Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson is a retired insurance executive who now leads adult reading seminars on 19 th and early 20 th-century British writers including Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and E. M. Forster. Under his pen name, Christopher Lord, he has published numerous short stories and two Dickens-themed mysteries. He became a Dickens fan more than 50 years ago after reading Our Mutual Friend, which remains his favorite book, even after ten readings. He lives in Portland, OR, where he and his husband also serve as staff to their Devon Rex, Miss Lucretia Tox.

* At the end of the video, Wilson accidentally refers to “Sir Edward Chester” instead of Sir John.

Discussion Questions

What is the Riot Act?

  1. What do we learn about the roles of Gashford and Sir Edward Chester in this section?
  2. What animal imagery do you find in this section? How does it carry forward from earlier parts of the novel?
  3. Does Gabriel Varden’s treatment of Sim Tappertit in these chapters surprise you? Why or why not?
  4. Symbols and metaphors are effective in creative writing because they do heavy lifting: that is, they convey more meaning in fewer words than straightforward language. Discuss these metaphors that appear in these pages:

The mob as sea/ocean: how many times does it appear?

The daze John Willet experiences at the ransacking of the Maypole

The meaning of the ringing bell to Mr. Rudge: what does it mean to him? To the reader?

Chapters 49-56 Illustrations

Lord George Brings News of the Debate, illustration by Hablot Knight Browne

The Rioters With Their Spoils, illustration by Hablot Knight Browne

The Secretary’s Watch, illustration by Hablot Knight Browne

Old John at a Disadvantage, illustration by Hablot Knight Browne

39 Comments

  1. Thanks so much Carl Wilson for making the video! I found it really helpful, and I found myself looking/finding for motifs/symbols in the book as I continue to read. I found it really interesting how Charles Dickens used symbolism to show something that is in the future. Today, I am so used to seeing symbols as something that shapes a character but Charles Dickens used symbols to represent the future. The symbol that really stood out to me was the Red Brick Dwelling house that belonged to Mrs.Varden. Specifically the fact that its destruction represented what will happen to the Maypole. A question that I have is, what symbol do you think Grip has in the novel? Does he represent the mobs, Barnaby, or something else?

    Reply
    • Sabrina: your question about Grip is an excellent one, and I’m not sure I have a perfect answer, but that’s one of the great things about a wonderful book–it can mean many things to many people. As I see it, Grip shows us that, despite Barnaby’s external trappings (and his outfit itself is probably symbolic) and his limited intelligence, that he is capable of great loyalty and caring, even if his language isn’t sophisticated enough to express it. Grip’s loyalty, in return, shows us the bonds that can be built if we don’t judge people by their outward appearance. Grip and Barnaby give each other something that the other needs: Barnaby gives Grip safety and protection, and Grip in return gives unconditional delight and loyalty. Now, since you ask the question it makes me want to know what YOU think Grip means?

      Reply
  2. Thank you carl Wilson for that wonderful video on chapters 49-56. I love how u talked about the different symbols that are used in these chapters that explain about each of the characters. Like when u explained the cocade symbolizes lord George Gordon with cause. And as well when u talked about the Maypole. They way of varden and miggs talk about the collection of the coins which symbolizes of their support. And how Charles dickens opens up the novel with miggs and the riots. My question is why did Charles dickens open up more with the novel with miggs and the riots? What will ever happen with barnaby and his father, Mr. Haredale?

    Reply
  3. Hello Carl Wilson! You were right when you said that as we go through the chapters in a frantic rush, we missed key details and the importance of how objects/symbols foreshadow events. I personally missed the detail about Mrs. Varden’s collection box in chapter 41, so when it was explicitly mentioned again in chapter 51, I was confuzzled.

    My quesion to you is, why did Dickens choose to utilize the bell to signify death(s)?

    Reply
    • Jerico: I was right because I know from experience. I have been reading Dickens for fifty years, and each time I re-read a novel I find something new in it. So don’t worry too much if you’re “confuzzled.” The great joy in life isn’t reading–it’s RE-READING.

