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Barry Lyndon

Tuesday, 3 November, 2015

On this day in 1844, the English writer William Makepeace Thackeray completed his novel “Barry Lyndon,” a comic-tragic story about the vertiginous rise and fall of an Irish adventurer in 18th-century Europe.

Synopsis: Redmond Barry of Bally Barry flees to Dublin after a duel with an English officer. He falls in with bad company, loses all his money and, pursued by creditors, enlists in a Royal regiment headed for Germany during the Seven Years’ War. Hilarious complications ensue and the “hero” finds himself in the company of the enemy:

“At our table at the inn there was a Prussian officer who treated me with great civility, and asked me a thousand questions about England; which I answered as best I might. But this best, I am bound to say, was bad enough. I knew nothing about England, and the Court, and the noble families there; but, led away by the vaingloriousness of youth (and a propensity which I possessed in my early days, but of which I have long since corrected myself, to boast and talk in a manner not altogether consonant with truth), I invented a thousand stories which I told him; described the King and the Ministers to him, said the British Ambassador at Berlin was my uncle, and promised my acquaintance a letter of recommendation to him. When the officer asked me my uncle’s name, I was not able to give him the real name, and so said his name was O’Grady: it is as good a name as any other, and those of Kilballyowen, County Cork, are as good a family as any in the world, as I have heard.”

When a stranger travelling under Austrian protection arrives in Berlin, Redmond is asked to spy on him. This older man, Chevalier de Balibari (Bally Barry) is, in fact, his uncle, who disappeared many years ago. He smuggles his nephew out of Prussia and the two Irishmen wander around Europe, gambling and living by their wits.

Thinking that there must be easier ways of making money, Redmond seduces the wealthy and beautiful Countess of Lyndon. He moves into Hackton Castle, which he has completely remodelled at great expense, and spends his new bride’s wealth freely. The novel ends with (Redmond) Barry Lyndon lodged in Fleet Prison, where he spends the last nineteen years of his life, eventually dying of alcoholism-related illness.

Stanley Kubrick’s elegant, elegiac film of the book is a masterpiece and a perfect antidote to most of what passes today as romantic costume drama.


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