Study Guide

Barnaby Rudge

by Charles Dickens

Barnaby Rudge Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At twilight on a wild, windy day in March, 1775, a small group of men sits in the bar parlor of the Maypole Inn, an ancient hostelry situated in Chigwell parish on the borders of Epping Forest. Two guests in particular engage the attention of John Willet, the proprietor. One is a well-dressed young gentleman who seems preoccupied. The other, a traveler, sits huddled in an old riding coat, his hat pulled forward to hide his face from the landlord’s curious gaze. After the young gentleman, Edward Chester, leaves the inn, Joe Willet, the landlord’s son, informs the others that Edward, whose horse went lame, intends to walk the twelve miles to London despite the stormy weather because he is hoping to see Emma Haredale at a masquerade she is attending in town.

The name Haredale seems to interest the stranger, and he listens intently when Solomon Daisy, the parish clerk, tells the story of a murder that shocked the neighborhood twenty-two years before to the day. Mr. Reuben Haredale, Emma’s father, was at that time owner of The Warren, a great house near the village. One morning, he was found murdered in his bedroom. His steward, a man named Rudge, and a gardener were missing. Several months later, Rudge’s body, identified by the clothing he was wearing, was recovered from a pond on the estate. There was no trace of the gardener, and the mystery remains unsolved. Since her father’s violent death, Emma lives at The Warren with Mr. Geoffrey Haredale, her bachelor uncle.

The stranger calls abruptly for his horse and gallops away, almost colliding with a chaise driven by Gabriel Varden, the Clerkenwell locksmith. By the light of a lantern, Varden sees the traveler’s scarred, scowling face. On his way back to London that same night, Varden finds Edward lying wounded on the highway. About the fallen man capers the grotesque figure of Barnaby Rudge, son of the Rudge who was Reuben’s steward. The boy was born half-witted on the day the murder was discovered. Helpless, loved, and pitied, he lives on a shabby street nearby with his mother and his tame, talking raven, Grip. Aided by Barnaby, Varden takes the wounded man to the Rudge house and puts him to bed.

The next morning, Varden tells the story of his night’s adventures to Dolly, his daughter, and Simon Tappertit, his apprentice. Dolly, who knows of Emma’s affection for Edward, is deeply concerned. When Varden goes to the Rudge house to inquire about Edward, he finds him greatly improved. While he is talking with Mrs. Rudge, whose face clearly reveals the troubles and sorrows of her life, a soft knocking sounds at the closed shutter. When she opens the door, Varden sees over her shoulder the livid face and fierce eyes of the horseman he encountered the night before. The man flees, leaving the locksmith convinced that he is the highwayman who attacked Edward. Mrs. Rudge, visibly upset by the man’s appearance on her doorstep, begs Varden to say nothing about the strange visitor.

John Chester, Edward’s father, is a vain, selfish man with great ambitions for his son. Shortly after his son’s mysterious attack, he and Geoffrey meet by appointment in a private room at the Maypole. Although the two families were enemies for years, John knows that they at last have a common interest in their opposition to a match between Emma and Edward. John confesses frankly that he wishes his son to marry a Protestant heiress, not the niece of a Catholic country squire. Geoffrey, resenting John’s superior airs, promises that he will do his best to change his niece’s feelings toward Edward. The meeting of the two men causes great interest among the villagers gathered in the bar parlor of the inn.

The mysterious stranger comes again to Mrs. Rudge’s house. When permitted to enter, he demands food and money. Frightened by the threats of the sinister blackmailer, she and her son move secretly to a remote country village.

Geoffrey, true to his promise, refuses Edward admittance to The Warren. When the young man confronts his father to demand an...

(The entire section is 1658 words.)

Barnaby Rudge Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-3 Summary

John Willet is the landlord of the Maypole, an inn on the edge of the Epping Forest a short distance from London. On a March evening, several guests gather in the Maypole. One of them is a stranger who asks about the brick house nearby. Joe Willet, John’s son, answers that the house is known as the Warren and belongs to Mr. Haredale. The stranger asks about a young lady who alighted from a carriage there; he suggests she might be Mr. Haredale’s daughter. Joe replies that Mr. Haredale is single (which, the stranger points out, never stopped some people from having a daughter). A young man leaves and Joe accompanies him to light his way to the door.

