Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Charles Dickens



Well, I've done it. I have finally read all of the novels written by Charles Dickens. The last and unfinished is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the mystery of what happened to poor Edwin will forever be a mystery.

I read this along with the GoodReads Victorians group, and it has been fun and interesting to hear what other readers think about the mystery before it came to an abrupt halt. Dickens was only 22 chapters (i.e., six installments in the serialized version) before he died on June 9, 1870 after suffering a massive stroke the day before.

The basic premise is that young Edwin Drood, who reminded me a lot of Nicholas Nickleby with his bounce and confidence and charm, disappears and is presumed murdered. The chief suspects are his uncle, John Jasper, who is an opium addict and Neville Landless, a fiery scholar who is also somewhat of a rival for the affections of his betrothed, Rosa Bud.

The novel is set initially in a quiet village peopled by members of the clergy and their families--think Trollope--but moves quickly to London where it seems most of the action of the novel will take place.

Although Dickens left many notes about the chapters he wrote, he left none related to how the story worked out. Before starting the novel, he shared with his good friend and later biographer, John Forster, his basic idea for the novel, but what he actually wrote seems to depart substantially from what he outlined to Forster.

So, readers have been left for the past 150 years speculating as to what happened to Edwin. Was he murdered? Did he meet with an accident? Did he disappear of his own volition? If he was murdered, who did it--Jasper, Neville, the newcomer to the village, Mr Datchery, or someone else entirely?

Fun Facts: from Mental Floss  

Other scholars and writers have attempted to solve the mystery on their own over the years. In 1914, the Dickens Fellowship held a mock trial for Jasper, with G.K. Chesterton serving as the judge and George Bernard Shaw as the foreman of the jury. (The fictional character was found guilty of manslaughter.) In 2015, the University of Buckingham set up a website called Drood Inquiry, where the public could submit their theories on the book’s conclusion. The ending that pinned Jasper as the murderer was by far the most popular, but the project also attracted some more surprising ideas. According to one submission, Edwin Drood was killed by the sweet mother of the local reverend.

I've been on the fence regarding reading a completion, but I just ordered a copy of a completion by Leon Garfield. I've heard this is pretty good, and I would like some resolution to the different threads.

My personal theory is that Jasper is sort of a Dr Jeckel/Mr Hyde character and murdered his nephew when he was in an opium-induced trip. Robert Louis Stevenson published his Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886, so maybe he read Edwin Drood and had the same thought as me! However, I think the problem with the Jasper theory is that he is so clearly the villain, he must be a red herring! I actually love the idea of Edwin surfacing again near the end of the novel--he stole my heart, which really doesn't want him to be murdered!

There is a musical inspired by the fragment that I understand ends with the audience being asked to vote on what they think solves the various mysteries in the novel and then the cast performs that ending. I would love to see this in action!

Now that I have completed the oevre, I plan to go back and reread to my heart's content, probably starting with Bleak House, which I first read in college and then reread decades ago, so I do need a refresher. Little Dorrit is also high on the reread list.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Greek Myths Retold and Retooled: Mythos, Medusa's Sisters, Galatea

I have always loved the stories of the Greek myths, having read the children's versions as a kid, then some Ovid and Homer, and now the reimaginings.


I just finished listening to Stephen Fry read his Mythos, the first of three books in which he tells the stories of Greek mythology. He makes a point of saying that he is retelling the stories, not interpreting or analyzing them but simply passing them along. I like to think that his reading them and me listening is part of the Homeric tradition.

I enjoyed the book immensely--he begins with Chaos and works his way through the creation, the Titans, the Olympians, and the several eras of mortals. He divides the stories into themes--transformations of gods and mortals into animals, plants, rivers, springs, etc--lovers, mostly doomed but a few successful couples--punishments of mortals and gods, particularly for hubris but also for other transgressions, notably lack of hospitality, which was so important to the Greeks. I loved some of the explanation stories--how the honeybee (Melissa) got a stinger was my personal favorite. And, of course, I absolutely loved how Fry would list all the various words that we use today that are derived from the names and stories.

Fry retells the age-old stories, some of which were new to me, with wry humor and some modern sensibilities, but not so much as to be annoying. I am planning on listening to Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures next, followed by Troy, which is the book my daughter Sarah read and recommended to me. I decided to start with Mythos so as to have a good grounding.

At 416 pages, Mythos is my first book that qualifies for the Big Book Summer Challenge.


