The Luck of Barry Lyndon

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The Luck of Barry Lyndon is a picaresque novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, first published in serial form in 1844, about a member of the Irish gentry trying to become a member of the English aristocracy. Thackeray, who based the novel on the life and exploits of the Anglo-Irish rakehell and fortune-hunter Andrew Robinson Stoney, later reissued it under the title The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq..

Stanley Kubrick later adapted the novel into the movie Barry Lyndon (1975). Unlike the film, the novel is narrated by Barry himself, who functions as a quintessentially unreliable narrator, perpetually boasting and not realizing the bad light in which he casts himself.

Plot summary

Redmond Barry of Bally Barry, born to a genteel but ruined Irish family, fancies himself a gentleman. At the prompting of his mother, he learns what he can of courtly manners and sword-play, but fails at more scholarly subjects like Latin. He is a hot-tempered, passionate lad, and falls madly in love with his cousin, Nora. Sadly, as she is a spinster a few years older than Redmond, she is seeking a prospect with more ready cash to pay family debts.

The lad tries to engage in a duel with Nora's suitor, an English officer named John Quinn. He is made to think that he has assassinated the man, though the pistols were actually loaded with dummy loads. Redmond flees to Dublin, where he quickly falls in with bad company and soon loses all his money. Pursued by creditors, he enlists as a common private in an infantry regiment headed for service in Germany.

Once in Germany, despite a promotion to corporal, he hates the army and seeks to desert. When his Lieutenant is wounded, Redmond helps take him to a German village for treatment. The Irishman pretends to suffer from insanity, and after several days absconds with the Lieutenant's uniform, papers, and money. As part of his ruse, he convinces the locals that he is the real Lieutenant Fakenham, and the wounded man is the mad Corporal Barry. Redmond Barry rides off toward a neutral German territory, hoping for better fortune.

His bad luck continues, though, as he is joined on the road by a Prussian officer. The German soon realizes that Redmond is a deserter, but rather than turn him over to the British to be hanged, impresses him into the Prussian army (for a bounty). Redmond hates Prussian service as much or more than he hated British service, but the men are carefully watched to prevent desertion. He is able to become the servant of Captain Potzdorff, and is involved in the intrigues of that gentleman.

After several months have passed, a stranger travelling under Austrian protection arrives in Berlin. Redmond is asked to spy on the stranger, an older man called Chevalier de Balibari (sic. Ballybary). He immediately realizes that this is his uncle the adventurer, who disappeared many years ago. The uncle arranges to smuggle his nephew out of Prussia, and this is soon done. The two Irishmen and an accomplice wander around Europe, gambling and generally living it up.

Eventually, the Barrys end up in a Rhineland Duchy, where they win considerable sums of money and Redmond cleverly sets up a plan to marry a young countess of some means. Again, fortune turns against him, and a series of circumstances undermines his complex plan. Both Uncle and Nephew are forced to leave Germany—both unmarried.

While cooling their heels in France, Redmond comes into the acquaintance of the Countess of Lyndon, an extraordinarily wealthy noblewoman married to a much older man (who is in poor health). He has some success in seducing the Lady, but her husband clings to life. Eventually, she goes back to England. Redmond is upset, but bides his time. Upon hearing the following year that the husband has died, he strikes.

Through a series of adventures, Redmond eventually bullies and seduces the Countess of Lyndon, almost forcing her to marry him. After the wedding, he moves into Hackton Castle, which he has completely remodelled at great expense. Redmond admits several times in the course of his narrative that he has no control over a budget, and spends his new bride's birthright freely. He looks after a few childhood benefactors in Ireland, his Cousin Ulick (who had often stood up for him as a boy), and makes himself over into the most fashionable man in the district.

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