When Joe returns, he tries to add to the conversation of the other men, but his father tells him to be silent and listen to his elders. The other men agree. Solomon Daisy, the parish clerk, tells the story of the Haredales. The present Mr. Haredale had an older brother, Reuben, who owned the Warren at that time. He had one daughter, who is the young lady seen by the stranger. Reuben was murdered twenty-two years before, holding on to a bell, which Solomon Daisy had heard ringing in the night. The steward and the gardener were both missing. The body of Barnaby Rudge, the steward, was found in a ditch later. It is thus assumed that the gardener was the murderer.

The stranger leaves, though Joe recommends that he spend the night. The stranger strikes Joe with the butt of his whip and rides off. As he rides furiously down the road in the night, he almost runs into a wagon driven by Gabriel Varden, a blacksmith from London. The stranger demands a light, claiming that Gabriel’s wheel has damaged his horse. When it is determined that horse is uninjured, the stranger begins to hand back the light but throws it on the ground and crushes it when he sees Gabriel’s face. He calls him by name, threatening him, though Gabriel does not recognize the stranger. Afterward, Gabriel decides to go to...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Chapters 4-7 Summary

Gabriel Varden steps out of his house in Clerkenwell the following morning. His daughter, Dolly, whispered from an upper window for him to be quiet because Mrs. Varden is still asleep, since she was kept up all night waiting for Gabriel to come home. Gabriel goes back into the shop to see his apprentice, Simon Tappertit, listening to his conversation, which he often does when Dolly speaks. Simon, or Sim, is short but believes he is at least middle height, odd-looking but inflates his idea of his own appearance, and overconfident as to his power over the ladies. Sim is an “ambitious and aspiring soul.”

Gabriel describes the events of the previous evening to Dolly (and Sim, who is listening in). He had taken the injured man, who is Edward Chester, to Barnaby Rudge’s house; he wanted to avoid upsetting his wife, who is upset easily. In fact, Mrs. Varden cannot come down to breakfast because of the state of her nerves. After depositing Mr. Chester with Mrs. Rudge, Gabriel went to deliver the news to Miss Emma, who was at a masquerade. Then he returned home. Gabriel concludes by telling Dolly about the argument between John and Joe Willet. Afterward, the workday begins.

After the day’s work is completed, Gabriel goes to check on the invalid at Mrs. Rudge’s home. She is a middle-aged woman who was once pretty but now has a subsurface of terror, due to the murder of her husband. She and her son, Barnabas, resemble one other. Edward Chester is recovering but cannot be removed from his bed until the next day.

They are interrupted by a knock on the shutter. Mrs. Rudge insists on going herself, but Gabriel soon follows when he hears Mrs. Rudge cry out. A man has entered and the widow’s face holds an expression of terror. Gabriel recognizes the man he encountered on the road the previous night. The stranger runs out with Gabriel after him, but Mrs. Rudge begs him to come back. Gabriel asks Mrs. Rudge who the man is, since...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

Chapters 8-11 Summary

Sim Tappertit sneaks through the streets of London until he comes to the door of a cellar. He calls out and is let in, being addressed as “Captain.” Within the damp cellar, the meeting of the ’Prentice Knights, a union of apprentices who have joined together to take action against their masters, comes into session. The owner of the cellar is Stagg, a blind man who nevertheless “sees” a great deal. The members discuss which masters will bear a black mark next to their names for future punishment. Sim presents an order that no member of the ’Prentice Knights shall have anything to do with Joseph Willet because Sim is jealous of his attentions to Dolly Varden. The meeting adjourns an hour before dawn, and Sim prepares to...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Chapters 12-14 Summary

