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VINE VOICEon 29 November 2003
"Barnaby Rudge" was the first commercial failure Dickens had. There were a number of reasons for this, mainly I suspect that it was published during a recession, but also because Dickens had by then made a big name for himself as an observer of his own times. That is very much the image he still has today, Dickens is synonymous with the mid-19th century, so going back to the end of the 18th century wasn't perhaps commercially a good move. These days "Barnaby Rudge" has become overshadowed completely by Dickens's other historical novel, "A Tale Of Two Cities", not helped by the fact that both books cover more or less the same themes: the horrors of mob rule, a city plunged into anarchy, the storming of a prison, and what happens when innocent people get dragged into a cause that is being manipulated by people with dubious axes to grind, plus of course the perennial theme of love triumphing in the face of evil.

Having said all that, "Barnaby Rudge" holds up strongly as a book in its own right. The anti-Catholic Gordon Riots are virtually unknown to us these days (I have to admit, somewhat shamefully, I had never heard of them before, it was quite an eye-opener to find that such a devestating thing had happened in London!), but its central core theme of people becoming divided and wrecking havoc and hatred on each other is as relevant now as ever. Barnaby himself is a mentally-handicapped young man, and it is heartbreaking to see him allowing himself to be adopted by the cause in the belief that he will make his mother proud of him. It is also a delightful portrait of someone totally pure at heart caught up in a cynical, hate-filled world. I don't mean that to sound as though Dickens is preaching, (which would be off-putting to anyone just wanting a good read) because he isn't, nowhere does he allow that to happen.

As you would expect with Dickens there is a whole cast of strong, eccentric characters: the vain, uptight spinster Miss Miggs who seems to delude herself that every man she meets is fatally smitten with her, the almost feral-like Hugh the ostler, Dennis the Hangman, enthusiastically keen to get a rope round everybody else's neck but not so keen to see it near his own, Gabriel Varden, the salt-of-the-earth locksmith and his insufferably neurotic wife, and the immensely slappable Sir John Chester. The younger characters pale by comparison, though I have a soft-spot for Joe Willett, bullied by his overbearing father so much he has to run away from home and join the army. The central star-crossed love-story between Edward Chester (Protestant) and Emma Haredale (Catholic) virtually makes no impact at all, simply because the characters are so two-dimensional, and Dolly Varden is just a daft young flirt who realises, too late, that she's let a good bloke out of her grasp. Also much of the stuff surrounding Barnaby's mysterious father really doesn't make much impact at all. Rudge Snr simply doesn't come alive as a character. He's spent so long in the shadows that he seems to have become one!

What makes this book worth reading are obviously the Riots themselves, and showing the devestation it has on the ordinary people caught up in it, and the comedy set around the 'Maypole Inn'. Most importantly though, the character of Barnaby himself, and his talking black crow, Grip. Here you get Dickens's love of humanity and his compassion worked to great effect.
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on 16 February 2011
As I approach retirement, disappointed by decades of appalling Christmas presents, and haunted by the golden memories of childhood gifts, I have decided to buy myself each year an unabridged Dickens audio book for the Christmas tree. This year it's Barnaby Rudge, and I have been listening to it while commuting to work for most of January and February. The book is in two parts - the first recognizable Dickens, the second something else altogether - a fiery historical narrative of the Gordon Riots, centring on characters set up in the first half of the book. The novel feels very up to date and the reader is so wonderful that I should prostrate myself before him. Thank you, God, for creating and developing Naxos audiobooks.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 March 2011
Definitely my favourite Dickens book. It's not as well known as say Nicholas Nickleby or Oliver Twist, and is one of only two historical novels that Dickens wrote (the other being A Tale of Two Cities), but it's always been, and remains, my favourite.

