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Charles Dickens: Barnaby Rudge

The Maypole Inn

Choosing the next novel to read is a huge pain in the neck. I Google for novels on particular subjects or particular periods, or I pore over book lists, and then I look up the books on Amazon. Sometimes I settle on a novel that looks like it might be a good choice, but when I “look inside” the Kindle edition on Amazon, I quickly see that the author cannot write. I move on.

When stuck between novels, reading a classic is a fallback that rarely fails. I have a Kindle file with the complete works of Dickens. I settled on Barnaby Rudge. I am no stranger to Dickens. I have read David Copperfield at least twice.

Yes, Dickens’ style is a little thick. His characters, especially the wicked ones, usually border on caricature. Important scenes are usually melodramatic. And yet few novelists have ever been able to paint pictures in the mind the way Dickens does. His style, actually, is remarkably cinematic. According to the Wikipedia article on Dickens, in 1944 Sergei Eisenstein wrote an essay on Dickens’ influence on cinema. Dickens may have invented the technique of cross-cutting, in which the narrative shifts back and forth between things that are happening at the same time.

There is a particular reason for reading Barnaby Rudge at present. The novel is about the Gordon Riots of 1780. The similarities between the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the Trumpist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, are remarkable, so remarkable that I’m surprised not to have come across an article about it. Some things never change, including the sickening religious character and mob-affinity of people who do such things. Lord George Gordon was an odious man, the puritanical head of the Protestant Association, horrified by the idea of Catholics having equal rights. Yep. The mob attacked Parliament.

Even if you are reluctant to take on such a long book (almost 700 pages) and such a dense read, the opening scenes of Barnaby Rudge are worth reading. It is a dark and stormy night, and the story opens inside a country inn ten miles outside of London. Few writers can conjure atmosphere the way Dickens can. Dickens’ Maypole Inn very much reminds me of Tolkien’s Prancing Pony. What could be more cozy and comfortable that an inn in old England (or Scotland, or Ireland) on a dark and stormy night? Another thing about Dickens that I love: When people are eating, he always tells us what.

I don’t really find Dickens’ style of writing archaic. So many novelists, especially today, just can’t write. There is still much to be learned from Dickens about how it’s done.

Charles Dickens in 1852. Source: Wikipedia

One Comment

  1. Chenda wrote:

    I had never heard of the Gordon Riots, the parallels are indeed striking.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

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