sir John Chester’s End,” by George Cattermole.

Before Haredale goes abroad, he makes a last stop to the remnants of the Warren (having passed the Maypole and glad to see there are signs of life again there), and finds Sir John Chester there. They duel, and Haredale runs Chester through.

“After a few seconds they grew hotter and more furious, and pressing on each other inflicted and received several slight wounds. It was directly after receiving one of these in his arm, that Mr Haredale, making a keener thrust as he felt the warm blood spirting out, plunged his sword through his opponent’s body to the hilt.

Their eyes met, and were on each other as he drew it out. He put his arm about the dying man, who repulsed him, feebly, and dropped upon the turf. Raising himself upon his hands, he gazed at him for an instant, with scorn and hatred in his look: but seeming to remember, even then, that this expression would distort his features after death, he tried to smile; and, faintly mmoving his right hand, as if to hide his bloody linen in his vest, fell back dead–the phantom of last night.”

Gordon had been tried for treason, but released, only to be excommunicated from the Church of England. He is reimprisoned years later (having, among other things, written against Marie Antoinette). He had converted to Judaism in the meanwhile, and dies in prison, faithful to his new beliefs, and merciful to others.

Gashford eventually dies. Simon is eventually released, now with two wooden legs, and eventually marries a widow and becomes a shoeblack. Miggs becomes a female turnkey.

Dolly and Joe marry and end up reopening the Maypole—and Edward and Emma end up returning to England too, with their own family—while Mr. Willet retires nearby, and Barnaby and his mother live on the Maypole’s farm. Grip, who had ceased talking for a year, becomes verbose again, and accompanies Barnaby through his life.

“Grip soon recovered his looks, and became as glossy and sleek as ever…but certain it is that for a whole year he never indulged in any other sound than a grave, decorous croak. At the expiration of that term, the morning being very bright and sunny, he was heard to address himself to the horses in the stable, upon the subject of the Kettle, so often mentioned in these pages; and before the witness who overheard him could run into the house with the intelligence, and add to it upon his solemn affirmation the statement that he had heard him laugh, the bird himself advanced with fantastic steps to the very door of the bar, and there cried, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil!’ with extraordinary rapture.”

Discussion Wrap-Up

Miscellaneous Whimsy

Just for fun, I posted a poll on twitter featuring four of our favorite characters so far, asking which would be one’s preferred prison companion. Deacon Matthew wrote, “Sam, no contest!” And it looks like that was “a self-evident proposition” indeed…

And for further proof that we’ve not forgotten our Pickwickian friends, we’ve had several shares on that theme this week:

Meanwhile, Chris shared some fabulous related images: John Lucas’ painting of the Gordon riots, and a still from the 1915 film of Barnaby Rudge!


The Stationmaster brings us back to the theme of the applicability of this novel and the parallels to the January 6th insurrection.

Dickens, while showing the infuriating Mayor, contrasts these officials with “the heroism of people like the postboy, the vintner, John Grueby…”

(And, of course, the Star Wars moment…)

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Chris writes of the “uncannily prescient” reverberations here, “ripped from today’s headlines”:

Chris M. comment

On another note, especially considering our upcoming “American” reads, the Stationmaster considers whether “Dickens’s America is a portrait of what the world would be like if everyone talked and acted the way they do on social media”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Dickens and Violence: Internal & External; the Aftermath

Lenny writes of the violent apex of “the three very striking events that are almost too horrendous to witness–the taking apart of Willet’s Maypole, the burning of Haredale’s Warren, and the storming and scorching of Newgate.” But he argues that rather than considering the novel as having two separate parts or being solely about the Gordon riots, we might consider that “it demonstrates how individuals within a community become involved in a major historical event” and the “psychological violence” that is done. There are lasting effects to the community and the individual, and Dickens balances both:

Lenny H. comment

I responded, with a focus on just how much forgiveness is needed “even amid the ‘smaller’ and more personal events in the novel”:

Rach M. comment

Water Imagery: the Mob and the Deluge

Chris writes beautifully of the ocean/water imagery in relation to the mob:

Chris M. comment

Lenny responds, wondering whether “Dickens is rapidly hewing his craft to new imaginative heights” and noting the crazy “self-destruction” of the rioters. He continues bringing out the metaphor in new forms–the ship image, the “frozen” water:

Lenny H. comments

I wrote in response that we will see the same imagery (“the sea rises”) of the mob that storms the Bastille in A Tale of Two Cities.


