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"Better to be mad than sane, here. Go mad.",
This review is from: Barnaby Rudge (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
Focused primarily on the "anti-popery" riots in London in1780, and filled with wild scenes of carnage involving a large cast of characters from all levels of society, Barnaby Rudge is Dickens's first historical novel, and it includes the real Lord George Gordon, a virulent anti-Catholic who whipped the populace into a frenzy. The author sets the scene for the tumult by first painting a picture of quiet village society in Chigwell in 1775, five years earlier, often using humor to depict the numerous characters.
Geoffrey Haredale, a Catholic, has inherited the estate of his brother Reuben, who was murdered twenty-two years before. He has brought up his niece Emma, who is in love with the kindly Edward Chester, a Protestant, the son of the odious Lord John Chester, who lives nearby. Dozens of characters populate the book--including Barnaby Rudge (the developmentally disabled son of Mary Rudge, who works on an estate), the Willetts (who run the Maypole Inn), Gabriel Varden (a locksmith) and his daughter Dolly (who eventually works for Emma Haredale), mysterious strangers, ghosts, a sinister blind man, and even Grip, Barnaby's talking raven.
The action takes off when the time shifts from 1775 to 1780, and the focus changes from village life and the sometimes amusing domestic concerns of the people to the growing anti-Catholic sentiment being stirred up in London. The humor, which has been a big part of the first part of the book, ends, and Dickens concentrates on the growing hatred and the battles spawned by that hatred, with good people being drawn into brutality that they would otherwise avoid. Violence and several deaths take place, the populace becomes a mob, and rioting leads to the burning of properties. The love stories, which have been a large part of the first section of the book, are put on the back burner for the major part of the book.
Written in 1841, this is Dickens's fifth novel, one which suffers from its original serialization and loss of focus. Though the atmosphere and some of the characters rank among Dickens's best, and some of the humor in the first part is delightful, the tone is inconsistent, changing with the riots and ensuing action. As is always the case with Dickens, all mysteries are cleared up at the end, with Reuben Haredale's murder solved and the whereabouts revealed of several characters who disappeared between 1775 and 1780. With hints of some of the greatness to come, this novel precedes David Copperfield, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities, and shows Dickens experimenting with his themes and ideas. Mary Whipple