By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 31, 2011

5. Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, pp. 167-217

Barnaby Rudge (Penguin Classics)Chapters 15-20
John Chester has returned home to the Temple -- "a room in Paper Buildings -- a row of goodly tenements, shaded in front by ancient trees, and looking, at the back, upon the Temple Gardens." From the window as he breakfasts he sees his son, Edward, sitting on a bench. He has been waiting, apparently, to confront his father, and finally makes his move. John greets him with his usual languid affectation, and Edward launches into the substance of his visit: "I know where you were last night -- from being on the spot, indeed -- and whom you saw, and what your purpose was."
He reproaches his father for what he has done, insisting that he loves Emma Haredale, but his father scoffs, "you do nothing of the kind. You don't know anything about it. There's no such thing, I assure you." Edward says, "From my childhood I have been accustomed to luxury and idleness, and have been bred as though my fortune were large, and my expectations almost without a limit.... I have been, as the phrase is, liberally educated, and am fit for nothing." He no longer wants to be dependent on his father and asks, "Will you give me the means of devoting such abilities and energies as I possess, to some worthy purpose?"

His father retorts that he has given him all that he can, which is "being of good family." He married Edward's mother for her money, which her father was willing to allow because the Chesters were socially superior ("I fear his father dealt in pork," John comments). "She stepped at once into the politest and best circles, and I stepped into a fortune which I assure you was very necessary to my comfort -- quite indispensable. Now, my good fellow, that fortune is among the things that have been. It is gone, Ned, and has been gone" for eighteen or nineteen years. He lives "upon an inconsiderable annuity and my past reputation." As for doing anything for Edward, he has given him an entree into society and now expects Edward to "provide for me in return" by marrying well.

Edward is indignant that his father wants him to be "A mere fortune-hunter!" But John shrugs it off as in the nature of things, and says he was amazed to find that Edward was unaware of it: "how you can ever have mistaken our positions and designs, I confess I cannot understand. I conceived, until I found your fancy for this girl, that all these points were tacitly agreed upon between us." Besides, "In a religious point of view alone, how could you ever think of uniting yourself to a Catholic, unless she was amazingly rich." Moreover, "The very idea of marrying a girl whose father was killed, like meat! Good God, Ned, how disagreeable! ... I really think the girl ought to have been put to death by the state to prevent its happening." Then he admits that he is "perhaps" teasing about this, but he leaves his son "in what appeared to be a kind of stupor."

Dickens then gives us a picture of London at night, where even "in the lightest thoroughfares, there was at every turn some obscure and dangerous spot whither a thief might fly or shelter, and few would care to follow; and the city being belted round by fields, green lanes, waste grounds, and lonely roads, dividing it at that time from the suburbs that have joined it since, escape, even when the pursuit was hot, was rendered easy."
This is a prelude to the reappearance of our mysterious stranger, who is a "man from whom many as uncouth and fierce as he, shrunk with an involuntary dread."
Directly it was dark, he was abroad -- never in company with any one, but always alone; never lingering or loitering, but always walking swiftly; and looking (so they said who had seen him) over his shoulder from time to time, and as he did so quickening his pace.
He has been noticed by others -- footpads, beggars, vagrants, grave-robbers -- and one of them ventured to tell him, "There are tales among us that you have sold yourself to the devil, and I know not what." The stranger replies, "We all have, have we not?" and warns him, "I carry arms which go off easily -- they have done so, before now -- and make it dangerous for strangers who don't know the trick of them, to lay hands upon me."

He makes his way over London Bridge and into Southwark where he sees Mrs. Rudge out shopping and follows her home, then makes his way inside with her. He demands food and drink, and she identifies him as "the robber on the Chigwell road ... And nearly a murderer then." He admits as much. He also tells her that he won't hurt her, "But I will not be taken alive; and so surely as you threaten me above your breath, I fall a dead man on this floor," and takes out a pistol. She brings him food and drink, "and he ate with the voracity of a famished hound." Then they hear a noise outside, and she tells him, "Hark to that foot upon the ground. Do you tremble to hear it! It is my son, my idiot son." The man tells her to let him in, "I fear him less than the dark, houseless night." But she refuses: "Evil will fall upon him, if you stand eye to eye."

It's clear, of course, that Mrs. Rudge recognizes him, and that he has more significance to her than Dickens is willing to let on at this point -- or willing to do more than hint at. The excessive melodrama of the scene -- the man's villainous poses, Mrs. Rudge's cries to heaven -- is a result of the evasiveness about the character's identity. As a mystery, it's a flimsy one, a weakness in the armature of the novel that makes Barnaby Rudge one of the less successful of Dickens's novels. But we have to play along with it for a while.

When Barnaby calls out to be let in, the man recognizes his voice: "It was he who grappled with me in the road." He grabs a knife from the table and hides in the closet just as Barnaby raises the window and climbs in.
Barnaby remains ignorant of the man hiding in the closet, but the raven, which he has carried in a basket on his back, doesn't: "Grip -- alive to everything his master was unconscious of -- had his head out of the basket, and in return was watching him with his glistening eye." Barnaby tells his mother that he has been doing something today but "it's a secret, mind, and only known to me, and Grip, and Hugh. We had the dog with us, but he's not like Grip, clever as he is, and doesn't guess it yet, I'll wager." Then he notices his mother's uneasiness, and grows frightened: "'There's -- there's none of this about, is there?" and he clasps the birthmark on his wrist. (See chapter 5.) She calms him, and he continues with his story: He and Hugh have been waiting in the forest with a dog that they plan to sic onto the man who attacked Edward Chester. Barnaby wraps an handkerchief around his head and pulls his coat around him "and stood up before her: so like the original he counterfeited, that the dark figure peering out behind him might have passed for his own shadow." Barnaby vows that they'll catch the man and bring him to London for trial and to be hanged "if we have luck. So Hugh says."