Medusa's Sisters
, by Lauren J.A. Bear, is in the reimaging camp. This was a 5-star novel for me, and it was absolutely riveting. In Bear's story, the Gorgons started out as beautiful triplets. The first and second born, Stheno and Euryale, are immortal, but Medusa is mortal. Despite being triplets, Stheno is a stereotypical oldest sibling, Euryale is the Jan Brady figure, and Medusa is the petted, spoiled baby. How they become monsters is a classic case of two powerful beings squabbling over glory and not caring who gets hurt as a consequence of their petty rivalry. 

Despite the tragedy of Medusa--and her story is a tragedy--the really lovely aspect of this reimagining is how these Gorgons wrestle with the consequences of their power to kill--it comes down to not judging the worth of a being by their physical appearance...even when looks can kill! They may have ended up as monsters externally, but the gorgeous gods who callously destroyed their happiness are the real villains in this story.

Bear has another book coming out in January 2025, Mother of Rome, which looks very promising and is already on my TBR list.



Galatea, by Madeline Miller, author of the fabulous Song of Achilles and Circe, is a slender book. Only 27 pages, this reimagining tells the myth of Pygmalion from the point of view of Galatea, the woman the sculptor created out of marble, fell in love with, and begged Aphrodite to bring to life. It reads like a parable, a warning, rather than a myth. It is a feminist take on what happens when a someone believes they own not only the body but the soul of another. Not a particularly fun book to read--a tragedy without the lovely and life-affirming aspects of Medusa's Sisters. Glad I read it but not sure I have the heart to reread it.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Big Book Summer Challenge



It's that time of year again--time to break out the big books for reading during the hot days of summer. I am not a beach or pool gal, but I do love to read on our covered back deck when it's too hot to garden.

Once again, Sue from Book by Book is hosting the Big Book Summer Challenge--her 12th year! All you have to do is read at least one book over 400 pages between Memorial Day and Labor, and you've completed the challenge.

I am definitely planning on reading Drood, a 775-page whopper by Dan Simmons, after I finish Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I am reading with the Victorians on GoodReads.

I would also like to read some more of Jeff and Michael Shaara's Civil War novels, all of them are 400+ pages. I read A Blaze of Glory, about Shiloh, in May and am eager to read more of the Western Theatre novels as well as all the others.

My brother Mark told me about a series of books by Alice Roberts, non-fiction on British history. The first, Ancestors: A History of Britain in Seven Burials, clocks in at 400 pages, so it is also a definite possibility for this challenge.

Happy Summer Reading! What's on your shelf?


Thursday, May 23, 2024

Travelogue: Ute Mt Birding Festival and southern Colorado

 

Arkansas River, Salida, Colorado

Last week we went to the Ute Mt Birding Festival in Cortez, Colorado to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, which was on May 12. It was our 4th time going to this bird fest, but the last time was 2019, so we were overdue for this favorite road trip.

Cortez is basically due west of Mesa Verde National Park and provides a good alternative to Durango for visitors who want a really small-town experience. We drove down on a Wednesday, and it was a full day as Cortez is seven hours of drive time from our house, which means stopping for lunch, gas, and leg stretching meant nine+ hours of traveling.


We had two full days of birding, saw and heard well over 100 different species, and logged four life birds. We ate twice at The Farm Bistro--locally sourced and absolutely wonderful. If you ever pass through Cortez, definitely put this place on your list.


On Saturday we headed for Salida, a little over halfway home, stopping at Chimney Rock National Monument.

Chimney Rock (right) and Companion Rock (left)

Fun Fact #1: All national parks are run by the National Park Service, but some national monuments are run by the Forest Service. These two organizations have different goals. The NPS tries to preserve sites and areas, while the Forest Service manages usage. It struck me as weird that Chimney Rock, sacred to Native Americans, would be under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service--if any place should be guaranteed as a preservation site, this is it. I am sure there is a political reason at the root of this weirdness.

Fun Fact #2: Just as the position of sun rise changes over time, seasonally, the position of moon rise also changes over time, oscillating south to north, but over a much longer period time--18.6 years, actually. Every 18.6 years, the full moon rises between Chimney Rock and adjacent Companion Rock, and archeologists believe that the Chaco people built a lunar observatory and the villages surrounding Chimney Rock supported the ancient observers. It turns out the full moons between July 2023 and December 2025 rise between the twin towers. The ranger on duty said that they may do live streaming this September and October. Here's more info on the Lunar Standstill and Chimney Rock.