Mr. Haredale enters the room to find Mr. Chester sitting before the fire. Mr. Chester tries to present a façade of friendliness, but Mr. Haredale prefers bluntness. The difference between the two men is financial as well as religious. Mr. Chester’s son, Edward, is in love with Mr. Haredale’s niece, Emma, but the two older gentlemen want them separated. Mr. Chester, due to debts and obligations, needs his son to marry a wealthy heiress; whether he is in love with her is of no consequence. Mr. Haredale requires that his niece marry a Catholic. Mr. Haredale and Mr. Chester can only find common ground in planning to keep Edward and Emma apart. Mr. Haredale tells Mr. Chester that Barnaby has acted as the primary messenger between...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Chapters 15-18 Summary

Mr. Chester, having returned to his London home, sits at breakfast and looks out the window into the streets and gardens below. He spots his son, Edward, sitting motionless until he rises up and comes into the house and to his father’s chamber. Mr. Chester has an air of indifference and distance in connection with his son, though he is grateful that Edward has a pleasing appearance that fits his station in life. Edward tries to have a serious conversation with his father about why he disapproves of his relationship with Emma Haredale, but Mr. Chester is dismissive. Edward begs him to remove his restrictions against Emma, but Mr. Chester tells his son that he must marry a wealthy woman. He reveals the full extent of their...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Chapters 19-22 Summary

Dolly is reminiscing about the party she attended the previous night when Edward Chester shows up at the door. Mr. Varden is busy drinking from Toby (his ale mug), about which Mrs. Varden chides him. Edward says he is assuming that Dolly will be journeying to the Warren in the next day or two, and he is hoping she will deliver a letter for him. Mrs. Varden says Dolly has no plans to go to the Warren, but it is no problem to go out of their way to please Edward. After Edward leaves, Mrs. Varden becomes petulant because she wants to travel too, but she will not say so. Eventually, the three Vardens go by chaise to the Maypole. After a large dinner, Dolly slips out and goes up the path to the Warren.

Dolly is a frequent...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Chapters 23-26 Summary

Mr. Chester is leisurely getting dressed to go out one evening and reading Lord Chesterfield’s book of advice when a visitor is announced. Mr. Chester’s first thought is that it could be a creditor coming out of normal hours to catch him. When he learns it is Hugh from the Maypole, he orders him to be shown in after he has thoroughly cleaned his shoes. Hugh enters, accompanied by his dog. He presents the letter he took from Dolly Varden. Mr. Chester accepts it and asks what else Hugh took from the girl. Hugh at first replies that he took only a kiss, but he finally admits that he also took a bracelet (which Mr. Chester had already heard was also stolen). Hugh tries to give it to him, but Mr. Chester tells him to keep it—he is...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Chapters 27-30 Summary

Mr. Chester goes to the home of Gabriel Varden. He startles Sim, who is working diligently in a corner. Sim reminds him of the name of Joe Willet and his involvement in Edward and Emma’s continuing relationship. Mr. Chester speaks to Mrs. Varden in the company of Miggs and Dolly; he flatters her by mistaking her for Dolly or Dolly’s sister. He says he is concerned about Edward’s courtship of Emma, but not because of anything amiss in Dolly. He tells Mrs. Varden that Edward is first of all insincere in his attentions to Emma but is also intended to marry someone else. He begs Mrs. Varden to help him put a stop to the relationship. Dolly keeps her distance. She clearly dislikes the man, and she knows she is the one most...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

Chapters 31-34 Summary

Joe Willet spends the night shut up in his room. When morning breaks, he climbs out the window and over the rooftops, then he walks to London. He takes a room in the Black Lion Inn, where he always stopped for dinner when he came to the city on errands for his father. He hears someone speaking loudly; the landlord says it is an army recruiter. Joe strikes up a conversation with the recruiter, and soon he decides to join the army. He puts off the recruiter until that night, telling him that there is something he has to do first. He goes to the locksmith’s shop and finds Dolly Varden alone. He pleads with her, telling her of his love for her, but she feigns indifference. Convinced that she has rejected him, Joe leaves. Dolly waits...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Chapters 35-38 Summary