Mrs. Rudge is naturally even more upset by all of this, and she tries to get Barnaby to go to bed, but he says he prefers to lie by the fire and watch "the wild faces" in the coals. He has supper and asks his mother if it's his birthday because "I have always seen you -- I didn't let you know it, but I have -- on the evening of that day grow very sad. I have seen you cry when Grip and I were most glad; and look frightened with no reason; and I have touched your hand, and felt that it was cold -- as it is now."

Finally, Barnaby falls asleep by the fire. "The widow, scarcely venturing to breathe, rose from her seat. The man glided from the closet, and extinguished the candle. Grip begins to chatter noisily, but it doesn't wake Barnaby. The man looks at Barnaby and says, "In him, of whose existence I was ignorant until to-night, I have you in my power.... I am destitute and starving, and a wanderer upon the earth. I may take a sure and slow revenge." And he points at Barnaby as he leaves.

The man goes in search of a place to spend the night and "was passing down a mean street, when from an alley close at hand some shouts of revelry arose, and there came straggling forth a dozen madcaps, whooping and calling to each other." Thinking he can find a public house to spend the night in, he looks for the place they came from, and dodges into a doorway when he hears people talking and a man comes forward with a light.
It's "a young man of small stature and uncommon self-importance, dressed in an obsolete and very gaudy fashion." In other words, it's Sim Tappertit leaving a meeting of the 'Prentice Knights, having his way lighted by Stagg. From his hiding place, the man can see that Stagg is blind, but Stagg's hearing is sharp and he senses the man's presence. After Sim has left, the man approaches Stagg and asks for lodging, and being refused, begs him for it and offers payment. Stagg gives in and finds a room for him in the cellar, but after the man falls asleep, Stagg kneels down beside him and passes "his hand lightly but carefully over his face and person." Then he waits and listens by the man until daylight.
Dolly Varden, by William Powell Frith, 1842

It has been three days since Dolly disappointed Joe Willet by deserting him for a party, and she is still cherishing memories of it, including being flirted with by a young coachmaker. Edward Chester arrives at the Vardens as they are having breakfast, to ask if Dolly will take a message for him to the Warren. But Mrs. Varden associates the Warren with the Maypole and uses this occasion to throw a very funny fit. (Mrs. Varden's fit seems even funnier after the dreary melodrama at Mrs. Rudge's.) 
Mrs Varden wept, and laughed, and sobbed, and shivered, and hiccoughed, and choked; and said she knew it was very foolish but she couldn't help it; and that when she was dead and gone, perhaps they wouldn't be sorry for it -- which really under the circumstances did not appear quite so probable as she seemed to think -- with a great deal more to the same effect. In a word, she passed with great decency through all the ceremonies incidental to such occasions; and being supported upstairs, was deposited in a highly spasmodic state on her own bed, where Miss Miggs shortly afterwards flung herself upon the body.
The whole display takes place because Mrs. Varden really wants to accompany Dolly and her husband on the trip to the Warren, but she wants to be begged to do so. And finally, "the locksmith humbled himself, and the end was gained." And when she comes downstairs "decked out for the journey, she really looked as if nothing had happened, and appeared in the very best health imaginable." As for Dolly, she wears "a little straw hat trimmed with cherry-coloured ribbons, and worn the merest trifle on one side -- just enough in short to make it the wickedest and most provoking head-dress that ever malicious milliner devised." (The Dolly Varden style, including a flat straw hat trimmed with cherry-colored ribbons, became fashionable in the 1870s.)

On their way out of the city, the Vardens pass the young coachmaker on the street, and he is obviously smitten. The trip takes a long time because they make numerous stops at taverns along the way, and though Mrs. Varden is "all affability and delight," she is silently collecting evidence against her husband. Finally they reach the Maypole, where Joe Willet makes a dash to help the Vardens out of the coach, "to Mr Willet's mighty and inexpressible indignation." Joe gets "a glimpse of happiness" when he helps Dolly get out, having her in his arms "for a space of time no longer than you could count one in."

There follows a celebration of the Maypole's bar, another Dickensian tribute to snugness and coziness. "It is a poor heart that never rejoices -- it must have been the poorest, weakest, and most watery heart that ever beat, which would not have warmed towards the Maypole bar. Mrs Varden's did directly. She could no more have reproached John Willet among those household gods, the kegs and bottles, lemons, pipes, and cheese, than she could have stabbed him with his own bright carving-knife."

Dolly meanwhile heads for the Warren, with which she is familiar from her childhood friendship with Emma, though she holds her breath and tiptoes past the library on her way to Emma's room. There, Emma reads and rereads Edward's letter, while Dolly admires herself in a mirror and "could not help wondering whether the coachmaker suffered very much, and quite pitied the poor man."
Emma is upset by the contents of Edward's letter, but Dolly "set it down in her own mind that all this came from Miss Haredale's being so constant, and that if she would only take on with some other young gentleman -- just in the most innocent way possible, to keep her first lover up to the mark -- she would find herself inexpressibly comforted." Emma gives her a reply to take to Edward "and endowed her moreover with a pretty little bracelet as a keepsake."

On her way out, however, Dolly is met at the library door by Haredale, who forces her to confess that she had delivered a letter to Emma from Edward Chester. She bursts into tears when she confesses, but when he asks if she is carrying a reply for Edward, she says she won't part with it. He assures her that he doesn't want the letter, and then asks her if she would like to come stay at the Warren as a companion for Emma. She says she will have to ask her family. He tells her to do so and sends her on her way.

As she is crossing the grounds, she hears a rustling in the hedges and is frightened. Then "the bushes crackled and snapped, and a man came plunging through them, close before her."

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