Abstract

Readings of Dickens's historical novel, Barnaby Rudge (1840–41), have typically regarded its late-eighteenth-century plot, which includes an account of the Gordon Riots, as allegorizing the civil unrest of the 1830s and early 1840s. Critics have thus tended to address the ambitious and unruly apprentice, Sim Tappertit, and his conspiracy of disaffected adolescents, in the contexts of Chartism, Trade Unionism, the revived Protestant Association of Dickens's own period, or the socio-economic conditions of Victorian London. But the name of Tappertit's secret society, “the 'Prentice Knights,” its ideology and symbolism, also gesture towards an alternative, historical framework: the seasonal festivities and chivalric fantasies associated with apprentice culture, from Mediaeval and Early Modern England to Dickens's own time. Linking Sim Tappertit both to George Barnwell, apprentice-protagonist of George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and back to the citizen drama of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages, in plays such as Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599) and Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), this article illuminates the actions and characterization of Sim Tappertit and his 'Prentice Knights with reference to the social and literary history of apprentice misrule.

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