Synopsis of Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon is written in the first person. It purports to be the memoirs of an Irish adventurer who believes his family to be, in spite of evidence to the contrary, the "noblest of the island, and, perhaps, of the universal world." This inheritance had been diminished by war, the treachery of others, and the dissipation of his ancestors.

His father is dead, killed in a duel. He has lived for some time between the house of his mother at Barryville (which is not much more than a cluster of huts which has been renamed unofficially by his mother) and the run-down estate of his maternal uncle at nearby Castle Brady. At the opening of the "memoirs" his relations with his uncle's family are intimate. Redmond Barry has fallen in love with his cousin Nora. He is part of a continuous family squabble which involves two factions of the many children of the Lord of the "castle". Mick and Ulick, (in their twenties) the two eldest sons, are constantly at odds. Young Redmond takes the part of Ulick.

The education of Redmond Barry proves to be sparse. He has six weeks in a boarding school. Yet he values other attainments more, horse riding, sword fighting, and pistol shooting. In an interesting passage Barry Lyndon relates the value of education in a discussion with Dr. Johnson.

The action begins when Britain, afraid of invasion, is raising regiments around the country. Redmond is only 15, so ineligible. His cousins become familiars in a local regiment and a wealthy captain of this unit becomes enamored of Nora Brady. Their liaison infuriates Redmond and he makes a scene by challenging Captain Quin to a duel. The Brady family is upset by this because Quin has promised to pay off some of the family's debts once the marriage is consummated. Nevertheless, a "meeting" is arranged. The incident is reported in a way that is both dramatic and pathetic. Redmond's second is a Captain Fagan who befriends him. The duel proceeds and Redmond Barry knocks Captain Quin down with a shot from his pistol. He is told that the Captain is dead. He is given a small bag of money by his mother and told to go to Dublin, the capitol of Ireland, to escape the authorities, and to let the incident blow over.

On the road to Dublin he meets the wife of a Captain Fitzsimon who has just been robbed by a bandit generally known as Captain Freny. Redmond loans her some of the money from his purse and escorts her to a nearby inn. She and her husband (who is not really a captain but the servant of a military officer) prevail upon young Barry to stay with them. They soon relieve him of all of his assets. With nowhere to turn and presuming himself to be a wanted man, he joins the army.

In the army some haughty men attempt to persecute him for his lofty airs. He engages in a fist fight with one of the soldiers and, because he fought so often as a boy defending his family name, he is proficient with this lowly weapon. He succeeds in destroying his opponent, and in effect silencing any further attacks upon his character. Captain Fagan shows up as an officer in the regiment and Redmond Barry suddenly has a sponsor or a kind of guardian. Unfortunately, the captain is a rake and his example is not the best. In the course of conversation with Captain Fagan, Barry finds out that he actually did not kill Captain Quin in the duel. His cousins had replaced the bullets with tow or candle wax. Quin had indeed been shot, but he lived to marry Nora and at least temporarily rescue the Barry family fortunes.

Barry's regiment is now sent to continental Europe, Germany, to engage in the Seven Years War. His patron, Captain Fagan, is killed in a small battle. He describes the fatal scene in this manner: "When my kind friend Fagan was shot, a brother captain, and his very good friend, turned to Lieutenant Rawson and said, 'Fagan's down; Rawson, there's your company.' It was all the epitaph my brave patron got. 'I should have left you a hundred guineas, Redmond.' were his last words to me, 'but for a cursed run of ill luck last night at faro.' And he gave me a faint squeeze of the hand; then, as the word was given to advance, I left him."

In the course of a later battle, his platoon commander, Lieutenant Fakenham is wounded. Redmond Barry and another man carry the Lieutenant off the field to a nearby comfortable lodging. There is a squabble over their reward. Barry is knocked unconscious by his fellow. When he awakens, he makes his way back to the place where they lodged the lieutenant. Barry stays there for several days until he recovers from his beating. He decides he has had enough of war and so one day steals the lieutenant's uniform and papers as a disguise and makes for the border. His intention is to go to Holland and eventually make his way back to Ireland.

But the young man does not reckon on the voracious maw of war. His disguise is detected by a Prussian recruiting officer who basically abducts him into the Prussian army. In the Prussian service he is forced to participate in much rapine and wanton destruction. However, he manages to ingratiate himself with an officer. At the end of the war his regiment is assigned to the capital of Prussia at Potsdam. While there his service and his pretensions to nobility bring him to the attention of the secret police who recruit him for a special mission.

It so happens that a representative of Austria, a Chevalier de Balibari is an envoy to Prussia. It is known that this man speaks mainly English. Redmond Barry's job is to act as his servant, to overhear the man's conversations (not letting on that he knows English) and generally to spy on him, finally, to report back to the head of the Prussian secret service. It turns out that the Chevalier is none other than Redmond Barry's exiled uncle, forced to leave Ireland because he would not renounce his Catholic faith. In an interview with the envoy, Redmond takes a chance and reveals his mission and his true identity. Between the kinsmen a friendship is struck up. Redmond reports to his superiors, but runs the stories by his new patron first.