The characters are tremendous - Joseph Willett and his cronies, Miss Miggs who is hilarious, and Hugh; and Barnaby himself. While there may be no standout villains or heroines as are in some other Dickens books, I think that's actually a good point in Barnaby Rudge's favour. The story is well balanced between a gothic mystery, historical political and religious fervour, and characters who attempt to make sense of the times they live in. Sir John Chester and Mr Haredale are exellent foils (both flawed, yet both so sure they are right); and Hugh and Dennis, Lord George Gordon and Gashford are excellently written. I think this novel benefits from not having a simpering heroine or dashing hero to overpower the strengths of the other characters.

I've read and re-read Dickens' books I don't know how many times; and Barnaby Rudge is still the one I remember most fondly. I'm glad I've read it again.
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on 12 June 2001
The neccessity of the Higher English "Specialist Study" caused me to be drawn to this novel. I could not have hoped for better material.
Underrated and almost forgotten, I had no pre-conceived ideas about "Barnaby Rudge", and was therefore pleasently surprised by how enjoyable I found it. The mentally impared title character is a charming one - the very personification of the purity Dickens attempted to capture in many of his novles. The plot, inspired by the Gordon riots of 1780, is a patchwork of inter-twining and enthralling adventures, sufficiently mysterious so as to both confound and delight the reader. The formidible stock of characters are all delightfully and vividly brought to life, and one cannot help but share in their joy and pain - I for one found myself cheering, weeping and smiling rediculously in the course of the book.
If there is one annoyance it is the lack of a substantial villian - in this novel, Dickens presents not one or two wholly evil creatures, but instead a handful of "baddies", each causing turmoil in their own way. Although all are thourghly detestably, none command the raw hatred felt for some of Dickens's more famous bad guys, such as Bill Sikes or Uriah Heep.
Nonetheless, "Barnaby Rudge" is still a brilliantly conceived novel and, flowing as it does from the pen of the master story-teller, cannot help but captivate the reader.
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on 27 December 2010
As an ardent fan of Dickens,(surely the finest writer in the English language)I am aware that many would say that Great Expectations or David Copperfield were his greatest achievements. While they are both great works of literature, for me Barnaby Rudge was his greatest work. He is often described as "a painter with words", nowhere does this description apply more appropriately than in Barnaby Rudge. The characters are so real you can almost imagine yourself being there with them. It sweeps you along in an ever expanding plot which culminates in an explosive ending. Highly recommended for anyone new to the work of the undoubted master of English Literature and this Wordsworth Version is affordable with the added bonus of the original illustrations. If you need a comfort blanket of a book, this is it
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on 3 July 2008
Having struggled with the frankly turgid "A tale of Two Cities" I stumbled upon this with some trepidation.
I was rewarded with an absolutely marvellous read.
Characters I cared about, though I concede the eponymous hero was not one of them, and a number of top notch villains - Hugh leading the way.
A good central story with interesting subplots and storylines. All in all - highly recommended.
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on 11 September 2012
For someone whose favourite literary period is the 19th Century, I have a confession to make. I am 43 years old (young!) and Barnaby Rudge is the first Charles Dickens novel I have ever been able to finish. I had previously made attempts on Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Hard Times and never got passed more than a couple of chapters in any one of them. Perhaps it was due to having hitherto had many great expectations and more than a few hard times? Who knows?!

When I saw that The Complete Works of Charles Dickens was available on Kindle for less that £2.00 I downloaded it and was then left with the decision as to which of his novels I should try first. I went for Barnaby Rudge as I liked the name. Simple as that. I knew nothing about the book, not even, as it transpired, the length of it. That's one of the negative points of reading a book on Kindle - particularly when it is part of a collection. It was only after reading it for a month or so that I decided to check out the length in paperback - 744 pages. For one who had decided to regularly read and post reviews I guess a novel of such length was not a good choice. But by that time, it was too late to stop reading, not least because I was absolutely in love with the book.

So where to begin? Barnaby Rudge was apparently scheduled to be Dickens' first published novel but due to various issues including a change of publisher it was originally published in weekly installments from February 1841 to November 1841 in a magazine he edited called Master Humphrey's Clock. By all accounts it is not renowned as being one of his best and there have only been two attempts to dramatise it - once in a 1915 silent movie and again in an early 1960's TV serialisation. To be honest, had I known of these facts before, I would still have chosen it to be the first of his novels I would read all the way through. I do love an underdog!

