Maddison McGann

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Peer Reviewed



Comprised of arson, betrayal, murder, abduction, exploitation, rebellion, and bastardry, Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge is all but a boring read. Set during the Gordon Riots of 1780, Dickens’ fifth novel was published in installments beginning in 1841, each week promising a new cast of characters and events having to do with the anti-Catholic uprisings that had taken place nearly 60 years prior. These uprisings, led by Lord George Gordon, had originally begun as orderly protests over Catholics serving in the British Army; however, they quickly evolved into full-scale riots, with crowds of over 50,000 people burning down prisons, churches, and the homes of Irish immigrants. According to critics, the rise and dominance of periodicals in this period amplified Dickens’ interest in the Riots, which were widely read about and recorded in daily newspapers and political magazines. As Iain McCalman points out, Dickens’ inspiration for the novel may have even come from a coroner’s report that was featured in The Times in 1838 – one that described a man strangling himself in an obscure London Tavern after revealing his revolutionary past. The man, it turned out, had been Lord Gordon’s secretary during the Riots, and this disturbing news bite – along with subsequent others – formed the basis for what would eventually become Dickens’ first historical novel.


Dickens, 19th century print culture, Barnaby Rudge, periodical novels, serial novels