“Barnaby Rudge”: A tale of violence

swirl-divider4Dicken’s review number 2, comes “Barnaby Rudge“. It is not as famous as his other novels, and quite understated. To give you an idea of what it’s about if you haven’t read it, firstly, here is a SUMMARY:

“Dicken’s first historical novel is filled with violence, looting and the terrible deaths of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots that swept London in 1780. ‘Barnaby Rudge’ tells the story of Barnaby, a simple boy caught up in the riots, and the friends and family who are themselves affected by the strange events in Barnaby’s life, including kind- hearted locksmith Gabriel Varden, dim-witted and egotistic landlord John Willet and the brilliantly villainous Sir John Chester. This is an unforgettable novel of conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and Gothic melodrama.”

gordon-riots-newgate-prisonHere are some bite sized facts:

1. This is the 5th book Dickens wrote, after “The Old Curiosity Shop”. 

2. Like the rest of his works, it explores the inequality between social class. Ordinary citizens are seen to rise up and loot, steal, burn down houses and prisons; a total anarchy where they themselves perished- the poor, vagrants who have nothing to lose. (Those who are forerunners of the riots seem not to have a purpose for following the cause, in the case of Hugh and the hangman Dennis)


“The Gordon Riots” by John Seymour Lucas

4. It is comparable to his later novel “A Tale of Two Cities” detailing the tumultuous period of the French Revolution and the danger of a disruptive society and mob behaviour.

5. You feel for Barnaby, a simple boy who takes comfort, joy and happiness in his surroundings. His loyalty and kind heartedness makes him a target. He follows his ‘assumed’ friend and does all he is bidden without question, hoping it will bring his mother and himself into the path of riches, and ultimately, a better life for them both. The story of Barnaby is very touching, and emphasises on how innocence can be corrupted by those with their own agenda.


The rise and revolt of the people


6. Though”Barnaby Rudge” took me longer to read than “Our Mutual Friend” (and this can be due to other contributory factors)- I enjoyed it a lot.The beginning was quite captivating and portrays a ‘different’Dickens, a step away from the frivolity, and often comical vanity of the upper class. It creates a comparison between the peaceful, pastoral life versus that of the bloodshed in the streets of the city, sparked by the 1780 anti-catholic uprising. This was led by Lord George Gordon, leader of the Protestant Association of London. The riots were a wave that swept over London- the power of persuasion and word of mouth, growing out of proportion to make law abiding citizens rise up and revolt. The novel depicts violence fuelled by poverty and the influence of those in position who abuse their power.

7. Yet aside from all the violence and turmoil of the riots,this is a Dickens book like all the others,and his characters are no less developed. You come across characters like Sir John Chester who you really hate and whom you hope gets dealt the justice he deserves (but of course, this is a Dickens so ultimately, good always triumphs over evil) and relationships that always undergo a long, painful trial before the ‘light of happiness’ is finally revealed.

All in all, “Barnaby Rudge” is another satisfying Dicken’s novel, and the 5th one… that I have binge read over the summer!


The Nine Day Queen

lady jane grey

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche completed in 1833.

A Story

There’s something about it. Something…..The way her arm reaches for the chopping block, the way her dress gathers, cream satin-

This is her last moment. The priest, the executioner, her ladies in waiting but it is not their death we have come to see.


This beard and a brown tweed jacket thinking ‘she’s so young’, ‘how beautiful the crook of her arm’, doesn’t see the people trying to wedge themselves to his left and right because they’re all looking up into her pure little face like she’s the Virgin Mary. She has the attention of the whole court with the reach of her arm and poor Lady Jane Grey doesn’t even know because she’s blindfolded.

This trench coat and fur trim thinking about the executioner’s tight leggings. Eyes narrow and move from left to right, left to right, wondering why the girl in the picture is wearing a night shift and why the leggings leave nothing to the imagination. ‘If they didn’t want to ruin her lovely clothes’ she’s thinking, ‘they could have chosen a better colour than white.’ It’s cream not white. This is a big difference for someone with an eye for detail, a connoisseur of Art, but fur lady has already moved away.

The coffee cup Identicals thinking ‘Lady Jane is our cupid’. Looking at the girl in the painting as they bring their faces closer together, to kiss, to pull apart and look at her again, as if she would bless their union. Thinking, ‘the poor girl she will never get to experience what we have, this happiness.’ The Identicals cannot walk from the staggered weight of each other. They are blind, like Lady Jane is blind, when a painting isn’t even a painting to the couple but a canvas supported by a frame.
Mr Tie not straight, back to the portrait of the Comtesse Vilain XIIII and her Daughter. Fingers move over imaginary rosary beads, counting the structural arches of the building. Checking the phone, waiting for a business contact or client? Art related or leisure?

“What’s Monarchy mean? Oh….we learnt about Henry VIII but not, not Lady Jay Grey.” Says a voice then another- “Jane, she was called Lady Jane Toby.” “Mummy, what time does the Science Museum close? Because you promised.” “I told you in the car, Grandmother wants to see the paintings first…” “I know, but, but…”
Chances are they will leave within the hour.

The Science Museum. Now that was an idea. The awkward-weird-self conscious you feel going on your own, using the touch monitor sensory games with no-one to laugh with, getting lost on the top floor with no lift to take you down, you can say ‘what’s wrong with going yourself, you’re at a gallery on your own aren’t you?’ and the red dress on the bench- me, telling herself to stop being a smart arse.

“Does it even matter she was beheaded in private?” “It was a show of respect from Mary”, “So what, she was going to die anyway.” “Still…” “There is no still. Mary showed her respect by killing her sixteen year old cousin? It’s a bit late for that.” “I wonder if they saw the irony.” “What irony?” “It’s all jealousy and treachery. They are willing to kill their own family for a higher position and to be one step closer to the throne. They sacrifice their life for it. They’re brought up as kids to love the crown, to be loyal to it, to die for it. A war starts, one side loses but they go off to lick their wounds and years later they’ve got together an army, they come back stronger than ever to reclaim what has been lost. But it’s also because of family, to give your heir a better chance to succeed the throne. That’s why they fight in the first place.”

Teenagers thinking about current day politics. Teenagers hating politics, thinking, ‘there’s no telling what will happen.’

For a gallery there’s a lot of talking.

There’s another beheading in the room. It’s not the focus like Lady Jane Grey is, and the way rucksack girl looks at it and looks away instantly, is one to avoid. Red dress will tell you. It’s of the execution of Saint John the Baptist. The executioner is in the act of taking his head off with a sword. John the Baptist is kneeling on the ground holding a cross. Kid with the glasses is looking at it with interest thinking about the soon to be headless John the Baptist and the blood going everywhere and the screams of the woman in the painting, don’t forget the screams. Kid with the glasses doesn’t want to know what John the Baptist did wrong or why Herod wanted his head on a plate. The others in the gallery don’t want to know either, because they’re still looking at Lady Jane Grey.

Red dress, the last to leave the gallery, waits until the shuffle of feet find their way out into the night before looking up at the painting of Lady Jane Grey’s execution.
Finally alone with her.

The security guard is calling, “See you tomorrow. You better get on home sunshine.” He knows of her meeting with the board of directors and a delivery to supervise, so he’s trying to be sympathetic. Red dress thinking, ‘so what are your thoughts on the painting?’ but doesn’t ask. Turning off the light, locking the doors and with a smile, handing him the key she has been holding all day.

swirl-divider4Copyright © 2014 by Kate W J White (All Rights Reserved)