This is the book that finally made me appreciate Charles Dickens' work. I was reluctant to read this. Yet this was the book my reading group chose to read, and I was leading the discussions. This book grabbed my attention and sympathies. The characters were portrayed so that the young lovers seem doomed, a Romeo/Juliet situation with feuding families. Barnaby, the title character, is a simple man, childlike in his mind, innocent and naive, yet becomes famous as a rallying point for misguided revolutionists.
Edward Chester is in love with Emma Haredale. Her parents were brutally murdered when she was a baby. She now lives with her uncle. Unfortunately, Mr. Haredale is an enemy of Edward's father, John Chester. Plus Sir John confesses he is broke so Edward must marry an heiress to continue his lifestyle.
Dolly Varden is the locksmith's beautiful, flighty daughter. She is courted by many young men. The two most serious are Simon Tapertit, her father's apprentice, and Joe Willett, the son of the owner of a nearby country tavern. Joe and Simon chafe against their masters (the locksmith and tavern keeper). Barnaby is flitting about between all the major characters. He is happy and helpful. Yet by the end of the first section of the book, Joe and Edward have argued with their fathers too many times. They each leave to find their fortune, hoping to return to the women they love. Barnaby and his mother have left London.
The book resumes five years later in mid-18th century London. The rest of the story uses the Gordon Riots as a backdrop. The Protestants were fanatically against any member of the Roman Catholic church. A House of Lords member, Gordon, proposes that Catholics be outlawed in England. When his proposal is not passed, his followers get out of hand. Riots break out in London. The novel centers on the uprising, but our characters from five years earlier are not ignored.
I understand that is not the best of Dickens' work. Maybe not, but I'm glad I read it. It is slow reading that kept my attention. The characters grabbed me and held me throughout the book. I cheered for the good guy, was glad when the bad guy was caught, and emphasized with the innocents and the by standers.
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