Barnaby Rudge

Barnaby Rudge was the 5th novel by Charles Dickens.  The novel was published in installments from February to November of 1841.  It appeared in the magazine Master Humphrey’s Clock.

Barnaby Rudge

Dickens’s Life When Writing Barnaby Rudge

  • Dickens first gets the idea for the plot of Barnaby Rudge in 1836.
  • Dickens begins to write Barnaby Rudge in 1839.
  • 1840 marks the publication of The Old Curiosity Shop.
  • In June and July of 1841 Dickens and Catherine tour Scotland. Also that year their son, Walter, is born and Barnaby Rudge is published.
  • In 1842 Charles and Catherine travel to America.

Reviews of Barnaby Rudge

Barnaby in Newgate Prison

Barnaby in Newgate Prison, illustration by Phiz

Barnaby Rudge was actually the first novel that Dickens planned on writing.  In 1836 he was going to call it Gabriel Vardon, the Locksmith of London.  Circumstances forced him to put off writing it until later.

Norrie Espstein, author of The Friendly Dickens, states, “Barnaby Rudge must be the least-read — and least-attractive — novel in the Dickens canon.”  In fact, when Barnaby Rudge was eventually published it wasn’t very well received.  John Forrester, a good friend of Dickens, said the novel was structurally flawed.


One of the people who read Barnaby Rudge and seemed to like it was Edgar Allan Poe.  However Poe did have a few suggestions about Grip, Barnaby’s pet raven.  He didn’t think that the raven should be so playful.  A few years later Poe wrote about a very solemn raven in his famous poem The Raven.  Was Grip the inspiration for the poem?  We’ll never know, but some historians believe so.

Gordon Riots

Barnaby Rudge is an historical novel that deals with the Gordon Riots of 1780.

In 1778 the British parliament passed the Catholic Relief Act.  The act replaced anti-Catholic legislation.  However it was not a universally popular change.  On June 2nd of 1780 Lord George Gordon led a group of like-minded people to parliament.  They wanted the Catholic Relief Act repealed.  Violence broke out and spread.  Peace wasn’t restored until June 9th.  By that time Catholic chapels had been broken into, Newgate Prison was burned and hundreds of  people were killed.

Dickens only wrote one other historical novel.  A Tale of Two Cities deals with the French revolution.

Theme of Barnaby Rudge

Dickens first developed the plot for Barnaby Rudge when he was in his early twenties.  He was coming into his own and developing a life apart from his family.  It was a life without the constant brushes with poverty and disaster that were his father’s hallmarks.  Perhaps this is why the novel is filled with disastrous relationships between fathers and sons.

Both Barnaby and Maypole Hugh are abandoned by their fathers.

Maypole’s brother, Edward, is not abandoned by  their father, Sir John Chester.  However their relationship is not a good one as Sir John firmly discourages Edward from pursuing a relationship with Emma Haredale.

Another troubled relationship between father and son can be found between John Willet and his son Joe.  John refuses to see Joe as an adult.

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