Montreal Dickens Fellowship
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Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Barnaby Rudge”
Westmount Public Library
September 6, 2016 1:00-3:00
Chapters 1 - 10

  1. Dickens is well known for his technique of personification in which inanimate objects are given human qualities. Discuss his description of the “Maypole” with this in mind.
  2. In describing his characters, Dickens often uses a “Show don’t Tell” technique, revealing their personalities by their actions, speech and even clothing. Comment on this technique in his description of John Willet. Comment on the evocative vocabulary that contributes to our impressions.
  3. Compare and contrast the two men that are seated at tables in the Maypole. How does Dickens quickly reveal their characters?
  4. Dickens loved all aspects of the theater. Comment on the theatricality of the “tableau” that Dickens sets before us at the Maypole. The characters all have their varied roles and lines. They even have dramatic entrances and exits.
  5. Dickens often used ghost stories or grizzly tales of crime to appeal to his readers who loved this gothic device. Are you also hooked by this sensationalism?
  6. Did you find the novel difficult to get into? Why? Why not?
  7. Dickens describes a causal relationship between weather and behavior. E.g. Violent storms are associated with violent crimes. Do you agree?
  8. What is your first impression of Gabriel Varden? Compare and contrast him to John Willet.
  9. Comment on the hearthside appeal of the Maypole. Have you ever been in such an inviting, cozy atmosphere in any modern pub or restaurant?
  10. Dickens sets the scene very early in the novel for the romance between Joe Willet and pretty Dolly Varden. Do story lines involving romance enhance your enjoyment of Dickens’s novels?
  11. Comment on Dickens’s description of London in 1775. He appeals to all the readers’ senses. Can you imagine it?
  12. What is your first impression of Barnaby Rudge? He is thought by some scholars to have “Williams” syndrome (first officially recognized in 1961), a disorder caused by a genetic deletion and characterized by an elfin face, moderate intellectual disability with relatively strong language skills and a hyper social personality. Comment.
  13. What do Barnaby’s clothes tell us about his character?
  14. Do you think Barnaby’s fear of blood is natural? How does this chilling, paranormal element add to your interest in the story?
  15. London is often so important in Dickens’s novels as to be regarded as one of the characters! How does the use of real names and places resonate with you? Does it add to your appreciation of the story?
  16. Comment on the urban progress in (1775) that Dickens describes.
  17. Dickens loved neatness and cleanliness. He also was very interested in home décor. With this in mind, comment on his description of the Varden’s home.
  18. Trade unions were on the rise during the industrial revolution. Discuss how Dickens pokes fun at them with Simon Tappertit’s apprentice guild.
  19. Throughout his novels, Dickens uses food to heighten our senses. Comment on the Varden’s breakfast table with this in mind.
  20. Barnaby Rudge had two illustrators (Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) and George Cattermole) and more illustrations than any other Dickens novel. They also came closest to matching the text in their placement. Comment.
  21. “ a breathe upon a polished glass” ( was one of the only ways to confirm death). Comment on Dickens poetic use of language.
  22. Discuss how Dickens builds suspense to carry us from chapter to chapter.
  23. Barnaby’s description of his shadow (Chapter 6) predates Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem: “My Shadow” and James Barrie’s “Peter Pan”. Were these authors influenced by this book?
  24. Comment on Dickens’s choice of a raven as Barnaby Rudge’s pet.
  25. Do you have sympathy for Barnaby Rudge, his mother and Grip?
  26. Does the uniqueness of the raven add to your interest in the novel?
  27. Comment on Miss Miggs as a comic relief element in the novel. As a bitter spinster and toady to her mistress, is she a recognizable character? Have you met anyone like her?
  28. Comment on Dickens negativity toward the “Protestant Manual”
  29. Why does Gabriel Varden tolerate “Miggs”? Is he afraid of his wife?
  30. What is your first impression of Mr. Chester? Do you like him? Why? Why not?