View from Chimney Rock

After Chimney Rock, we landed in Salida for the night. Another restaurant recommendation: The Fritz is wonderful. We ate there five years ago, and it was as great as we remembered. I love Colorado mountain towns, and Salida has always been a favorite. A walk after dinner over the Arkansas gave me the chance to take the photo at the top of this post, which kind of says everything about how great this trip was.

40 years!

Now I'm working like crazy in the garden to make up for the five days I was away from my babies! Update on progress there soon!

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Rounding Up: Seeds, Christie Mysteries, and the Brennans

Time for another roundup of books I've been reading...


Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton, by Richard Horan - I cannot remember where I heard about this one, from a fellow blogger or from one of the many gardening sites that I follow? Anyway, I wanted to love it and did...sporadically, which means it was a 3-star read for me. The idea is that English teacher and novelist, Horan got the idea to make pilgrimages to the homes of literary luminaries and other noteworthy people who have inspired him and collect seeds from the trees in their yards and then plant and nurture them. A cool idea, a great notion that naturally leads to a book about the pilgrimages and the trees and the challenges with gathering seeds. 

Among my favorites is the first featured in the book when Horan and his family visit Lincoln's home in Springfield, IL and he recognizes the tree in the front yard from a photograph of Lincoln. Turns out, the tree from 1860 is still alive and gracing the property. Cool, right? My other favorites were his visit to Gettysburg where he shows off his writing chops and writes a beautiful tribute to this hallowed ground, his visit to several of Robert Frost's homes, and the trip to Herman Melville's farm. I got a bit bored towards the end and will confess to skimming a bit. I like visiting favorite author's homes and seeing landscapes that inspired or influenced their work, and with my interest in gardening and trees this was a natural. I learned a lot, gained some interesting factoids, and got itchy feet that long to be on the road. Speaking of which, his bit about Kerouac has made me think maybe I should reread On the Road, which I read as teen in the 1970s and loathed, but maybe I might appreciate it as an adult. Maybe.



We Are the Brennans, by Tracey Lange - Unlike Seeds, I know exactly from whom I heard about this novel, JoAnn of Gulfside Musing. She raved about a reread of it, and JoAnn has not steered me wrong yet. This is a wonderful story about an Irish-American family in New York that is navigating the troubled waters stirred up by secrets from the past. I enjoyed getting to know each of the family members, from only daughter Sunday to her various brothers, her senile father, and the larger extended family. I would like to read more by this author.



And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie - a chilling study in psychological warfare in which a sociopathic killer systematically accomplishes ten murders, following the recipe of an old nursery rhyme. The racism of the original version has been cleaned up. Not a fun read but a good look at why Christie is still the queen of the mystery.



The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie - Audible offers members freebies and when I saw that Richard Armitage was the reader of this first Hercule Poirot mystery and it wouldn't cost me a credit, I jumped at the chance to listen to Richard and fill in my backlist of Christie mysteries. It was actually more fun than the other Christie I read at the same time, although I must say that Hercule Poirot gets on my nerves a bit and his foil, Hastings, must be the stupidest man on the planet. Published in 1920, it is a between-the-wars story with a good cast and lots of admirable red herrings and a clever ending.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Time and Again - Jack Finney


I love a good time-travel book and have since I was a young reader. My brother, Stewart, told me about Time and Again, by Jack Finney, a few years ago, and I finally made a point of reading it last month after we got together for lunch and he raved about it again.

Fun Fact: Jack Finney is the author of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I will probably never read nor will I probably ever watch any of the three movies it inspired, but it is a classic worth mentioning.

Time and Again was excellent, albeit a bit dated, making it nostalgic. Published in 1970, the modern world is the NYC of 54 years ago, which was as much fun to visit as 1882 NYC.

Here is the GoodReads blurb: 

Science fiction, mystery, a passionate love story, and a detailed history of Old New York blend together in Jack Finney's spellbinding story of a young man enlisted in a secret government experiment.

Transported from the mid-twentieth century to New York City in the year 1882, Si Morley walks the fashionable "Ladies' Mile" of Broadway, is enchanted by the jingling sleigh bells in Central Park, and solves a 20th-century mystery by discovering its 19th-century roots. Falling in love with a beautiful young woman, he ultimately finds himself forced to choose between his lives in the present and the past.

