Barnaby Rudge

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Barnaby Rudge
Masterclock serial cover.jpg
Cover of the magazine Master Humphrey's Clock where the novel was serialized
Author Charles Dickens ("Boz")
Original title Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty
Illustrator George Cattermole
Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
Country England
Language English
Genre Novel
Published Serialised: February–November 1841;[1] as a book 1841
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Media type Print (serial, hardback, and paperback)

Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (commonly known as Barnaby Rudge) is a historical novel by British novelist Charles Dickens. Barnaby Rudge was one of two novels (the other was The Old Curiosity Shop) that Dickens published in his short-lived (1840–1841) weekly serial Master Humphrey's Clock. Barnaby Rudge is largely set during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

Barnaby Rudge was the fifth of Dickens' novels to be published. It had originally been planned to appear as his first, but changes of publisher led to many delays, and it first appeared in serial form in the Clock from February to November 1841.

It was Dickens' first historical novel. His only other is the much later A Tale of Two Cities, also set in revolutionary times.[2] It is one of his less popular novels[3] and has rarely been adapted for film or television. The last production was a 1960 BBC production; prior to that, silent films were made in 1911 and 1915.

Plot summary[edit]

Dolly Varden as painted by William Powell Frith, 1842

Both Edward's father, John Chester, and Emma's uncle, the Catholic Geoffrey Haredale – these two are sworn enemies – oppose their union after Sir John untruthfully convinces Geoffrey that Edward's intentions are dishonourable. Sir John intends to marry Edward to a woman with a rich inheritance, to support John's expensive lifestyle and to pay off his debtors. Edward quarrels with his father and leaves home for the West Indies.

Barnaby Rudge, a simpleton,[4] wanders in and out of the story with his pet raven, Grip. Barnaby's mother begins to receive visits from the ill-kempt stranger, whom she feels compelled to protect. She later gives up the annuity she had been receiving from Geoffrey Haredale and, without explanation, takes Barnaby and leaves the city hoping to escape the unwanted visitor.

When Barnaby and his mother arrive at Westminster Bridge they see an unruly crowd heading for a meeting on the Surrey side of the river. Barnaby is duped into joining them, despite his mother's pleas. The rioters then march on Parliament, and burn several Catholic churches and the homes of Catholic families.

A detachment led by Hugh and Dennis head for Chigwell, intent on exacting revenge on Geoffrey Haredale, leaving Barnaby to guard The Boot, the tavern they use as their headquarters. The mob loots the Maypole on their way to the Warren, which they burn to the ground. Emma Haredale and Dolly Varden (now Emma's companion) are taken captive by the rioters. Barnaby is taken prisoner by soldiers and held in Newgate, which the mob plans to storm.

The one-armed man turns out to be Joe Willet, who has returned from fighting against the American revolutionaries. Joe and Edward Chester turn out to be the rescuers of Gabriel Varden. The pair then rescue Dolly and Emma.

Hugh and Dennis five minutes before execution (Book illustration)

Dennis is arrested and sentenced to die with Hugh and Barnaby. Hugh and Dennis are hanged. Barnaby, through the efforts of Gabriel Varden, is pardoned.

Joe and Dolly are married and become proprietors of the rebuilt Maypole. Edward Chester and Emma are married and go to the West Indies. Miggs tries to get her position back at the Varden household, is rejected, and becomes a jailer at a women's prison. Simon Tappertit, his legs crushed in the riots, becomes a shoe-black. Gashford later commits suicide. Lord George Gordon is held in the Tower and is later judged to be innocent of inciting the riots. Sir John Chester, now a member of parliament, turns out to be the father of Hugh and is killed in a duel by Geoffrey Haredale. Haredale escapes to the continent where he ends his days in a monastery. Barnaby and his mother live out their years tending a farm at the Maypole Inn where Barnaby can work effectively due to his physical strength.


  • The Rudges – Barnaby, a simple man, his loving mother Mary, and his companion Grip, the loquacious raven
  • The Willets – Old John, the keeper of the Maypole Inn, and his kindly son Joe
  • The Vardens – Gabriel, the locksmith, his manipulative wife Martha, and his beautiful daughter Dolly Varden
  • The Chesters – the villainous Sir John, Esquire, M.P. (Member of Parliament) and his innocent son Edward
  • The Haredales – Mr Geoffrey Haredale, younger brother of the murdered Reuben, and his niece (Reuben's daughter) Emma
  • Hugh – the sinister hostler of the Maypole Inn
  • Lord George Gordon (a fictionalisation of the historical personality), his loyal servant John Grueby, and his obsequious and duplicitous secretary Mr Gashford
  • Simon Tappertit – Gabriel Varden's apprentice, and Miggs, Mrs Varden's shrewish housemaid
  • Ned Dennis – the hangman of Tyburn
  • The mysterious stranger, ultimately revealed to be Barnaby Rudge, Sr, the steward and murderer of Reuben Haredale
  • Stagg – the crafty blind man
  • Solomon Daisy, 'Long' Phil Parkes, and Tom Cobb, Old John's three cronies
  • Mr Langdale – the purple-faced old vintner

Allusions and references in other works[edit]

Grip the raven inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write his most famous poem, "The Raven."[5] Poe had written a review of Barnaby Rudge for Graham's Magazine saying, among other things, that the raven should have served a more symbolic prophetic purpose.


Thomas Higgie adapted it into a three-act play in 1854. Charles Selby and Charles Melville did the same in 1875.[6] The latter was produced at the English Opera House.[7]

In 1915 Thomas Bentley directed Barnaby Rudge, "the biggest-budget British film of its day", but it is now lost.[8]

The BBC made a 13 episode TV series in 1960.

Barnaby Rudge was re-invented as a stage play, The Locksmith of London, by Eileen Norris. It was staged in 2012 at the Kings Theatre, Southsea by Alchemy Theatre, where the Dickens Fellowship attended a performance during their annual conference.[9]

BBC Radio 4 chose it for their Classic Serial in 2014, and cast an actor with Down's Syndrome, Daniel Laurie, in the title role.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Perdue's. Charles Dickens Page; Barnaby Rudge
  2. ^ Online Literature website; Barnaby Rudge
  3. ^ Peter Ackroyd has called it "one of Dickens's most neglected, but most rewarding, novels"
  4. ^ Barnaby Rudge
  5. ^ Kopley, Richard and Kevin J. Hayes. "Two verse masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume'," collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. p. 192. ISBN 0-521-79727-6
  6. ^ Marzials, Frank Thomas (1908). Life of Charles Dickens. p. 262. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  7. ^ "itle-page of "Barnaby Rudge. A Domestic Drama, In Three Acts"". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  8. ^ Eaton, Michael. "Dickens on Film". British Film Institute. Retrieved 13 May 2016. Bentley made six silent Dickens adaptations, the most sumptuous of which must surely have been 1915's Barnaby Rudge, the biggest-budget British film of its day, now sadly missing. The surviving pressbook shows spectacular sets of 18th century London built at Walton-on-Thames 
  9. ^ "Barnaby Rudge Website". Dickens Fellowship. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  10. ^ Rose, Damon (24 May 2014). "The actor with Down's syndrome tackling Dickens". BBC. Retrieved 5 August 2016. He plays Barnaby Rudge in a new radio adaptation of one of Charles Dickens's lesser-known works. Rudge is an "idiot" as the language of the time would have it. Today we might say he has a learning disability. 

External links[edit]

Online editions