When confronted by the three horsemen, John Willet thinks they are highwaymen intent on robbery. When lead rider asks if this is the road to London, Hugh answers smartly; Mr. Willet warns him that this could get them killed. The leader then asks if there is an inn nearby. Mr. Willet’s fear disappears as he assumes his position as landlord and invites them to the Maypole. As they ride along, the horsemen speak together. The leader is Lord George Gordon; he is traveling with his secretary, Gashford, and another follower, John Grueby. Gordon is leading the fight against the Catholic influence in England and has acquired over forty thousand followers. His companions are solicitous of his health and feel anxious that he be soon out of...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Chapters 39-42 Summary

Dennis and Hugh meet Simon Tappertit, who recognizes Hugh as belonging to the Maypole. Sim remembers meeting Hugh five years previously, when he came to ask the Vardens if they had seen Joe Willet after he ran away. Sim asks Hugh if Joe was ever found; Hugh replies that he is most likely dead, which Sim is glad to hear. Sim tells Hugh about his organization, the United Bull-Dogs, and their association with the No-Popery movement. Hugh decides he should join this group as well, and he brings in Dennis. Sim is curious about Dennis’s job, which he is vague in describing. Dennis tells Sim that every article of his clothing came from “friends” he met in association with his career, meaning that all his clothes came from men he has...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Chapters 43-46 Summary

Mr. Haredale continues to live secretly in London. He spends every night awake and watching in the Rudges’ abandoned house; he spends his days resting in a room he has rented elsewhere in London. On one occasion, as he is walking past the Houses of Parliament, he encounters a mass of people shouting at the members as they pass. He meets Sir John Chester and Gashford (the three of them had gone to school together). Sir John and Gashford provoke Mr. Haredale to the point that he strongly states his opposition to the No Popery cause, which would deprive Catholics of property and education, as the rumor has it. Lord George Gordon approaches and is introduced to Mr. Haredale. When Mr. Haredale tells Lord George of the shame he is...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Chapters 47-50 Summary

Mrs. Rudge has only one guinea left from her savings. As she and Barnaby travel to London, they make money by displaying Grip, Barnaby’s pet talking raven. One “fine old country gentleman” is amused by Grip and takes Mrs. Rudge and Barnaby to his home. His wife is submissive and intimidated but sticks up for the mother and son when her husband tries to buy Grip from them. The gentleman becomes infuriated, sure that Mrs. Rudge is a beggar who is using Barnaby as a front to get money from honest people. He orders them out, and the two flee. A servant, who is supposed to chase them off the property, hands them some money. They finally reach London, where Barnaby hopes to find the blind man who promised to show him how to become...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Chapters 51-54 Summary

Mr. and Mrs. Varden and Miggs wait up late, having heard of the renewed rioting after the defeat of Gordon’s petition. Simon Tappertit arrives home, drunk and with his clothes in tatters. He rejects all offers of help from Mr. Varden, but he brings out a notice from Lord George Gordon to the effect that the No-Popery crowd should respect this property. Mr. Varden is aghast at what Sim has done, especially when he speaks of striking members of Parliament. He suggests that they sneak Sim out of the house and down the Thames to Canterbury, where a cousin of Mrs. Varden’s might give him work. Sim rejects this proposal and announces that he is no longer an apprentice to Mr. Varden but to the cause. He runs from the house with Mr....

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Chapters 55-58 Summary

John Willet remains tied to a chair in the Maypole, listening to the cries of the mob as they march toward the Warren. A man passes the window and climbs in. He asks where the others have gone; John nods toward the direction opposite of the Warren, but the stranger knows better. He eats and drinks from the scraps left by the looters before going out again into the night. Mr. Willet hears the alarm bell ringing, causing him to panic from some past memory associated with that bell. At the Warren, the house is surrounded and the fire is set. The scene becomes a picture of hell, and two resisting burdens are carried away. The fire completely consumes the Warren, including some of its destroyers as they lie around the grounds in a...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Chapters 59-62 Summary