Early on in the novel, I was a bit bothered by the sketchy time-travel mechanism, which was really no more than self-hypnosis--I would have liked more details as to why Si was able to travel through time, with pin-point precision in terms of time and place, but others failed when they tried. But, oh well, since I agreed to suspend my disbelief, I decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I really got a kick out of seeing how Si, who was rigorously trained for his mission back to 1882, occasionally fumbled when dealing with the inhabitants of the nineteenth century. Living in the past is a lot harder than it looks! 

I was also surprised by Si's view of the natives of 1882 NYC as being more vibrant than the modern New Yorkers he left back in 1970--I think this was Finney's indictment of the disconnection that he believed technology imposed on human relations. Now, fifty years later, we are still bemoaning the negative effects of technology and looking back on the 1970's as a golden era, which feels weird, but I get it. 

Si's love life in 1970 also made me smile--he is dating a woman in 1970 that he feels he may want to marry, and yet their intimate relationship is really ambiguous. I couldn't help but thinking that if this book was launched today, it would be written much differently. 

The novel contained photos that Si was supposed to have taken in 1882 of the buildings, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and street scenes using a borrowed camera. The photos in the copy of the book that I have were pretty fuzzy, and not just because they were old. I think this is a great fictional construct, and I loved the idea, but the cheap printing undermined the affect just a bit. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the Dakota, where Si has a room that serves as his portal from one time period to the other, as well as the Park and the farm lands which still existed just north of the Dakota.

The scene in the arm of the Statue of Liberty is priceless and ingenious. Did you know that the arm was temporarily on display in Madison Square Park in 1882--well, you know this if you've watched The Gilded Age, which I haven't yet. But it is another fun fact...


The best part of the novel was when Si was on his "trips" to the past--exploring the city, recognizing some landmarks, marveling at the views available when there weren't skyscrapers, taking a scary walk across the new Brooklyn Bridge, dealing with the crud and grime of the city (spittoons were everywhere!), eating in the various restaurants and bars. 

I confess, I thought the first part dragged a bit--after Si was recruited as a government-sponsored time traveler, it seemed to take way too long to actually get him into the past. Once there, the pace picked up and the story really found its legs.

There is a sequel, From Time to Time, which features the Titanic and 1912. I will probably read this one at some point although the GoodReads reviews are less than enthusiastic. I definitely enjoyed Time and Again--thanks for the recommendation, Stewart.




Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Whistling Season - Ivan Doig


I have a new favorite writer. My sister used to tell me how great Ivan Doig's books were, and she was right, at least based on my first Doig, The Whistling Season. Set in Montana in 1909-1910, The Whistling Season is the story of the Milliron family, with 13-year-old Paul as the moral compass and main character, and the city slickers from Chicago, Rose and her brother Morrie, who go West for a fresh start in life and end up rekindling life and hope for the Millirons.

Here is the GoodReads blurb that does a good job of capturing the essentials of the story:

"Can't cook but doesn't bite." So begins the newspaper ad offering the services of an "A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, exceptional disposition" that draws the hungry attention of widower Oliver Milliron in the fall of 1909. And so begins the unforgettable season that deposits the noncooking, nonbiting, ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her fond-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee along with a stampede of homesteaders drawn by the promise of the Big Ditch-a gargantuan irrigation project intended to make the Montana prairie bloom. When the schoolmarm runs off with an itinerant preacher, Morris is pressed into service, setting the stage for the "several kinds of education"-none of them of the textbook variety-Morris and Rose will bring to Oliver, his three sons, and the rambunctious students in the region's one-room schoolhouse. A paean to a vanished way of life and the eccentric individuals and idiosyncratic institutions that made it fertile, The Whistling Season is Ivan Doig at his evocative best.

What the blurb doesn't convey is the joie de vivre of the Milliron family, even as they are mourning the death of their mother, Paul and his two brothers are exuberant, each in his own way and following his passions and dealing with his own foibles. It doesn't convey the sense of community that the children of the homesteaders bring to their one-room schoolhouse--the backwards horse race is one of the best scenes I've ever read. And it doesn't convey the excellent writing, characterized by a deft turn of phrase that usually made me smile and sometimes even sigh.

Doig wrote only one stand-alone novel--the rest are grouped into series: Ivan Doig - Book Series In Order. The Whistling Series is the first in a trilogy, and I am eager to read the other two as I believe they contain the further adventures of Morrie Morgan, the greatest teacher on the planet, then or now. I absolutely loved the character of Morrie, and I particularly enjoyed how he taught his students about life, the universe, and everything using Halley's comet (which blazed back on the scene in 1910) as his teaching aid.

