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date: 22 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the religious topicality of Barnaby Rudge by reading the novel in the context of the virulent anti-Catholicism of the late 1830s and early 1840s. Barnaby Rudge is deeply ambivalent towards Catholicism, a religion Dickens frequently railed against. The novel imparts a real sympathy for victimized Catholics. Yet throughout the book Catholicism is oddly constituted and Catholic characters are compromised. Intriguingly, Dickens’s portrait of Gashford, the malevolent secretary of Lord George Gordon, resonates strongly with contemporary anti-Jesuit writing and seems to play upon Protestant fears of Jesuits conspiring to infiltrate and destabilize England. Barnaby Rudge’s ambivalence towards the Catholic religion therefore offers a fresh lens through which to view Dickens’s complex relationship with the Catholic religion. Catholicism may hold a strange ‘attraction of repulsion’ for Dickens by providing him with a rich source of imaginative and narrative possibilities.

Keywords: Barnaby Rudge, Gashford, anti-Catholicism, Protestantism, Jesuit riots, British history

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