      With respect to your question, we are told in chapter 13 that the alarm bell was rung the night that of the Haredale murder–Mr. Rudge likely associates the new ringing of it for the fire at the Warren as a reminder of his guilt in the earlier crime. But Dickens is also relying on the very famous words of John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

      Reply
  4. Hello Carl Wilson, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about Barnaby Rudge. I found it very interesting to see all the symbols in just a few chapters. I thought I had seen a few symbols, but now I feel as if I haven’t picked up on any of them. It’s interesting to see how symbols can work in any way, and how character that are not even related to each other in any way in the novel can still be used as symbol for others. I think that symbols and foreshadowing are very important to notice because it will help to understand the novel in a different way. Also the rioters are seen very wild, and the details explaining what they caused are described to the very last detailed. One questions I did have though, was involving the rioters and how they are seen as wild and rebellious people, is there any relationship between them and the way that Dicken’s used animals in the novel?

    Reply
    • Jessica: this is not a snarky answer, but I would say to you–if you were clever enough to ask your question, you probably already know the answer.

      Re: the symbols: don’t worry if you don’t get them all the first time. You can always reread the novel in ten years and you’ll find new ones, I’m sure. Just wait until you find out the fate of Sim Tappertit.

      Reply
  5. Thank you Carl Wilson for your explanation on these chapters! I found it interesting how you spoke about symbols within the novel and how their used to represent something on a larger scale. For instance, the example of the Maypole and how its destruction was a symbol for London was being destroyed as well. This made me want to focus on characters within the novel that might also be symbols of something on a larger scale that the novel wants to imply; like Barnaby Rudge during the riots. Barnaby Rudge was mislead into thinking that the riots were for a good cause and had misplaced feelings with the riots as well. With this in mind, is Barnaby Rudge a symbol for all those individuals in the riots who were mislead in the riots and were merely a part of the riots in order to have a voice even if it wasn’t for that specific cause?

    Reply
  6. Thank you Mr. WIlson, I really enjoyed the connections you were able to make between the maypole and the past and inflexibility of London. My question for you is why would Dickens delay the riot scene when it is a very important part that really shows the gothic part of the novel. What would have happened if there was no “break’ given by Dickens and instead jumped straight to the violence?

    Reply
  7. Thank you Carl Wilson for this amazing video on chapters 49-56, I personally found it very fascinating. To me the symbols were just to describe the character, but in reality Dicken uses it to tell us about the present and future. Also, when you talked about how the pacing in the book was to keep us eager, I agreed because I noticed this in the first few chapters when Dickens skipped a huge amount of time to talk about the same topic and it honestly does make you want to keep reading. One of the things you mentioned that really stood out to me was when you talked about how Simon Tappertit leaves the house to join Lord Gordon’s mob, he shouldn’t have in my opinion and then how riots are fully detailed like “melting his head like wax”, this is a violent symbol to describe how bloody and deathly this riot ended up. I truly didn’t expect the riots to go this far! A question I have is Why couldn’t the riots be more peaceful and exclude “violence”? and Why exactly are so many symbols and pace being used apart from it showing us the future and keeping us eager?

    Reply
    • Ashley: Dickens was the greatest novelist in the English language, and much of his power comes from his ability to harness language in service to the keenness of his observational powers. Riots are ugly. Mobs lack a conscience. Violence will occur. People will be hurt and they may die. Dickens wanted you to see that in a precise, graphic, and visceral way. I chose that specific quote from all of the others is because I think that it conveys all of the horror he wanted it to. And you proved him right by having the reaction that you did.

      With respect to pacing, Dickens had to keep his readers interested over many weeks or months (some of his books were serialized weekly, others monthly, some both ways). So if he doesn’t have cliffhanger moments he feared you might not buy the next issue of his magazine. The modern-day equivalent is either soap operas or many modern television series, which have multi-episode arcs. Watch “Riverdale,” for example (I’ve seen a few episodes). The hour usually ends with some unresolved issue that you hope will be addressed in the next episode, but you won’t know unless you watch. That’s how writers win you over.

