Our Novel

For the 2017-2018 year, we will be reading and discussing Barnaby Rudge, Dickens’ 1841 novel about injustice, murder, and mob violence.

The novel was originally published in weekly installments in the magazine Master Humphrey’s Clock, which had also published Dickens’ previous book The Old Curiosity Shop. In his following novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens returned to writing in monthly installments.

Barnaby Rudge has many parallels with Dickens’ other historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Both deal with injustices done to the poor and the mob violence that can sometimes result. Both include scathing critiques of capital punishment and surprisingly insightful depictions of mental illness. The two books even begin in the same year, 1775.

At the heart of Barnaby Rudge are the anti-Catholic riots of the late eighteenth century unleashed by Lord George Gordon, an intolerant demagoguing politician who was unable to control the violence he unleashed. However, the book also includes a plot about a secret murder (which fascinated Edgar Allan Poe), and the splendidly dressed heroine Dolly Varden (whose illustrations later launched a fashion craze).

Though less famous than A Tale of Two Cities, Barnaby Rudge has proven to be highly relevant to the twenty-first century. After riots broke out in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, a 2012 stage adaptation by Eileen Warren Norris played up the religious intolerance and youth-fueled violence in the novel that seemed to resonate with Britain at the time. In contemporary America, the anxieties, political instability, and disputes over religion in the novel might likewise touch a chord.

We hope you join us in our year-long examination of one of Dickens’ least read and most under-rated novels.