Chris asks for thoughts about the “interesting parallel to Lord George’s unintended responsibility for the riots” in “Joe’s unintended responsibility for the attack on Newgate”:

Chris M. comment

Indeed…why did Dickens choose to make a note that it was Joe that informed them?

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Characterization, Endings, Action Sequences

The Stationmaster has been bringing us around again to Dickens’ crafting of the characters, even ones that we dislike but feel a little sorry for–including scenes he wishes had been added, like Barnaby’s reunion with his mother:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Chris notes the parallels between “Rudge’s state of mind while in the prison” to “Bill Sikes’s after killing Nancy”:

Chris M. comment

After Stationmaster had cleared up a bit of perceived confusion about a typo, Lenny reflects on the “reader response” and the “widely disparate assessments of this novel” among the critics–perhaps depending on the perception of it as a historical novel about the Gordon riots, and that alone; versus the readers who disregard it because it doesn’t fit in with Dickens’ typical structure, that of the bildungsroman. He considers also our ongoing discussion of “the lack of a well-defined central character” and how this impacts our response:

Lenny H. comments

The Stationmaster considers the endings of Dickens’ early novels–the “happy” wrap-up, but with a shadow of trauma, or perhaps containing one “sympathetic character who didn’t end well”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

And wow, can Dickens write action scenes or what!

Here, Chris beautifully analyzes the structure of the immersive and action-oriented description of the fire at Newgate (the When-Then structure, emphasizing current action with its consequences):

Chris M. comment

Final Thematic Wrap-Up

Friends, in keeping with our “final wrap-up” structure, I’ll outline a few recurring themes that we’ve discussed over our weeks with Barnaby Rudge:

  1. Crime and Violence (Internal, external. Personal trauma; the mob. Lenny particularly brought this out during our final week.)
  2. Mental Health (Internal “violence”–see #1. There is much to forgive, and lasting trauma from the various kinds of violence in the novel.)
  3. Money (Not as much a theme here, except in Barnaby’s innocent desire for it, leading to his following the crowd.)
  4. Dickens’ Women (Miggs–as Chris said, Sally Brass’ spiritual sister; Mrs. Rudge; Dolly & Emma. Stationmaster focused on Dolly as a particularly human heroine, neither angel nor fallen woman.)
  5. City vs. Country; Dickens’ Romanticism (We didn’t discuss this in detail with Barnaby, but it did show up somewhat in the Rudges’ escape to the country, though they were pulled back into the chaotic anonymity of London.)
  6. Memory (Again, an ongoing theme in Dickens, though not so much focused on here. Mostly, haunting memories of guilt–the backstory of the murders at the Warren.)
  7. Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Characterization, Foreshadowing, Contrasts, Unlikely Heroes, Mob Violence, Endings and Action Sequences (Stationmaster particularly brought us to the differences in characterization in this novel, versus Dickens’ previous novels: the human heroine, the unlikely hero–especially Joe Willet. Chris’ notes on the fascinating character parallels between Gordon and Barnaby; eve, the unintended consequences that we see in Joe Willet’s actions leading to the storming of Newgate.)
  8. Applicability (Stationmaster first made the parallels to the January 6th incident and hearings; we’ve all alluded to this, and perhaps most notably Dana, Chris, and the Stationmaster.)
  9. Ensemble “Cast” (Lenny has discussed this particularly, and the divergence of this novel from previous works with the more central character and bildungsroman journey structure. Rach, Stationmaster, Chris, and all of us discussed the ensemble nature of the piece: there is no central “hero”–and we questioned why Barnaby was chosen as title character.)
  10. “I am not what I am.” (We loved Sir John Chester as a villain. Rach quoted Iago’s line in reference to him. Lenny equated it also with Gashford. Dana and Chris gave us great context on Lord Chesterfield, Chester’s role model.)
  11. Doubling (Chris brought out the fascinating parallels between Lord Gordon and Barnaby Rudge. We have already seen some of Dickens’ marvelous “doubling”, and we will continue to do so over the course of our reads.)
  12. Dickens, the Gothic, and “Supernatural Agents” (A double-murder opening, as Boze brought out in his introduction. A talking raven–the “supernatural agent”–who seems almost emblematic of the devilish voice that incites to violence and chaos. Charred old gothic piles, ivy-covered, ancient taverns, duels, dark and stormy nights, ghosts…)
  13. Dickens’ Illustrations: “Full of Information and Interpretation” (Dr. Christian reminds us that these illustrations are dropped right into the text, adding to the “dialogue” between text-and-image; Chris noted particularly the Abraham-sacrificing-Issac image in the illustration “Mr. Chester’s Diplomacy” as he talks with his son. Go Phiz and Cattermole!)
  14. Dickens’ “Best Romance”? (Stationmaster noted the very human qualities of Joe Willet and Dolly, and considers whether this could be called Dickens’ best romance so far.)
  15. Dickens and Catholicism (We’ll see this again in later works, Dickens’ uncomfortable but interested relationship with Catholicism, from his strange dream about Mary Hogarth, to Pictures from Italy. Gina noted that Dickens really “sides with the oppressed.” We all seemed to agree that Dickens was very fair in his portrayal here, and rightfully against anti-catholic violence.)
  16. Calling for a “Barnaby Revolution” (We’ve been hitting on this theme all around: Henry’s interest that this novel should be better known and appreciated; Dana and Cassandra were finding it to be a favorite so far; we all enjoyed it far more than we anticipated, and Lenny sees a whole new level of mastery in Dickens’ writing.)

