Barnaby Rudge Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Maypole Inn

Maypole Inn. Old building near the real English village of Chigwell, twelve miles northeast of London. It is believed to be based on an actual Chigwell inn, the King’s Head, that Charles Dickens liked to visit. However, Dickens gave it the name of another inn found in the neighboring village of Chigwell Row. The inn is the site of a homelike little community in which the innkeeper, John Willett, enjoys the company of his regular customers. Its bar is a snug, cozy place, and fragrant odors emanating from its kitchen, along with the pleasant hum of voices and warm glow of the fireplace in its common room, make it a tempting refuge from stormy weather for Gabriel Varden, the traveling locksmith. When participants in the Gordon Riots attack the inn, the damage they cause seems to be a desecration of an almost sacred place.

However, the inn also has gloomy stables and grotesque carvings. Its timbers are decaying, and its bricks have become yellow and discolored. Homelike though it may seem at times, the Maypole is actually no longer a home but a commercial establishment, and its convivial community is repeatedly disrupted by antagonism between John Willett and his son Joe. The complex world of the Maypole reflects the larger world of England in being both flawed and enticing. Its attempted destruction, however, is clearly portrayed as a horrifying crime.

*London

*London. Like his portrayal of Maypole Inn, Dickens’s portrayal of London is contradictory. His first description of it comes after a scene in which the Maypole’s appealing aspects are emphasized. In contrast, London is described as a dark shadow and a labyrinth, lit by its own lights rather than Heaven’s. It is as if this urban world is less wholesome and blessed than the rural world of the Maypole.

Praise of the rural world and Nature, in contrast to the city, continues a few pages later, but this time the picture is...

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Barnaby Rudge Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Adrian, Arthur A. Dickens and the Parent-Child Relationship. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984. Explores the effect of the cruelty of parents who withhold their love and ignore their children’s feelings. Views Barnaby Rudge as a study of “father-son friction.”

Kincaid, James R. Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Includes an excellent chapter on Barnaby Rudge that explores the nature of the humor in the novel. Suggests that Dickens wants the reader to laugh at tyranny.

Lindsay, Jack. “Barnaby Rudge.” In Dickens and the Twentieth Century, edited by John Gross and Gabriel Pearson. London: Routledge, 1962. Reconsiders Barnaby Rudge, treating the novel as a study of the nature of social change.

Newman, S. J. Dickens at Play. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. A good treatment of Barnaby Rudge that interprets the riots as a vision of the nature of anarchy. Focuses on the “unwilling collusion between madness and creativity” in the character of Lord Gordon.

Rice, Thomas J. “The Politics of Barnaby Rudge.” In The Changing World of Charles Dickens, edited by Robert Giddings. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1983. An excellent essay that firmly grounds the writing of Barnaby Rudge in the political situation of its time.