      Reply
  8. Hello Carl Wilson, thank you for your very detailed use of examples while trying to explain the use of symbols in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge. I didn’t realize that inanimate objects were being used as symbols, instead, I thought Dickens was portraying many emotions and ideas to many of the characters of the novel. But once I realized symbols are present throughout the novel, I came to realize that the Maypole may symbolize England as a whole. Do you believe that the destruction of the Maypole in the riot is a hidden message of the destruction of England’s self-identity and structure, or is Dickens using it to symbolize the unstable state of England?

    Reply
  9. Hello Carl, thank you so much for letting us know your viewpoint and your take on these chapters. Thank you for taking the time to do this for us. I really enjoyed listening to what you had to say, this really helped me understand these chapters a bit more. Something that really stood out to me was the fact that symbols can be used to represent something huge in the future. For Instance, the use of the Varden’s dwelling was something symbolic to show the riots. My Questions is, Do you think that Grip is a symbol of Barnaby’s future and what happens to him after the riots, or is Grip just simply another character in the novel?

    Reply
  10. Thank you Carl Wilson for your explanation on chapters 49-56. It was very helpful and I also found it very interesting when you mentioned the meaning of symbolism and how it is important to keep that in mind for the significance of the character and the reader. The way that Varden smashes the house is a reflection of how he was feeling and it shows what kind of intentions he has. This also leads me to question how the riots have affected the minds others and instilled them to do certain things that may be a response of the way a person is feeling or how sometimes it is the way a person wants be a part of something?

    Reply
  11. Thank you Mr. Wilson for taking the time to do this video for us! I really liked how you focused on the symbols mentioning that they can be seen on a larger scale. It seems that the character Barnany Rudge specifically symbolizes the people that were involved in the riots. Such as the people that were brought in with fake promises, and those that want to achieve some sort of heroism. With that being said, what do you believe Barnaby symbolizes relating towards the riots? Do you agree or perhaps disagree and see everything in a different perspective?

    Reply
    • Jessica: I wish I could spend two hours with all of you just talking about your reactions to the books and working out the answers to your questions and those of your classmates. The collective level of your enthusiasm is infectious.

      Barnaby’s function in the novel is a challenge, particularly to contemporary readers, who expect their main characters (if Barnaby even qualifies as that, and I’m not sure he does) to have more “agency”–that means the capacity to act in their own interests rather than just being the victim of actions by others. Barnaby is an innocent in the world, and he cannot help that he doesn’t have the ability to see the people around them for who they really are (Hugh, Dennis, and Lord Gordon).

      I think Dickens puts us close to Barnaby to make us think about the difference between him and ourselves–we CAN discern differences and usually tell good from evil if we study things closely enough because we have intelligence and reason. And we would like to believe that, were we in Barnaby’s position with our intellects and sensibilities, we would have seen Lord Gordon for the weak man that he was and Hugh as a person who likes to stir up trouble for its own sake (although, as you approach the end of the novel, you may find yourself having conflicting views of just how evil Hugh is).

      Reply
  12. Thank you Mr. Wilson for your insight on these chapters! I completely agree with the observation you made in regards to Dickens and how he tends to use multiple symbols throughout the text, especially with the example you gave with the Mayple. The fact that the Maypole appears to symbolize England’s culture and traditions really adds onto the idea that the riots’ attack on it symbolizes how the rioters are essentially destroying parts of England. However, after you gave this example, you mentioned another example of Gabriel and how his smashing of the red brick house foreshadows the destruction of the Maypole and the Warren. My question is, though, how is this connection made between these different location and how can other connections be made using this tehcnique? Thank you again for your time!

    Reply
  13. Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for the video and mini introduction and details about your experience with the novel. What stood out to me was that you mentioned the symbol of the Maypole, the building, and the pole. Even if the physical building or the pole are taken down due to the rioters, do you think that those mere physical objects will be remembered in the aftermath as a good symbol?

