Leaving Barnaby

Dear Charlie,

My adventures with Barnaby Rudge have, sadly, come to an end. You had me worried there for a second! After what happened to poor old Nell, I was convinced that all three of our convicted rioters were done for. I rather suspect that after the anguish you suffered over offing Nell, you would have found it too difficult to do away with yet another main character (and I use ‘main’ with some reserve), but I, for one, was heartily glad to see him on the arm of Mr. Varden; one of the many happy threads tied up neatly at the end.

The Burning and Plundering of Newgate & Setting the Felons at Liberty by the Mob. © London Metropolitan Archives

But to return to the riots for a moment. The burning of Newgate prison and the freeing of the prisoners is a scene that will stay with me for a long time, I think. Not only are your descriptions so wonderfully evocative in themselves, but knowing that they’re based on real events makes them absolutely chilling. I was particularly horrified by your account of the people burned and /or asphyxiated by the pools of burning alcohol.

I can’t help but draw comparisons with both the recent protests in London and Occupy movements, and after seeing what an angry mob was capable of in 1780 with little provocation, I’m not as surprised by the chaos of the former as I am by the civility and order of the latter. And I’m not the only one to draw parallels.

And when the riots end, your characters jump straight back to center stage, and the many separate plots slowly start to contract. Reading about the prisoners’ experience the night before their hanging, I was struck by the similarity with Fagin’s fateful last night. The same bells tolling the hours, the same inexorable progress of time, the same feeling of claustrophobia – clearly this was something that preyed on you. But here you take us beyond the walls of the prison to the construction of the scaffold itself and the passing of time from the crowd’s point of view. Sure, they may not be looting and burning, but the mob assembled to watch men hang isn’t far removed.

But enough doom and gloom. The young people are happily united, their parents comfortably settled, and the ne’er do wells (who haven’t died horrible deaths) are dealt with by Fate in hilariously appropriate ways.

And now, since it’s December, I’m going to jump ahead just a little so I can read your Christmas books and two volumes of Christmas stories while it’s actually Christmas time, because if I had to read them in March I’d yell out a resounding ‘bah, humbug’ and bring the whole project to a screeching halt.

Thanks for the riots, Charlie.



One comment on “Leaving Barnaby

  1. Amanda Stuedemann says:

    I’m so glad I am not the only one who likes to read Dickens, my new favorite over the last couple of years is Barnaby Rudge.

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