Other things I loved in this book--the spelling bees, Toby's broken toe, Eddie's glasses, Paul's dreams and the midnight cocoa conversations between Paul and Rose, and, of course, the mystery surrounding Rose and Morrie's background. 

BTW, Rose whistles while she works, hence the title. 

I love westerns, and I really love finding first-rate western writers. Bringing out my crystal ball, I think I'll be working my way through the Doig collection over the next year or so. He's a gem.


Friday, April 05, 2024

The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles


I enjoyed Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow so much that I plunged right into The Lincoln Highway and loved it even more!

A bit of background--the Lincoln Highway is a coast-to-coast highway, running from NYC's Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. I fully expected this to be the chronicle of a cross-county road trip with much of the action taking place west of the Mississippi. That's what the main character, 18-year-old Emmett Watson, thinks when he and 9-year-old brother, Billy, decide to drive to San Francisco from Nebraska to search for their mother after he is released from a juvenile work farm when his father dies, leaving Billy without a guardian.

The story actually is an odyssey but mostly eastward, first to Chicago and then NYC and then upstate New York. After Duchess and Wooly, two fellow inmates (for lack of a better term) from the work farm, break out and latch onto the brothers, the four make their way east together and separately, settling scores and paying debts along the way as they navigate who they are and who they want to be.

The novel takes place in the late spring of 1954, seventy years ago, so the world of Emmett, Billy, Duchess, and Wooly is both familiar and foreign. Emmett is essentially the straight man--earnest but hot-tempered, protective of Billy but often unable to effectively protect him. Billy is a joy--intelligent, passionate, innocent, loyal. Duchess is the con man but with a hard luck story that will break your heart. Wooly is a lost soul, much like Billy but without the wits to make it in the stuffy, upper-crust world into which he was born.

With the boys, we hop freight cars, eat at Howard Johnsons, fight off hooligans, and visit a hobo village, a burlesque circus, the Empire State Building, and mansions of the super rich. 

I'm not sure if Towles was more inspired by Twain's Huckleberry Finn or Homer's Odyssey, but both are there in the adventures and misadventures, in the physical and emotional journeys, in the pathos, and in the secondary characters and iconic settings. Just as Huck and Jim raft down the Mississippi to escape bondage and live free and Odysseus struggles to make his way back to Ithaca and normality after the Trojan War, our boys are both breaking away and trying to set right their upside-down-inside-out worlds.

Speaking of secondary characters, I absolutely loved meeting Dr. Abacus Abernathy, author of Billy's favorite book, which he has read over twenty times, and which serves as his personal guidebook to life. Ulysses (yes, there really is a character named Ulysses) was also a favorite of mine, as was Sally, the girl next door who somehow manages to tag along without really tagging along.

Definitely a 5-star novel. It probably comes closest to being the Great American Novel of anything I have reach in the past couple of decades.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Another Roundup

Wow, it's been almost two weeks since my last post. Time flies when you are planting seeds, watering seedlings, trimming overgrown dogwoods, moving pea gravel, and dreaming of snowless days! Springtime in Colorado means weekly snowstorms...thankful for the moisture, though!

Here are the milk jugs in which I sowed native seeds for the garden.

And here you can see that the Anise Hyssop seeds, which I sowed on Feb 7, have germinated.

When I am not gardening, here's what I've been reading:

The Call of the Wrens, by Jenni Walsh - another dual timeframe with two main characters whose stories converge. Marion is a dispatch motorcycle rider with the Wrens (i.e., Women's Royal Navy Services) during WWI and Evelyn has the same role during WWII. I love the time period and the individual stories were good--what I had a bit of a problem with was how they converged. A solid three stars, but it left me with a bit of eye-rolling despite really enjoying learning about motorcycle dispatch riding.



The Day That Never Comes, by Caimh McDonnell - second in the 7-part Dublin trilogy (yes, you read that right, 7 books in this trilogy), which just shows the charm and cheek of this Irish comic turned mystery writer. This was an excellent followup to book 1, The Man With One of Those Faces. Believe me when I say that these books are enormously fun to read.