    Reply
  14. Good afternoon Mr. Wilson, Thank you for this video as I and my peers find it extremely helpful to better understand the past chapters (49-56) that we have read. Mr. Wilson, you mentioned that because of the anticipation built throughout the chapters due to the riots many of the symbolism has been left unnoticed. You mentioned that many of the objects within the chapters symbolize the characters and both their attitude towards the riot and their characteristics. You explained how the Maypole and the pole were destroyed Dickens was trying to represent how riots fundamentally emasculate the past and end traditions. Do you believe that Dickens was trying to represent the riots as a ‘new birth’ for society? Or was he simply trying to convey that the riots were just pure destruction? And does that add to the complexity of Dickens attitude towards the riots or does it give us (the readers) a better understanding of how he truly feels about it?

    Reply
  15. Good Evening Carl Wilson, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to explain symbols and pacing within these few chapters of Barnaby Rudge ( Chapters 49-56). At first you discuss how the maypole Is tremendously symbolic, and shows us a bit of the past and the future. Furthermore, you also discuss how dickens within the novel uses pacing to keep us individuals turning the pages to read more. I found this to be true as even in the beginning of the story, there is a great use of pacing and the theme of mystery to keep the audience intrigued. However, going back to the topic of the symbolism within the story, with something as complex as these riots, does Dickens leave the symbolic meaning of these items/events to your interpretation, or are there specific meanings behind some of these events or items that Dickens wants us as the audience to understand?

    Reply
  16. Hello Mr. Wilson,
    Thank you so much for speaking to us about these chapters in Barnaby Rudge. I completely agree with you on the fact that there is symbolism with the Maypole. You also mentioned there was a burning down of the Waren. Do you think Dickens made the Maypole some type of sacred place for it to not be damaged? If so, do you think this has to do with the chaos in religion going on at the moment?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth: great question, and I’ll give it my partial answer. Go and reread the pages describing the Maypole (the inn, not the pole itself). Doesn’t it feel vast, warm, secure, solid yet a bit behind the times? Dickens wasn’t really into the trappings of religion (although he had a strong belief in the Christian ethic), so I don’t think he meant for it to be “sacred” but certainly “venerable” in a secular sense. Doesn’t it remind you just a bit of a fairy tale castle? Here is Dickens in chapter one, in another blink-and-you-miss-it moment, describing the Maypole’s settles (which are wooden benches like pews with sides) as “like the twin dragons of some fairy tale, [which] guarded the entrance to the mansion.”

      With respect to your second question, I’m not sure that the world has ever been truly at peace with respect to differences in religious tolerance. It may represent the thorniest problem of our modern world. But if you study the Gordon Riots, do you think you will find that the anger was justified?

      Reply
  17. Good Evening Carl Wilson, thank you for use your time to create this video. As you described that actions and character traits have some sort of symbolic representation, such as the donation box to show support. The actions being committed and the items have a symbolic meaning or feeling of the riots. You also stated that the riots can be used to destroy the past and bring change for the future. How will the symbolism affect the point of view or the interpretation of the readers of the actual Gordon Riots versus the riots in the novel?

    Reply
  18. Hello, Mr. Carl. To be quite feank, I did indeed miss all of those subtle symbols that Dickens implements in his writings. After every single one you named, I caught myself letting out a big “ohhhhh”. It facinates me to wo der as to how much time Dickens would have put in every single book, considering his word usage and not explicitly stating points such as those.
    Why does he do it?
    Is it merely to target an audience that can understand intellectual aspect of his book? Or might it be a way Dickens feels he is better the plot, by not making it boring, for a lack of better terms, by explicitly stating?

    Reply
    • Enrique: You are really asking the question: why do artists create? Dickens was one of the most creative geniuses in the modern world, and I suspect that he burned with all of the stories in his head that he just had to write down. And because he was a genius, he could write a story that has layers of meaning that deepen and enrich the complexity of the work, something that makes you keep thinking about the book after you finish it.