A Look-Ahead to Our Break, and Coming Reads

Let’s all have tea!

As the wrap-up was delayed, we just have one more week of a “break” between reads. However, if you’ve decided not to join in for the travelogue American Notes, you’ll have a month-long “break” left before our next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit!

Boze will be introducing Dickens’ two American works together, much the way he did with the container Master Humphrey’s Clock and its first contained novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, so look out for his introduction to American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit on Tuesday, 18 October, 2022!

Meanwhile, Polly put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea…


  1. Thank you, Rach, for (as always) pulling so much material together in such a lively and enlightening way!

    I apologize for not commenting nearly as much as I would like, considering that BR has turned out to be such a gem (and now one of my favorite novels), but delightful if time-consuming family matters intervened and there weren’t enough hours in the day. (Thank God for audiobooks, or else I couldn’t even have finished the book!)

    But I have finally been able to sit down and read the group’s wonderfully insightful comments, and am (personally) most struck–okay, I’m a News junkie–with the January 6th comparisons.

    Someone said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but if frequently rhymes. I suppose that’s because, while specific social circumstances are in a constant state of flux and re-alignment, human nature changes very very little over time. The human capacity for willful ignorance, bigotry, greed, resentment, ambition, narcissism, self-deception, and opportunistic violence will always, like life itself, “find a way.” Dickens nails these frailties with his capacious grab bag of characters as few authors do. Thank God he is also such a master at portraying the equally powerful human capacities for hope, decency, bravery, forgiveness, and sometimes even repentance, or else some of us, after finishing one of his novels, might be unable to haul ourselves out of bed the next morning and Soldier On.

    Wonderful story, wonderful comments…thank you all!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Greetings, Inimitables!

    Like Dana Rail, I have been missing from the rich, layered, revelatory discussions. But, I so appreciate everyone’s thoughtful input.

    Dana Rail, your reflection on Dickens’ “grab bag” of motley characters and the chiaroscuro reality he portrays–the truly good, bad, and ugly–captures the essence of Dickens’ gifts.

    With Lenny, I reveled in Dickens’ writing power. The horrifying scenes of destructive, mindless rampaging mobs were described with such precise details that I felt them viscerally. Thanks, Chris, for the examination of water (large bodies, especially) as imagery for this welling madness.

    I’m left with the deepest appreciation for the keenest observer of human experience, Dickens. Like Henry, I marvel at the way in which many critics really miss Dickens’ brilliance in “Rudge.”

    Dickens was a social psychologist par excellence: describing the “tinder box” of human behavior, ignited by prejudice, anger/resentment, and quintessentially the sense of being under-seen and -appreciated (characters such as Hugh, Dennis, Stagg, and Simon Tappertit).

    How profoundly insightful! Dickens’ possessed deep awareness about the “inferiority complex” that is now a commonplace notion, and its great peril for harm, given the right opportunity.

    Thank you all for the panoramic reflections on this marvelous novel.


    Liked by 2 people

  3. This may sound weird, but I love it when you summarize the previous week’s reading. Dickens’s plots are so complicated that it’s nice to have a resource when I can’t remember exactly what happens and in what part.

    For the record, I don’t think I’d say Joe Willet and Dolly Varden represent Dickens’s best romance; I just wonder if theirs is the best he’d written at this point in his career.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you 100% Stationmaster. Rach’s summaries are top notch and really help us with the whole picture of each novel each week. More Kudos to you Ms Wren…!


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