Barnaby Greets His Mother — Eighteenth illustration in the series. Thirteenth regular plate by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Chap. XVII (17 April 1841: serial part 10)), 28. Wood engraving, 3 ¼ x 4 ½ inches (8 cm high by 11.4 cm wide), vignetted. Volume Three, Part 53 of Master Humphrey's Clock, in which Dickens's Barnaby Rudge originally appeared. The 1849 Bradbury and Evans two-volume edition: middle of 14, framed by the text realised. Running Head: "Master Humphrey's Clock" (28). [Click on the images in order to enlarge them.]

Context of the Illustration: Barnaby returns home while Old Rudge is there

"We have been afield, mother — leaping ditches, scrambling through hedges, running down steep banks, up and away, and hurrying on. The wind has been blowing, and the rushes and young plants bowing and bending to it, lest it should do them harm, the cowards — and Grip — ha ha ha! — brave Grip, who cares for nothing, and when the wind rolls him over in the dust, turns manfully to bite it — Grip, bold Grip, has quarrelled with every little bowing twig — thinking, he told me, that it mocked him—and has worried it like a bulldog. Ha ha ha!"

The raven, in his little basket at his master’s back, hearing this frequent mention of his name in a tone of exultation, expressed his sympathy by crowing like a cock, and afterwards running over his various phrases of speech with such rapidity, and in so many varieties of hoarseness, that they sounded like the murmurs of a crowd of people.

"He takes such care of me besides!" said Barnaby. "Such care, mother! He watches all the time I sleep, and when I shut my eyes and make-believe to slumber, he practises new learning softly; but he keeps his eye on me the while, and if he sees me laugh, though never so little, stops directly. He won’t surprise me till he’s perfect." [Vol. III, Chapter the Seventeenth, 27-28]

Commentary: Ill-sorted Fathers and Sons

Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s realisation of the same scene, without any background details that establish the setting as the Rudge hovel: Barnaby and His Mother, frontispiece for the Diamond Edition (Boston: 1867).

That the book's main title is Barnaby Rudge seems to defy logic, as much as the story of Little Nell, her erring grandfather, and assorted secondary characters seems ill-suited to the tile of The Old Curiosity Shop. Since Barnaby is the eponymous character in the picaresque novel, a mad commentator who in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott's Madge Wildfire in The Heart of  Midlothian (1818) serves to connect the large cast of characters, his relationship with his mother should be central in Dickens's story. Although the fraught relationships of parents and children constitute a continuing theme in Dickens' novel, in fact Barnaby occasional visits home to Southwark are far less important than, for example, confrontations between Joe and John Willet or Edward and Sir John Chester. In spite of the fact that he lends his name to the narrative and connects the many characters of the multi-plot story, Barnaby himself is neither important nor complex. Readers still find it to difficult to identify with mentally challenged characters, and gravitate towards the rebellious sons, the aristocratic Edward Chester and the  middle-class Joe Willet, rather than the working-class "natural" of the book's title. The scene, therefore, between Barnaby and his mother is crucial neither in terms of plot nor character development, but makes an interesting picture, and prepares us for the dramatic confrontation between the widow and her estranged husband.

Felix Octavius Carr Darley's realisation of the scene in the Rudge hovel that connects the mysterious stranger of Chigwell and the Rudges of Southwark: "He rattles at the shutters!" cried the man, engraved title-page for the Sheldon and Company Household Edition (New York: 1862).

Cattermole's The Watch in the previous chapter has prepared readers for the shift from affairs at Chigwell and the interview between the Chesters at Sir John's chambers in the Paper Buildings to this family scene in Southwark. While Barnaby chats affably with his nervous mother, Phiz has the mysterious stranger from the Maypole (in fact, Barnaby Rudge, Senior) pop his head around the closet door. Phiz suggests that everything the mother and son say is being overheard by the old ruffian who once was the Haredale stewart, and probably contrived his own death in order to abscond with the family's funds twenty years before. From Solomon Daisey's inset narrative in the opening chapters about the murders on the Haredale estate the reader can surmise how devious and dangerous the elder Rudge must be. As Barnaby describes to his mother how he and Hugh have been preparing a trap for the robber who wounded Edward Chester, the robber himself peers around the door of the closet:

"Aye, but Hugh, and I," said Barnaby, — "that’s it. Maypole Hugh, and I, you know, and Grip — we have been lying in the forest, and among the trees by the road side, with a dark lantern after night came on, and the dog in a noose ready to slip him when the man came by."

"What man?"

"The robber; him that the stars winked at. We have waited for him after dark these many nights, and we shall have him. I’d know him in a thousand. Mother, see here! This is the man. Look!"

He twisted his handkerchief round his head, pulled his hat upon his brow, wrapped his coat about him, and stood up before her: so like the original he counterfeited, that the dark figure peering out behind him might have passed for his own shadow. [Vol. III, 29-30]

The important part of the chapter is not Barnaby's return home from Chigwell, but the interview between husband and wife after Barnaby has fallen asleep before the fire. The elder Rudge threatens to murder the boy if the widow does not do as he tells her. During the whole of this dialogue the reader is kept in suspense as to whether Grip will awaken his master and provoke a confrontation between father and son.

Related Material including Other Illustrated Editions of Barnaby Rudge

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Barnaby Rudge. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ('Phiz') and George Cattermole. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841; rpt., Bradbury & Evans, 1849.

Dickens, Charles. Barnaby Rudge. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ('Phiz') and George Cattermole. The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens. London: Oxford University Press. 1954, rpt. 1987.

________. Barnaby Rudge. A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty. Illustrated by Felix Octavius Carr Darley and Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1862. 3 vols.

________. Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. IX.

Hammerton, J. A. "Ch. XIV. Barnaby Rudge." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition, illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Co., 1910. 213-55.

Vann, J. Don. "Charles Dickens. Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey's Clock, 13 February-27 November 1841." New York: MLA, 1985. 65-66.

Created 5 July 2002

Last modified 9 December 2020