      As I said in the video, symbols do heavy lifting. If Dickens had to explain to you that the Maypole is actually his view of England’s heritage it might get in the way of the story and make it feel more like a piece of non-fiction. Rather he gives you fictional details that lead you toward your own awareness that he’s not just telling a story, but asking his readers to think about their Englishness, their heritage, and their traditions, and determine what they value and what they are willing to defend, and how they might avoid the next tyrant or charlatan (like Lord Gordon) when he or she shows up in the public arena. You don’t have to try too hard to see a parallel between Lord Gordon and a current US figure of importance.

      Reply
  19. Thank you Carl Wilson for this insightful video. I noted your point about the symbols present in the novel particularly buildings. The Maypole Inn, you mentioned, is a symbol of England’s past, inflexibility, and traditions. In the novel, the Maypole is ransacked by the rioters for the anti-Popery cause. As readers, we can see the portrayal of John Willet after the looting of the Maypole through the black and white image. Willet is left in a state of bewilderment which is surrounded by the sight of an upside down room. I wonder, is John Willet depicting the English society as a proprietor? By destroying property, the rioters transmit a form of expression that reveals their disappointment or resentment toward the English government. Did Charles Dickens want to promote revolution or was he against the riots as forms of a progressive movement against the status quo?

    Reply
    • Wendy, your question is similar to Virginia’s below, but I will add that Dickens had what many people considered “radical” views (feeding the poor for example) but he was a bit on the conservative side about many institutions, even while he criticized them (the Poor Law in several novels, for example). But if you continue your reading of Dickens, you may find the answer to your question in “A Tale of Two Cities,” which I highly recommend that you consider reading. It forms a nice bookend to the overall work he has done in “Barnaby Rudge.” (And it is, I think, a better novel).

      Reply
  20. Hello Mr. Wilson, thank you for focusing on the symbols of these chapters. You mentioned what the Maypole represented, as well as the Vardens’ home. I feel like Dickens also uses individual characters to represent the different point of views there were about the riots. It might be easy to assume that there were people who understood the cause and were for it, there were people who because they understood the cause they were against it, and people who just joined to join. So my question is, throughout the use of these symbols, representations, and point of views, do you think that Dickens adds in his own opinion through these elements? Does he use a certain character to represent his own views?

    Reply
    • Virginia: your question about authorial intention is one of the knotty problems in literary criticism, because many critics want to see the work of art as resting on its own merits irrespective of what the author intended or might have intended. But I’m not that fussy, so I think we look at what Dickens says in his own preface to the novel (which you should have in your text. He states that he has “impartially painted” the riots, even though he has no sympathy for Lord Gordon’s cause. I would turn the question back to you–if Dickens supported the idea of mob rule, do you think he would have written the novel the way he did?

      Reply
  21. Thank Mr. Wilson for setting aside the opportunity to do this video for us! I extremely enjoyed how you concentrated on the images detailing that they can be seen on a bigger scale. It seems that the character Barnaby Rudge particularly symbolizes the general population that was or is with the mobs. For example, the general population that were acquired with false guarantees, and those that need to accomplish a type of heroism per say All things considered, however, what do you believe in your honest opinion Barnaby symbolizes relating towards the mobs? I’m asking this specifically for your point of view. I understand the different possible answers for this due to Barnaby’s wide range of character interpretations.

    Reply
  22. Good Evening and thank you Carl Wilson for making this phenomenal video assisting my understanding of Barnaby Rudge. I found my self not going into depth about these symbolic symbols I didn’t really think much about them while I was reading. I like how you talked about the Maypole I really didn’t even think much about it but, when you said that riots end traditions I started to put events together and I can one hundred percent agree with this. My question to you is where do you see a riot similar to this happening in the modern day and for what reason?

    Reply
    • Christopher: Thanks for the compliment. With respect to your question about parallels between the Gordon Riots and events today, I would most likely turn the question back to you—what similarities between events like the post election riots in Portland (where I live) and the Charlottesville events from last year do you see? Do you see a Lord Gordon figure among the pundits and TV personalities on either the far right or the far left? And what does Dickens ultimately say about the Riots? He was fascinated with and afraid of mob rule—the Gordon Riots were the largest riots ever seen in the City of London, and Dickens would return to the theme of mob violence in his much more famous “A Tale of Two Cities.”