For me, the novel felt like I was engaged in three different art forms. The first third is like wandering around an art gallery, taking in the scenes, observing a time where the world was slower, less intense. The second is like watching an action film - fast paced, frantic, disturbing and entirely enthralling. The final third is akin to watching a series of vignettes on stage - the resolution of each of the many plot strands. This one man audience applauded and left the theatre sighing and fulfilled.

The central theme of the novel is how people cope when faced with emotional conflict - whether that be thwarted love, a lusting for a higher station in life, a desire for money or a desire for power. The first third of the novel sets up the conflicts and the central third imposes the incredible anarchy initiated (somewhat unknowingly it must be said) by Lord Gordon's attempts to rail against the Papist Act of 1778. Each of the main characters are caught up in the riots and each is changed by the way they decide to react to them. As you would expect, there are heroes and villains, deceit, wonder and disaster. The description of the riots is absolutely stunning and I could not help but think of the riots in London last year. Over 200 years separates each event yet Charles Dickens' account far exceeds anything I read in any newspaper a year ago. I was moved, appalled and entirely dumbstruck by the connection. I defy anyone not to react in a similar way.

The structure of Barnaby Rudge reminded me of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862) - the extensive scenes depicting the Battle of Waterloo substituting the Gordon Riots; and the character of Miggs was very redolent of Miss Clack in The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins. Other than A Tale of Two Cities, Barnaby Rudge was the only novel Charles Dickens wrote that wasn't set in the 19th Century and there is a feeling of nostalgia in it that perhaps is hard to feel about his 19th Century novels. I have recently begun reading Nicholas Nickleby so I can certainly attest to the fact that his anger against the education system, capitalism and greed is certainly not depicted with any form of sentiment!

So overall, having read Barnaby Rudge, I am full of awe, admiration, joy and humility. William Blake is my ultimate literary hero - Charles Dickens, even after having just read one of his novels (a largely forgotten one at that) is already running him a close second.
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on 13 March 2011
This is now my fourth Dickens-novel, and not to beat about the bush: each has made me more and more of a Dickens-enthusiast. Intending to read Dickens' novels chronologically I should actually, after having finished The Pickwick Papers (Oxford World's Classics),Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics) and Nicholas Nickleby (Wordsworth Classics), have read The Old Curiosity Shop (Oxford World's Classics) first but somehow I got the proper order mixed up and read 'Barnaby Rudge' first. Be that as it may, 'Barnaby Rudge' perhaps even more than the previous three novels impressed me with the sheer power of Dickens writing.

Actually, the story starts quite innocently, so to speak on a domestic scale with the tale of several families all of whom are loosely connected to each other: there's sir Haredale who - ever since his brother Reuben and his trusted secretary Barnaby Rudge were murdered 20 years before, a murder that has never been solved - has raised his niece Emma as his ward. Emma has fallen in love with Edward Chester, but Sir Haredale and Edward's father, Sir John Chester, are and have been for decades sworn enemies. John Willet, a tenant of Sir Haredale and landlord of the Maypole Inn, has perpetual discussions with his adolescent son Joe (whom he still considers a young boy), whereas Joe himself has fallen in love with Dolly Varden, the daughter of the locksmith Gabriel Varden who is a regular customer of the Maypole Inn. Lastly, we are introduced to Barnaby Rudge's widow and her weak-minded son Barnaby, and the Maypole's ostler Hugh whose mother was hung at Tyburn when he was a mere infant.