The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli - I read this after Kathy posted about it on Reading Matters. Published in 1949, it is a children's book that chronicles the adventures of young Robin, son of a knight in 13th century England. We hear about the plague, which cripples Robin, and how he learns to function again and enjoy life (i.e., finding a door in the wall), about life in both a monastery and a castle, and what it was like to travel in the medieval world. Thoroughly enjoyable.



Jane Austen
, by Margaret Kennedy - I've been reading Austen and reading about Austen for over 50 years but only heard about this marvelous little book earlier this year. It was pitched to me as a bio, but the biographical details are brief, and most of the book is commentary by Kennedy, a novelist and playwright from the early 20th century. I haven't read anything else by her, but I think her observations and critique of Austen's work are spot on...except for Lady Susan, which I liked far more than she did. This book wasn't easy to find, but I got a copy through interlibrary loan from a university library. 

Oh, and Happy Equinox! Something we can all celebrate!



Thursday, March 14, 2024

Barnaby Rudge - Dickens' Least Read Novel

Barnaby Rudge and his pet raven, Grip

I finally got around to reading Barnaby Rudge in February and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Of course, I do like historical novels, and this is one of only two historical novels by Dickens, the other being A Tale of Two Cities

The full title is Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty, and its focus is on the buildup to the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the immediate aftermath. The Gordon Riots were several days of riots sparked by Lord George Gordon's rallying a mob to violence in opposition to the Papists Act of 1778, which was intended to reduce discrimination against Roman Catholics in Britain. In other words, a set of Londoners were rioting because they wanted Catholics to continue being discriminated against. As Dickens portrays it, the rioters were downtrodden people who were manipulated into rioting by being shown a set of people they could despise even though rioting wouldn't actually help them to a better life.

Most of the characters in the book live in the village of Chigwell, which is now a suburb of London. 

  • There is the proprietor of the local pub, the Maypole Inn, and his son, John and Joe Willet, respectively, and his stable boy, Hugh;
  •  The rich man and his niece, Mr Haredale and Emma, who also happen to be Catholic; 
  • The stalwart locksmith, Gabriel Varden, his wife, daughter (the lovely Dolly Varden), apprentice Simon Tappertit, who I believe is a model for Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, and lady's maid Miggs, whose main role is comic relief. It almost felt like she must have been based on a lady's maid in Dickens' own household who frustrated him to no end.
  • Edward Chester is Emma Haredale's beau, and he has a conniving, smarmy father John who makes your skin crawl.
  • Finally, there is Barnaby and his mother. Barnaby is a simple young man--none too bright but warm-hearted. His is the role of the Shakespearean fool, and for most of the novel I was wondering why Dickens gave his name to the novel because he is mostly a minor character until the end.
The plot is long and convoluted, after all it was serialized, and Dickens had weekly installments to fill per his contract. There are intrigues, kidnappings, jailings and jailbreaks, highway robbery, betrayals, duels, fires, murder, and a couple of love stories. Despite all these distractions, its heart is a story about propaganda, paranoia, zenophobia, mob rule and mob violence, and misplaced patriotism.

Dickens was a Londoner, and I believe he wanted to really explore how his London grew out of the London in which these riots occurred seventy years earlier. When you think about it, the 1950's were seventy years ago--I'm currently reading The Lincoln Highway, which takes place in 1954, so Amor Towles is today doing what Dickens did in the early 1840s, looking at today's world through a 70-year-old lens. But I digress--Dickens writes of London with a familiarity, an intimacy, that comes from having repeatedly tramped it streets and alleys, byways and highways. It is navel-gazing at its finest--what is this London and how did we come to this?

The 1840s were a decade marked by revolutions throughout Europe, and Barnaby Rudge was published from February through November of 1841, which to me indicates that former court reporter Dickens definitely still had his finger on the pulse of his countrymen and knew what civic perils lay ahead.

So why is this novel so infrequently read? I think the title has a lot to do with it--I found the word Rudge very off-putting--sounded like dullsville to me! And Barnaby really is not much of a character for three-fourths of the book. Calling it The Maypole Inn would have been a far better title, in my opinion. 


Fun fact: in the novel, Barnaby has a pet raven named Grip, who talks like a parrot and is the perfect pet and companion for Barnaby. Dickens modeled Grip after two ravens he kept as pets (sequentially). According to legend, Edgar Allan Poe was so taken with the idea of a talking raven after having read Barnaby that he was inspired to write The Raven.

Now all I have left to read is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and I will have read all the Dickens novels at least once..and that is a very good reading goal!