Study Guide

Barry Lyndon

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Barry Lyndon Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Deprived of wealth and estates by relatives, Widow Barry devotes herself to the careful rearing of her son Redmond. Uncle Brady takes a liking to the lad and asks the widow for permission to take the child to his ancestral home, Brady Castle. While there, Barry is treated kindly by his uncle. One of his cousins, Mick, persecutes him, however, and Mrs. Brady hates him. Aggressive by nature, Barry invites animosity; his landless pride in his ancestral heritage leads him into repeated neighborhood brawls until he fights every lad in the area and acquires the reputation of a bully. At age fifteen, he falls in love with twenty-four-year-old Nora Brady, who is in love with Captain John Quinn, an Englishman. Deeply in debt, Uncle Brady hopes that Nora will marry the captain, who promises to pay some of the old man’s debts. Thoroughly unscrupulous and lacking in appreciation for his uncle’s kindness, Barry insults Quinn in a fit of jealousy and wounds him in a duel.

Believing the captain dead, Barry hurriedly sets out on the road to Dublin. On the way, he befriends Mrs. Fitzsimons, the victim of a highway robbery. She takes him to her castle where Barry spends some of his own money in a lavish attempt to create a good impression. When he loses all his money through high living and gambling, Mrs. Fitzsimons and her husband are glad to see him leave.

Barry next takes King George’s shilling and enlists for a military expedition in Europe. Boarding the crowded and filthy ship, he learns that Quinn did not die after all but married Nora Brady; the pistols were loaded only with tow. Detesting service in the British army, Barry deserts to the Prussians. At the end of the Seven Years’ War, he is garrisoned in Berlin. By that time, he is known as a thorough scoundrel and a quarrelsome bully. Sent by Frederick the Great to spy on the Chevalier Balibari, suspected of being an Austrian agent, Barry learns that the officer is his own father’s brother, Barry of Ballybarry. This elderly gentleman actually made his way by gambling, rising and falling in wealth as his luck ran. When the gambler decides to leave Berlin, Barry, eager to escape from Prussian service, disguises himself and flees to Dresden. There he joins his uncle, who is high in favor at the Saxon court.

Barry, living like a highborn gentleman, supports himself by operating a gambling table. At the court of the duke of X—, he pursues Countess Ida, one of the wealthiest heiresses in the duchy. Disliking the countess personally but greatly admiring her fortune, he ruthlessly sets about to win her from her fiancé, the Chevalier De Magny. Gambling with the hapless man, Barry wins from him all he possesses. At last, De Magny agrees to play for the hand of Countess Ida and loses. Barry’s scheme might have succeeded if had he not become involved in a court intrigue. He is forced to leave the duchy.

Roaming through all the famous cities of Europe, Barry...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)