Dickens /Major /Barnaby Rudge

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Barnaby Rudge – 1841– a weekly serialised novel

Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (usually known as Barnaby Rudge) was originally entitled Gabriel Varden – the locksmith of London and intended for publication in Bentley’s Miscellany.

But Dickens bought back the rights and it appeared in his own magazine Master Humphrey’s Clock. It was published in instalments from February to November of 1841.

The historical novel is set during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by the Catholic Relief Act which allowed Catholics to join the military and to buy land, provided they swore an oath of allegiance. Lord George Gordon led a group that tried to overthrow the act and it led to seven days of riots.

Dickens was apparently inspired to write the novel, by Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels, He set out to create a work of literature. This was planned to be his first novel in 1936. It finally appeared in 1841. but was not at all well received. It was the least successful of his publications.
The novel open in 1775, with a group gathered around the fire of The Maypole Inn in Chigwell. The weather is unpleasant, as the proprietor John Willet and three of his cronies draw close to the fire.

One of them, Solomon Daisy, tells a stranger to the Inn a well-known local story from 22 years ago that day, the murder of Reuben Haredale.

Reuben had owned a local estate, the Warren, his gardener and steward went missing after the murder. Later, the body of the steward was identified by his clothes and jewellery, but the gardener was not found, and thus suspected to be the murderer.

Because of the manner in which John Willett treated his son, Joe, as a child, Joe at the age of twenty leaves to join the army. Not before he pauses to see and say goodbye to his love interest, Dolly Varden, the daughter of the locksmith Gabriel Varden.

The Warren estate was then run by Reuben’s brother, Geoffrey, who lived there with his niece, Emma Haredale, the daughter of Reuben.

Edward Chester was in love with Emma, but his father as the sworn enemy of Emma’s uncle Geoffrey, a catholic, both of them oppose any relationship between the two. Edward quarrels with hi father and leaves to go to the West Indies.

Barnaby Rudge is the local idiot, who comes in and out of the tale, accompanied by his pet raven, Grip. His mother was the wife of the murdered steward, who receives visits from a shady highwaymen who she seems to protect.

The novel advances five years, and the same group is gathered at the Maypole. Solomon Daisy tells of his winding the bell tower clock, when he encountered a ghost in the churchyard.

The landlord, Old John Willet, decides he must tell Geoffrey and travels in a winter storm with the inn’s hostler, Hugh, to do so.

On their return to the inn, they encounter three men travelling to London, still thirteen miles away. The three travellers. Lord George Gordon, his secretary Gashford, and servant, John Grueny, take rooms at the Maypole. These three are fomenting anti-Catholic feelings along their journey.

They appoint two local volunteers to be leaders. These are Ned Dennis, the hangman of Tyburn, and Simon Tappertit, an ex-apprentice of Gabriel Varden the locksmith.  Hugh discovers a handbill they leave at the Maypole and joins the protestant cause.

Barnaby’s mother gave up the annuity she received from Geoffrey Haredale. She takes Barnaby away to a country village and appeared to escape her shadowy visitor. But he finds them and sends the blind man, Stagg, to ask for money.

They leave the village for London and lose their pursuers. But when they get to Westminster Bridge, they encounter a mob gathering to march on parliament, burning Catholic churches and homes along their way. Barnaby joins them despite his mother’s pleas.

A detachment led by Hugh and Dennis decides to take revenge on Geoffrey Harefield and head for Chigwell. They leave Barnaby in charge of their headquarters, The Boot. But Barnaby is taken prisoner by soldiers as a ringleader and held at Newgate prison, a building targeted for burning by the mob.

The mob loots the Maypole and burns down the Warren.
Harefield captures the mysterious stranger at the Warren where he was planning to join the rioters. He turns out to be the father of Barnaby, husband to Mrs Rudge. It had been assumed he was murdered by the gardener, but he had just switched clothes and the body had been the gardener.

The rioters had captured Gabriel Varden and attempt to have him help release the prisoners at Newgate. Varden refuses to help so the rioters burn the prison, and all the prisoners escape. Ned Dennis, the hangman switches sides and captures Barnaby, his father and Hugh.

Gabriel has been rescued by a group including a one-armed man who turns out to be Joe Willett, returned from fighting in the American Revolution. Another is Edward Chester and the two move on to rescue Dolly and Emma.

Joe and Dolly marry and rebuild the Maypole, Edward and Emma marry and move to the West Indies.

Dennis is arrested and he, Hugh and Barnaby are sentenced to be hanged. Dennis and Hugh are duly hanged, but Barnaby is pardoned at the scaffold, thanks to the efforts of Gabriel Varden.

Miggs tries to be reappointed to her role at the Warren, but becomes a jailer at a local women’s prison. Gashford commits suicide, and Simon Tapperit, his legs crushed in the riots, becomes a shoe-black.

Lord George Gordon is held in the Tower, but is later tried and found innocent of inciting the riot. Sir John Chester MP is discovered to be the father of Hugh, he is killed in a duel with Geoffrey Haredale, who then escapes to the continent.

Barnaby and his mother run a farm at the Maypole Inn for the rest of their days.

Barnaby Rudge and Grip


Barnaby Rudge – the ‘hero’, the local idiot
Mary Rudge – his mother
Old John Willet – innkeeper of the Maypole, and his son
Gabriel Varden – the local locksmith and daughter Dolly
Martha Varden – Gabriel’s wife
Sir John Chester MP – and his son Edward
Geoffery Haredale – brother to the murdered Reuben
Emma Haredale – Reuben’s daughter Emma, lives with uncle
Lord George Gordon – fomenting unrest
Mr Gashford – Gordon’s secretary
John Grueby- Gordon’s servant

Simon Tappertit – Gabriel Varden’s apprentice
Hugh – hostler at the Maypole Inn
Miggs – Mrs Varden’s housemaid
Ned Dennis – the hangman of Tyburn
A mysterious stranger – Barnaby’s father, murderer of Reuben
Stagg – a blind man
Solomon Daisy – Old John Willet’s crony
‘Long’ Phil Parkes – Old John Willet’s crony
Tom Cobb – Old John Willet’s crony
Mr Langdale – vintner/distiller his home burned in the riots

The Maypole Inn

Grip, Barnaby’s pet raven
Ackerman, Mr
Curzon, Thomas
Fielding, Sir John
Gilbert, Mark
Green, Tom
Jones, Mary

Hugh and Dennis before being hanged

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