Hugh rejoins the other rioters, who have gathered around a carriage where Dolly Varden and Emma Haredale are being kept. Hugh climbs into the carriage, sits between them, and puts his arms around them. He threatens to kiss them every time they scream. Emma is terrified but Dolly is furious. She thinks of Joe Willet and how badly she treated him. She remembers how he rescued her from Hugh when the latter stopped her on the path back to the Maypole. The men take the women to a cottage, and Hugh carries Dolly inside. Emma has fainted. Dolly is at first overjoyed when Simon Tappertit arrives, but she soon realizes that he is in league with the rioters and she has much to fear from him as she does from Hugh. Dennis is not interested in...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Chapters 63-66 Summary

A group of rioters, including Hugh and Sim, arrive at the locksmith’s shop and call for Gabriel Varden. They demand that he join their march to Newgate. Gabriel comes out holding a gun and tells them that he has no intention of supporting their cause. Miggs calls out from an open window above, telling them that she is locked in the attic and giving them directions for rescuing her. She also tells them that she poured beer down the muzzle of Gabriel’s gun, rendering it useless. With a shout of laughter, the crowd overpowers Gabriel. They explain that since he made the locks of the prison doors, he must come with them to pick the locks. Gabriel refuses but the rioters gather up some tools and force him to go with them. Dennis...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Chapters 67-70 Summary

Many of the released prisoners are recaptured when they foolishly come back to Newgate to rekindle the fires. Mr. Haredale and his rescuer, the vintner and distiller, watch the mobs from the roof of the vintner’s house. They see that they are moving toward the house, indiscriminately setting fires as they come. With great difficulty, the vintner persuades Mr. Haredale to climb over the roofs. They are stopped by two men, one of whom is Edward Chester. The other is the one-armed man who is now revealed to be Joe Willet. He tells Mr. Chester that the time has come for him to put aside his enmity toward Edward. The four of them escape; Joe’s authority as a soldier protects them as they go.

Barnaby’s first thought on...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Chapters 71-74 Summary

Emma, Dolly, and Miggs remained locked up. It has become clear that Sim and Hugh will be fighting over Dolly eventually. Dolly longs for peace and home; she feels how foolish she has acted in the past. Miggs speaks out against the “injustice” shown her as a servant. The women hear a moaning in the other room. A stranger comes in, pretending to come from Mr. Haredale and Mr. Varden, but he is really Gashford and is ready to transport the women overseas. He is interrupted when Edward Chester knocks him over, and Joe Willet, Mr. and Mrs. Varden, and Mr. Haredale enter the room. The girls are overjoyed at being rescued. They discover that Dennis and Sim are in the other room; Sim has been shot and crushed, and it is from him that...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Chapters 75-78 Summary

A month has gone by, and the trials of the rioters have concluded. Hugh, Dennis, and Barnaby are found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Sir John Chester has followed the trials in the newspapers. He is at home when a visitor is announced. It is Gabriel Varden, and he has vital information to relate to Sir John. Dennis had asked Varden to give Sir John a message. Some twenty years previously, Dennis had hanged a gypsy woman who had been convicted of passing counterfeit money out of desperation. She told the hangman that she would like to kill the father of her child. She would not give his name, but through information derived from another prisoner years later, who had been her friend, Dennis learned that the man’s name was...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Chapters 79-82 Summary

Edward Chester and Mr. Haredale talk together, having made their peace. Mr. Haredale gives his blessing on Emma and Edward’s marriage, announcing that he is going to the Continent to join a monastery for the last few remaining years of his life. As they speak, they hear a loud shouting from outside. They look out and see a mob coming forward, bearing Gabriel Varden and Barnaby, who has been released from prison. Mrs. Rudge has come to live with the Vardens, so mother and son are soon reunited. That night, at midnight, Edward Chester attends Hugh’s burial, having recently learned that he was his brother. He had requested to meet Hugh before his execution, but Hugh refused.

Mr. and Mrs. Varden, Dolly, and Joe talk...

(The entire section is 618 words.)