Set against the backdrop of the Gordon Riots of 1780, Barnaby Rudge is a story of mystery and suspense which begins with an unsolved double murder and goes on to involve conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and retribution. Through the course of the novel fathers and sons become opposed, apprentices plot against their masters and Protestants clash with Catholics. With its dramatic descriptions of public violence and private horror, its strange secrets and ghostly doublings, Barnaby Rudge is a powerful blend of historical realism and Gothic melodrama.
Reviewed by Daisy Hay in Slightly Foxed Issue 60.
A Dickens of a Riot
Last year I decided that I felt like reading Dickens at Christmas. Resisting the temptation to turn to old and reliable fireside favourites, I alighted instead on Barnaby Rudge. It seemed a choice that would fulfil two purposes: quenching my thirst for some Dickensian delights while teaching me something of an episode about which I wanted to know more. Barnaby Rudge is a historical novel, one of only two such novels Dickens wrote. It was published in 1841 and was the work he planned the longest and most carefully. Yet it is rarely read today and wasn’t very popular when it was published either. One contemporary critic apparently dismissed it as ‘Barnaby Rubbish’.
It turns out that in many respects Barnaby Rudge isn’t very Christmassy. Nor, however, is it rubbish . . .
Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 60, Winter 2018