Redmond finds that his uncle, though devoutly religious, is a gamesman. He makes his living by cheating at cards and other gambling games. While in Potsdam the chevalier contrives to gamble with the wrong people. When Redmond finds that his new patron is to be expelled they conceive a plan whereby the young Barry disguises himself as the old Balibari by donning a wig and an eye patch, as well as the man's overcoat and shoes. He affects a limp and when the guards come to take the chevalier into a carriage to be put over the border, Redmond boards and makes his escape even while his uncle pretends to sleep late. When the carriage is past retrieval the real chevalier makes his usual rounds and the secret service is astounded to lose their agent. The chevalier acts indignant and is provided another carriage to take himself also out of the country.

Now the chevalier takes his nephew in hand, teaching him the finer points of gambling. They end up in some of the minor German courts where by sharp play they begin to live quite comfortably. Eventually they work toward the main chance. They start to look for an heiress which Redmond Barry can marry. Their first effort goes completely awry. In a particular German court through a complex plan, they attempt to coerce a young woman of means. First they separate her from her lover by threats and blackmail. Then they use what influence they have to get the approval of the monarch. Because of various court intrigues the scheme falls apart and the Barrys are expelled from the country.

Now taking up their profession in yet another small German state, the "gentlemen" continue to prosper after a fashion. Often winning and sometimes losing, they resolve again to find a wealthy woman for Redmond Barry. They run across a young Countess who is married to the aging Sir Charles Reginald Lyndon. The couple are very wealthy, but the husband is ill, and not likely to live for much longer. Redmond Barry befriends the knight and pursues the woman even with the knowledge of Sir Charles. The Countess, Honoria Lyndon, attempts to keep the young Barry at arms length, but he pursues vigorously. He pretends to be inquisitive about religion and solicits her advice on a variety of matters.

Sir Charles, in an interesting passage, actually warns Barry that the conjugal state, especially with the countess, is not all wine and roses, "They (women) will beat you in the long run, my Tipperary Alcibiades. As soon as you are married, take my word of it, you are conquered. I married my cousin...She is my mistress. She has embittered my whole life...I have never been so poor as since I married her." Nevertheless he eventually becomes bitter about the young men who woo his wife even before he himself is dead. "'Is it not a pleasure, gentlemen,' said he, 'for me, as I am drawing near the goal, to find my home such a happy one; my wife so fond of me, that she is even now thinking of appointing a successor?'"

Yet, the knight lives on longer than anyone expects and the Lady Lyndon remains off the marriage market for two more years. When Redmond Barry hears of the old man's death he quickly follows Lady Lyndon to Ireland to win her hand. He is determined to do this not by gaining her affections, because he finds that this is not entirely possible. She is enamored with yet another cousin, Lord George. Redmond succeeds by being a bully to all about her, and even to her. He challenges her cousin to a duel and wounds him. He threatens or bribes anyone who has anything to do with her. He even attempts to bully her son by Sir Charles, young Viscount Bullingdon (who at this time is a mere youth).

Redmond Barry finally wins her consent, mainly because he has utterly worn her down and left her few other options.

At the beginning of their marriage, the Barry Lyndons have a son, Brian. The boy is completely spoiled. Redmond Barry tacks on Lyndon to his last name in order to acquire some of its cache'. His annual income is huge and his resources vast. Yet in the course of a few years he contrives through bad investments, gambling and a general life of dissipation to get himself and his wife deep into debt. Through the course of this he treats his wife abominably, coercing her to sign over income and estates to him, just to have him squander them. He comments how when he was an adventurer, he was good at cards, but somehow having vast wealth took away his sharpness. Even his old uncle he treats poorly. When given an opportunity to help his benefactor live out the rest of his life comfortably, Barry Lyndon rejects him.

As Redmond Barry Lyndon descends from the heights of wealth and honor he degrades both himself and his wife. Her only happiness becomes her children. But Redmond uses this as a tool, depriving her of access whenever he needs something from her. He blatantly consorts with other women, and deprives her of all of her friends and relations.

Yet some of her relations, especially Lord George and her young son, Viscount Bullingdon attempt to save her. But their efforts seem in vain as Barry Lyndon shuts himself up on "his" estate in Ireland, keeping his wife a prisoner for fear she will tell people of his physical and mental mistreatment of her. Lord Bullingdon is forced into the military where he is sent off to fight in the American Revolution. Young Brian is killed through over-indulgence. He dies at a young age from getting thrown from a horse that is too much for him that his father allows him to ride.

Honoria Lyndon is a conflicted being. She seems to love her husband in spite of his manifestly bad character. Yet, she knows she must escape and get a divorce. After several attempts, this she finally manages to do with the help of a nephew of Barry Lyndon (who has at least some conscience) and the legal maneuvering of her cousin George.

By this time Barry Lyndon is so far in debt that there is no extricating him. He lives out his days on a small pension, provided to him for giving up his rights to what is left of his wife's estates. But her guardians justifiably do not trust her with her own property. Viscount Bullingdon, who was reported to have died in America, turns up very much alive. In spite of all Barry Lyndon has done to ruin Honoria's life, she continues to see him and give him aid. Barry Lyndon is unrepentant and blames every one but himself for his fall from high estate.

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