Dickens Champions: Beeston's Afternoon Reading Group discuss Barnaby Rudge
11 October 2012 / 0 Comments
Our Dickens Champions Beeston's Afternoon Reading Group have just finished reading Barnaby Rudge - and this is what they thought:
Hard to put down
After finishing Barnaby Rudge we agreed that the second half really gained momentum and was hard to put down, and that the whole demonstrated Dickens as a mature writer with an incredible insight into human nature.
Barnaby of course is a true original and an interesting choice of central character. We wondered if Dickens had based him on a real person, or perhaps a composite of many. His free spirited innocence and capacity for gladness is very appealing, but puts him at great risk as events unfold. Sometimes the dialogue he is given seems unlikely though and serves more as a means for Dickens to make a point or advance the story.
Mr Chester is not like the usual Dickens villain, with warped figure and evil countenance, but his cruelty is none the less chilling for being wrapped up in gentlemanly good manners.
Miggs is a bad piece of work who manipulates and schemes to divide the Vardens and gain power for herself. Gabriel must have had the patience of a saint to put up with such a domestic life, no wonder he turned to Toby for comfort. It's surprising that Dickens originally conceived of him as the central character, contrasted against the mob that has lost all sense of duty and responsibility.
The relationships between the Willets father and son and the Chesters are both very damaged in different ways and again demonstrate the breakdown of traditional bonds in the books and the failure of those in responsibility to behave fairly.
Obviously the depictions of mob violence are the most striking scenes, and seem to reflect the very real fears that society might imminently break down with disastrous consequences. The storming of the gaol and the fettered prisoners' fears that they would be burned alive are truly terrifying, as is the sense that no-one in authority could do anything to prevent the destruction. Vivid though it is, some seems a little toned down for Victorian tastes, surely Dolly and Emma faced more dreadful ordeals than just imprisonment. The power of the mob and the way in which otherwise decent people are caught up and are then unable to offer help to victims for fear of being attacked themselves put us in mind of more recent conflicts e.g. the situation in Nazi Germany.
One of the really good things about reading and discussing Dickens is the way it leads to such wide ranging and fascinating conversations, from talking about Barnaby we digressed onto the Paralympics and how that had changed attitudes to disabled people, certainly in the short term and whether this would have lasting effect.
Looking forward to more discussions and tangents when we tackle Our Mutual Friend next.
Watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read and review their way through Dickens during 2012.
Reading Dickens in your reading group or book club? Get in touch or post a comment to let us know how you're getting on.