      Reply
  23. Hope you are having a wonderful night, I would like to begin by thanking you for donating your own time to helping my peers and myself out during our reading journey. I noticed that you were talking about how important symbols were when reading literature and the funny thing is that I did notice this foreshadow but I believed it was going to go a different way. Considering that this novel covers some very chaotic scenes such as the riots, I would believe that Mr. Dickens would have put many more sneaky symbols in it. My question to you is, do you think that Dickens would have been able to pull a noble using a different time period and region, such as the Great Depression? I was just wondering how interesting this would be considering the fact that The Great Depression took place in the 1930’s meanwhile the Gordon riots took place in the 1780’s, over 150 years of difference. So do you believe that Dickens would have been able to pull this novel off with these changes if he was still alive?

    Reply
    • Lisandro: I don’t know that Dickens was “sneaky” but he was very deliberate and thoughtful about his art, and certainly knew what he wanted to accomplish. Since I consider Dickens the best novelist in the English language, I believe that the answer to your question is that Dickens could have written any novel he wanted and have made it successful. Wait until you see what he does with the French Revolution in “A Tale of Two Cities.”

      Reply
  24. Hello Mr. Wilson, thank you for taking the time to help us get a better understanding for this couple of chapter, we greatly appreciate it. I really enjoyed hearing you point out all of the different symbols that exist in these few chapters and how they represent things on a larger scale. It’s interesting how Dickens uses the symbols to talk about time not the characters. My questions to you is, why do you think there was a time skip in the novel instead of getting right into the riots? Again thank you for your help Mr. Wilson

    Reply
    • Lucia: your question is an interesting one. Dickens does the same thing in “A Tale of Two Cities.” You may find part of your answer in chapters you have not yet covered when you learn the fate of characters that are currently not on the scene. Critics have faulted Dickens for what many consider an artistic weakness in such a break, but I don’t know how he would have accomplished some of the 1780 outcomes without laying the groundwork in 1775. Delaying the riots is easier–it’s one of the high points of the book, and you don’t want to show your best work too early. See also several questions above that deal with pacing. Remember: make em’ wait.

      Reply
  25. Good evening Mr. Wilson,
    First of all, I would like to wholeheartedly thank you for your generous contribution to my class and I’s wealth of knowledge regarding the novel Barnaby Rudge. My favorite part of your interpretation was your detailed explanation of the Maypole being a symbol in the novel. This resonated with me because I know just how much physical buildings can mean to a society. For example, our school represents the toiling of students to better themselves through an education. While the Maypole represents England’s past and traditions. So my question is this: If/When the Maypole is reconstructed, will it still hold that same social status of being able to stand for something? Thank you, once again, and have a wonderful night.

    Reply
    • Anthony: Thanks for your thoughtful question and your compliments. It was really my pleasure. I am a bit jealous that you’re getting this amazing immersive experience in a Dickens novel–I didn’t have such an opportunity when I was your age. With respect to your question, however, I will leave you to ponder it yourself–you may find the answer in the closing pages of the book. Look for signs of renewal, birth, and optimism as some of the subplots wind up.

      Reply
  26. Good morning Mr. Wilson,
    Thank you so much for taking you time to make this video for our classroom, it really means a lot!
    As you mentioned in the video, Dickens uses a lot of symbolism in his book. Much of which alludes to something bigger than itself. For instance, the destruction of the Red Brick Dwelling that belonged to Mrs. Varden symbolizes the chaos of the riot and the future destruction of the Maypole, which also symbolizes the downfall of tradition. In the novel, the Maypole serves as a social center for communion among the characters. Would it be right to assume that the destruction of the Maypole symbolizes a destruction of society and structure?

    Once again, thank you for the video!

    Reply

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