Bu then, after introducing these characters (and colourful characters they are too, Dickens never fails in that respect), the action moves on 5 years to the eve of the Gordon Riots in London in which all characters will find themselves sucked as into an apocalyptic vortex. Lord George Gordon - aided by his secretary Gashford - has appealed to all his followers to assemble in London to support him in his opposition to the proposed Catholic Relief Act. It is perhaps for the descriptions of the havoc wreaked by the London mob that this novel is most known, and they are indeed incredibly powerful scenes. But there is a lot more than that to 'Barnaby Rudge'. As is pointed out in the excellent introduction by John Mee, a recurring theme in the novel is the difference between perception and reality. There are constant references to the eyes and eyesight, and virtually all characters are taken in by what they see and fail to discern the reality beneath the surface appearances of things: Sir Haredale fails to see the true love between his niece and Edward Chester, Gabriel Varden does not see the frustration at work inside his apprentice Sim Tappertit, Dolly Varden is blind to the merits of Joe Willet, while Joe's father is blind to the fact that his son has become a grown man and will no longer accept being treated as a boy, and Lord Gordon is duped by his scheming secretary Gashford, ...

Also, 'Barnaby Rudge' is very interesting novel as Dickens' first attempt at a historical novel, a genre made respectable shortly before by Sir Walter Scott, and expressing Dickens' view on history and the lessons it has to teach us for the present and future (being written at a time of social unrest in England, just as the period it describes). One can sense in Dickens' writing a very real fear of social unrest and the mindless fury of 'the mob', embodied by Hugh the ostler who seems, as he tirelessly whips up the mob's energy, a sort of primal force of nature purely bent on destruction.

In these respects 'Barnaby Rudge' differs radically from Dickens' earlier novels, but in others it is out and out Dickensian: there is the familiar mix of humour and drama / tragedy, the unequalled capacity of Dickens to create unforgettable characters, and his ability to give each of these a voice of their own. All in all I immensely enjoyed 'Barnaby Rudge' as it contains aspects of Dickens by now familiar to me and powerfully introduces new ones. So now it's on to The Old Curiosity Shop (Oxford World's Classics)!
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on 19 April 2001
Barnaby Rudge is not currently one of Dickens's favourite books, although in its time it was a wild success. The heroine, Dolly Varden, gave name to a type of hat and to a trout, among other things. But for several reasons (among which one can surely count the difficulty of enacting the riots for film or TV, which is nowadays the way in which most people seem to get to know Dickens) it is seen as far less successful than his other experiment in historical fiction ("A Tale of Two Cities", placed during the French Revolution and the Terror). It deals with a little-remembered episode from the Georgian era: the "No-Popery" riots led by MP George Gordon in 1780 to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 (the riots succeeded in delaying Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom by half a century and tarnished the reputation of the greatest parlamentarian and cripto-catholic Irishman of the age, Edmund Burke). Dickens's portrayal of the riots is masterful and his grim sense of humour unleashes itself on the many likely subjects that such a situation naturally affords.
Among the weaknesses of the book one must count its chief heroes and villains. The eponymous Mr Rudge is not one of the most appealing of Dickens's heroes, since he is merely a simpleton, and the evil Lord Chester and Mr Gashford do not attain the magnificence of an Uriah Heep or a Seth Pecksniff. Willet the elder is an appealing character, although the son seems too generic. Some of the other characters are brilliant, particularly Mr. Dennis the Hangman, who voices some of the most lugubriously funny sentiments Dickens has ever allowed himself to vent. This is a flawed work, but it comes from a master novelist, and it is a masterwork.
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on 16 July 2012
Wordsworth Classics edition.

WARNING: Do not read the list of principle characters as it tells you not only their role but also what happens to them during the story.

I am slowly working my way through the Dickens novels in order, having never read them before, and I appreciate that I have yet to enter into Dickens' later period of "David Copperfield," "Bleak House" et al, but I found "Barnarby Rudge" a brilliant read; a good page turner and also educational about a period of history we never covered at school (and I went to a catholic school.)

The story is divided into two parts, 1775 and then 1780. The second half dealing with the riots and how each character is affected by this moment in London's history. I felt I enjoyed the book more after a brief read up on the background of the Gordon riots.

I think this is a very underrated; excellently written story. There is one particular passage where Dickens describes the mob mentality which could have been written about the most recent London riots.

This is a must read for anyone who wants to read classic literature. Don't be put off by the the fact that this is one of Dickens' least known books.
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