Well. It's been more than a month since I posted anything -- I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, I've just been busy, work and travel and the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting, which was fabulous. I've really been wondering if I need to give up blogging for awhile. But fear not, I have been reading!
Before I give up on blogging, I need to make a case for Barnaby Rudge, probably Dickens' most least-popular work -- yes, less popular even than Martin Chuzzlewit or Dombey and Son, both of which I've read in the past two years. It's a shame really, because after I finally gave it my full attention, I actually liked BR better than the other two.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Barnaby Rudge was published in 1841, just after The Old Curiosity Shop (one of the most popular) and before Chuzzlewit, one of the least popular. Dickens was inspired by the works of Sir Walter Scott to write a sweeping historical story -- his only other historical work is A Tale of Two Cities, and I can definitely see in BR glimmers of the great writing to come. Barnaby Rudge is "A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty," but it's not just a historical novel. It's about fathers and sons, a double murder, two feuding families, divided lovers, an abduction, even a talking raven -- tons of great stuff, right?
|The real Grip the Raven, Dickens' pet, now on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia|
The first half of the book sets up all these different characters and gives some back story, along with a mysterious stranger. Then, about halfway through the novel, the action jumps forward in time five years, to the beginning of the "No Popery" riots of 1780, also known as the Gordon Riots, which I'm sorry to say I knew nothing about. My sincere apologies to any British readers, but is this a subject that anyone ever learned in school? My shoddy Yank education regarding the 18th century was much more centered on the American Revolution.
If you didn't know either, the Gordon Riots were a backlash against Catholics, that culminated in anti-Catholic mob violence and riots, including a mob of at least 40,000 that marched on Parliament in June of 1780. Churches, embassy, and prisons were burned, including Newgate. (If you want to read more about it, click here).
I really think that's one reason Barnaby Rudge isn't popular -- honestly, a lot of people know enough about the French Revolution and the guillotine to make ATOTC a much more compelling subject. And Barnaby Rudge is a terrible name, right up there with Martin Chuzzlewit. I know Dickens has a talent for giving his characters goofy names to reflect their personalities, but surely he could have come up with something better! Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and even Edwin Drood have mystery, romance, or some other interesting qualities to entice readers.
My biggest problem with this novel is how it shifts. The first half sets up the mystery and the characters -- there are so many, it's confusing and there really isn't that much development of any of them -- and then -- ta-da!!! The story jumps forward in time five years, to just before the Gordon Riots, and we get very little information about what's happened to most of the characters.
Don't get me wrong, the part about the riots and the mobs are extremely well-written, and I was riveted -- and I'm normally bored by big action scenes. Dickens is really good at describing the mobs and the violence, and it's pretty scary. But I really wanted more about the characters, and the story itself was kind of all over the place. After the riots, things wrap up very quickly, and I just felt it was uneven. Having read most of the Dickens canon, I can see hints of all the great stuff to follow -- Bleak House is a great murder mystery, and so many of his later novels have complex plots and multiple characters, plus there's all the great history in A Tale of Two Cities. (Barnaby Rudge even has a little shout-out to Oliver Twist, with mention of a pick-pockets' gang).
Anyway. I'm really glad I finished Rudge; I'm nearing the end of my quest to complete all the works of Dickens -- only three left to go of the major works: The Old Curiosity Shop, The Pickwick Papers, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Has anyone else read Barnaby Rudge? What did you think? Am I crazy to want to complete all of Charles Dickens' works?