Of all Dickens’s novels, Barnaby Rudge has attracted least critical attention. Generally judged a failure, notwithstanding a number of excellent if bizarre passages about the Gordon riots, it is customarily dismissed as a work preparatory to A Tale of Two Cities.1 And it is true that the prose of Barnaby Rudge is relatively undistinguished; except for the descriptions of the riots, it tends to be of a curiously uniform flatness. Moreover, the novel seems laboriously slow in getting up steam — more than a third of its length is apparently given over to preparation for the central action.2 Edgar Johnson contends in this regard that Dickens’s ‘long delay in starting reinforces the suspicion that, by now, he didn’t feel like writing Barnaby and was laboring against the grain’.3 Another ground of complaint among readers is the apparent bifurcation of interest reflected in the novel’s design; few critics have taken issue with Forster’s assertion that ‘the interest with which the tale begins, has ceased to be its interest before the close; and what has chiefly taken the reader’s fancy at the outset, almost wholly disappears in the power and passion with which, in the later chapters, the great riots are described’.4
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