Barnaby Rudge: Squaring the Christian circle

Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge is the most Catholic novel of the nineteenth century, argues Jeremy Rowe, a retired lecturer and specialist in Catholic literature.

Barnaby Rudge begins in 1775 and is constructed around two romantic situations. It has largely to do with a particularly Catholic crisis, and, throughout, no word is said by the author against the Catholic community.

The first Romance alerts us to the theme of the novel. Edward Chester is the son of Sir John Chester, a leading though impecunious member of the extreme wing of the Protestant establishment. Edward is deeply in love with Miss Emma Haredale, who is the daughter of a leading member of the Catholic community. Their fathers have a long-standing history of mutual detestation. The second Romance concerns the relationship between the flirtatious Dolly, daughter of the locksmith Gabriel Varden, and Joe, the upstanding son of John Willett, the proprietor of the ancient Maypole Inn. Here too, there is an obstacle to love, namely John’s treating his son as though he is a child. When Dolly petulantly rejects Joe’s hesitant proposal on hearing that he is on the verge of going far away to escape this paternal cruelty, Joe heads off to fight for the Confederacy, and Dolly collapses in a flood of tears.

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