Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens - A Review
In this gripping tale of mystery, romance, mayhem and tragedy we follow the fortunes of the Rudge, Vardon, Willet, Chester and Haredale families at a time of great uncertainty and turbulence during the eighteenth century. Several story lines run through the narrative but the main plot concerns the adventures and mis-adventures of the central character Barnaby Rudge, a young man with learning difficulties, his mother and his pet Raven "Grip", set against a background of the anti-catholic "Gordon Riots" of 1780. The work contains typical very well drawn Dickensian characters, both good and downright evil, and a plot full of twists, turns and surprises to keep the reader in suspense to the very last page. Will justice prevail as the main protagonists seek to protect a way of life from the forces of anarchy and violence? If you're curious and able to forgive the odd over-elaborate and tedious flight of fancy, this book comes highly recommended and is a thoroughly good read.
Selected passages -
Barnaby and his mother with pet Raven "Grip" are on their way to Chigwell.....
The widow to whom each painful mile seemed longer than the last, toiled wearily along; while Barnaby, yielding to every inconstant impulse, fluttered here and there, now leaving her far behind, now lingering far behind himself, now darting into some by-lane or path and leaving her to pursue her way alone, until he stealthily emerged again and came upon her with a wild shout of merriment, as his wayward and capricious nature prompted. Now he would call to her from the topmost branch of some high tree by the roadside; now using his tall staff as a leaping pole, come flying over ditch or hedge or five barred gate; now run with surprising swiftness for a mile or more on the straight road, and halting, sport upon a patch of grass with Grip till she came up. These were his delights; and when his patient mother heard his merry voice, or looked into his flushed and healthy face, she would not have abated them by one sad word or murmur, though each had been to her a source of suffering in the same degree as it was to him of pleasure.
It is something to look upon enjoyment, so that it be free and wild and in the face of nature, though it is but the enjoyment of an idiot. It is something to know that Heaven has left the capacity of gladness in such a creature's breast; it is something to be assured that, however lightly men may crush that faculty in their fellows, the Great Creator of mankind imparts it even to his despised and slighted work. Who would not rather see a poor idiot happy in the sunlight, than a wise man pining in the darkened jail!
Ye men of gloom and austerity, who paint the face of Infinite Benevolence with an eternal frown; read in the Everlasting Book, wide open to your view, the lesson it would teach. Its pictures are not in black and sombre hues, but bright and glowing tints; its music - save when ye drown it - is not in sighs and groans, but songs and cheerful sounds. Listen to the million voices in the summer air, and find one dismal as your own. Remember, if ye can, the sense of hope and pleasure which every glad return of day awakens in the breast of all your kind who have not changed their nature; and learn some wisdom even from the witless, when their hearts are lifted up they know not why, by all the mirth and happiness it brings.
The widow's breast was full of care, was laden heavily with secret dread and sorrow; but her boy's gaiety of heart gladdened her, and beguiled the long journey. Sometimes he would bid her lean upon his arm, and would keep beside her steadily for a short distance; but it was more his nature to be rambling to and fro, and she better liked to see him free and happy, even than to have him near her, because she loved him better than herself.
Palfreyman - November 2013